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Organization for Tax Season

Tax-TimeI’m preparing all our tax documents for the accountant, and every year I tweak a little more the “Package” I send him. Instead of collecting hundreds of paper and giving my accountant a giant folder, this is what my wife and I do:

  1. We scan everything the accountant needs, from receipts, to bills, invoices, etc., etc. We don’t like paper, so we make a conscious effort throughout the year to snap a photo or scan everything that could be of use for tax time.
  2. Then we put it in a nicely organized folder structure for guidance. I update this folder structure a little every year, depending on the circumstances, but generally it looks the same.
    • It contains one folder to store the records after the filing the taxes to the IRS.
    • One folder for each corporation you have/own, of which you have some pass-through taxation.
    • Folders for Personal Income, Expenses, Investments, Deductions and Credits
    • Rental Properties Income and Expenses (if any)
    • Tax Year Folder Template
    • You can download a ZIP file with the template folders and files HERE
  3. We zip it and protect it with a very very very strong password that we store in LastPass for every year that goes by.
  4. We delete the folder and only keep the protected zip file (with its respective backups)
  5. Then we send the zip file to the accountant. If is small, we can email it to him, otherwise we put it in a USB Drive and hand it over. Not to worry about leaking the information, the zip is password protected.
  6. We share the password via LastPass sharing feature with him, and he can safely access the zip contents.
  7. After the accountant is finished, we review it, and he files with the IRS.
  8. After filing, we add the filing records to the safe zip file, and ask him to please delete any unsecured unzipped version from his computer. (If you don’t trust your accountant to do this, find a different accountant)
  9. Just as additional precaution for tax documents archival, we change the password of the zip file again with a random secure and long LastPass password, and then we archive the zip file in Long Term Storage for the next 7 years.

Normally this is part of the accountant’s job, isn't it? So, why we do it? Well, needless to say that I don’t cope well with things I don’t understand. I’m a bit of a control freak and I like to absorb everything and anything that touches me in a personal, professional and economic level. Taxes are one of these subjects, and a rather complex one. Every year I’m surprised to see how many people doesn't take full advantage of the tax system we have, and the only reason for this phenomenon is that we don’t understand it because “it’s too complex”, and unfortunately, it’s true.

I’m no tax expert by any stretch (that’s why we have our accountant, and you should have one too), but having this discipline in organization and routine for tax season throughout the year, has helped me comprehend a little better how taxes work.

Every year, our accountant loves us, and our bill is lower when compared to other people, because we organize ourselves well and have everything handy. There is always additional questions and clarifications where we have to have a small chat, but he assures me it’s nothing compared to the rest of his clients.

I hope my accountant will continue to service my tax needs forever, but realistically, it’s not always possible. Having a good understanding of your own taxes, your tax files, and having a good and safe archival strategy for these is paramount to be good friends with the IRS and have peace of mind for years to come.

How do you organize yourself and your family for tax season?

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Personal Development: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Life

Don't PanicIts 4:00 AM and the last day of 2012. I was in bed, but an earlier conversation with my wife was keeping me awake, so I jumped out of bed to put my thoughts down in paper. I’m hoping right after I finish my brain can rest and go back to sleep. We have a long day tomorrow (today?) to celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends in Miami, and I need to rest a little before the drinking and go crazy with my Cuban crew. Earlier today (or rather yesterday) my wife and I were recapitulating the year 2012 in events, the pros and cons, etc., just like many of us do every year. Well, it turns out 2012 hasn't been a great year for me, or for us both in general. But why, we were asking ourselves. After so many good things that happened and so many accomplishments, and stories of growth? Why did it feel as such when we looked at the overall picture?

We were trying to figure this out together, and I after I went on a rant about how things could be better if I had done X or Y or Z, it hit me in the face like a sack of bricks; then I said it, out loud, and clear as a crystal for the first time in my life, I felt I had the formula for living. It turns out it is quite a simple thing we all already know, but only the thought of giving it shape and structure made me feel great. So, I decided to put a framework around it for myself, and I’ll live by this framework on 2013 and see what I have to say a year from now.

Some people call this self-improvement theory Personal Development, I just call it my Hitchhiker's Guide to Life. And my own theory goes something like this: Happiness and fulfillment are better realized when you balance time, dedication and apply the scientific method to these seven categories in life:

  1. Health
  2. Love
  3. Family
  4. Relationships
  5. Individuality
  6. Wealth
  7. Dreams

I've been taking good care of some of them, but not all of them, and not with the same balance I consider necessary for my complete happiness.

