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Tim Lord met Jay Kim at the RSA Conference in an Francisco. Kim's background is in manufacturing, but he's got an interest in security that has manifested itself in hardware with an emphasis on ease of use. His company, DataLocker, has come up with a fully cross-platform, driver independent portable system that mates a touch-pad input device with an AES-encrypted drive. It doesn't look much different from typical external USB drives, except for being a little beefier and bulkier than the current average, to account for both a touchpad and the additional electronics for performing encryption and decryption in hardware. Because authentication is done on the face of the drive itself, it can be used with any USB-equipped computer available to the user, and works fine as a bootable device, so you can -- for instance -- run a complete Linux system from it. (For that, though, you might want one of the smaller-capacity, solid-state versions of this drive, for speed.) Kim talked about the drive, and painted a rosy picture of what it's like to be a high-tech entrepreneur in Kansas.

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Encryption, the transformation of data into a form that prevents anyone unauthorized from understanding that data, is a fundamental technology that enables online commerce, secure communication, and the protection of confidential information.

Encryption algorithms are the mathematical formulae for performing these transformations. You provide an encryption algorithm with a key and the data you want to protect (the plaintext), and it produces an encrypted output (the ciphertext). To read the output, you need to feed the key and the ciphertext into a decryption algorithm (sometimes these are identical to encryption algorithms; other times they are closely related but different).

Encryption algorithms are designed so that performing the decryption process is unfeasibly hard without knowing the key.

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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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Axel Dauchez

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Blizzard Entertainment seeks a talented and enthusiastic web software engineer to join our web team in Irvine, California. The web team develops customer facing web sites, ranging from account management and e-commerce sites, to community forums and character profiles for multiple regions around the globe. The software engineer is responsible for creating new and improving existing applications in a high-load, high-availability environment. The role focuses heavily on server-side web programming

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Blizzard Entertainment seeks a Web programmer experienced in developing Web-based applications for our external websites. The programmer would be responsible for creating new and improving existing applications in a high-load, high-availability environment. The role focuses heavily on server-side Web programming, while interfacing with front-end design teams to create applications.

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Many e-commerce sites these days tend to be loaded down with too much information on their landing pages. The reasoning for cluttered e-commerce sites is simple: the more information you can cram on the page, the more the user will buy. Unfortunately, web buyers are a finicky bunch.

Jacob Nielsen reports that web users are becoming much more impatient while shopping and browsing online. Instead of spending their time going to a site’s homepage and finding the content by categories or other product recommendations, most shopping is done by quick Google searches. If the user can’t find what she’s looking for right away, she’s gone.

It’s crucial to have simple web designs to allow the user to quickly find the information they need, especially if you are selling a product. If the page is cluttered with useless text, widgets or unrelated products, the site becomes meaningless.

However, it’s become a common practice to do just the opposite. e-commerce sites have taken this “scatter shot” approach of trying to slap the potential buyer with as many options as possible. Instead of making the landing page solely about one product, sites usually clutter the page with unnecessary information, ads and related products.

Less Products Mean More Focus

Many web companies forget the cardinal rule of e-commerce: Web shoppers want as little hassle as possible. Instead of hopping in the car and driving to the store to buy a DVD, it’s much easier to go online and snag it from Amazon in a few clicks. The customer is even willing to wait longer and spend more money if the shopping experience is simple and fast.

Apple

Apple has mastered the art of minimal homepage design. If you go to their homepage, they’ll only show you three things:

  • A simple header navigation
  • One product in the body of the page
  • A few informational links about the featured product with images below the fold

Aside from the standard footer navigation, the homepage consists only of three parts. Here’s what you see if you click on a product link (like the iPhone).

iPhone homepage

Even on the product page, you immediately see what the page is about: the iPhone. The product itself dominates the bulk of the page, and the surrounding information are apps and features of the new iPhone. But more importantly, notice what’s not on the iPhone page:

  • Unrelated products
  • Unrelated sidebar ads
  • Lots of copy
  • Clutter

Apple has effectively shown just enough information in a very pleasing manner. There’s nothing wrong with showing lots of information, as long as it doesn’t feel like a lot of information. You’ll also notice that all of the information, links and pictures are all centered around the iPhone and what it offers. There are no distracting ads or unneeded information about other products.

There are a couple of tried-and-true methods that any designer or web developer can take to ensure that the site layout doesn’t drive customers away with clutter.

