Wealth and luxury through the ages

Kingdoms have given way to governments, societal rules have changed over time. Traditions slowly lost upon our modern world. However, wealth has always been a constant. The rich want to stay rich and those who have not made their riches, seek them. It has become the universal goal of humankind. From fables born of the past, to the news of today, everyone loves a good rags to riches story. It allows people from all walks of like to believe that perhaps such luck might one day befall them too.

Perhaps it has to do with the association of power through wealth. History proves that one may be powerful without great riches, but with great riches comes substantial power. Money can buy access, convenience, it can even buy loyalties – which is why corruption runs rampant.

Let us take a look at the commercial success of Forbes, an American magazine which was once valued at several billion dollars and tells us exactly how much stock is put into wealth. We not only want to gain it, we want to read about it, we want to know who is the richest. True to form, Forbes has continued to publish its Richest List online and is still actively sharing reports on financing, investing and other marketing topics. But even they are not invulnerable to using underhanded tactics in order to make a quick buck.

However, according to USA Today, after being digitalized, Forbes has operated as a contributor platform, open for laudatory articles to be circulated about brands or companies which are working together with them. Even banks are not above employing certain sneakiness when it comes to money managing. However, nobody in the industry does it better than retailers.

In reports shown on Business Insider, the many tricks used to force consumers to spend, are apparent in the trends set by giant corporations. One example of this is Apple and its introduction of the eight-pin Lightning connector. This forced consumers to re-accessorize, and in turn, replenish their funds. Another subtle way of ensuring that sales remain high even with a drop in the interest, is replacing fewer amounts such as Kellogg’s cereal, which has been losing ounce after ounce of product and when confronted, replied with, “Some package sizes have been reduced due to high commodity prices and other related costs. We do this instead of raising the price of our products, as it allows us to keep our food available to more people.” However, the packaging has remained the same, it was the contents that shrunk.

Money has a tendency to bring out the worst. In the previous generation, there were fewer swindlers and more people who would be paid for an honest day’s work. However, the current situation has big developers cutting corners, manufacturers using lower cost substitutes and in effect, producing less quality. Perhaps there were more thieves in the past, but now, the thieves have evolved from robbing one in the dead of the night, in an abandoned alley, to blatant daylight robbery.

The thieving life has been portrayed by many movies from the exciting and ostentatious Ocean’s Eleven, about a group of criminals that perform heists with a moral code – do not hurt, do not steal from the worthy and have fun, to light-hearted Fun with Dick and Jane. The motivation is always crystal clear: attain riches and live happily with little to no consequences.

However, in the real world, most thieves steal to sell, not perform one heist in order to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. It becomes a way of life. The honest man goes to office to work while a dishonest one finds ways so he does not need to put in the hours, with higher risks and a bigger payout. While they used to operate in shady locales, melting jewelry on the stop to avoid being caught, the internet has opened a world of possibilities for them and allowed them to sell online.

There are plenty of marketplaces that do not require identification in order to sell. To be truly anonymous, one could go on a site that only handle transactions through cryptocurrency. There have been instances of cars, jewelry, antiques and the like being tracked down through pawn shops as they likely have a working relationship with the police act as a buffer against stolen goods.

Rings, such as the one stolen from celebrity Kim Kardashian, are hard to offload – especially due to the attention it has received, being the property of someone famous would make it highly recognizable. However, there are theories that the ring was stolen on orders. Moreover, if the thieves had truly wanted to sell it, they would have the break it into smaller pieces and therefore lower its value.

While there are those who live simple and happy lives, far from the reaches of monetary greed, there are much more struggling to make a comfortable difference, to afford luxuries and vacations all year round. We fight hard for money because we want things we do not have. We spend our lives chasing paper, just so that we may lead the lives we dream of and many will never achieve. Unless you marry it.

 

The Storytellers and the Number Crunchers

Dyar Al-Ashtari has led a chorus of digital marketing success stories

The purists, that still consider marketing an art form, will be keen to point out that communication mediums have and will continue to change. What makes a marketing campaign successful, will always be the message it puts across. It is the ability to pull at the heartstrings of people and make them feel an emotional connection to an inanimate product.

From the time marketing gurus like Philip Kotler made such statements, to the present day state of the way the marketing Industry is set up, there have been some enormous shifts. Two of the biggest changes in the game have been a direct result of social networks and their use as marketing channels. Unlike any other communication tool before them, what makes them unique is their ability to generate a real time, two way conversation and their ability to track user data. Both of these have been game changers. What it takes to build a successful marketing campaign in the modern age has been redefined thanks to these tools.

Dyar Al-Ashtari, one of the modern day success stories, will attest to the fact that the success he has found with marketing campaigns across Europe stem from the ability to leverage all the tools and technology available. The innovation he drives might be technical but at the heart of all the data analysis and never ending optimization of ad buys, it is important to note that a core message or brand ethos can still not be ignored.

While some people might have a natural knack for finding a golden mean between the worlds of data driven optimization and crafting stories, there is no real replacement to the years of experience and business know how people like Al-Ashtari bring to the table.

