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A few people have asked me whether I think programming is a necessary skill for entrepreneurs (or anyone) to have in the future.

When I was 14 years old, taking guitar lessons from Tom Pecora, he gave me that this-is-important-so-listen-well look, and told me something that stuck with me for life:

“You need to learn to sing. Because if you don’t, you’re always going to be at the mercy of some asshole singer.”

His point of view was from a rock guitarist in the Chicago music scene, trying to put together a band, and all that. I really took it to heart, and learned to sing.

But ever since then I’ve applied that point to other areas.

When I first started CD Baby, I didn’t know any programming, only basic HTML, and quickly had to cry for someone to help me. Davor Cengija in Croatia was a big help, but one day he disappeared. (Turned out he broke his foot skiing.) For weeks I was helpless, as my site had problems, and I didn’t know how to fix them. That pain got me motivated to learn this stuff myself. (Necessity is the best motivator.) I’ve loved programming ever since.

Later, when I needed a new computer, my friend Tony Benjamin taught me how to build my own from parts. This was so empowering because this box that I depended on so much was no longer a mystery. As CD Baby grew, I loved building all the computers for the employees, and even the webservers that ran the site.

In the independent musician scene, the DIY ethic is strong, by necessity. When it comes to doing all those non-musical things like booking gigs, promoting, publishing, and all of the organizational things, the norm is to do it yourself until it makes more sense to get someone better to help you. (And even then, maybe choosing to do it yourself just because you want to.)

The benefit of doing this yourself at first is that you learn enough about it so when you can afford to hire someone, you’re in a much better position to know if they’re good or not. Also it gives you the confidence to know that if anyone else flakes, you can step in and do enough to keep going. The deep joy of self-reliance.

So... back to programming:

The most common thing I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs is, “I have this idea for an app or site. But I’m not technical, so I need to find someone who can make it for me.”

I point them to my advice about how to hire a programmer, but as most of the good ones are already booked solid, it’s a pretty helpless position to be in.

If you heard someone say, “I have this idea for a song. But I’m not musical, so I need to find someone who will write, perform, and record it for me.” - you’d probably advise them to just take some time to sit down with a guitar or piano and learn enough to turn their ideas into reality.

And so comes my advice:

Yes, learn some programming basics. Just some HTML, CSS, and JavaScript should be enough to start.

I recommend Head First HTML and CSS first, then Head First HTML5 Programming.

Get those basics under your belt. Make an HTML site respond to things the user is doing. Save some information in a database, and use it to generate a web page.

You could go through those books in a couple weeks of evenings, and you’d already know as much as 50% of the people out there calling themselves webdesigners or web programmers!

It’s a REALLY amazing feeling. The mystery is lifted. You’ll look at all websites in a new way. You’ll understand what’s going on behind the scenes. You’ll know how to do it yourself. It’s really empowering.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll know enough to know what you need next. Maybe you want to get deeper into web development with Ruby, JavaScript, Python, Rails, or Node.js. But don’t get overwhelmed. When you’re ready, look at the book reviews on Amazon to see which books people are raving about. Go to Stack Overflow to ask questions or recommendations.

This will give you a good foundation if you want to go on to make iPhone or Android apps, or just know enough to hire someone better.

You don’t need to become an expert, just know the basics, so you’re not helpless. You can do all of this in less hours than it takes to watch “The Wire”, and it’s much more rewarding.

(It’s definitely been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever learned.)

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Events celebrating and protesting LGBT rights took place in many parts of the world in the last several months. Pride parades were met with violence or intimidation in Russia, Georgia, and Albania while other places saw wild street parties. Three million people celebrated on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, often considered the biggest Pride event in the world. Activists in Uganda and Chile sought to change laws, while in the United States Barack Obama became the first American president to endorse same-sex marriage. Gathered here are pictures from events related to gay rights issues, LGBT Pride celebrations, and the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. -- Lane Turner (39 photos total)
Mark Wilson carries a rainbow flag during San Francisco's 42nd annual gay pride parade on June 24, 2012. Organizers said more than 200 floats, vehicles and groups of marchers took part in the parade. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)