Some people may think “What about travel, or having fun?”… and what I realized is that traveling or having “fun” can fall into different buckets depending on each individual. Someone that loves to travel with friends will put it into the Relationships bucket, while someone who enjoys traveling alone will put it in the Individuality bucket. Meanwhile someone who doesn't like to travel at all, doesn't need to classify this, just because it works for other people. The same idea applies to all things susceptible to personal taste or believe system, such as religion or spirituality. Other important things such as laughter and learning are more of a practice within each category.

Having friends from different countries to whom I talk regularly, forces me to have to explain things with an international and intercultural perspective quite often. I find myself helping people mostly through advise about how to find a job when they come to the US (Wealth and Individuality), or how to brand themselves and sell their abilities and characters with a positive spin (Individuality and Relationships), or even how to aim for the impossible if that is what really makes them happy (Dreams). I also find myself learning from people every day, from life tips, to lessons and methods that I try out incessantly.  These practices and methods that surround us and aid our growth in life, fit rather nicely into these simple categories.

The survival of the fittest may not directly dictate death to the lesser established in a civilized society, but it surely widens the distance between those in with high and low doses of happiness. Note I didn't say upper class vs. lower class. Economic class and status, although for many does play an important role in their happiness, it is never measured with the same rule. Instead, I’m talking about happiness and balance in life, ergo the important categories, since they do not dictate what makes each individual happy or not, but only a skeleton to classify those things that do.

I’ll make an effort to publish some tips that have worked for me on some of these categories. I’m also thinking in developing a method to keep track of conscious progress done on each, to help me keep a balance so 2012 doesn't repeat again in 2013. Who knows, if this Hitchhiker’s Guide to Life turns out a good learning journey, I'll make a conscious effort to share more about my voyage and adjustments as it develops.

All the best for 2013!!!

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Understanding different kinds of Data Reporting. Why and how is done.

In business, the words reporting, data reporting, audit reports, big data, and analytics are used very loosely sometimes. So, I thought I'd put in writing some thoughts about reporting as a reference point for anyone scratching their heads.

We've all heard the parrots say "DATA is King", but how do we get "DATA"?

Data for almost ANY application can be categorized into one of 3 categories:

  1. Operational Data (aka. Configuration Data)
  2. Event Data (aka. Business Event Data)
  3. Audit Data (aka. Tech Data)

The patterns to display and materialize these data sources generally follow a very ordered and logical process where:

  1. Operational Data is shown in small digestible chunks so a human being can easily analyze and modify what is presented to him/her at the moment.
    • Most often than not, it takes the form of a UI in a webpage or a native app.
    • Some other times, the configuration data is shown in printable format. More often than not, these take the form of counters and aggregate live data. A common use case is to keep counters of live metrics,  KPI alerts, and application heartbeats.
    • Operational data is modeled to support full CRUD operations.
    • Regardless of the format, this kind of data is never presented with thousands of rows or configuration entries... and the reason for that is: is not human readable. Just imagine your reaction if every time you do right-click on a file in Windows you get a menu with 2 thousand lines; not very useful.
    • Last but not least, configuration data is ALWAYS live data, it NEVER holds historical significance.
  1. Event Data exists with the sole purpose of fulfilling business intelligenceand analytics.
    • Event Data is always decentralized, meaning there is no magic bullet that can fulfill all applications, since the nature of the events being logged is usually tightly coupled with the actions that occur within applications, and those have some semantic meaning around the business of the application.
    • Event Data usually take the form of a separate database, or a different schema within the same database where events are logged in an asynchronous way so they don't interrupt the main flow of the application in question.
    • Event Data is WRITE-ONLY data. There are NO UPDATES, and NO DELETES, only writes to drop the events when they occur and reads to generate the reports. This usually makes event databases grow very rapidly depending on the number of events being reported.
    • Event data generally follows a star data model with multiple correlated tables holding DUPLICATED data from the operational data, with the additional time stamp on each event dropped.
    • Depending on the needs and performance boundaries allowed by the reporting tool, reports can run directly from the Event database, or from a Data Warehouse (DW). The DW is nothing more than a centralized database or collections of databases that are highly optimized to run reports as fast and efficient as possible, so business folks can run analytics and complex searches on the data from different perspectives.
    • Reports running from a Data Warehouse repository usually perform better and faster, since the tables are flattened to match exactly the dimensions of the reports. The data is said to be 'curated' when is transformed and loaded into the DW, since the schema of the data after ETLs are run, can be totally different from the way it was designed on for the operation of the application (the Operational Data)
    • If you run your reports from Event database, your queries will likely have a lot of joins; whereas if you run them from the DW, very few joins will be necessary (because the data is curated to match those reporting needs, and perform faster).
    • Last but not least, event data ALWAYS holds historical significance and ALWAYS report on BUSINESS data.
  1. Audit Dataexists with the sole purpose of reporting on Technology events. That is everything that is NOT BUSINESS data, but relates to the performance, security, functionality, etc, from the application.
    • Audit Data usually follows a very similar path to the Event data in terms of implementation and consumption (like having an Audit database with Star schema, and moving to the DW, blah, blah, blah).
    • The main differentiator between Audit Data and Business Data is that one relates to the business events, while the other relates to technology events.
    • Just like events, audit data ALWAYS holds historical significance and ALWAYS reports TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN data.

