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4 Keys To Startup Success In Crowded Markets

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Many would-be entrepreneurs spend a lot of time trying to think of the next big thing. Most end up spinning their wheels and never getting a new venture off the ground. It’s hard to come up with an original business idea. However, if you look at some of the most successful businesses in the world, you’ll find that they aren’t based on new ideas at all.
The truth is that you don’t have to be original to start a successful business. Many startups succeed in crowded markets by doing their homework and executing their business plans. Nerd Wallet, for example, succeeded among a crowded marketplace for credit card recommendations. 
Working to capture market share where strong demand already exists can be easier than creating a market from scratch. Here are some tips on how to find opportunities in existing marketplaces.
Embracing disruptive innovation
One of the ways that startups can succeed in a crowded market, and even become a dominant player, is through disruptive innovation. That’s how Netflix grew from an upstart DVD-by-mail business into the world’s largest streaming entertainment provider. Their example is one that startups should try to emulate to succeed in a crowded market.

Netflix’s original innovation was to offer movie rentals by mail without any late fees. They recognized that consumers were tired of punitive fees when they forgot to return a movie so they built a business model that didn’t rely on collecting late fees. Netflix further succeeded when they launched their disruptive streaming service, which accelerated their ability to capture their market. 
The same idea applies to much smaller companies. Merch38, which sells branded merchandise, experienced a sharp drop-off in sales volume as the pandemic began forcing the cancellation or postponement of business and entertainment events. Seeing that in-person events were going virtual, they sensed an opportunity to innovate. They created a portal where event planners and sponsors could encourage virtual attendees to order personalized event merchandise. This helped them capture market share from rivals that were slow to adapt to changing conditions.

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Vasily Danilenko, the founder of Merch 38, explains “During the lockdown, we saw the events industry struggling to adapt to a new reality, and the idea of bringing real merchandise into online events seemed like a unique opportunity.”
Seek strategic partnerships 
Frequently, entrepreneurs try to build market share on their own. However, it’s not the only path to take, especially in a crowded market. Sometimes you can seek partnerships with established businesses or platforms to reach customers.
Try to find companies in adjacent industries that focus on a similar target market that can benefit from partnering with you. Consider the recent partnership between the dating app Hinge and meditation app Headspace. On the surface, they seem to have little in common, but Headspace agreed to create meditations designed to help calm pre-date nerves, resulting in a cross-promotional benefit for both parties.
Law firms similarly pursue partnerships to grab market share. According to George Mgdesyan of LA Lawyers, it would be very challenging for a single-practitioner firm to survive in a crowded legal market like Los Angeles. That’s why after having a track record filled with early case successes, he sought partners with more diverse legal experience. He says, “No new law firm can capture existing market share without making a strategic choice to diversify in one way or another. You can either try to grow by buying the capabilities of others, or you can offer your capabilities to a willing partner. The former can be costly, but the latter offers a sure and steady path to growth and success.”
Finding an underserved niche within a market
Startups can also succeed in crowded markets by identifying a niche within a market that existing businesses may have ignored or underserved. In many cases, there are opportunities that would generate meaningful revenue for a startup that would not be worthwhile for a bigger company. In other words, just because nobody’s tried to service a particular market segment doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.
A good example of this is Wish. They realized there was an e-commerce opportunity to sell extremely low cost items sourced from China. They discovered there was a segment of the market that cared more about low prices than product quality. They recently went public and are now worth over $17 billion. 
With less competition focused on a niche, this strategy can offer a faster route to revenue and profitability. Moreover, once that foundation is laid, you can move upstream and expand to additional market segments.
Going Deep with Market Research
A benefit of entering into an existing market is that there is plenty of data to look at when assessing an opportunity. Unlike more groundbreaking lines of business, you already know what customers want and how existing players meet those needs.
To be successful, you can’t be a me-too company. Rather, it’s important to dive deep into market research to look for market segments or ideas that existing companies have missed. By using available data found online and some careful analysis, you can build an excellent picture of existing market shortcomings.
According to Boris Dzhingarov of marketing platform ESBO, search data is an effective way to find areas of differentiation. He explains, “Now that it’s possible to mine search engine trends and cross-reference them against competitor strategies, startups have advantages they’ve never had. They can look for hidden customer demand evidenced in search data that doesn’t match with what existing companies are doing. Then they can cater to that audience to get a fast foothold in otherwise cutthroat markets.”
Crowded markets aren’t off limits
It’s easy to overlook markets where there is existing competition. However, with some differentiation, many startups have proven that you can not only be successful, but also become a market leader.

How A Community Leader Supports Those Experiencing Homelessness During The COVID-19 Pandemic

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Few moments can test leaders, their businesses, and those they serve like adversity. And no matter the industry, it’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic is one of those moments.
 Now, imagine that your clientele is part of a historically underserved population. That’s the challenge that Daniel Roby currently faces each day as CEO of the Austin Street Center, the largest free emergency homeless shelter created in 1982 to serve the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Daniel Roby/Austin Street Center
For the past 15 years, Daniel has played a significant role in supporting Dallas citizens experiencing homelessness. From day-to-day struggles with homelessness to securing long-term housing and employment, his team members all possess an unbridled passion for helping those in need. 

“I love getting to do the work that I do and support the people that Austin Street Center supports,” says Daniel. With his inspiring leadership, he and his team prove that positivity, progress, and hope can emerge even during the toughest times.
The Reality of Homelessness
Before you can understand why crises often hit unhoused populations so hard, it’s essential to understand more about the community itself. 
First off, most people without housing aren’t addicted to drugs or alcohol. “Around 30-35% of people who are homeless struggle with an addiction of some kind,” says Daniel. It’s not an insignificant number, but it’s also not the overwhelming amount that many people think. “And even in those circumstances, we often find addiction came about as a means of coping with their homelessness rather than the cause.” 

