Author: Sheila Amir

How Google Fiber Reshaped Where Startups Do Business

The Triangle has become one of the strongest entrepreneurial tech hubs in the United States offering quality of life and a lower cost of living that Silicon Valley cannot compete with. Along with that has come a bevy of innovation and small companies able to compete on a global scale. It has also brought about a growth rate that some say will add an additional 1 million people to the Triangle by the end of 2018, which has both the locals and the infrastructure struggling to keep up with the demands.

Akin to our overburdened, jammed highways during rush hours, local company Dmorph Inc. found the infrastructure of the existing information superhighway couldn’t keep up with their growth. In July 2017, Dmorph Inc. moved their physical office location from the American Undergound in Durham to office space in neighboring Morrisville based exclusively on the availability of faster, more robust internet of Google Fiber. A new twist on the old adage: location, location, location.

This is a prime example of technology reshaping the way companies do business and in this case the way a tech company physically does business. Dmorph’s golden child and primary product is eSecureSend. eSecureSend is a large data transfer service that is bucking the 40 year norm of companies relying on unreliable FTP and curtailing the expensive, time consuming and environmentally harmful practice of shipping hard drives.

For the lay person, the large portion of large data transfer service referenced here is data that is 1000x past the max capacity of a free Dropbox account. This is a service for entities that are sending terabytes of data as a routine operating practice. It takes a lot to make those beautiful 4k movies and shows you’re enjoying. Primary customers include media entities, government entities and even medical entities. All of which means the data needs securely transferred at the speed of business.

While the invent and physical logistics of Google Fiber has come with some challenges, many of which have been reported in the Triangle, the product itself is solid. Like most startups, Dmorph started out by utilizing AWS and Google Cloud. Then came the point of business where the best financial and strategic move was to get off the cloud and come down to business owned servers. This point of a tech company’s growth is almost a modern day milestone for tech business success.

At this juncture the reduced costs paired with increased transfer speeds offered by Fiber restructured Dmorph’s balance sheet to where they could invest in the hardware needed to create their own servers. It trickles down to their customer base by allowing them to be more flexible in their pricing model without sacrificing service or security.

Dmorph had been presented the options to partner with a data center, however they would have continually faced data and/or bandwidth caps that would limit the performance of their accelerated file transfer service.

As company spokesperson Yasmeen Kashef put it, “We have big dreams to make file transfer secure, reliable and effective. Having access to high-speed internet, like Google Fiber is just the first step. And because Google Fiber exists, all the other telecoms are building their high-speed internet services too. We look forward to ever increasing high-speed internet.

“The other plus is that it’s helped us get together as a team more often. With our Durham office, half of our team members would have to drive about 40 minutes. Now that we’re in Morrisville, it’s a 15min drive for everyone. Even in the age of technology and at a tech firm, more face-to-face collaboration is a bonus.”

At the end of the day human interaction and location, location, location still reign supreme in business.

Bucking the Trend: One Woman’s Story of Flourishing in the Tech Industry

If you work in the tech industry or keep up on the latest news, you’ve heard the grumbles pertaining to women in the tech industry, or rather the lack of women in the tech industry.  Despite making up 56% of the total U.S. workforce when it comes to the tech industry women make up less than 30%. Yowza. It gets worse when you take a look at the percentage of women in high ranking positions in tech (such as CEO or upper management) or starting up tech companies.

Women bucking the norm and excelling in the tech industry often site dealing with dramatic income gaps, disproportionate advancement opportunities, sexual harassment and disrespect.  Basically all the stats and firsthand accounts make it sound like women working in the tech field are working a field of misogyny running wild. And that’s what makes the story of Dmorph Inc.’s Product Manager Yasmeen Kashef stand out like the hope diamond in a field of rocks.

Yasmeen works for Dmorph Inc., a tech company in Durham, North Carolina. Durham has become the tech hub of the South. This often overlooked city rightfully has Silicon Valley worried because it has all the tech offerings, opportunities and talent paired with quality of life and lower cost of living. Dmorph Inc. is a product of all that.  Their latest product, eSecureSend.com, has made them the premier large data transfer service available and all 3 male teammates thank Yasmeen Kashef for that success.

Needless to say when Yasmeen found herself at a conference specifically for women in tech earlier this year, which Dmorph’s CEO Jami Choudhury lined up and paid for her to, she was taken off guard by the horror stories of other women in her field. She had read all the stats, but to hear it in person, from women living and working in the same area was jarring.