His experience as a public speaker is a testament to the fact that his skills as a story teller come to the fore each time he crafts a campaign for one of his clients. Al-Ashtari takes the brand, its story and ethos, packages them into simple, crisp communication, customized to the variety of channels they are pushed through.

In the modern context, it a hybrid set of skills that brings success to notable marketers like Al-Ashtari. The ability so interpret data and act on it is as important as the ability to craft beautiful tales. When the two skills are put together, it creates the modern day equivalent of a truly great campaign.

There was a time where the pillars of a brand building were beautifully written messages filled with emotional appeal. Today the value such content holds is not the same. It is not that brands no longer need an emotional connect, it is just that saturation and ever declining attention spans have made it difficult to build an emotional bond in the bite size content consumption pattern social media has created. What has evolved instead is the need for a deeper integration into the consumers lives. Brands are moving to community led model where they not only talk to their customers on a more intimate level but also allow them to interact with each other in a space aligned with the brands ethos. The social engagement and gratification that stems from these organic conversations is the bedrock of the positive association these users build with a brand. When these users become spokespersons for the brand endorsing its ethos and thereby its products they pass videos, text messages and other communication through their interconnected social networks spreading the message of the brand without any media buying costs incurred.

In the past television and hoardings put out a brands message but today the consumer can respond to them. The data and engagement it offers is priceless while building a brand in this day and age.

The objective of marketing, in the bigger scheme of things has been to generate demand for a product and eventually drive sales. There was a time when the impact of a campaign was measured by a set of approximations. Metrics like TRP become gospel and hoardings were assessed merely on the perception of how busy the streets or markets in its vicinity were.

Today, there is no need for any such approximations. Media buying on digital platforms has allowed marketers to track the customer’s journey from the time they see an ad to the time they make a purchase on an e commerce platform. They profile their customers based on real interactions and preferences, send them to products that they have already shown some kind of buying intention towards. In case the interaction does not result in a sale, they can tell what stage of the process the consumer dropped out at.

To a shrew exponent of digital ad buying, this data is gold. The data helps them allocate funds to marketing campaigns more efficiently than ever allowing them to predict their ROI. It has been a big factor that has contributed to the rise of digital retail giants.

With all these tools available to make a marketer’s life easier, it is important to note that marketing has not necessarily become the walk in the park people might assume it is. The competition is fierce and standing out from the crowd has never been as difficult.

Putting the Necessity into Health Wearables

 

Appearance-wise, our image of an average middle-aged man walking into a supermarket and buying groceries can be elevated dependent on one factor. If he is wearing the latest smartwatch or Fitbit, we conjure complimentary notions along the lines of: “Wow, he’s on a self-governed schedule. He must be on top of his game. He is shopping to ensure his diet complements the exercise program supported by his Fitbit”. If he isn’t wearing one, well, he may well be one of the 36.5% of US’ adult population who is medically diagnosed as obese. And in that case, it is a necessary question to ask, just why isn’t he wearing the latest in health tech?

The problem is that the solution is being too well marketed, so well in fact, that it could be called a fallacy. Contemporary advertisements, whether they are by well-toned celebrity/athletes decorating the scroll of your Instagram feed or online marketing companies maximising your search engine activity, propagate the idea that purchasing an Apple Watch or Fitbit will spell the end of your unhealthy and unfit life. Suddenly, you will become slimmer, more conscious of dietary intake and ready to flaunt a newly acquired body at the beach. Cue demand mania and widespread adoption of the latest fad, as evidenced in 2014/15, when even President Obama was seen wearing a Fitbit. But it seems to be a rather too-immediate solution, a quick answer, as is typically produced from the commercial world, to an underlying problem posed by the health sector. Are such idealistic results really possible from the simple process of buying a new health-tracking wearable?

Studies say no. And it makes sense, to a degree. A Fitbit, Apple Watch or any other Smart Watch (that sprung into existence in the midst of this demand boom) will tell you accountable facts: how many steps you took that day or what your heartbeat is during certain periods. Yes, consumers may find it useful to track the number of footsteps they have taken as a token of self-pride (as a result of besting the number of steps they took the previous day), but in the overall picture of health, walking a few hundred more steps does not equate to a healthier cardiovascular system. In fact, studies have shown that aerobic stimulation, or activities causing hard breathing is what is truly necessary for improvements to be made. And the benefits of step-counting doesn’t help when reports of inaccuracy exist. This begs the question of a bigger picture: does the product of fitness root from accessorising oneself with the ‘latest and greatest’ technology or from a deeper, self-initiating drive to improve one’s lifestyle in all the respects of diet, exercise, sleep and work/life related stress?

Too often the commercial world provides a Band-Aid solution, and smart-watches can be classified as one, if used inappropriately. In a Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology study published in 2016, among a test cohort of 800 people, it was actually proven that the group wearing Fitbits did not produce health improvements over the group not wearing the Fitbits, the only result being 16 more minutes of physical activity comparatively. In meaningful areas such as weight or blood pressure, there was no difference. When offered cash incentives, people were spurred to meet their targets, but when these incentives ended, they returned to their previous disposition, with no meaningful improvement in health.