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Statistics also show that mental health doesn’t affect the majority of the homeless population. According to Harvard Health Publishing, that number is between 25% to 33% of unhoused people. “Mental health is a large contributor,” says Daniel, “but it’s not everybody.”
Also, very few homeless people choose to be in their situation. “In the 15 years of doing this and the 2,000 people we’ve served, only a handful I’ve met really want to be in this circumstance,” says Daniel. “I could count them on my fingers and toes.”
In actuality, most people without housing found themselves in the situation due to what the Austin Street Center calls the Formula for Homelessness. “Financial need, plus a crisis—and COVID-19 is a perfect example—minus social support equals homelessness,” Daniel says. 
“People can struggle financially, but maintain a roof over their head because they have strong social support, or they’re able to avoid one crisis or another,” he continues. “For others, their social support is not strong, but their income stream is—and they can avoid a crisis. 
“We also have situations where the crisis is so big, like a hurricane! It doesn’t matter what your support system or income stream is. You can find yourself without a home.”
Daniel encourages us to avoid assumptions about why unhoused people are in their situation. “Every person that finds themselves without a home didn’t imagine that they’d find themselves there,” Daniel says. “There is so much more to every person’s life besides their homeless experience,” says Daniel. “Their homeless experience doesn’t define them.”
That’s why Daniel wants us to rethink phrases that define people by their homelessness. After all, we typically don’t refer to others based upon their housing. “We don’t call somebody an apartment dweller or a two-story homeowner,” says Daniel. “But when someone is without a home,” he says, “We call them homeless as if that’s who they are.” 
Instead, everyone should be defined by their character and the countless things that make up a person’s unique life. Listen to their entire story. “Sometimes when I hear their story,” Daniel says. “I think ‘You know what? I don’t know if the decisions I would or wouldn’t have made would have been different if I had been through all that they had.” 
Leading Together Through Crisis
The unprecedented COVID crisis could have easily sent some leaders and their organizations into a panicked tailspin. Although the pandemic indeed sent shockwaves through their community, Daniel, the Austin Street Center, and Dallas’ other programs serving the homeless came together to fight for a common goal. Today, they’re dedicated to serving a client base who are perhaps struggling now more than ever. 
“Obviously, they can’t shelter in place,” Daniel says. Experts say that the safest place right now is at home. So, what do you do if you literally don’t have one? Whether you’re on the streets or in a shelter, places where the homeless end up are often overcrowded. “Social distancing is extremely challenging,” says Daniel
“People who are homeless are also more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19,” he continues. From drug use to lack of adequate health care, many people without homes either have preexisting conditions or fewer resources to prevent or better treat the illness.
On top of these factors, Daniel and his team still have to maintain their typical services. “In October, we’ve helped 30 people transition out of homelessness and into their own place,” says Daniel. “We’re trying to maintain that part of our work even while we’re also increasing space between beds, adding medical staff, and pivoting our entire operation.”
Once the pandemic’s severity was apparent, Dallas’ organizations for the homeless began supporting each other and their central mission. “We all have to come together during times of significant need,” Daniel says. 
Soon, every leader within the homeless support community, including fundraisers and facilities, began talking with each other every day. Daniel says, “We started a daily call. We’d get together and say, ‘What did you learn yesterday? How can we work with each other? Who needs to take what piece of this pie so that all of our communities are safe?”
For one, they broke down any barriers to sharing information and critical resources. By opening up all communication lines, the organizations could quickly grasp what was working, what wasn’t, and collaborate on creating the best solutions possible. 
One colossal win was when the fundraising nonprofits came together and created a single, streamlined application. Previously, separate forms had to be filled out for each request. Now, places like the Austin Street Center could submit a single funding request, and it would automatically go to dozens of foundations. Whichever one was suited to their particular needs would respond.
“That was huge!” Daniel says. “When you’re figuring out how to respond to a crisis—and then you have to figure how you’re going to fund it—filling out 100 different applications would be a challenge.”
Success also relies on more than leadership and their staff. They need buy-in from the very people they serve. “We have a regular town hall where we gather all of our clients together,” Daniel says. In addition to outlining new policies and procedures, it’s a time to reflect on what’s succeeding and what needs improvement.
“I’ve been so impressed by the grit, determination, and resilience of those coming to us for help,” he says.
Supporting Those Who Need It Most
During trying times, it’s also critical for those within the greater community to reach out to those most in need. However, with social distancing practices likely in effect for some time, many traditional ways to show support simply aren’t options.
Thankfully, there are still so many ways to give back and offer support. Daniel suggests, “a regular pair of dry socks or a bottle of water—something that’s highly utilized and easy to carry around in your car.” Even when COVID is just a memory, handing out these small things can mean the world to someone experiencing homelessness.
And sometimes, the most powerful gifts don’t cost a penny. For those often ignored and pushed to society’s fringes, small gestures can make all of the difference. “Just acknowledging that they’re a person and that they matter is a huge thing,” says Daniel.
“A smile and a wave can go a long way,” Daniel says. “I’ve heard stories from people who say, ‘I didn’t believe that I was ready to make any changes. Then, this person was kind to me and I decided to give it a shot.’” This split second of genuine care changed a life forever.
“The most valuable thing that you can give,” Daniel says, “is human kindness.” 
The conversation with Daniel Roby continues on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast. You’ll hear more about those experiencing homelessness and how Daniel is working to support them. Don’t miss an article or episode of the podcast by signing up for my mailing list. You’ll also get a free guide to my favorite mindful resources. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne.

10 Steps to an Effective Brand Strategy That'll Bolster Your Business

Many mistakenly think that a brand strategy is limited to designing a nice logo or creating a catchy tagline. That couldn’t be further from the truth!
In reality, your brand encompasses all the things that make you stand out from competitors as different. Everything from your visual identity to your messaging to customer experience. Not to mention the way people perceive your business, including all of the thoughts and emotions they associate with your brand. 

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Because branding is so extensive, developing a strategy that works takes both time and careful planning. To help with that planning, consider some guidelines for creating an effective brand strategy for your business.
How to develop your brand strategy
Developing a long-term plan for building your brand can seem like an overwhelming task. Where do you start? There are 10 steps that can give you a solid foundation on which to build.
1. Pick your niche(s)
Catering to a niche market may involve offering specialized services, serving specific audiences, or limiting your focus to certain products that best serve the needs of your customers. Why can “niching down” be a smart strategic move?
Benefits include:
More time and energy to focus on creating the best possible products, services, and experiences for your customers.
Reduced waste of resources (including money).
The ability to charge a premium for your specialized expertise.
Differentiation from competitors who appeal to different or more general audiences (perhaps with different or more general offerings also).
Rather than spreading your resources thin trying to be all things to everyone, you can allocate them where they’ll do the most good.
That’s not to say that you must focus on one narrow audience, service or product, though. Businesses can successfully cater to several different niches.
To lay the foundation for your brand strategy, determine where it would be most worthwhile for you to focus. Considering what you enjoy most and excel at will give you a good start and put you on the path to a dialed-in brand image that supports your marketing strategy.