We sat down for an interview in last month and she shared her unique experience as a woman in the tech industry, at a startup to boot. You don’t have to read too far to see that the best thing Dmorph ever did for business is put a woman in a key job role.

Sheila: Working at a start-up company is a choice.

Yasmeen: It is a choice. These are good people. I would not be here otherwise. When I first met Jami (Dmorph Inc. CEO) I was surprised. We were having an honest conversation about some of the work he wanted done. I gave him a price. And he said, “No, I’m willing to pay more because that’s the way it should be. This is what we’ll set it at.” It was from the moment I realized that he really cares about his people. Without that I wouldn’t be here.

Sheila: You’ve been with a company how long?

Yasmeen: I’ve been there since December 2015. Come this December it’ll be two years.

Sheila: You could probably go and work just about anywhere in the Durham area, and you choose the startup life. You’re making that active choice.

Yasmeen: Yeah, because I really believe in the team that’s building it. They value my input as an employee.  They’ve always said, “we trust where you’re coming from and we know that you’ve been interacting with the customers every day. We want you to take the lead on this and take it to the next level.

They trust in the feedback that I give them so that we can take this product to where it needs to go. That’s one of the best things about working with a group of people whether you’re at a start-up or anywhere else.

Sheila: You work in the American Underground.  You’ve seen how other startups are going. We have the big names in here like Google Fiber. As tech companies go what stands out the most about Dmorph in contrast to all of those other companies?

Yasmeen: I never realized how good I had it until I went to an event about women in Technology. Some of the things that these women were telling me about working with tech teams were things that I had never experienced. It ranged from sexual harassment to being devalued to not being taken seriously to not making an impact on the product itself.  We talked about all of those things. None of those exist with me on this team. And mind you, we’re talking about me being the first female among a group of six people and the youngest member on the staff as well.

Sheila: That’s really impressive. That says a lot about the company. You know a lot about the product. eSecureSend’s biggest challenge is getting customers to switch from something called FTP, which is archaic by any industry standard, let alone the tech industry’s. If there was a customer on the fence about switching from FTP, “We spent all this money, time and effort. We even have staff dedicated to that job.” What would you tell them is the first and foremost reason to give eSecureSend (eSS) a try?

Yasmeen: We’ll take care of you. I was impressed when Jami put it into the contract. He said we only want you paying us if you’re happy with our service. For anyone out there, when you come on board with us we want to make sure that the service is meeting the needs and the promise that we gave you. We want to make sure we meet that and if we don’t, we will do what you can to make it happen.

Just because you’ve already invested FTP, it doesn’t mean it goes to waste when you adopt a new tool. We can bring eSS and adapt it to your environment and help get you the most out of it.

Sheila: What do you mean ‘adapt to your environment?’

Yasmeen: When we talk about file transfer in general, everybody has a different set up – computers servers, different laptops. Some people have admin access and some people are meeting strict government regulations. Some people are at home on their laptops with lousy Wi-Fi. In this wide range of conditions we can take the core of eSS and say, ‘This is what you have and here’s how we can make it work better. We will get eSS up and running as effectively and even better than FTP. We will go that extra mile and make sure that our service is doing what we told you it can do.

Sheila: Have you had any customers that they are not satisfied?

Yasmeen: We’ve had many people tell us, ‘you know what, we don’t trust you.’ So we bring our other customers into the conversation. And it usually goes something like this, ‘these guys have gone way out of their way to help me. You should give them a chance.’ And once they give us a chance we always blow them out of the water.

Sheila: Maybe it’s too good to be true. Do you think that’s part of it?

Yasmeen: People just don’t like change. So it helps to tell them that change is okay.  We’ll prepare you. We’re not going to abandon you. We’re not going to leave you hanging.

Sheila: I think it’s also like when you adopt a new technology… “I was told it would be easy. I was told it was…” Most business owners, especially small business owners, thoughts regarding new technology are that if it goes wrong we know that we’re going to lose money trying to fix it. You’re paying for something that’s supposed to make your life easier and if it doesn’t and you’re going to lose money go back the to the way you were doing things.

Yasmeen: And who exactly is responsible for providing this product or service to people to buy? If I’m telling you, “hey I have this great thing you should come here and buy it.” And you decide to buy it. Why am I am leaving you out in the water to figure it out and fix it yourself? That’s not your job nor your responsibility, nor your expertise. That’s for us to do. We are the experts of our own product.

Sheila: Right. If it’s your vehicle, it’s not your job to fix a cracked engine head if that happens. It’s your job to get it to the garage. It’s not your job to do the work they do in there. Again that is something that is lost in technology and I think that’s where the company shines. It’s a customer driven company.

