Category Archives: Small Business

What’s it like inside the highly selective, invite-only Young Entrepreneur Council?

Young Entreprenuer Council LogoThe exclusive founders-only club is not shy about naming names.

A quick scroll through its member directory shows that Joe Fernandez (Klout), Jennifer Fleiss (Rent the Runway), Adam Goldstein (Hipmunk), Jake Nickell (Threadless), Neil Patel (KISSmetrics), Shane Snow (Contently), and Slava Rubin (Indiegogo) are all part of the family.

To date, the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) has received more than 14,000 applications to join the group. Yet fewer than a thousand people can proudly carry the YEC member label. [Full disclosure: I joined the YEC, as the co-founder of Blank Label, more than two years ago.]

It was never about recruiting big names or keeping numbers artificially low for vanity’s sake though.

Scott Gerber, Founder of the YEC, envisioned an organization, created by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, that provided founders with the resources and tools they needed to keep growing. And that meant only accepting more candidates when the YEC staff was capable of providing more members with a wide variety of services such as virtual and in-person networking, online forums, VIP access to events, PR opportunities, exclusive discounts on business products and services, and an outlet to “give back” as a #StartupLab mentor.

The YEC in action

Much of the value from organizations such as the YEC comes from networking. If you’re looking to expand your network, someone will put you in touch with relevant contacts. For example, I met Matt Wilson, co-founder of Under30Media, through YEC in New York and got access to the launch party for Under30Experiences, a new kind of travel company. If you have specific problems, the group can direct you to someone who has been-there-and-done-that and may even have a foolproof “how-to” manual for resolving the issue.

YEC also provides its members access. The organization has brought members into highly exclusive events including one at the White House. The YEC also hosts private lunches and dinners with angel investors, venture capitalists and government officials.

It all comes from the comfort and support intrinsic in knowing you are not alone. Gerber says, “you don’t have to go search for yourself, and not really know where to start. You can rely on us not just to find who would be right for you, but also make warm introductions on your behalf. So ultimately we turn you into a superconnector without having to put all of the time and effort, and frankly, trust for every person that you’re meeting because we as the intermediary have done all of the work for you by vetting the community.”

Increasing value to members

Gerber discloses that the YEC is preparing to offer more back office services. He says that the group is about to launch national healthcare, with bookkeeping and accounting will soon be available too.

“Our goal is to also help our members to save money [and] to have the most efficient services possible to support their businesses.”

If time and money are the two most limited resources founders have, the YEC looks to help save its members both.

Although the YEC does not publicly state how much annual member dues are, Gerber is confident the fees are fair, given the services the YEC offers. In my experience, I’d agree. Most small business owners could easily afford the cost, and they would be able to justify it because of the value they get in return.

“At the end of the day, we are building a brand for the long run,” says Gerber. “With one core goal always remaining constant, and that is to help entrepreneurs worldwide and empower them in a variety of different ways.”

Alternative organizations

I love the YEC, but I am biased.

There are several other organizations business people can join that offer similar value. These include Sandbox, Young Presidents’ Organization, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and Founders Card. Each has its own advantages, but I can’t speak to personal experience.

The point is: Whether you’re a founder, executive or manager, you should know that you don’t have to run your business alone. There’s a community somewhere with entrepreneurs who may happily extend a helping hand.

 

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Make email social with smail.fm

When Google recently rolled out new updates for Gmail, users were very vocal.

Some hated them. Some love them. Some decided to poke fun.

Of course, there was a time when email wasn’t so controversial. When it was introduced, email revolutionized how we interact. Now it doesn’t impress us with the speed of communication. Now it’s a source of stress.

The Berlin-based developer AppGestalt is hoping to make email social (again) with its smail.fm project. AppGestalt describes smail.fm as “a fun and easy way to talk to your friends with all the advantages of email like forwarding and threading.” While the project is still in pre-beta, the smail.fm homepage prominently features a screenshot of what future users might expect.

Snail.Fm

With the smail.fm client, you can compose a message, search your archives, and read messages that are organized by contact and aggregated in a clean, IM-like form. Correspondence with a certain individual is presented in a thread that displays all the messages you’ve received and sent, with the most recent messages appearing above the fold. The thread also identifies who said what and when the message was sent.