2. Define your business and marketing goals
The whole point of a strategy is to reach a goal (or goals). So, in developing your brand strategy, you can’t forget to consider your short and long-term goals.
Think of where you want your business to be next month, next year, and in a few years from now. Would you like to increase your customer base by a certain percentage? Is establishing a customer loyalty program in the cards for you? Do you eventually want to open another location?
In any case, keep your core objectives front and center as you decide what brand strategy will harmonize with your marketing efforts and get you to your goal.
3. Conduct brand research
Building a brand strategy in a bubble is a bad idea. It’s important to understand how your competitors and other businesses your audience engages with are branding themselves.
Of course, you don’t want to be a copycat. However, you can learn a ton from what’s working for them, how your audience responds to certain tactics, and even what your competitors aren’t doing in their branding. Looking at existing brands can give you both creative inspiration and strategic insights to help you set yourself apart from the crowd.
4. Spotlight what makes you different
Even if what you offer isn’t truly unique or one-of-a-kind, you can still stand out as different. How? Your brand messaging is one key.

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Take, for example, the commercial coffee chains Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. Both sell similar products, but their brand strategies convey different messages to very distinct audiences. And both brands are successful. The same can be true in your case.   
You can customize your brand strategy and differentiate your business with:
Mission and vision statements that are personal to you
Core values that are at the heart of what you do and that are shared by your customers
A crystal clear description of the unique way you solve a common problem
A crystal clear description of the way you solve an uncommon but notable problem
A focus on an uncommon or unique characteristic of your target audience
The unique customer experience you create for your customers
Let’s say you own a pizzeria. Yes, there are lots of other pizzerias out there. However, yours is unique in that you serve authentic Italian brick-oven pizza in a setting that takes your customers straight into the heart of Sicily. Your purpose isn’t just to make tasty pizzas; it’s to deliver an authentic Italian experience that locals can’t find elsewhere in the area.

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Now substitute your actual business type in place of the pizzeria. The main question remains the same. What can you offer customers that they can’t get from your competitors?
5. Think of your business as a person
Every person has a unique personality. So does every business. In both cases, though, not every personality is memorable. To prevent having a forgettable brand, it can help to envision your business as a person (real or imagined).
Ask yourself: If my business were a person, what kind of person would it be? What traits and characteristics would make it appealing, influential, or memorable? How would others describe their voice, tone, and style? 
This exercise can help you visualize the attributes of your business you want to highlight in your brand strategy and the best way to go about doing that.
6. Craft an exceptional customer experience
Customer experience is the great equalizer of businesses. Sure, a competitor might offer the same products or services at a cheaper price, but if they treat their customers poorly or fail to address small but significant details, it won’t matter. People are willing to spend a little more money or time for a better experience.
Plus, satisfied customers can become mini-marketers for your business, spreading the word about their positive experience, writing customer reviews, and recommending you to others like them.

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So think beyond how you can deliver a decent experience or even just a slightly better one than your competitors do. Deliver the ideal experience for your customers.
What additional bases can you cover to show your customers that you truly stand for what you say you do? What aspects of your brand can you translate into action when it comes to communicating with, serving, and supporting your customers? Additionally, how can you make it easy for your customers to share their positive experiences with you, especially online?
7. Get involved with your community
Embracing your local community can do wonders for your business. People love to support local businesses and often make the conscious choice to frequent them over large chains. Plus, in contrast to larger companies, you make it possible for people to put a face to your brand, making it more appealing and human.
Personally connecting with customers has a twofold advantage. One, it’s an excellent way to build relationships, establish a great reputation, and turn loyal customers into brand advocates who willingly share their positive experiences with your business. Two, the more you engage with your customers, the better you’ll understand their needs. The insights you gather will allow you to provide more tailored solutions, which means happier customers!

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What are some ways you can get involved in your community? You could connect with other small business owners, attend local events, feature your best customers on your social media pages, or even sponsor children’s sports teams from nearby schools. All of these strategies will bring you closer to your customers while incentivizing them to support your business.
8. Create and maintain a high-quality blog
A well-maintained business blog can bring many benefits including increased online visibility and an increase in sales. Yet, it can also be a surefire way to develop your brand.
As mentioned, branding is all about making your business easily identifiable in a crowd and blogging happens to be an excellent way to communicate the unique personality and intent of your company.
Just be sure to choose topics that are relevant to your audience and make your posts easy to read, adding images to hold attention and improve user experience. And don’t be afraid to add some personality to the information you’re relaying. Think about how you would personally converse with a customer about your business or a specific piece of advice, and try to maintain that conversational style when writing your posts.
9. Develop your visual identity strategically
Strategy is just as key when deciding on visual branding as it is when crafting your messaging. For example, choosing brand colors is not solely a matter of personal preference. Color psychology should be a guiding factor. After all, research has shown that between 62% and 90% of snap judgments made by customers are based on color. Why?
Different colors elicit different emotions and responses, which you can use to influence the way people view and interact with your brand.

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For example, consider the “vibes” associated with some colors:
Blue can convey dependability and trust, among many other things, making it the most popular and meaningful color by far.
Purple is another favorite and it’s associated with royalty, creativity, and optimism.
Red brings to mind passion, excitement, and boldness, along with several opposites including danger (so be careful with this one!)
Green often represents concepts such as growth, health, and safety.
Yellow is associated with warmth, brightness, and optimism.
Black and white can both be used to convey class, confidence, and simplicity.
And this is just a taste of the many positive and not-so-positive connotations associated with various colors and shades. There are many nuances to keep in mind so, from your logo to your website design and beyond, be sure to choose your brand colors wisely. Only if you do will your visual branding support your larger brand strategy and bring you more business.
10. Unify your social media accounts
Besides your website, your social media accounts are among the most easily accessible representatives of your business online. In other words, your accounts provide a prime opportunity to distinguish your brand from the start of a potential customer’s engagement with you. 