When asked to generate reports and such, ask yourself what type of report it is and don't be afraid to ask questions and challenge the true business need for the 'report'. If someone is looking for operational (live) data, and there are UI/Screens already available that show such data for configuration or anything else, then ask yourself if you want to go on a limb and create a lot of overhead duplicating the effort, or simply adding a "Save as PDF" button or link in the screen will do the trick.

The last piece is about BIG DATA. That's the new hot word around IT these days. Big Data is nothing more than a group of very large data sets (in the order or exabytes) whose relationships and business semantics are so broad and messy, that is very difficult to drive analytics using the traditional DBA tools found in a DW environment. You can think of it like the next level to data warehousing.

When a DW gets big enough, or when massive amounts of data from different DW needs business analysis, then it becomes BIG DATA. The challenges are different and harder when you are trying to put order to this kind of mess, but once you do, a lot of goodies can come out of it, including predictive analytics based on past performance and events. Predictive business analytic engines are one of the hardest things to do, and it is a valued asset, especially for large corporations that have been hoarding data for decades, and now want to use it as a competitive advantage to plan ahead.

Good luck with your reporting adventures!

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A Class on "Employee Equity" [Video]

This is a class given by Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures. Very insightful as to how the VC world works and how to structure employee equity for your startup. Fred's blog is http://www.avc.com. There is a section titled MBA Mondays where he usually gives quite interesting talks and publishes posts to help in the money matters and transparency for startups and VCs.

This particular class I found it on the SkillShare's LiveStream. You can watch the full video by clicking on the image below

Click to Play

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Startup Pitch, goals and other resources

Here are some resources that can help any startup with their pitch and goal setting.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/16447520 w=400&h=300]

  • A complement to the video above is this online tool called The Art of Pitchcraft that helps you craft your elevator pitch in a Q&A format. This is from Harvard Business School:

http://www.alumni.hbs.edu/careers/pitch/

  • A great example of startup Goal Setting from Startup Desi:

http://startupdesi.com/startup-goals-2011/

  • And this is an awesome video showing a greatly executed pitch by DollarShaveClub.com founder

[youtube http://youtu.be/ZUG9qYTJMsI]

Enjoy!

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Credit Card Fraud - Infographic

As a complement to the Online Identity infographic, here is what credit card fraud is shaping like:

The Ninut team (@ninutinc) is working to solve these... we are working hard to announce something soon.

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Facebook S1 - Love

After reading Facebook's S1 registration statement with the SEC for their IPO,  I gotta say, this is one inspiring piece of document, guaranteed to become a cult for selling a culture and a motive for existence from any entrepreneur and company. In Twitter Dave McClure (@davemcclure), from 500 Startups, wrote:

Dear @FacebookS1: if I pressed my body next 2 ur disclaimer, would u hold it against me?

.... I thought it was pretty funny, and I feel the same. I've read this SEC S1 filing a few times already and it is not only brilliant and detailed, but also inspiring and a public eye opener to the culture Mark Zuckerberg has created in Facebook. Many pieces of this document sit right next to the Think Different commercial, and Steve Job's Stanford Commencement Address.

Some of my favorite quotes in the text:

Done is better than perfect

The riskiest thing is to take no risks

There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: “Code wins arguments

Inspiring, humble, amazing, ambitious, quality, values, and many other words come to mind when reading the text.