The beauty of this is that emails from an individual you care about no longer get lost in the mess that is your inbox, because you can say goodbye to easily misplaced single messages. Every message your best friend Jacob ever sent you, and every reply you sent, will be right there when you open up your correspondence with him.

smail.fm’s email threads will be particularly useful to busy professionals who won’t have to cross their fingers hoping their current email solution’s search function will, without fail, pull up the emails they are desperately looking for.

Email users should be excited for projects like smail.fm that propose a new method of communication that organizes messages around the people in your network.

Sign up for early beta access with smail.fm at its website.

 

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Unlock the potential of incentives with Kiip

Kiip RewardsPeople love free stuff. Giveaways, samples, kitschy mugs and t-shirts, you name it.

But free is easily abused and quickly forgotten.

When customers get something for free, they often fail to appreciate the value they are getting. So, how can businesses get more for their marketing dollars?

Make customers ‘earn it.’

Kiip allows mobile app developers and brands to reward users for accomplishments they make. The company’s tagline, “every achievement deserves a reward,” underscores its approach.

“For us, it’s all about the timing. Kiip allows your brand to reach users during achievements — these moments of elation, either with real, tangible rewards or gifts of virtual currency.”

What’s better than completing level 25 after two hours of frustration? Getting a nice reward for doing so.

Users no longer take your offers for granted and feel more brand loyalty because they earned it. Big brands such as McDonald’s, Amazon, Pepsi, 7-Eleven, and Sony Music use the platform to offer promotions.

And it’s not just for brands and games. Kiip’s rewards platform has been used by the productivity app Any.Do and for the fitness app SoFit as well as others.

Demonstrating impact on mobile marketing

Kiip is designed to support marketers’ efforts in creating an emotional connection with brands and increase customer engagement. The company claims in a press release that businesses joining the network have initial engagement rates of 15 percent, compared to the industry average 0.4 percent click-through rate.

While the company is still in its infancy, it has already garnered its share of plaudits. Business Insider has gone as far as saying “[Kiip's CEO] may have cracked the future of mobile advertising.”

Learn more about Kiip for businesses here.

 

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Get action-oriented with analytics from Spinnakr

For years, digital marketers have told businesses why they need web analytics.

Many listened and eagerly installed a few lines of code onto their website to track visitors with programs like Google Analytics — because that was easy. They regularly checked their account taking in a broad overview of traffic numbers. That was also easy. But they did nothing more.

Why did they stop there?

That’s because it takes a dedicated data analyst to sort through the numbers, which can be costly and time consuming. But who has the money or time for that?

From insight, to recommendation, to action in real-time

Spinnakr, a web analytics platform that came out of beta last month and raised almost $1 million in funding from investors including 500 Startups and Andreessen Horowitz, provides a new and easier alternative for website owners who need more from their analytics tools than just hard numbers.

Spinnakr Analytics Screenshot

Spinnakr provides real-time analytics to help you discover important insights and trends related to your web traffic that, once targeted, can almost instantaneously impact your bottom line. According to the company’s profile on Angel List, Spinnakr “does all of the work for you — from insight, to recommendation, to action in real-time.”

First, the software identifies unusual trends in traffic and instead of spitting out numbers that take careful deciphering, it tells you in plain words what happened.

“You have a traffic spike from WSJ.com.”

J. J. Colao of Forbes reports, “With a snippet of code inserted into a client’s webpage, Spinnakr analyzes web traffic for a week, taking note of traffic sources, volume and user behavior. When the company detects an unusual traffic event–say a spike in volume or an out-sized source of referrals–it automatically notifies the website owner with a summary of the event.”

Next, Spinnakr recommends what to do with the new information and enables you to act on the recommendation without hassling your tech team.

Jordan Novet of GigaOM spoke with Spinnakr co-founder Adam Bonnifield who said, “If there are traffic spikes that happen in real time, you just let the user know about that, and you give them the power to just type out a message, which gets automatically deployed to the website.”

In the above example, it’s a rapid-response system for traffic spikes.

Optimize for visitor segments

Spinnakr also allows you to tailor your website for different visitor segments, such as speakers of foreign languages, potential recruits or Facebook users.