Effectively, this illustrates the irrational thought-process that sales-happy advertising pages instigates. Whilst health wearables may be used in an initial period of social media/television persuaded fantasy, they are eventually abandoned due to the non-innate drive to better one’s lifestyle. Eric Finkelstein, a Duke-NUS medical school professor who conducted the aforementioned study, aptly describes health wearables as a situation of having a weight-scale in the bathroom – it is a useful measurement tool but is not a producer of good health in and of itself. Indeed, Fitbits are very good at tracking steps and telling you your heart rate, but unless they are used in conjunction with a program, or personal training schedule, they are simply accessories.

However, reports have interestingly shown benefits to a specific community: doctors and the health research community. The data collected by your Apple Watch, it turns out, can potentially be life-savingly useful. A study presented to the Heart Rhythm Society in 2017 presented integral evidence that the optical blood volume sensors in Apple Watches are useful for detecting atrial fibrillation. This, being a serious but all-too-often symptomless condition, increases chances of stroke and heart failure. In a broad cohort of experiment participants, researchers paired the Apple Watches with a deep learning algorithm to differentiate irregular heartbeat from the regular. Afterwards, these Watches were able to detect, with 97% accuracy, the presence of atrial fibrillation in 51 patients who actually had the condition. The next advancement will be to use Apple Watches to identify normal everyday wearers who have irregular heartbeat and need to be present in the doctor’s room for a check-up.

Health wearables claiming to improve your life will be helpful to the degree that they are used in complement to a structured plan of attack, but in and of themselves, they are merely measurement tools, whether it be of your heartbeat or number of daily steps you have taken. However, the medical profession finds great potential in these off-the-shelf products as a useful tool in catering for a wider health risk of undetected heartbeat abnormalities.

Increasing financial difficulty for first home buyers

Over the years, buying your first home has been a mark of financial stability. It is the benchmark that represents a successful career and has become one of the most sough after financial achievements for people starting out on their path through life.

Knowing when you are ready is always tricky. Still when the time does come, there are usually more questions than answers. Advice always comes in from every possible direction. Family members, coworkers, business associates, friends, all more than willing to chip in with their two cents. Still it is important to wade through all of it and focus on the factors that truly matter. Apart from the security a home brings, it is also one of the largest financial investments you will make in your life. The practical aspect of buying a new home is almost as important as the financial aspect. It is important to ensure you make good decisions factoring all the information available. The steps involved with the actual purchase can be confusing. Choosing the right financing, choosing between localities, and dealing with brokers are often new experiences for first time buyers. It is important to understand these processes before rushing into a decision. Over and above these practical factors, it is always handy to have access to shrewd financial knowhow.

To the people living in it, a home is so much more than the sum of its parts. During the screening process, it is easy to get carried away. The little things that don’t seem right, tend to become bigger issues. It is at times like these where it becomes imperative to look at things with some amount of objectivity. Very often, things that seem like they are deal breakers can be easily fixed. There is no need to give up on an otherwise perfect home over an issue that has an easy resolution to it. Having the ability to separate what matters from the stuff that doesn’t is another big part of making a good decision when it comes to selecting a home.

There will always be preferences when it comes to the size and style of the ideal home. In this case, there are general trends that can provide some sort of guidelines but at the end of the day, the decision has to be based on what is best for you and your foreseeable future.

Once the actual house is purchased, the process begins. The never ending process of converting a house into a home. This is a process that can be approached in a variety of different ways. Some people prefer a DIY approach while other prefer to hand the reigns over to an interior designer. The options are limitless.

This is the phase where the home begins to take on the personality of its owner. It is where the family heirlooms and little mementos find their place across the home, displayed proudly along with all the decorative items.

Spaces begin to become more defined. The bedrooms get allocated. They begin to take on an identity of their own, dictated by their inhabitants. Spaces across the homes become more defined. A specific dining area or sitting area becomes apparent where conversations take place. Whether they are conversations with guests or within the family, patterns develop.

A never ending list of decisions to be made starts to creep up. The color of paint for the walls, what type of flooring to use (e.g. tiled, marble, Littlewood hardwood flooring, etc.) and the choice of bathroom tiles takes up more time and effort than one might expect. When all these tasks are done, the home begins to look and like the one you imagine.

Depending on its size, the peripheral areas are next on the list. Maybe a porch or a lawn outside. Maybe the balconies that overlook a city or even the study depending on the type of house. Once the living areas of the house are in place, these become the object of attention. Often, they become the focus of hobbies. Doing them up is more fun than functional.

One of the most under rated aspects of a new home is the process of integrating with the community. In recent years, it is something that has dropped drastically on the list of people’s priorities but regardless of one’s views on the situation, the community is a big part of determining how comfortable a new home becomes. It provides a support system in times of need as well as an environment for family members to form social bonds.