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The 24th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest is in full swing. The entry deadline has been extended until July 11. The four categories include: Travel Portraits; Outdoor Scenes; Sense of Place and Spontaneous Moments. Last year's contest drew nearly 13,000 images from all over the world. The pictures are as diverse as their authors, capturing an assortment of people, places and wildlife - everything that makes traveling so memorable, evoking a sense of delight and discovery. The following post includes a small sampling of the entrant's work, taken from the editor's picks in each of the categories. (The captions are written by the entrants, some slightly corrected for readability.) And for fun, take a look back at the winners from 2011 at National Geographic Traveler. -- Paula Nelson (54 photos total)
SPONTANEOUS MOMENTS - Marrakech Traveler: It was mid-morning and he must have wanted to ride into the light. I was shooting for the ABC TV show Born to Explore when I snapped this photo. (John Barnhardt/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

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Some happy, some sad, at times cheering or even fighting, fans of soccer are absorbed in the European 2012 Soccer Championship. Sixteen nations made it to the final tournament being held in Poland and the Ukraine with the final match to be played on July 1 at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. -- Lloyd Young(40 photos total)
A soccer fan soaks up the atmospshere ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer championship group D match between Ukraine and Sweden at The Olympic Stadium on June 11 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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noiseymusic:

US Army Infantryman Kyle Hockenberry, photographed by Laura Rauch.

Tattoos have always been linked to conflict. In the 18th century, British explorer and cartographer Captain James Cook returned to London with a crew of sailors who had been inked up by natives from the South Pacific. Today, soldiers all over the Middle East mark their bodies with tattoos to commemorate fallen comrades, mark divisions and units, and remind them of their loved ones back home.

This is an image of 19-year-old US Army Infantryman Kyle Hockenberry being treated following an explosion that cost him both of his legs and one arm. The photo was taken for a military newspaper, and went on to win photographer Laura Rauch an SPJ award. Tattooed across Hockenberry’s ribcage are the words “For Those I Love, I Will Sacrifice.” These are lyrics from “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” a track from Indecision’s 1998 record To Live And Die In New York City.

Indecision was one of the most prolific and outspoken hardcore bands in NYHC history. In addition to speaking out in favor of animal rights, vegetarianism, and social justice, the band toured five continents over its eight-year history, and was the first American band to play Croatia after the 1995 War Of Independence. The band was founded by Justin Lee Brannan, who has since worn many hats, including stints at Bear Stearns, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, and the Bank Of New York. He’s currently the President of the Bay Ridge Democrats in Brooklyn. 

Brannan wrote these words when he was sixteen years old, and was stunned to see them again after the image was picked up by Time Magazine. Yesterday, on the 68th anniversary of D-Day, I gave Brannan a call to understand what it feels like to see his words in such an off-putting context.

NOISEY: So how did you first come across this photograph?
Justin Lee Brannan: It was on an insider US military blog and a friend sent it to me. It completely blew my mind. He had gotten the tattoo two weeks before he was deployed. He’s a 19-year-old kid. The thing is, lots of people have these words tattooed, and I never knew what to say over the years when people would come up to me and show it to me. But to see it like that, for once in my life I was speechless.

I felt an instant connection with Kyle. The first thing I wanted to find out if he was alive, and how I could get in touch with him.

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The photographs in the gallery above are from the book Bosnia 1992 – 1995, available July 2012. The book will be self-published by the photographers who covered the Bosnian conflict—which began 20 years ago today—and printed in Bosnia. The captions below these photographs are the personal reflections of the photographers on their experiences in the region.

If the last lines of the 20th century were written in Moscow in December 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the prelude to the 21st century was written months later—and 20 years ago this month—in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, as the disorderly break-up of Yugoslavia turned into genocide. In that bloody April, America’s moment of triumph over totalitarianism was transformed into a tribalist nightmare as Bosnian Serbs, determined to seize large parts of Bosnia as part of a plan to create a Greater Serbia, targeted Muslims for extermination. What some at the time hoped was just a communist death-rattle at the periphery of the Soviet empire, now looks like the birth cries of our current geopolitical reality.

In Bosnia the U.S. learned it would preside over a world where borders and ideology mattered less and transnational allegiances of ethnicity and sectarianism mattered more. Interviewed by TIME in August 1995, weeks after his troops had slaughtered more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys near the town of Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, now on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, declared he was acting out of fear of a new Islamic push through the Balkans to Europe. “By this demographic explosion Muslims are overflowing not only the cradle of Christianity in the Balkans but have left their tracks even in the Pyrenees,” Mladic said.