Bonnifield told Hamish McKenzie of PandoDaily, “The app will benefit sites that get a lot of organic traffic, and businesses that get different value from different kinds of customers.”

Think of it as a simple, customizable real-time landing page. No coding skills necessary.

With Spinnakr, you can optimize your conversion rate without bothering IT, and even receive recommendations for HOW to optimize your site. No more excuses, just more leads and sales.

Spinnakr provides tiered pricing based on the number of sites you want to track, the number of recommendations you want to receive, and the amount of incoming traffic your sites get. Spinnakr’s “small” plan costs $18 per month for use on 1 site with up to 1,000 unique visitors, and comes with 10 actionable recommendations. Custom plans start at $500 per month. For the risk-averse, there’s also a free plan that is “enough to get started and all you need for smaller sites.”

Sign up for Spinnakr at its website.

 

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Vizify, a new way to recruit and visualize candidates

VizifyIf you are a small business that is hiring, you may notice plenty of candidates look pretty good on paper.

An M.B.A. here. A perfect G.P.A. there. Experience leading a multi-national team.

All those things are added bonuses, for sure. But don’t forget that the perfect candidate must be compatible with your company’s culture. Unfortunately, that’s not something you can extract from a resume. An enthusiastic cover letter may help, but it does not paint the full picture of who the candidate is as a person, and if you and your team would enjoy bringing her or him in as part of the family.

How else can you evaluate job applicants before bringing them in for an interview?

Visualizing a cultural fit

Todd Silverstein founded Vizify after he identified an opportunity to help individuals “Make a great online impression today.”

Silverstein spoke with more than 200 individuals involved in Human Resources and discovered that their biggest pain point when hiring is finding candidates that fit the firm’s culture.

Vizify allows users to create customizable interactive graphical bios (personal infographics) that extract insights about you from your social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Foursquare). Of course, users must first grant permission to link accounts.

Vizify bios highlight essential information about an individual — location, education and work experience — which viewers can drill down on. Recruiters, in just a glance, can easily digest top-level information about a candidate, faster than skimming a resume.

Also, a graphical bio, unlike a resume, tells the story about who the individual is as a person. In addition to demonstrating impressive qualifications, job seekers can demonstrate agreeable character.

Businesses can take full advantage of the platform to recruit better talent. Bios give recruiters a visual representation of who the candidate is personally and professionally to help HR decide if a particular candidate is a proper fit for the firm, and thus, worthy of a callback or interview.

The company is focused on helping users show off their personal brand. According to Silverstein, “we define our mission as helping to make you look awesome online.” He also disclosed that 1/3 of users use their Vizify bios in their job search, adding a link to their bio on their resume and LinkedIn profile.

“We’re a complement to the hiring process…. People deserve just as rich an online presence, identity… as they have offline. When you meet someone at a cocktail party, you don’t go through a dry list of ‘Oh, here’s what I did resume-wise.’ There’s color to it. You talk about places you’ve been, you talk about that holistically.”

Vizify in action

Silverstein uses his graphical bio as a personal website, which features bite sized infographics about the man himself.

What do these say about Silverstein?

His favorite author is Herman Melville, he likes his coffee 8 times a day, and if he could meet one person that has made history, that would be Genghis Khan.

Whether you’re a colleague, investor, Vizify user, or a complete stranger, Silverstein’s bio helps to paint a picture of who he is, and whether or not you two might get along. Mentioning Moby-Dick will surely win you points.

Former Director of Marketing Arwa Jumkawala thinks of her bio as “the place I’d like people to go to if [people] want to hear more, learn more about me because I’ve curated it to tell the exact story that I would like people to see about me.”

Winning with Vizify

Jumkawala’s bio has been particularly useful now that she is a freelance marketing and PR consultant who has to sell her personal brand in addition to her accomplishments, experiences and diverse skill set.

Another advantage of Vizify bios is its SEO-optimized pages. Differentiated names, like Jumkawala’s are certain to rank well in the search results (a Google search for her name puts her bio near the top). In many cases, Silverstein’s included, users may find that their Vizify bios show up above their personal LinkedIn profile and Twitter account. The latest post on the Vizify blog shares tips on how to improve your bio’s rank in Google’s search results.