Yasmeen: Yeah. Absolutely.  The other part of what we do is the technical side of it. We’ve redesigned the engine and it becomes more awesome from the feedback that we get. We’re not video editors. We’re not drone mappers, nor lawyers who have to send drives to each other. We don’t have the experience of their expertise.

So for us to be in the middle of their workflow, we don’t know what that looks like until they come and tell us, ‘my life would be a lot easier if I was able to take this video I’m working on, press a couple of buttons, and say okay store it over here. Send it over there. Then send this version over to that person.’  Without that kind of feedback we wouldn’t be able to take the product to the next level. It’s not just about customer support. They’re the ones driving what the product is becoming. I don’t even know what it will look like in a year, two years based on their feedback.

Sheila: That’s exciting and that’s outside of the norm. When you’re integrating the variable of meeting the customer needs and you guys aren’t fearful of that. You know you’re going to be changing. You know you’re going to be evolving and that’s what you’re coming to work to do that. That is probably the new way of handling things.

Yasmeen: Yea, I think it was Seth Godin who said if you’re not pivoting, you’re slowly dying…

Sheila: Yeah and he also talked about ‘just ship it’ and you guys have continually shipped and then work with the feedback that you would haven’t gotten if you didn’t ship.

Yasmeen: Exactly.

Yasmeen came onto the Dmorph team as a contract employee and because of her skillset was brought on as a full time staff member.  Her age and gender were never factored into the equation, let alone her wages.  Dmorph Inc. hired her and pays her based on the value she brings to the company day in and day out. As you can see she knows this product and believes in the company’s success. Time for the big boys in tech to act like adult humans and listen up.

The Real Questions to Assess Cost Versus Benefit When Adopting New Technology

A 2013 study conducted by MIT Sloan Management conclude that now, more than ever, companies have 2 choices, “adopt new technologies effectively or face competitive obsolescence.” Ouch. Of the 1559 executives and managers they interviewed, 78% said, “achieving digital transformation will become critical to their organizations within the next two years.” Are you one of the 78%?

Read more

Tips On How Americans Can Protect Their Private Data Irrespective Of Changing Political Rules

Well, it happened.  As of April 3rd, 2017 the FCC Internet Privacy Rule intended to protect consumers from their personal information being sold was repealed when President Donald Trump signed off on the repeal that had passed both Senate and Congress.

For a complete list of the 265 state representatives who voted for the repeal, as well as the amount of money they received from telecommunications companies as donations click HERE.

This was met with severe ire and backlash from the American people, because consumers rightfully value their privacy.  Actor Misha Collins began raising funds with the ambitious goal of buying every representative’s browser history for the tune of $500,000,000. Cards Against Humanity designer Mark Temkin stated he would purchase the browsing histories himself with no need to crowdfund the effort.  Both have garnered a lot of attention and thus far 4 crowd funding efforts have raised more than $200,000.  With the President’s ink still drying on the repeal, it will be interesting to see the follow through on this.

It doesn’t take a lot of news these days to become shocked, downhearted, frustrated, angry and/or completely bamboozled.  This is all on top of the March 28th, 2017 news that the US Congress voted to repeal the Obama Era FCC Internet Privacy Rule. This repeal passed by the Senate on March 23rd, 2017. Did you catch that with so much going on in the news?

What does the repeal of the FCC Internet Privacy Rule mean?

The repeal would make it legal for internet providers to sell your browsing history without your permission.  This same FCC Internet Privacy Rule the House of Representatives voted to repeal also required internet providers (think Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner and Verizon) to protect your data from hackers and inform you of any breaches.

It’s important to differentiate between internet providers, search engines and websites.  The best metaphor out there is that internet providers are like roadways and search engines and websites are akin to stores along those highways.  You have to take the road to go to the store.  So even though Google is, well Google, they too depend on the roadways of internet service providers.

Let’s back up to the initial FCC Internet Privacy Rule, which was passed just back on October 27, 2016 – not that long ago.  The biggest thing to remember is that this rule NEVER went into effect.  It passed in October of last year, well before the shock of November 8th, and was set to go into effect early this year, however it never actually did.  Meaning our privacy has always been up for sale.

The new rule would have required internet providers to get your explicit permission before they shared information like your browsing history, location, app usage and even the content of your emails. Social security numbers, financial information, medical information and any information pertaining to children would also be secured by this FCC Privacy Rule.  Any information outside of those categories could still be shared by internet providers unless the consumer actively opts out.