As the slaughter unfolded in Bosnia, and Europe and the U.S. belatedly mustered the will to stop it, Western attitudes towards the post-Cold War world took shape, as well. Neoconservatives and hawkish Democrats found common cause in humanitarian intervention. The media and the public learned from the NATO action in August and September 1995 and the Dayton peace agreement in November that American military might could impose stability—for a time. But 20 years later, with international military and police forces still keeping the peace in Bosnia, we have found there—and at much greater cost elsewhere—that an initially successful intervention by America’s unmatched armed forces cannot impose sectarian comity.

Massimo Calabresi covered the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo as TIME’s Central Europe bureau chief from 1995 to 1999.

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GoGlobal is Morten Lund’s new venture. Earlier this month, Lund pitched GoGlobal live on stage at The London Web Summit. Despite a few people thinking it was a ruse, GoGlobal aims to be a platform to grow globally for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies. Lund says he wants to take three to four companies in to 40+ countries every quarter. Here is the problem I think he is looking to solve.

As soon as an Internet startup shows signs of success, somewhere in the universe its business model is replicated with razor-sharp execution tactics. If the startup is under the radar still, selling its products and services internationally is difficult without prior knowledge and business network.

Take online music streaming industry for example, its pioneer Spotify launched in Germany this month. Eagerly awaited by the German public, whose current suppliers of streaming music services include Deezer, Rhapsody, Rdio and Simfy, Spotify is now present in only 13 countries. Its French competitor Deezer has gone to as many as 45 countries and expects to conquer the world outside of the US by the end of 2012, according to its CEO Axel Dauchez. Will Spotify ever catch up?

First movers have good reasons to worry about competition. Deezer may not be a copycat, it was founded only 16 months after Spotify, but its plans to grow are much more aggressive.

So I spoke to a number of industry players to understand what it takes to grow an Internet business internationally.

Product Localization

Dauchez says that customizing the service was key to entering new markets. For Deezer it meant adding local artists, negotiating licenses with the labels for each individual country, and segmenting music into relevant genres (adding French Chanson for the Russian audience and Schlager for the German).

For some companies product localization may not need to be so extensive: for example Instagr.am did not do anything beyond translating its app into eight languages. For-website translation tools from EasyLing or SmartLing could work well.

In mobile apps industry, app store optimization, including localization of the screenshots in the appstore promotional materials, can increase download rates of a mobile app by 30 percent according to the mobile expert Stefan Bielau.

Marketing

Distributing mobile apps internationally goes beyond Google Play and iTunes. Distimo lists 60 app stores, but some local ones would not be included. Publishing apps in those stores is still largely a manual task, according to Bielau.

For an online business operating in the B2C space a desirable marketing channel would be a global partnership with Facebook. Having accomplished that, Deezer enjoys a Facebook-driven user base growth of 20 percent per week.

Using other social networks such as Nasza klasa in Poland, Orkut, owned by Google and popular in Brazil and India, or Russian Facebook equivalent Vkontakte for marketing purposes also makes sense, as they are admittedly cheaper for user acquisition, although Facebook’s audience is larger.

Earning money from some of the social networks may be tricky. According to Danil Kozyatnikov of Questli from Novosibirsk, Russia, his social games company partnered with Russian social networks, but in some cases the company did not get paid.

Thankfully, for those with a sizable budget, B2C user acquisition can be done through advertisement. According to Siegfried Müller, the co-founder of a hugely successful Munich-based Travian Games (120 million registered users), advertisement networks are well established globally, and buying ads in different countries is an easy task. Travian is present in more than 50 countries.

Payment

All the “likes”, clicks and registrations are useless without adequate payment methods. PayPal and credit cards may not always be a payment method of choice outside of the developed countries. Even in Germany bank account transfers are still preferred over other payment tools, and the country has one of the lowest numbers of credit cards in the EU.

XS Software, a Bulgarian online games company that sells its games in 80 countries, uses over 100 payment providers. According to the company’s project manager Dimitar Yanchev, SMS payments are the third most popular payment method after PayPal and credit cards. This is especially true for those customers who have not yet reached the legal age to have a bank account or a credit card. Such payment methods can be quite expensive, as telcos take a significant cut as a commission. InSyria, for example, it can be as much as 80 percent of the total revenue.