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Whether you use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or other platforms, maintain a cohesive voice and visuals. This will ensure that your followers and potential customers are being met with the same consistency and reliability they’d expect if they were to do business with you.
Why put the work into your brand strategy?
Your brand starts with you but, ultimately, it ends with the perception people have of your business and the actions they do or don’t take as a result. By shaping every aspect of your brand purposefully, you can have a positive impact on the perception and response of your audience, not to mention supercharge your advertising.
Whether your business is large or small, old or new, prioritizing your brand strategy will pay off in more ways than one. Do you want stronger relationships with your audience, a better reputation, more exposure, and increased revenue? If so, put the work into this invaluable part of your small business plan.
Ten steps to an effective brand strategy [recap]
We covered a lot in this post, so here is a list of the ten tactics we provided to help you develop a winning brand strategy:
1. Pick your niche(s)
2. Define your business and marketing goals
3. Conduct brand research
4. Spotlight what makes you different
5. Think of your business as a person
6. Craft an exceptional customer experience
7. Get involved with your community
8. Create and maintain a high-quality blog
9. Develop your visual identity strategically
10. Unify your social media accounts

The 5 Best Payroll Services for Small Businesses

February 18, 2017 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Did you know that 1 in every 3 small business owners gets penalized by the IRS for payroll errors?
Those fees and fines add up. When you add on the extra time and energy of figuring out the complicated payroll system, it suddenly doesn’t seem like a great place to cut costs. That’s why many small business owners choose to pay for a payroll service instead. That way, you won’t need to worry about legal mistakes, clerical errors, or wasted time.
Here are five of the best payroll options for small businesses:
1. Intuit Payroll
Looking for the barebones when it comes to payroll services? Or do you want a fully-automated, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink payroll service instead? No matter where you fall on that spectrum, Intuit Payroll has an option for you.
Intuit Basic, for $20/month plus $2 per employee/month, will run your payroll instantly and calculate your taxes (but won’t go as far as filing those taxes for you). Their most popular package is called Enhanced, $31.20/month, which adds tax form completion, filing, and payment on top of that. And finally, their Full Service option will run payroll entirely, transfer data from other payroll services, and guarantee its accuracy — for just $79/month.
So depending on how much time and energy inputting payroll takes for you, any of these plans could help out. And if you’re in need of other human resources services, too, Intuit also offers workers’ compensation and compliance assistance. There’s a reason they’ve been voted America’s #1 payroll service, after all.
Related: 25 Payment Tools for Small Businesses, Freelancers and Startups
2. OnPay
OnPay doesn’t have all the tools and add-ons that Intuit offers, but in exchange, it provides a simple pricing model with the straightforward payroll necessities that especially small small businesses need.
For $47.95 per month, you get up to 10 employees’ worth of unlimited pay runs, tax filings and deposits in one state (with additional states running you extra), and check printing. It’s an easy, quick, mobile-friendly system that doesn’t require a steep learning curve.
If you’re in need of a payroll service that can handle bigger businesses, OnPay could still manage—for $1 per month for each extra employee, starting with your 11th. Plus, direct deposit functionality is an additional $8 per month.
3. Gusto
Gusto, previously known as ZenPayroll, is an intuitive payroll service for any sort of small business.
Not only will Gusto automatically file your local, state, and federal taxes and integrate with your accounting software, it’ll also give your employees access to their information, paystubs, and W-2s—even after they’ve left your company. This means less data entry work for you, more convenience for them, and an easier time for everyone.
PC Magazine named Gusto its payroll service of choice for a reason: after its one-month free trial ends, Gusto costs only $39/month, plus $6 per month per employee. That includes benefits planning, direct deposit and check services, and more.
Related: 8 Great Time-Tracking Apps for Freelancers
4. Namely
What does “HR for Humans” look like? Just ask Namely: one of the biggest new human resources services around.
While it has an undisclosed price, Namely offers a full suite of payroll and HR tools to help you cut down on wasted time. It will automatically carry out benefits deductions, pay and file all of your payroll taxes, handle year-end reporting and time-tracking, ensure your small business is compliant with regulations, and give employees access to their paycheck histories.
In addition to payroll, Namely can help with a number of employee benefits like health insurance, life and disability insurance, wellness programs, commuter benefits, and other less traditional plans as well. Plus, they’ll also assist with hiring and management, from onboarding document signatures to performance reports.
If you’re looking for a modern, comprehensive HR service, not just a payroll tool, then Namely could be right for your small business.
Related: 10 Online Invoicing Services for Small-Business Owners
5. Sage
Sage takes payroll services a step further with Sage Payroll HCM, a cloud-based app that allows small- and medium-size businesses to do a lot more than just manage payroll. It’s a central hub for human resources, organizing and simplifying the process of hiring, onboarding, and retaining employees.
The career job portal allows businesses to manage all of their job postings from a single page and comes with a number of integrations allowing you to post open job descriptions to various sites at the same time. From there, you can easily search resumes and manage applicants as they navigate the hiring process.
When it comes to onboarding, the service allows employees to access your company’s policy manuals, facility maps, training videos, and more. Out of the box, Sage Payroll HCM comes with more than 20 standard reports ranging from job requisition details to EEO-1 and other compliance reports. There is no limit to the number of users who can access the system.
Pick the payroll service that matches up with what your business needs, and don’t be afraid to cancel if you’ve made a mistake and want something different. Also, it can be helpful to keep your own payroll records for posterity or in case something goes wrong.