There is no arguing with the fact that home making is a continuous process, not one that can be written off after a certain period of time. It is one that requires time and effort. Still, at the end of the day, it is clear that there are few investments of time, money and effort that turn out to be as rewarding as the investments in your first home.

Pushing medicine forward

The human species has been around for over five million years. It might seem like an incredible amount of time. But when we look at the bigger picture and measure time at an evolutionary scale, it is not that long. In the time we have had as a species, we have comfortably taken over the mantle of the dominant species of the planet. We are not the first species ever to do so but there is something peculiar about our ascent to the position. We might be the only species in the history of our planet that can choose to change the world around us permanently. Never before, on planet earth has any single species wielded the power and influence we posses over the world we inhabit.

Our science and technology has changed the way we look at our planet. The world has become smaller as people and goods can be transported from one part of it to another without much trouble. It is only now that we are beginning to realize that the cost of all this modernization is one that we pay not with time or money but health. The pursuit of energy has left us dealing with long term issues with our own health. With us, we are also causing long term environmental damage to the eco system that has supported us and all the flora and fauna we share this world with. Our dependence on this eco system can not be under estimated.

Science and medicine have been at the forefront of this rapid development the species has seen. Few fields of technology affect us as a species as much as medicine. Over the years, it has led to the average human life expectancy has being prolonged considerably. Diseases that have claimed innumerable lives in the past have been irradiated. Previously life threatening ailments can now be easily cured. There might be some ethical questions about the disparity in medical treatment available to individuals depending on their wealth but in the bigger picture human healthcare has come a long way.

Modern day medicine however does not have the ability to get complacent. The obvious challenges are apparent. There are high profile battles being fought against global diseases claiming millions of lives each year. Cancer and HIV being two that sit right on top of that list.

Evolution has always been a slow process. It has never needed to be rushed. However, with the rapid rate at which medicine has moved, it seems like pathogens are fighting back, building natural defenses against some of our most potent weapons. Superbugs, resistant to our anti biotics are quickly become a terrifying reality. We currently have no defenses against them. There is a very real threat from them. As soon as one of these bugs finds a highly contagious delivery mechanism, we could be facing a global pandemic at a scale never seen in the recent past.

Amongst these high profile wars being fought on the medical front, it is easy to look past some of the work being done in fields of medicine where the consequences are not quite life and death for millions of people. There is some incredible work being carried out in the fields such as prosthetics, dermatology and gynecology that tends to fly relatively low on the radar. It does however help to enrich the lives of innumerable people across the world, bringing them comfort and joy.

The AGNES Acne Treatment, one such breakthrough at the cutting edge of such medical technology, making waves across medical circles is being heralded as a big step in the field. Dr. Siew Tuck Wah, a noted expert in the field and one of the pioneers of the treatment describes it confidently. “AGNES Acne Treatment remains one of the very few permanent acne solutions offered by doctors. Designed by Korean medical scientists, AGNES leverages on focused radiofrequency waves. Using a micro-insulated needle, the radiofrequency energy is delivered deep into the offending sebaceous glands, destroying them. Sebum is no longer secreted by the glands – and acne is cured, permanently.”

While such treatments may not save the world, the science and research that goes into them can not be undermined. Often it is little discoveries made in these, unheralded spaces that might contribute to a big breakthrough in an unrelated field.

For medicine to move forward as a whole, all its components need to progress in unison. Research of all types needs to be supported. Whether it is aimed at curing a global disease or find a solution that might make a few peoples life slightly more comfortable. With all our best minds working in unison, we can put ourselves in the best position to face all the health issues in store for us. The ones we can see and the ones lying just beyond the horizon.

International environmental law: does it go far enough?

While a tremendous number of international laws, protocols and agreements have been implemented to date to deal with international or transboundary issues including war, nuclear possession, white collar crimes, and corruption, the same cannot be said for issues relating to the environment.

Indeed, within national jurisdictions environmental priorities are increasingly coming to merit a place but we are yet to see the official adoption of comprehensive international law navigating this complex terrain. Environmental law continues to be a source of controversy, fueling debates about necessity, inequality, fairness and appropriate approaches. Who will pay? Is it fair that smaller nations must also take on the same regulatory burdens as their much larger, wealthier neighbors? Or is taking a regulatory approach rather than a market-orientated one even the best way of dealing with the issue?

The most widely known – and accepted – protocol in international environmental law is the Kyoto Protocol, a product of the 1997 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which mandated that industrialized nations cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 5% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. Since, this agreement has evolved into the Paris Agreement whereby all parties agreed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees, and below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels if possible. Other key international treaties relating to the environment include the 1972 UN Convention on the Human Environment, the 1992 Rio Declaration and the 2002 World Earth Summit’s ‘Johannesburg Declaration’.

Customary international law, which describe the norms and rules most countries typically follow in relation to environmental issues, forms a key component of international environmental law, alongside legally binding international agreements, multilateral or bilateral treaties or other environmental protocols. Other forms of international environmental law include the opinions of international courts and tribunals such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the international Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), European Court of Human Rights and other regional tribunals. But these are all circumstantial, are subject to acceptance by participating nations and are limited in terms of their authority. There is also the question of ‘how much is adequate compensation for committing environmental atrocities’ which is usually decided upon on a case-by-case basis.