Although Vizify doesn’t want to be seen as purely a recruiting resource, businesses can always ask job applicants to create a Vizify profile to help identify a proper cultural fit. Recruiters may also Google the applicant’s name and hope the applicant was proactive enough to create a Vizify bio that shows how (s)he would be perfect for the job.

When asked about how Vizify uses bios in its recruiting process, Jumkawala says, “We recently just hired someone to come in to do customer service and they were asked specifically to include their Vizify. We were a little surprised by the number of candidates who still applied without it.”

Absent-minded applicants aside, employers and job seekers have yet to fully adopt Vizify bios as part of the recruiting process. But they would be wise to.

 

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What Businesses Want: Collaboration and Group Work Tops New Survey Responses

Ideas and CollaborationYou might call it an idea generation.

A new survey suggests that collaboration is the driving factor behind business’s evolution in the global economy. We may well be among a new breed of increasingly online teams — teams who are defining an era, one group-project innovation at a time.

Conducted by Prezi, the findings in the report show a community that prizes creativity and the kind of bringing together of ideas that fuels growth. That’s a key message. Turning to the numbers, and the participants, we consider what it means for the thinkers and doers that are moving their companies forward.

Idea Economy, Idea Generation

The workplace is changing under the influence of the digital space.

From open-source developers to the advent of the freelance staff and remote-location interactivity, old-school structures are being replaced by something else.

“Our team brainstorms and exchanges ideas everyday,” said Mike Butera, CEO and founder of Artiphon, a Nashville-based company with employees all over the globe that has recently launched a musical instrument that combines iOS and hardwood. “We depend on real-time collaboration tools … to help us demonstrate our instrument to musicians and pitch to investors regardless of everyone’s location.”

Prezi’s survey shows what may well be evidence of the shift that’s manifest in that kind of work environment — a redefinition of what’s essential to how a project unfolds.

  • 97% of the survey takers said the best ideas are team-driven concepts.
  • With team-driven concepts are happening in real time, version control is imperative. 27% of those polled said losing that control is the number one impediment to success.
  • It’s the results that matter. Reputation isn’t a result. In fact, 42% of the respondents to the survey said creativity was more important than experience to a business team, and 37% said that efficiency took a back seat to creativity.

The numbers suggest a kind of proof is in the pudding mentality. Rock stars can be replaced by the next bright young players.

Further still, more than a quarter of the survey participants said that over the past five years their companies have dramatically increased their budget for design. In the realm of the idea economy, businesses want to see new concepts made real, and they’re willing to take the time to foster them. And they’re spending money to do so. Creativity, collaboration, and the ability to work as a group toward a new idea — these are the skill sets of the idea generation.

 

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Two services and tools to keep up with the growing photo sharing economy

Web and mobile usage trends are moving fast. Really fast.

Consumers are quick to adopt today’s hottest trend, yet are just as undiscerning in abandoning it. Chatroulette anyone?

Now it’s a retro-filtered image of your best friend’s dinner, a cute puppy image, and a LOL-worthy pose.

Yet taking and sharing pictures is anything but a fleeting trend. Remember the big bulky photo albums mom and dad used to pull out to thoroughly embarrass us in front of our friends and relatives? Photos have always been a cherished way of capturing those important moments in our lives.

A presentation by analyst Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers estimates more than 500 million photos are uploaded and shared every day. Her predictions also suggest that number will double year on year.

What does this mean for businesses?

The first takeaway is that funny cat pictures will almost certainly take over the world. But more importantly, companies should look towards photos to further engage with customers and grow.

Brands that have a connected and enthusiastic audience can leverage user-generated photos with services like Pixlee. Brands that also publish photos can make better pictures using Snapseed.

Pixlee

Pixlee Logo

Pixlee, a web-based service, makes it easy for companies to collect fan photos from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media platforms, curate and display them, then measure engagement and drive more traffic and sales.

On Crunchbase, the company says, “Our advanced photo intelligence recommends the best photos to promote and provides valuable market insights into passionate customers.”

After aggregating the photos users have generated related to your brand, Pixlee helps you discover the best ones to share, while measuring social metrics that matter such as “engagements, impressions and ROI.”