4 Lessons From GameStop's Price Frenzy

February 1, 2021 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Warren Buffett has expressed very negative view towards gambling, saying, “Day trading comes very close to gambling.” and that “gambling is a tax on ignorance.” His advice? Get rich slowly.
These days, capital markets are anything but slow. A Reddit forum of 3.5 million users that discuss speculative bets banded together to push GameStop’s stock price 2,300% over two months. GME went from $13 in early December to $315 by late January. One forum member turned $50,000 into $50 million in just a few months.
WallStreetBets has since grown to 6.1 million users. They describe themselves as “degenerates” in the subreddit channel. The recent mayhem surrounding GameStop, AMC Theatres, Dogecoin and Bitcoin does, at least, reveal four compelling lessons about modern finance.
Related: For GameStop Investors, It’s Game On
1. It’s easier for Gen Y and Gen Z to mobilize capital
In the past, pooling investment capital came from smoking cigars at a country club or Ivy League reunion. Big finance was an exclusive boys’ club. There’s still an element of that today. However, socially aware Generations Y and Z have injected tens of billions into the capital markets by joining retail apps like Robinhood, Beanstox and PayPal. These allow literally anyone (i.e., “dumb money”) to gamble, speculate and trade with extra $5 Starbucks cash or $1,000 student loan money or $5,000 from grandma’s inheritance.
Many “invest” for potential capital gains (without knowing how to properly value a business, as Buffett feared). And just as many naively buy and sell stocks and cryptocurrencies to support a social cause or, in the case of WallStreetBets, give a middle finger to Wall Street bullies like short-sellers.
When profit isn’t the primary motive, it can wreak havoc, as market signals can become invalidated. (Melvin Capital needed a $3 billion capital infusion to avert bankruptcy after the GameStop fiasco.)
2. Disillusionment with institutions can create monetary mutiny
Hedge funds have been short-selling GameStop’s steadily declining stock, seeking to profit in a video-game company’s demise. As Ollie Leech of CoinDesk writes, “This was likely an attempt by large players to out-muscle amateur traders and induce panic selling. The WallStreetBets Reddit community saw this as an opportunity to push back against the financial elite and decided to whip up a buying frenzy.”
That, in turn, led to billions in losses for Wall Street’s short-sellers, a pending investigation by Congress and calls for stringent regulations.
There are macroeconomic forces that blur the lines of investing, gambling, market speculation and extreme, hype-fueled trading and price volatility. Then-President Bill Clinton’s repeal in 1999 of the Glass-Steagall Act turned the stock market into a gigantic casino by enabling commercial banks to legally offer massive sums of risky credit for equally massive speculation by politically connected hedge funds.
3. Media coverage can fuel a frenzy
The democratization of media, as well as mainstream access to financial tech have liberalized investing, speculating, gambling and day trading. Retail investors can wield power when efforts are concentrated.
On Jan. 29, meme-based cryptocurrency Dogecoin catapulted 80% in a 24-hour period and reached a top-10 market capitalization of $7 billion. During the extreme price surge, Elon Musk tweeted a picture of a dog in an apparent nod to the peer-to-peer currency’s meme-based logo.
For mischiefs and misfits, putting money in a struggling stock (i.e. GME) or cryptocurrency like Bitcoin isn’t about pursuing a prudent strategy for increasing one’s retirement account. It’s about lifestyle — to bask in the momentary hype of being a contrarian, financial anarchist and troublemaker. It’s about naked-ass-mooning the very billion-dollar institutions that caused the 2008 Great Recession, and which received taxpayer bailouts from politician friends.
Bitcoin (BTC) is a digital commodity that doesn’t yield any dividend or cash flow. On Jan. 29, Elon Musk put a Bitcoin logo on his empty Twitter bio and the crypto’s price surged by 17%.
To understand the psychology of what is transpiring, Musk’s action symbolizes a rebellious, libertarian streak and not an attempt to manipulate BTC’s price. (The tech billionaire recently moved Tesla’s headquarters from regulation-heavy California to freedom-loving Texas.)
To members of WallStreetBets, struggling stocks like GameStop and AMC Theatres (as well as alternative digital cash like decentralized Bitcoin and dog-meme-based Dogecoin) create an opportunity to point a middle finger to (what they perceive as) a corrupt status quo. On Jan. 28, Musk tweeted: “u can’t sell houses u don’t own u can’t sell cars u don’t own but u *can* sell stock u don’t own!? this is bs – shorting is a scam…”
Related: What Is Going on With GameStop? Meme Stocks Explained.
4. Automation has quickened the pace of price action
Finally, markets have been automated for more than a decade where key indicators can trigger an avalanche of buy and sell orders. These systems can significantly quicken the pace of market action where fortunes and losses are made within minutes or seconds. 
Moreover, fintech innovators are introducing platforms like Mudrex that allow quants and analysts to design, publish and monetize algorithmic strategies. Capabilities like these allow investors to bet on auto-pilot based on a larger thesis or from a collection of micro signals.
One decentralized finance (DeFi) entrepreneur thinks that global connectivity and light speed dissemination of information have created financial tsunamis in the traditional capital and digital alt-cash markets. CEO Brian Kerr of yield-farming platform Kava.io says that decentralized bandits (via Twitter and Reddit) now possess the capability to potentially bankrupt billion-dollar institutions. According to Kerr, in a quote that just about sums up this wild couple weeks in trading, “Wall Street knows they’re being disrupted and that the future may be volatile.”

Reddit Users Latest Market Obsession? Silver.

First, it was GameStop and AMC. Now Reddit users have added silver to their campaign.
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February 1, 2021 3 min read
This story originally appeared on Value Walk
Reddit users are targeting more than GameStop, AMC and certain other stocks; they’ve added silver to their campaign. Silver futures jumped by as much as 13 percent this morning, reaching their highest levels in eight years after Reddit users continued to push into the precious metals market.
Related: GameStop Shares Soar on Wall Street Because of Reddit
Reddit users sweep the silver market
Reddit users started targeting the silver market last week, but the frenzy continued today. Silver equities also rose upon intervention by users of one Reddit forum. Coeur Mining shares surged 20% before the markets opened, while Pan Am Silver climbed 15%. Over the weekend, retail sites told customers they couldn’t meet soaring demand for silver coins and bars. Additionally, the hashtag #silversqueeze is trending on Twitter.
APMEX, which touts itself as the largest online precious metals retailer in the world, posted a notice on its website saying that it wouldn’t be able to take any more orders on many of its products until the global markets opened Sunday evening. SD Bullion, Money Metals and other precious metals retailers posted similar messages.
CNN noted that unlike GameStop and the other individual stocks targeted by the Reddit forum, silver futures have been strong. Many institutional investors have been bullish on silver futures for some time.
Disagreement about silver short squeeze
Last week, WallStreetBets users targeted the iShares Silver Trust ETF, and CNN reports that some of them suggested that they could hurt big banks, accusing them of artificially suppressing prices. Some Reddit users noted that JPMorgan paid $920 million to settle charges of manipulating futures trades tied to precious metals like silver and Treasuries.
Still others suggested that the silver squeeze is an attack coordinated by hedge funds so they can keep up the GameStop battle. One thread stated that purchasing silver “would be a tragic, irreversible decision that not only will most likely not make you any money because the squeeze is fake, it will put you on the sidelines from this righteous and glorious market we are in.”
Nonetheless, the Winklevoss twins, who were early bitcoin adopters and became known for suing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, tweeted support for the silver push by WallStreetBets. They tweeted that “the #silversqueeze is a rage against the machine.” Cameron Winklevoss added that if the silver market “is proven to be fraudulent,” the gold market would probably be next.