Industries affected by the prospect of regulatory changes are of course leading the fight against their implementation, alongside governments that view those regulations as a burden as opposed to a solution. As of 2017 there remain four UN member states not party to the Kyoto Protocol: Andorra, Palestine, South Sudan and the Vatican, while Syria, Nicaragua and the United States remain the only nations currently not party to the Paris Agreement. The Vatican City and South Sudan have an excuse, I suppose, but the United States? How much direr must things get before we make a profound, globally-inclusive commitment to ending environmental destruction?

As mentioned, the key debate as to what extent international environmental laws are fair to all parties remains as problematic today as it was many years ago. Smaller nations and organizations might, as a result of international regulation, incur much larger costs than larger or wealthier nations or organizations, creating a barrier to entry for any new organizations or nations seeking to trade, ultimately damaging competition.

Perhaps the better approach would be to have international law that focuses on prosecuting those who are already inflicting excessive environmental damage.

In the wake of the 2016 South China Sea dispute judgements, where China was found to have violated its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by building artificial islands and thus causing severe damage to the coral reefs, the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda emphasized the need for us to focus our efforts on prosecuting those individuals and organizations who have committed atrocities by exploiting natural resources or destroying the natural environment. The ruling of the ICC was instrumental in the international environmental debate, as it marked a new emphasis on environmental crimes rather than international acts of violence.

There also remains (and it pains me to write this) widespread resistance and denial that climate change is in fact even occurring. The scientific uncertainty over the long-term implications of climate change are hampering efforts to take official international action against it. Yes, scientists have reached a mutual understanding that human activity is altering the climate but they can’t seem to reach an agreement as to how it will, in actual fact, impact us – and to what extent. Rather, there remains ongoing debate over issues as trivial as the perceived meaning of the word ‘likely’ and what ‘likely environmental degradation’ might mean for us (homo sapiens, that is). These trivial matters are consuming our time, resources and energy, at an epoch where we are rapidly running out of all three.

What with US President Donald Trump giving his climate change advisory committee the flick, slashing the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by almost a third and pulling out the Paris Agreement, environmental activists are beginning to seek alternative ways of ensuring a greener future that do not rely on the sensibilities of lawmakers and leaders. Too often, the public have been underwhelmed, disappointed or plain frustrated at the lack of progress made by international lawmakers and bilateral organizations seeking to make. Perhaps law is not going to be the solution. But it is a sure-fire start.

To own or not to own

The world economy is currently doing well, as healthy as it has been since the 2007-8 GFC crisis. Spending is on the rise but in breaking down what we are investing in, differences can be found between the products of the first decade of the 21st century and the second. We are not as interested in buying products. The notion that the more one possesses the more wealthy one is, is fast becoming a relic. Instead of purchasing CDs at the shopping centre and stacking them handsomely in a vast living room space next to a 1080p High Definition television screen, the more popular thing to do now is to subscribe to an on-demand streaming service. This way, you economise on the space used (those CDs and their accompanying CD players aren’t shrinkable!) and the time spent switching from CD to CD just to transition between Michael Jackson to Whitney Houston. Is the transition a smooth one? That’s an advantage music streaming services definitely have – no longer do you worry about maintaining a no-scratch gleam on the back of each precious CD (and god-forbid, taking out the CD-cleaning liquid!), neither do you have to ‘rip’ your own songs to put together your own playlist. The playback is seamless, with the only requirement that you have an active internet connection.

On-demand services, characterised perhaps most prominently by media companies such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify, are slick, modern and user-intuitive in web design. In fact, large investments from these companies are poured into analysing consumer psychology to derive the most comfortable, attractive and ultimately addictive user interface possible. It isn’t entirely due to the quality of the service’s TV shows that your last weekend was ‘binged away’. It’s majorly to do with the capability of the service to, as you may recall, ‘recommend’ you with related shows that you may like, or provide a click-enticing menu tempting you to continue watching episode after episode. Ultimately, the goal is to keep you within the domain of its website, persuading you that navigating out is simply not an attractive option. TrackMySubs, an application which helps maintain count of how many account subscriptions a user has, ranks Netlfix, Spotify and Amazon Prime in its top 10 list of subscription services.

Subscription services are essentially paid to rent, not to own. They are convenient in this respect. Instead of buying that CD which you desperately wanted to play for next week’s dinner date, you can do even more – select it, and all the songs similar to it, and streamline them into a playlist! Better yet, Spotify now does that for you, with arguably good or bad results. Spotify Premium, the subscription tier which allows you this privilege, drains the wallet of a meagre $11.99 AUD per month, not very much when compared to the average price of a CD – and a CD has a limited number of songs. Value for money? Yes, but within the confines of your ability to appreciate a number of songs equal to the value of the recurring $11.99 paid per month. The CD is a one-off cost, but Spotify is technically a limitless cost. This is where the use of TrackMySubs is integral.