Time will tell, but I bet this document will be remembered for decades to come. The bar was raised.

Read on an excerpt of Mark's remarks:

 

"Simply put: we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.

And we think this is a good way to build something. These days I think more and more people want to use services from companies that believe in something beyond simply maximizing profits.

By focusing on our mission and building great services, we believe we will create the most value for our shareholders and partners over the long term — and this in turn will enable us to keep attracting the best people and building more great services. We don’t wake up in the morning with the primary goal of making money, but we understand that the best way to achieve our mission is to build a strong and valuable company.

This is how we think about our IPO as well. We’re going public for our employees and our investors. We made a commitment to them when we gave them equity that we’d work hard to make it worth a lot and make it liquid, and this IPO is fulfilling our commitment. As we become a public company, we’re making a similar commitment to our new investors and we will work just as hard to fulfill it.

The Hacker Way

As part of building a strong company, we work hard at making Facebook the best place for great people to have a big impact on the world and learn from other great people. We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way.

The word “hacker” has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.

The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.

Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.

Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works. There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: “Code wins arguments.”

Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win — not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.

To encourage this approach, every few months we have a hackathon, where everyone builds prototypes for new ideas they have. At the end, the whole team gets together and looks at everything that has been built. Many of our most successful products came out of hackathons, including Timeline, chat, video, our mobile development framework and some of our most important infrastructure like the HipHop compiler.

To make sure all our engineers share this approach, we require all new engineers — even managers whose primary job will not be to write code — to go through a program called Bootcamp where they learn our codebase, our tools and our approach. There are a lot of folks in the industry who manage engineers and don’t want to code themselves, but the type of hands-on people we’re looking for are willing and able to go through Bootcamp.

The examples above all relate to engineering, but we have distilled these principles into five core values for how we run Facebook:

Focus on Impact

If we want to have the biggest impact, the best way to do this is to make sure we always focus on solving the most important problems. It sounds simple, but we think most companies do this poorly and waste a lot of time. We expect everyone at Facebook to be good at finding the biggest problems to work on.

Move Fast

Moving fast enables us to build more things and learn faster. However, as most companies grow, they slow down too much because they’re more afraid of making mistakes than they are of losing opportunities by moving too slowly. We have a saying: “Move fast and break things.” The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.

Be Bold

Building great things means taking risks. This can be scary and prevents most companies from doing the bold things they should. However, in a world that’s changing so quickly, you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t take any risks. We have another saying: “The riskiest thing is to take no risks.” We encourage everyone to make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time.

Be Open

We believe that a more open world is a better world because people with more information can make better decisions and have a greater impact. That goes for running our company as well. We work hard to make sure everyone at Facebook has access to as much information as possible about every part of the company so they can make the best decisions and have the greatest impact.

Build Social Value

Once again, Facebook exists to make the world more open and connected, and not just to build a company. We expect everyone at Facebook to focus every day on how to build real value for the world in everything they do.

Thanks for taking the time to read this letter. We believe that we have an opportunity to have an important impact on the world and build a lasting company in the process. I look forward to building something great together."

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One word WOW.

 

 

 

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Happy Hour for Entrepreneurs: World Hot Spots

This is where we hang out in the world. From the creators at Gist:

In this infographic, we examine the world’s up-and-coming tech communities – from Germany to Mexico to Indonesia and more – and compare them on a number of different factors, including entrepreneurial mindset, access to capital and general strengths and weaknesses

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Entrepreneurial Talks: Lean Startup

At the very fabric of Ninut and the products we build, the Lean Startup mentality is the practice we embrace. Transparent, user-validated experiences that allow us to build only the things you really want, and have very quick turnarounds. Joe has been super active in his blogging lately and I have some catch up to do :P

The team is building, we are in the zone, and the public may have the opportunity to play around in our backyard very very soon.

In the meantime, here is a complementary video to THIS POST on Joe's blog (super funny), continuing with the theme of our experience as entrepreneurs trying to 'put a ding in the universe'.

The video is about a conference Eric Ries gave where he's evangelizing the Lean Startup Movement (#leanstartup) at Stanford University, what it is and why Lean is so AWESOME. Check it out!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGXAVw3vF9A&w=420&h=315]

Here is a more recent one:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tYhotTwkjU&w=560&h=315]

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