This Is Why Bitcoin Will Hit $59,000 In 2021

Seven compelling factors that are driving Bitcoin higher.
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February 1, 2021 6 min read
This story originally appeared on Market Beat
As technical as cryptocurrency and Bitcoin (BTC) markets are there are some fundamentals driving the market. These include cryptocurrency’s growing mainstream acceptance, the amount of power put into mining the coin, and its availability to name a few. Now that BTC/USD is trading at new all-time highs the market can expect the bullish trends to continue because there isn’t much reason for the market to reverse until a clear top is formed. Based on what we’re seeing in the market BTC/USD could easily hit the $59,000 this year and that estimate might be too low.
Related: How a Series of Elon Musk Tweets Helped Lead Investors to Dogecoin, a Meme-Inspired Cryptocurrency Worth 4 Cents
1. There is a cost to mine Bitcoin
While mining Bitcoin used to be very easy, an influx of miners (along with other factors discussed below) drove up the difficulty rate while driving down the reward. Now it is virtually impossible for a lone operator to mine a single BTC without the help of either 1) a vast quantity of expensive mining resources or 2) the aid of a mining pool. The mining pools tend to operate where electricity is cheap but there is still cost, not to mention the overhead of running a large mining operation. The latest estimates put the cost of 40 TH/s of computing power at $4.32 per day. That’s may seem small but it adds up over the year. The annual cost runs about $1,576 with an expected reward of 0.08875 Bitcoins or about $3,017 with BTC trading at $34,000. That’s a gross margin of 47% and then add in the cost of buying or renting a unit. The takeaway, it costs money to mine Bitcoin and that is where a lot of its intrinsic value lay.
2. There is not an unlimited supply 
Bitcoin’s value is also driven in large part by supply, and the supply is dwindling. There are only ever going to be 21 million real BTC’s ever minted. That doesn’t count wrapped BTC or other kinds of defi-sourced BTC which ultimately will also affect BTC’s price. But, back to the supply, of the 21 million nearly 90% have already been mined leaving just over 2 million for the mining community to split up. And, not only that, but there are the halving’s to consider. A halving is when the Bitcoin mining reward is cut in half. The purpose of this is to help control BTC inflation and extend the lifespan of the mineable BTC pool. The halving occurs every four years, there have been three so far, and the most recent was just this past year. The takeaway here, people who want to own a Bitcoin or use a Bitcoin have to buy one of the few that are already out there.
3. There are a growing number of BTC addresses
Technically, the way that the BTC network is set up, there are already an infinite # of addresses. The system is set up that way to help make it more difficult to find a specific address and hack into it. The more important figure, however, is the number of Bitcoin wallets that currently hold BTC >0. That figure posted a YOY increase in 2020 that has the total number of wallets in use at over 1 million. That doesn’t sound like a lot but you have to remember that supply is limited and the number of large holders and whales is rising by mid-single-digits. The number of whales, BTC holders with over 1000 BTC in their account rose by 7% while smaller accounts with 5 to 100 BTC’s rose by 4%. In total, BTC whales are holding nearly 2.3 million BTCs while smaller investors account for upward of 10 million BTC. That’s not a lot left for the truly small retail investors who are also flooding into this market.
4. The mining community is still growing
If Bitcoin wasn’t an attractive and lucrative investment the mining community would not be growing and it is growing. The latest data shows hashing power or the amount of computing power attributed to the BTC network at a new all-time high. The takeaway here is that Bitcoin’s hashing power has only risen over the long-term and is likely to continue setting new highs long into the future. That’s a lot of competition for a dwindling supply of coins.
5. Bitcoin is the world’s reserve cryptocurrency
Bitcoin has long been the world’s reserve cryptocurrency because it’s the easiest to use, the most widespread, the first that most new users buy, and its role in defi. The proof of this is in the coins market dominance of its percentage of the total cryptocurrency market cap. Except for a brief period during 2017 and 2018 when the Altcoin craze was going on Bitcoin has always commanded at least 50% of the total market cap. Lately, that has risen to over 60% where it has trended since mid-2019. The takeaway here is that when the world turns to crypto Bitcoin is the first name they seek. And the world is warming up to crypto.
6.  Bitcoins get lost, locked, and burned every day 
As if the limited and dwindling supply was not enough to support BTCs price movement there is the lost BTCs to consider. The estimates vary but investors should assume that roughly 3.7 million BTCs are already lost or irrecoverable. One analyst estimates that 1,500 BTCs are lost every day. What lost means is that they are in unrecoverable wallets. We know where they are on the blockchain but no one can get to them for 1 of 2 reasons. The first is that they are really lost due to password protection and/or lost devices. Those coins will never come back to the market. The second is burning. Some operations on blockchains require you to lock or “burn” coins. This essentially loses coins on purpose but in a way that spawns new value. For example, if we wanted to launch our own cryptocurrency we could burn $1 million worth of BTC and produce 1 million $1 MarketBeat Coins.
7.  Defi is growing
Defi is decentralized finance which, in a nutshell, means locking BTC or another cryptocurrency into a smart-contract. The total value of defi grew at an exponential pace in 2020 and now amounts to over $27 billion in value. That’s not all BTC value but BTC is well-represented. The takeaway here is that defi is growing and will continue to suck up BTC value and drive demand for BTC.
 Bitcoin is bullish
After a strong rally from the 2020 lowws the Bitcoin market is very bullish. BTC is likely to move sharply higher over the next year and basied on the recent move, it could run close to 100%. Assuming the recent consolidation at all-time-high levels will lead to a continuation we project at least $27,000 in upside from the $32,000 level.

Can Robot Shoppers Tell If the Bananas Are Ripe?