If you’re an average person, count the number of services you are currently subscribed to. If you’re a homeowner, make sure you include all the other intangibles: health and content insurance, vehicle registration, hardwired alarm service, mobile phone and internet bills … the list tallies up to an exorbitant sum. Considering your salary as your net revenue, that does not leave you with a lot of profit (also known as, savings). But as Gabe Alves, Founder of TrackMySubs, thinks: “Am I going to make more money, or save more money or time by spending money on this service?”. Logically speaking, we click the subscribe button to optimise time, but more often than not we are swayed too easily by sales-savvy web pages convincing us the necessity of their product. Search Engine Optimisation is one example leveraged by subscription-based companies, where products are pushed to our search results.

Hence, negating Gabe’s rhetorical question – oftentimes users consistently maintain paying for accounts which they don’t use to their dollar value. Whether it be for convenience of just having the service on-demand or for the more dubious reason where companies are making it more difficult to unsubscribe, keeping these services cumulatively imposes a heavy cost. Averaged per month, TrackMySubs has found that each of its users has an average of 13.6 subscriptions, 6.5 of which have an average cost of $94.14 AUD and 5.1 of which have an annual subscription cost of $183.39 AUD each. While it is wonderful for the business side of the transaction, these forgotten, neglected or only partially utilised periodic payments represent hundreds of millions of dollars lost in the market each year.

The use of TrackMySubs is to keep precise track of your subscription-based expenditures, down to the personal or business accounts you might own for web hosting, domain hosting, email marketing, transport trip planning, cloud-based storage and so on. Smaller services may charge a negligible sum for monthly use, but it adds up! The application removes the lag users may have in remembering payment dates, introductory ‘trial’ periods, currency conversion values (since most web subscriptions are in US denominated terms) or any other intricacy companies use to maximise profit from customers. Instead, in an organised central location, TrackMySubs allows you to optimise your value for money, and not waste it on any services you don’t need.

With the technology of today’s economy, the route from introduction to subscription confirmation is increasingly quick. In China, for example, QR codes accelerate the process at the scan of a code. Transaction speed is quicker and has contributed to a larger space for renting services as opposed to purchasing them outright. The disadvantage? Clutter, and you lose track of what subscriptions are truly necessary, TrackMySubs can take care of that.

Mixing Fame with an entrepreneurial spirit

Dr. Dre is one of many celebrities using their fame to build million-dollar businesses.

Venture capital and investment, in the last two decades has been a bigger part of pop culture than it has ever been before. High profile investment deals have made headlines and some of the byproducts of these deals have been companies that have quickly become household names in countries across the world.

Venture capitalists and the entrepreneurs that they back have suddenly taken up the space reserved for movie stars and pop icons. The trend seemed to be a global one. It is difficult to tell whether it has been a conscious attempt to snatch the spotlight back or just a natural progression from their status as celebrities, but a growing number of them have begun to take up active roles in the much-vaunted start up space. Celebrities have begun to take their fame and considerable wealth and channel it into the perfect kindling needed to kick start the sharp growth needed in early stage businesses.

Some celebrities have found tremendous success in the field on a consistent basis, building themselves a reputation as smart business people and thought leaders. For others there might have been one big success story that seemed to have caught all the headlines. Still more and more celebrities have put on their entrepreneur hats and backed a variety of businesses. Some deals seeming like a natural fit to their public persona while others, not so much.

When put to good use, the value a celebrity brings to a business is undeniable. It might be their personal networks that would seem inaccessible to most people. The ability to garner support for a venture that could never be replicated by any marketing spends. Sometimes it might be their considerable personal brand. Their fan base becoming an eager set of early adopters and spokespersons for a brand that most companies can not replicate in their lifetime. Whatever the reasons for success, celebrities have found an incredible amount of success with such ventures.

For such a business to see any kind of success, it takes more than just a celebrity and the clout they bring. The business has to address a real need and more importantly, it needs to have a team that is capable of taking a big picture idea and vision for a company, and roll it out, garner traction and turn that vision into a flourishing company.

One company that seems to have found the perfect mix of all these elements is the Special Guest App. Actor, comedian and now entrepreneur Damon Wayans, Jr found himself a co founder in seasoned serial entrepreneur Kristoper Jones, and between the two of them, they seemed to have all the tools they needed to get their big idea off the ground.

The app takes the two sided marketplace model, that has been the bedrock of countless successful tech businesses, and applies it the world of entertainment. The focus of the company remains to help comedians, musicians, actors, magicians and performers of all types to find work independent of a network of agents and managers.

This is where the app comes in. Kris explains “Special Guest removes the friction for entertainers of getting discovered and generating paid gigs, while making it easy for any type of venue to book LIVE entertainment. We developed the app for LIVE entertainers, actors / actresses, artists, bands & ensembles, circus acts, comedians, cultural entertainment, dancers, DJs, impersonators, magicians, musicians, photographers & videographers, speakers and officiants, specialty acts, and kid’s entertainment. And on the other side of the market, we made this for traditional venues like restaurants, clubs, and bars, and non-traditional venues for anyone, anywhere, who is interested in experiencing LIVE entertainment in less formal settings like someone’s backyard, office party, or home.”