To request an invite, sign up on Pixlee’s website.

Snapseed

Snapseed Logo

Snapseed, a mobile app provided by Nik Software, “is one of the most powerful iPhone photo editors out there, with a clever interface to match its power,” according to PC Mag. It’s also available for the iPad and Android smartphones.

Snapseed is tool for everyone. No need to learn advanced Photoshop skills. Instead, use the app to magically transform and share your digital pictures from your mobile devices.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs can forget about the cost and time-lag of working with professionals to shoot and tidy up their photos. Finally, you can publish pictures that might even make a Nikon DSLR camera applaud.

With Snapseed, you can make minor edits such as brightening, contrasting, cropping, sharpening, and straightening any image to making localized adjustments and adding filters such as Vintage, Drama and Grunge that you can layer on top of each other. You may keep the original and save the edited copy of your photos.

To download Snapseed for free, visit the iTunes Store or Google Play Store.

 

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Phantom Charges: Small Ways that Tech Savvy SMBs Can Rack Up Big Savings

Phantom Charges: Small Ways that Tech Savvy SMBs Can Rack Up Big SavingsFor small-business owners, every square foot of office space and every piece of equipment is part of how money is made. But it’s also how business dollars get spent.

Overhead is a daily reality for small businesses. In fact, when it comes to utilities and human resources — it’s an hourly reality. And any way to trim that overhead is key to driving success.

One strategy, when it comes to controlling overhead, is to tackle the “phantom charge”. These are the incremental, often small, expenses — and also the missed savings —  that add up every year.

What follow are five such “phantoms”, ones that you can tackle right away with some advice from the experts at LivingPlug.

1. Stop Phantom Electrical Costs: Your printers, copiers, and other devices and appliances still draw energy, even when they’re not in use. For example, a desktop computer in sleep mode costs nearly $22 per year. Printers run at least $6 annually. Multiplied by the number of devices in your shop, storefront, or offices, this can really add up. The good news is that you can control it by simply unplugging, powering down, or implementing “smart” outlet devices that limit that passive draw.

2. Utilize Automatic Cloud Storage: The data that small businesses generate demands attention. Safe, secure, and frequent backups are key to ensuring your future — but staying on top of the tasks associated with that kind of rigorous backup takes time. And time is money. So, automate your backup to the cloud with a service that automatically grabs all user-generated content and stores it.

3. Benefit from Mileage Tax Deduction: Don’t let the money you stand to save by deducting business-related travel from your taxes pass you by. A device like CarCheckup helps business owners track mileage. Simply plug it into the onboard diagnostic port.

4. Stop Wasting Billable Staff Hours: Small businesses are often plagued by wasted time on phone calls to vendors and providers. Systems that feature endless wait times and phone trees eat up the hours you’re paying for as an owner. Implement an app such as FastCustomer. This helps eliminate that time-suck by navigating those phone trees and ringing your employee back when customer service is actually on the line.

5. Replace Store-Bought with In-House Treats: It is widely known that free food and drinks make for happy employees. But, forgo soda purchases at the grocery store and make your own lower-cost, high-quality in-house treats with a gadget like the SodaStream. The results are not only tasty and typically better for you, but your office will save about about $720 per year for a staff of four (and another feel-good benefit is that your office will also produce less waste).

Time and money, and missed savings. From the way we power our printers to the care we take when tracking business expenses, make this the year you eliminate the phantom charge — in all its incarnations.

 

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The Small-Business Report Card: Mid-Year 2013

Small Business Report CardFor small-business owners, the key issue this mid-year is economic growth. Everything else remains a secondary consideration in mid 2013, and some of the numbers are surprising.

Even as Congressional Republicans met during the dog days of July to consider immigration reform, only 3% of owners polled in a new Rocket Lawyer survey said that the matter was a top priority for the country. And, surprisingly, a mere 10% tagged healthcare and the still-evolving reality of healthcare exchanges to be a major factor for them in the past six months.

Economic and small-business growth, however, remained at the top of the list.

Nearly half (43%) of the owners polled said it was the main concern they held for the remainder of 2013, and more than half (55%) said that their small business had grown — or even boomed — during the first part of the year.