November 23, 2020 7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Robots patrolling grocery store aisles and warehouses; so-called dark stores dedicated to online-only orders; data crunched in the cloud that allows retailers to identify and even tweak shoppers’ habits. U.S. grocery retailers thought they had years to prepare for these futuristic elements, but then COVID-19 hit.
It’s like we climbed into a time machine back in February and woke up on this date—but it’s five years in the future. Case in point: The percentage of online orders doubled during pandemic lockdowns to 40 percent—from 13 percent pre-COVID—according to a March survey by strategic advisory firm Brick Meets Click. And it’s expected that consumers will stick with these click-and-collect behaviors.  
Retailers are making big changes in a hurry — and need new technical solutions to help them manage the transition. Amazon opened its first Brooklyn permanent dark store in September to fulfill online grocery orders. Kroger had already announced its own home delivery initiative in 2018.
With this speed of change, this is a moment where tech innovators might get an audience from big grocery chains for new ideas. After all, tools that might have fallen flat with grocers a year ago — shelf sensors, inventory management software, grab-and-go stores, robotics, AI for better order personalization — will likely get more than a hearing today.
Solving a demand problem
Here’s why: As retailers rush to keep customers by meeting surging online demand, online grocery ordering has terrible economics — especially the way most U.S. stores do it today. The extra costs of picking and delivering items tend to crush retailers’ margins. Add to that P&L pressure from huge tech capital investments to support the online model. 
Suddenly you have big money problems in search of big money innovation.The most successful grocery chains will be those with the balance sheets and analytical insights to bend the curve on that margin compression through smart tech investment. 
This creates a tremendous opportunity for venture investors and founders with the vision to help solve retailers’ online pain points.
How to pitch ideas to big grocery
The life-and-death metric that all grocery retailers will chase in this new world is units per hour (UPH), a measure of how fast online orders are processed. By that measure, U.S. grocery operators are still in the Stone Age of online ordering, averaging around 40 UPH. That compares poorly to operators abroad. U.K.-based online specialist Ocado, for example, recently reported its UPH was nearing 200.    
Low UPH scores in the U.S. stem from retailers’ reliance on traditional stores to service both walk-in and online customers. Even before those one-way social distancing directional stickers were affixed to the front and back of every aisle, supermarkets weren’t designed to fulfill online orders. Employees working as pickers are competing with customers for items in the aisles, slowing things down and worsening the consumer experience. There’s also a big jump in labor costs when a store’s online orders suddenly make up 15 percent of sales, compared to less than 1-2 percent previously.  
The ultimate solutions are tech-driven: automated picking, inventory management software that can help identify and stock higher-turnover items, and new supply chain models such as vertical farming. Much of this is already being tested: Walmart has robots picking out online orders, calling the effort “transformative” to its supply chain. Kroger has partnered with Ocado to leverage robotics and build up to 20 automated grocery warehouses.
Solutions that build loyalty
The reward is that online grocery shoppers buy more in each order, and are more loyal over time. Average transaction sizes online are 20-30 percent larger and online shoppers tend to stick with one provider, increasing their lifetime value to retailers. Maybe they can make it up on volume.
Retailers are seeking to optimize for the benefits of digital while managing the downsides.
In the short run, those with fewer resources are turning to service partners like Instacart to handle online fulfillment. But those services are only as efficient as the stores they’re picking from.
Transforming every store and building robot-driven warehouses will take years and come with tremendous costs. But those who can invest now know they will take market share later. 
The software that can save supermarkets
When 15 percent of a business goes online, there are some big potential real estate savings on customer-facing stores that can be reinvested in things like robotics and specialized warehouses—or even part of a store’s footprint allocated for fulfillment, in a section of the store called a “wareroom.”
Think of all of the software needs to make this work.
First, more efficient inventory management is a big piece of the puzzle, and grocers will surely be looking to implement tech here. The online boom is resulting in more demand for high-velocity food items, and retailers might logically respond by getting rid of slower-moving products to optimize stores for online ordering.
Some stores and packaged foods companies have already reduced SKUs, trading broad selection for better stocking of high-volume items. Venture investors in the world of niche and differentiated healthy brands may suffer here, as shopping is no longer a browse-the-aisles function by consumers. They are more likely to type Heinz into a browser, and they might not find and try your artisanal ketchup.
Robots and battery-powered shelf sensors are being used to improve inventory management. Amazon’s cashier-less Go grocery stores are trying out a model that gives highly accurate inventory reads through the use of sensors and cameras.
Another area of need: Data analytics and systems integration. Even now, many aren’t thinking as intensely about it as they should. Retailers don’t suffer from a lack of data, but they do struggle to use it well. That’s where it can be valuable for them to partner with tech start-ups.
But, as promising as this sounds, integration must come before analytics. This is where the giant cloud providers such as Amazon, Azure and Google come in. They can amalgamate disparate data sources, as well as analyze and integrate data in ways that improve store plans and personalization for customers.
Which tech solutions rise to the top? 
Raw data is valuable, too. Retailers can use data visualization and analytics tools to find patterns in online and offline customer behavior that they hadn’t seen. What creates an increase in basket sizes? What is the right inventory mix to keep in the wareroom, and what needs to stay on the shelves? How can retailers take care not to disrupt the more profitable impulse purchase at the checkout line? Those insights can be applied to any product category.
Grocers will be interested in tech solutions that can also improve personalization, helping retailers tweak consumers’ choices. If I’m on a Whole 30 diet, couldn’t that pre-populate my online basket? If I use MyFitnessPal to capture my calories and macros, why couldn’t that be integrated with my future supermarket purchases? Better yet, how valuable would it be if data helped apps avoid poor recommendations. After all, vegetarians shouldn’t get offers on fresh beef if they’ve indicated their dietary preferences in their profiles.
Think about the potential for ad serving models now that people are comfortable with click-and-collect: If Safeway knows your wife’s birthday is this weekend, they can serve you a reminder with a cake recipe. You can then click a button to have ingredients populate your online cart, ready for home delivery. Bonus points if Safeway offers you balloons, a card, and candles as well.
If the supermarket could help you with your dad bod, and save you from forgetting your wife’s birthday, well, you might not need the incessant discounting to stay loyal.
And I’d bet there is someone reading this that can code that feature in their sleep. Hey, save a marriage, pitch it to Kroger.