For Damon, coming from the world of entertainment, the passion stems from personal experience. He explains; “Hundreds of thousands of LIVE entertainers struggle to secure work on a regular basis because the process of getting gigs is brutally difficult. I believe the traditional booking process favors managed talent, yet most incredibly talented people don’t have management and struggle to get paid doing what they are most passionate about. The process of discovering and booking talent is elitist and riddled with friction that disproportionally favors managed talent.

Most LIVE entertainment is hosted in traditional settings like bars, nightclubs, and restaurants resulting in limited demand for new, up and coming talent. No on-demand mobile technology exists at scale for ordinary people to seamlessly host LIVE entertainment in their home, backyard, or similar non-traditional venues with the push of a button. We developed Special Guest to make it extremely simple and affordable for anyone, anywhere, to hire LIVE entertainment on demand.”

This ripe mix of passion, know how, connections and experience is a prime example of how celebrity driven ventures can set themselves up for a run at real success. For all the spotlight the celebrities image might bring, it is important to remember that first and foremost, the venture remains a business. Anyone with any experience in the filed will testify to the fact that building a business takes dedication, discipline and a great deal of intelligence. Whether it is for their work in front of the camera or in their offices, these are the traits of the celebrity entrepreneur that people tend to overlook. Even for them, nothing comes easy and their fame is by no means an assurance for success. When they do find success, it is important to acknowledge their achievements in isolation from the constant, bright spotlight shining over their lives.

 

America’s dismal smoking cessation rates call for innovative methods

Millions of people from across the globe are plagued by a habit detrimental to heath: smoking. It is so rampant that governments are implementing laws in an effort to curb the addiction. Raising the prices of cigarettes and setting strict smoking laws in regards to where smokers may or may not light one up.

One of the best ways to be smoke-free is by not starting. As they say, prevention is better than cure. According to BBC, “two-thirds of those who try cigarettes go on to become daily smokers”. The effect of tobacco manifests itself after just one experience and people tend to be more inclined to pick up a cigarette following their first.

And what comes next is a lifelong battle of quitting smoking. The statistics shown by U.S New and World Report reports that seventy percent of smokers in America want to quit but, without a smoking cessation program, the success rate is close to dismal – with only a five percent chance of success.

Furthermore, many that curb the habit find themselves smoking again after a year or two or even after a few months. To quit permanently, researchers point out that a successful smoking cessation formula is to prepare oneself mentally, get support from family and friends and find new ways to cope without cigarettes by picking up a new habit. Finally, knowing how to quit smoking naturally includes preparing oneself to face difficulties and knowing how to cope in the case of falling off the bandwagon. Although one should recognize their moment of weakness is not an open invitation to go back to full blown addiction.

Other tips to stop smoking include not setting up oneself for failure by telling people you are planning to quit, identifying desire and accepting that it is going to affect you but do not give in to it. Understand that it is within your every right to smoke but just that you do not want to. All of which strengthens your personal resolve without feeling trapped by your own decision which may aid in your quitting smoking attempt.

To quit smoking naturally, it’s essential to use mental rationalization and ask oneself about the reasons they have for wanting to stop smoking. This is important as it helps every quitter focus on their endgame and what they want to achieve.

So, why should one quit smoking naturally?

To live a longer, healthier life. Aside from the obvious health issues of smokers having higher chances of getting cancer, a heart attack, emphysema, chronic bronchitis or strokes, it is bad for blood circulation and food does not taste as good. One will also have perpetual bad breath and develop premature wrinkles. Neither of which are sexy or glamorous – both of which are qualities that people think smoking convey.

There is also a matter of finances. Depending on the amount of cigarettes a smoker goes though per day, it could easily add up over the course of a lifetime. Even if one only smokes a pack a week, over the course of the year, it could have easily paid for a smartphone, perhaps not the latest model, but a fully functioning one with all the features you need.

A father in Indonesia managed to stop smoking and buy a brand new motorcycle through his efforts posted on Facebook. By depositing a Rp 20,000 bill into an old fish tank daily instead of using the money on packs of cigarettes, they were surprised to find the total amount after just a year and a half.

Regardless of what one chooses to purchase with their saved dollars, the amount is substantial and yet people are literally burning it for a moment of pleasure and degraded health.

There is an online calculator that helps you figure out how much you can actually save per annum. People are often surprised at the amount, even though anyone could figure it out with basic mathematics. The problem is that not many people give it any thought and oftentimes underestimate how much they actually smoke and spend.

Then, the question of family. Perhaps not your parents, but your children. Statistics show that kids who grow up in a smoking household are more likely to become smokers due to the exposure they receive. Parents destigmatize smoking when they smoke in front of their children and instills in them the notion that smoking is not that bad. Why would their parents do it if it were? Children are creatures that learn through imitation, after all.