Many countries have so-called e-wallets for those who are unwilling to use their bank account or credit cards for online payment. In Russia and some Eastern European countries it is QIWI, in the Middle East and North Africa there is CashU, BoaCompra in Brazil, DotPay in Poland and ePay in Bulgaria. The way most of these e-wallets work is by allowing the customers to deposit money into the online account through a payment terminal or a kiosk. But even in Russia, e-commerce leaders such as Ozon still receive over 80 percent of payments as cash on delivery, as its CEO Maelle Gavet shared at TechCrunch Moscow.

In Serbia, Internet businesses cannot implement payment methods because it is necessary to register a legal entity there. In Eastern Europe the same requirement applies in Bulgaria and Croatia. A group of Serbia’s leading e-commerce sites, which includes Limundo (Serbian eBay) and Kupindo (Serbian Amazon) is currently developing their own escrow-based payment system called Platindo which will eventually become an e-wallet.

There are of course payment aggregators such as Moneybookers, recently rebranded as Skrill, which offer integration of 100 payment methods in 200 countries, but they do not come cheap and according to Müller of Travian Games have a small market share in many countries.

Deezer’s international roll-out did not go beyond credit card and PayPal payments for now, but the company intends to improve on this and other localization efforts gradually by establishing offices in 15 key countries, and participating in local scenes: marketing at festivals, and engaging local artists. Currently its international team is 20-strong, but the company expects to grow its total staff from 120 to 300 by the end of this year. As for payments, bundling its music streaming service with telcos’ annual mobile phone contract is likely to boost their user retention and allow them to collect revenue from their telecom partners.

Online Piracy

Deezer’s product is a digital good, and online piracy is its main competitor. Russian Vkontakte, for example, is blacklisted in the USbecause its users are enabled to freely upload music files and listen to them through Vkontakte free of charge. There is even a tool called Meridian that offers the creation of playlists using music on Vkontakte, all perfectly illegal and completely free. Dauchez believes that offering its users a premium music streaming experience. The rest is down to finding the right price point to get them to pay for it.

Logistics

For online retailers of physical goods, further challenges abound. I spoke to Jonathan Teklu, the managing partner of Berlin-based incubator SpringStar, which backed KupiVIP, the Russian version of Ventee Privee. He told me that when its founder, Oskar Hartmann, launched KupiVIP in Russia, he had to buy a fleet of trucks to deliver goods to its customers.

Indeed, logistics is another significant operational challenge in many of the world’s markets, where consumers are likely to cancel a purchase if no suitable delivery method exists. To address the challenge, Russian iTech Capital has set up QIWI Post, a joint venture with Polish Integer (owner of InPost), which leverages the brand of QIWI e-wallet and its network of terminals. QIWI Post is a terminal where a courier deposits a shipment, and buyers pay for the goods at the terminal and open the box using a provided code. Similar solutions exist elsewhere: for example in Germany, Estonia, and recently – thanks to InPost – also in Ireland under the name of Parcel Motel.

Other Issues

Companies looking to establish presence in the large developing markets such as Brazil or India will need a local partner to set up a legal entity, according to Teklu.

Educating online users is also essential. The online room and sublet reservation company AirBnB partnered with SpringStar in October 2011 to boost its international expansion. In Israel and the Middle East it is currently facing a problem of a cash economy, where the apartment owners prefer to be paid in cash, rather through an online transaction, an essential element of the Airbnb user experience. Changing such an attitude requires time.

Another example of having to educate consumers is India, where Internet users still have trust issues with buying online from unknown brands. A ticket-selling website MakeMyTrip engaged local travel agencies to let them use its website to book trips, and by so doing, educate their customers that it is safe to do so, according to Teklu.

These are few examples of challenges that come with need to grow internationally. Going back to Lund, he plans to target SaaS companies supporting them with legal, accounting, affiliate marketing and payment services amongst others, all offered as one platform.

Interested in what others thought of the idea, I asked Tom Cupr, from the Czech Republic, who has grown his daily deals business, Slevomat Group, into a 60 million Euro company with a presence in 7 Eastern European countries in just over a year. He said what’s really important is execution, but then again, he thinks that GoGlobal could make international expansion a lot easier.

This post is written by our regular contributor Natasha Starkell, the CEO of GoalEurope, the outsourcing advisory firm and a publication about outsourcing, innovation and startups in Central and Eastern Europe. Twitter @NatashaStarkell. Gplus.to/natashastarkell.

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Deezer

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Axel Dauchez

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Morten Lund

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