Here's the No. 1 Question White Leaders Ask Me About Black History Month

February 1, 2021 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
“I’m not Black,” a white leader whispered to me last year in the hallway. “Should I attend the Black History Month events?”
It’s the number one question I have gotten asked in my time leading Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts when it comes to honoring and celebrating Black History Month. 
In some form or fashion, white leaders will quietly approach me as we enter the month of February. Can I attend? Am I invited? Should I attend? Do I come alone? Or do I ask my team to attend as well? Is it mandatory? Who else will be there?
My response is always yes, you should absolutely be attending Black History Month events, which is typically met with a few follow-up questions: “What if I am the only white person attending? Won’t that be strange?” 
To all of the white leaders reading this who have the same thought running through their heads and are reluctant to say it aloud, let me share with you what I told that leader.
I certainly hope you are not the only white person attending your company’s Black History Month events. Because we need anyone who is on their journey to be an ally to show up. And if you are the only one, it will give you an opportunity to feel for just a moment what many of our Black colleagues have experienced for much of their lives: entering spaces and places where they are the only one.
Why should you attend Black History Month events? 
Because we need white leaders to go beyond signing public pledges, posting #BlackLivesMatter on their social channels and reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. We need white leaders to understand the experience of being Black in your organizations. Participating in Black History Month is one of many steps you can take in showing up for your Black colleagues:
1. Start educating yourself
It’s not the job of Black colleagues to continuously educate us on the racial inequities that exist in our communities and our workplaces. To continuously place this burden on them without doing work on your own is insulting and exhausting for our Black colleagues. As someone who leads DEI efforts, I consistently get asked to provide resources, education and coaching to leaders. I remind everyone I work with that Black History Month events provide a great moment for you to understand the importance of the month, celebrate your Black colleagues and learn about issues and challenges facing the Black community.
2. Bring others along in the journey
Invite others to attend Black History Month events with you. If you are leading a team, ask them all to attend. Block off the time on your calendars and ensure not to schedule other meetings for those who do attend. It’s a great opportunity to learn together as a team, continue the dialogue after the events and build team camaraderie.
If you aren’t managing a team yet, ask your peers to attend. Let your manager know you’re attending in hopes they might join you as well. Rather than simply forwarding an invite, send a personalized note that says: I am on my journey to learn how to be a better ally and educate myself. Please attend this upcoming Black History Month event with me. Look forward to seeing you there.
3. Expand your networks
There’s a growing focus on building strong external talent pipelines to attract more Black talent onto our teams. Organizations are trying to understand and quickly implement the The Rooney Rule, diverse panels and so many more recruiting processes.
And yet, how often are we getting to know our internal Black talent? Do we make the time to meet talent outside of our immediate teams and our networks? Use this as an opportunity to meet Black talent at events and expand your networks. Although many of these events are no longer live, reach out and continue to build those relationships with colleagues after events.  
You can send a thank you note to those who organized the event sharing what you learned, then ask for a virtual coffee connect to continue the conversation. Once you have met with that colleague, ask them to recommend more members of your company’s Black employee resource group to meet. Be authentic and intentional about continuing to build and grow these relationships.
4. Support the Black employee resource group
Use this as an opportunity to get to know the leaders of your Black employee resource group. Go beyond attending events. Spend time getting to know them and help build the group. Step up with your budget and offer to host the next event. Step up and lead logistics and coordination for that event. Finally, step up and connect them with other leaders in their organization they might not have access to otherwise.
What if your company has never hosted Black History Month? What if there are no events to attend? What can you do? Start by meeting with leadership and your people team. Ask why there are no events, and ask what you and they together can do to change that.
5. Remember that Black History Month is only the beginning
Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as a check-the-box exercise. Being in attendance doesn’t mean that you have fulfilled your commitment to support the Black community for 2021 — it’s just the beginning. Show up every day, stand up in those moments that matter and intervene when you witness Black colleagues experiencing racism.
White leaders, we can’t make our organizations more racially equitable without you. If this Black History Month is the very first step in your journey, we will take it. Because we need you to start somewhere.

Bitcoin Billionaire Cameron Winkelvoss Says Gold Could Be Redditors' Next Target

Some members of the Wall Street Bets Reddit group that facilitated the GameStop stock hike have turned their attention to driving up silver prices, and Winkelvoss thinks gold could be next.
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February 1, 2021 3 min read
“Silver squeeze” has a nice ring to it. Could a “gold grab” be next? Last week, in an unprecedented stock market coup, members of Reddit group Wall Street Bets conspired to beat hedge funders at their own “short squeeze” game, driving up GameStop shares more than 200%. Now some of the same Reddit investors are buying shares of silver mining companies, driving the silver price up 11% to $30 a share (as of Monday morning), the highest it’s been since 2013. 
If Redditors pull off a “silver squeeze,” there’s speculation as to what market could be next. Bitcoin investor and entrepreneur Cameron Winkelvoss – who rose to fame with his twin brother Tyler Winkelvoss when they won $65 million in a lawsuit against their Harvard classmate Mark Zuckerberg, claiming he stole their idea for Facebook – took to Twitter on January 31 to contemplate the implications.

The ramifications of a #silversqueeze cannot be underestimated. If it’s exposed that there are more paper claims on silver than actual silver, not only would payoff be enormous, but gold would be next. #Bitcoin fixes this.
— Cameron Winklevoss (@cameron) January 31, 2021

If Silver market is proven to be fraudulent, you better believe Gold market will be next. HUGE implications especially for countries that have de-dollarized and central banks with large Gold holdings. #silversqueeze
— Cameron Winklevoss (@cameron) January 31, 2021

The #silversqueeze is going to tell us just how bullshit the Silver and precious metals markets are.
— Cameron Winklevoss (@cameron) January 31, 2021
Investing in gold shares has traditionally been considered a safe hedge against stock market volatility. The U.S. has the largest gold reserve in the world, but if the current (record high) price of gold were to suffer a short squeeze, that would indeed have a massive effect on global markets.
As a bigwig Bitcoin investor, it’s little surprise Winkelvoss is rooting against market mainstays. He and his brother invested $11 million of their $65 million Facebook lawsuit payout into Bitcoin back in 2013, and when the cryptocurrency’s shares soared last December, they became billionaires. 
In case you weren’t convinced that the Winkelvoss twins were into all of this stuff, they also just signed on as executive producers for an MGM film on the Gamestop fiasco, which will be based on a yet-to-be-written book by Ben Mezrich, auhtor of the The Social Network. The tentative title for his Gamestop tome? The Antisocial Network.