The good news is that those currently aged between 18 and 24 are highly against smoking, as can be seen in the backlash received by a high profile celebrity and role model to teenagers, Kylie Jenner. According to reports, millennials have been discouraged from smoking through the efforts of no-smoking campaigns. Now, all that is left are those who are still struggling to quit.

Hopefully with the guidance detailed above, 2018 will be the year you finally manage to kick the habit and kick it for good.

Capitalism in a finance-centered world

Economist and philosopher Adam Smith, famed for producing the Wealth of Nations called the “Bible of Capitalism”, has made many wise observations. He once said, “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which, the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

The timelessness of this statement makes it a relevant observation today as well. Ironically, the “Invisible Hand” of Capitalism that Adam Smith spoke of, appears to be no longer trusted by young Americans today. A poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics of Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently, found that only 19% of young Americans between the ages 18 and 29, categorized themselves as “capitalists.”

On the other hand, many young Americans appear to be drawn to the ideals of socialism. Twenty-four year old Asher Kaplan believes young Americans find socialism “both a political identity and a culture.” According to a poll conducted about three months ago, 44% of millennials wish to live in a socialist society, while 42% wish to live in a capitalist society. Young people in their late teens have bleak memories of the financial crisis of 2008 that has tainted their view of capitalism.

Indeed, according to the classical view of capitalism, individual and corporate savings are channeled into profitable business ventures, which transform those funds into a dynamic process of new jobs, prosperity and economic growth. With a consolidated bonds and banking system, finance was an integral part of the US economy from the late 1790s to the early 1970s, but it was not the dominant or central focus of everything.

Political decisions over the years changed the conventional role of finance in the economy. Today, finance is a combination of banks, hedge funds, mutual funds, insurance firms, trading houses and the like. Academics like Oscar Jorda, Alan Taylor and Moritz Schularick, who have made insightful study into the workings of finance, find that only about 15% of the capital of finance institutions get drawn into funding business ventures today. This is a significant deviation from the traditional role of banks in the economy. Jonathan Adair Turner, Chairman, Institute for New Economic Thinking headquartered in New York, said, “Across all advanced economies, and the United States and the U.K. in particular, the role of the capital markets and the banking sector in funding new investment is decreasing.”

In the conventional capitalist set up, the most productive elements were the people who produced goods and services. The limelight today is upon people who invent things to be produced. Once a viable model is in place, producing different varieties of it, like software or pharmaceuticals, is plain sailing. Therefore, the big bucks are drawn, not by those who produce, but by those who figure out what to produce. This is a significant departure from what used to be. This is a reason why American workers are not consistently getting richer, even though the American economy is increasing its wealth.

Furthermore, globalization, even in a conventional set up, led to great leaps in increased productivity, as funds got allocated to where production took place at minimum cost. However, in agricultural and industrial economies, finance was not considered important to the exclusion of all else. In today’s world, where what should be produced is as unclear as much as where it should be produced, distribution of finance is of utmost importance. Financial analysts observe that the trend today is for capital in an economy to be pulled into lending against existing assets like housing, stocks and bonds. Thus, the role of finance has intensified in importance as a component of the economy. In 1980, finance was 4% of the US economy. Today it is 7%, and draws in about 25% of all corporate profit, but creates only 4% of all jobs.

Post-Bretton Woods globalization and free trade policies have led to finance getting drawn to areas that Wall Street deems important. The general understanding is that the US and other developed countries have advanced from being agricultural economies, to industrial economies, and, now, into being service economies. This deluding concept threatens to destroy capitalism, for it is no longer the system that Adam Smith described. What exists today is categorized as “financialization,” a phenomenon where the finance sector is expanding in scale and profitability with disappearing restrictions, and at the cost of the rest of the economy. In 1982, Wall Street profit amounted to less than 10% of all corporate profit. By 2003, it had increased to 40%. Thus, income got redirected from labor to capital with a growth that was out of proportion. Manufacturing was a high-employment sector. At rapid pace, the low-employment finance sector replaced it, with outsourcing adding to the woes. Power over other sectors got transferred to Wall Street, a sector that focused on short-term profit, and not on long-term growth strategies. As a consequence, in order to compete for funding, the industrial sector was compelled to lay off workers and focus only on areas which brought speedy Return on Investment (ROI). Productivity increased through technological advancement, and different stages of manufacturing were outsourced to economically viable global spots. The financial dashboard of companies was enhanced at the cost of regular Americans, desperately striving to maintain a sliding standard of living. The one consistent factor in the finance-centered economy, was an ever mounting demand for credit. The incongruity of building a house on credit cards was overlooked while growth persisted. The consumption boom spiraled upward, spinning on lenient credit terms and lending standards and low interest rates. The outstanding debt of households at the end of 2007 was 140%.

Confidence appear to be everything. As Adam Smith rightly said, “All money is a matter of belief.” What was tragic was the disbelief that followed the inevitable economic collapse in 2008.