Let’s look a little closer at some of these numbers, especially at those surrounding issues that one might have expected to be higher up among owner’s concerns.

Health Care and Immigration: Where SMBs Stand

The healthcare stats tell us that there are two things going on among the more than 1,000 owners who participated in the poll: (1) awareness versus non-awareness of the issues is about evenly split (2) a surprising number of owners who are aware aren’t especially concerned about the outcomes of these matters.

  • Just more than 50% said they are aware of the new healthcare exchanges geared toward small businesses.
  • When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, 59% who are paying attention to it say they believe the legislation will increase employee healthcare costs. However, 29% said it will have no effect.

Immigration issues seem to be more squarely in the radar, but there’s still a remarkable suggestion of ambivalence about the outcome — at least according to the numbers that came back.

  • Some 64% of respondents said they are aware of the immigration reform plan.
  • 23% of respondents said they support reform.
  • 28% claimed they do not support the reform proposal.
  • Nearly 50% said they do not know how they feel about the issue.

The Mobile Equation

What owners did seem sure about: mobile tech is become firmly entrenched in the way that they do business. Close to half (47%) said they use mobile apps every day for business purposes. Within those respondents, the answers break out further along demographics of age.

  • Gen Y (ages 18-30) and Gen X (ages 31-47) reported the highest rates of mobile use: 62% and 58%, respectively, say they use mobile apps every day for business.
  • Only 27% of those ages 67+ say they use mobile daily.

Finally, optimism about what respondents maintain is the main issue this year — growth — seems to be on the rise. That is, 74% of the respondents said they were hopeful for an even better second half of 2013.

“This is good news,” said Charley Moore, founder and executive chairman of Rocket Lawyer. “Main Street businesses are increasingly optimistic and focused on growth.”

 

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Mobile Pay and the SMB: 3 Tips for Now, How, and the Future

The Future of Mobile PayMobile payment is a new idea for many small-business owners. From the farm stand to the conference floor, swipe technology that turns smartphones and tablets into virtual cash registers stands to become the new norm, but implementing the apps and making sense of the process still represents a learning curve.

Like small business itself, the tech isn’t standing still, either. Magnetic stripes are on their way out, some say. Chip-and-PIN devices are picking up steam, say others. One thing’s for certain: it’s important to stay current with the latest mobile-pay possibilities and the best practices that go with them.

With some expert help, we take a look at the now, how, and future of mobile payment — a tip-sheet to help put your SMB on the cutting edge.

Mobile Payment: Getting Started (and Getting It Right)

“The U.S. is a great market for mobile payments,” said Dan Wagner, founder and chief executive officer of Powa.

Wagner offered the following ideas for implementing and refining the technology within the small-business environment, from day one to the point that even more sophisticated choices come into play.

  • Get out there. First, embrace the mobile payment idea as a strategy for growth. Mobile-payment technology is revolutionising the way small businesses can approach their clientele. “The idea is to mobilize your sales team and do business where your customers are, not where your registers have always been,” Wagner said. That is, mobile payments shouldn’t be a reactive addition to your business — something you implement just to keep up. It needs to drive the way you do business, going forward.
  • Trade differently. One example of driving the way you do business is to use mobile phones and tablets to extend your trading capability in-shop. Mobile payment can eliminate daunting line-time for customers during busy periods. They’re easy to bring out as second points-of-sale in an unexpectedly busy afternoon and multiple devices can be deployed by a number of staff over a predictably busy period, whether it’s Valentine’s Day for a florist or Christmas for a toy store.
  • Adapt (and Adopt). There are many different options out there, but one deciding factors should be compatibility. Be compatible; as magnetic stripe cards begin a phasing out process, investing in a mobile payments device that only accepts magnetic stripes will mean you could be left with an outdated piece of equipment. Small-business owners should also resist the temptation to invest in technology for the short term. Wagner expects that chip-and-PIN and near-field communication transactions — already common in Europe — are expected to become prevalent in the U.S. by 2015. Choose an interface that stands to stick around for longer than a few quarters.

Lastly, do your homework. The cost of taking transactions is another major issue that will affect your choice, Wagner cautioned. Some mobile payment devices charge considerably higher rates than others, so shop around before putting down your cash.

 

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