  1. Only what you need.
    The biggest aspect of simple web design is only showing what’s needed to make the sale, and nothing more. This doesn’t mean that you can’t give the user lots of information. Just make sure they want to see more information. Apple uses “Learn more” links throughout the page to accomplish this.
  2. Reduce clicks. The less clicks it takes for a customer to buy a product, the higher returns. Don’t make them jump through hoops to buy your product.
  3. The “Grandma” rule. If your grandma (or any elderly person) can figure out how to buy a product for your site, odds are it’s put together pretty well. Unneeded information will turn Grandma away quickly.
  4. Reduce the number of columns. Each time you add a column to a page, the content is pushed into a smaller and smaller space. This puts less emphasis on the main product, and more on extra stuff the buyer isn’t really looking for.
  5. Give less options. There is an added stress put on web shoppers to make decisions. Ultimately, the buyer wants to think as little as possible when making the purchase. Displaying products in a way that eliminates extra thinking and decisions will streamline the buying process and give the customer more peace of mind.
  6. Keep it clean. A clean design keeps visitors happy. By taking the time to ensure that the layout of the site is aesthetically pleasing keeps the customer returning to the site.

Intuitive web design means thinking like a potential customer. Would you shop at your site?

Other Great Examples of Simple e-commerce Design

Bell.ca

Bell.ca uses only a few colors to indicate the branding and offers visitors only the main navigation options. Notice how well the design manages to present a number of different options — shop navigation, support as well as personal and business areas. The design isn’t cluttered but clean and simple and provides the visitors with a broad overview of available options without forcing users to actually go through all of them. Also notice how clever the product navigation is designed at the top of the site. There is just nothing users can do incorrectly.

Shoeguru.ca

Shoeguru.ca present a very user-centric and product-centric design. The product seems to be on the stage just in front of the visitors. The design presents only the product, and nothing else; even only few navigation options are available.

Etsy

Etsy is a great example of how to place a lot of information on a page without it being cluttered. Etsy has a wide catalog of products to sell from, yet Etsy’s design has an earthy, relaxing quality. Creating a useful homepage that doesn’t distract is no small feat.

crupress

Crupress is an elegant book site without many distractions. The homepage manages to present a lot of text without agitating the user. The header navigation is prominent, but doesn’t demand attention. All the design elements flow together smoothly.

tokyocube

Tokyocube is a fun, trendy little site that sells Japanese products. Instead taking precious space explaining what the site sells, the products are put right in front of you. Also, the heavy use of white space allows the products to almost jump right off the page at you. You can’t help but click on one of the toys to learn more about them.

furious tees

While Furious Tees is a tad busier in graphics than the previous sites, it helps do two things:

  1. Show the playfulness of the site
  2. Make it very clear that all shirts are only $19.99

You aren’t lost trying to figure out what Furious Tees is selling, the products are all in front of you. Having all the products on the homepage is especially beneficial for novelty sites that have merchandise people normally wouldn’t be looking for.

But sites with lots of products on the homepage run the risk of becoming cluttered very quickly. Furious Tees doesn’t have this problem. They don’t use any extra sidebars or ads taking attention away from the T-Shirts. The focus is solely on the shirts and the hilarious design.

37 Signals

Basecamp (37 Signals)

Look no further than 37 Signal’s project management tool Basecamp for an incredible example of mixing different types of information to sell a product. Yet there’s just enough information to make an effective sales copy. Every word, every image has to be weighed in a design. If there’s not enough information, the user won’t spend time trying to figure out what the product does. Too much information and the user becomes overwhelmed.

The tasteful use of heading backgrounds and company logos makes every bit of information stand out on it’s own. And they somehow made all of the different types of media blend together, with plenty of space so that the user isn’t bombarded by lots of text or images at one time.

You Only Have a Few Seconds

Every website is going to require a different type of layout, design and copy to sell products. But designers can strive to do more with less by:

  • weighing every word
  • removing unneeded elements
  • using tasteful colors and whitespace
  • and limiting the amount of overall information the shopper sees at one time

Remember, online shoppers are a fickle bunch. They don’t “window shop”. They use search engines to limit their searches to a very narrow field. If they don’t like what they see, they leave. Site owners only have a very small window of time to capture the attention of the prospective shopper. A tasteful, clutter-free design that places the focus on the product (and nowhere else) will allow the shopper to find what she wants faster.

Glen Stansberry is a web developer and blogger. You can read more of his articles on smart web development at Web Jackalope.

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