Providers would be required to inform consumers of any information that they are collecting and update them of any changes. None of that had been protected until the privacy act was passed.  That means that internet providers have been able to share and sell of that information all along.

These rules also include the vague requirement that internet providers “take reasonable measures” to secure consumers’ sensitive data.  While reasonable measures remained unspecified, it was specified that if there was a breach, the providers have 30 days to notify the consumer.

The rules were going to be put into place to prevent internet providers from forcing consumers to opt into agreements where they share their information and prevent the providers from withholding service from consumers who refuse to opt in.  However, the rule did seem a bit like they providers could still charge more for their services for a refusal to opt in and didn’t provide any clear governance in the matter.  Sound a little bit like preventing mafia behavior?

The FCC plan of action was to review any instances of what could basically be termed ‘privacy fees’ on a case by case basis.  With a reported 88.5% of Americans, or 286,942,362 people, using the internet in 2016, a case by case basis seems a bit unrealistic.

Even without consumer permission, internet providers under this ruling would have been able to share information ‘anonymously.’  This ruling allowed internet providers to share consumer information without consumer permission so long as the information is made anonymous by the provider “so that it can’t be reasonably linked to a specific individual or device.”  The theory behind this is that your data could still be sold, but not linked to your device.

Another key point of interest is that this all happened due to something called the Congressional  Review Act.  The Congressional Review Act allows congress to strike down any recently passed rules by federal agencies to block FCC action.  A big concern with repealing the act, as opposed to improving it for the sake of the consumer not the corporations, is that it prevents a comparable/improved act from being implemented in the future.  Striking privacy acts out of the realm of possibility in the future. Another lesson in the political science crash course America is cumulatively taking at the school of hard knocks.

To say that the bill left a lot to be desired is an understatement, however what’s more concerning is that none of this was in place at all to begin with and consumers have been going about their online business.  All of which means, at this time it’s up to the American consumer to actively protect their privacy.

Protect your private data

Paul Linebaugh, Head of Digital Infrastructure Systems at eSecureSend.com, a secure, large data transfer firm in Durham, North Carolina gives expert insight on how the American consumer can protect their privacy.

  • Browse websites with secured connections.  Use URLs with “https://” at the beginning and look for the lock symbol on your web browser.  If you are typing in a URL by hand, start with the “https://” and bookmark URLs with it also.
  • If you use public access (like a coffee shop) then use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your traffic so other patrons can’t sniff it or redirect it.  You’ll need a VPN server setup to connect to.
  • Use a password manager to create/edit/manager your passwords.
  • Configure applications to use a secure connection when possible.  Email clients would be one of the most popular that needs to use a secured connection.  For most apps you don’t really have the control to do it, the developers need to do it. This means actively looking at each of your apps to see the privacy settings and security information.
  • In addition to using a secured connection with email, you can also use Pretty Good Privacy Encryption Program. That’s seriously what it’s called, but don’t underestimate the value of a PGP, such as GnuPG to sign and encrypt emails to others.  This can be tricky, but not impossible, because the people you send the emails to also need to configure it on their end.
  • If you can, use two-factor authentication. That would be good, especially for critical or high-value accounts.  PayPal, banking accounts, and gaming accounts would be some types of accounts that could be high-value to bad people.
  • Make your email account(s) as secure as you can.  Use a long password and an encrypted connection for access.  If someone can get into your email account then they can get into a lot of your other accounts by resetting your password on those accounts and intercepting the email.
  • Encrypt your hard drives – this isn’t really an online thing, but can be related since your online passwords are probably on your laptop/desktop somewhere.
  • If you use an open wireless network or a wireless network with a known passphrase (default usually) then after you are done remove that connection from your list of known networks.  There are tools out there that allow people to pretend to be those wireless networks and reroute your traffic.
  • Don’t install anything unless it is from a known source.  Go directly to the website that hosts the program that you want to install and download it.
  • For the sites that ask for things like “mothers maiden name”, consider making something up, keep track of it, and if another site asks for the same thing make something else up.  If one site is compromised that has that information then a bad person can use it to get into your account on other sites if they have the same questions with your same answers.

The Takeaway

All of that may seem like a lot to take in on top of the fact 265 people voted to represent the American people just sold us out to corporate donors. The internet is an incredible tool that has completely transformed the way we work and live.  Make it work for you by using the above privacy measures and send an email, via a secure route option of course, to your representative letting them know how you feel and reminding them when the next upcoming election is.