I want to start these two articles by observing that I don’t believe agile methods are appropriate in their proper form for Start-Ups. In the first article, I will list most of the disadvantages of the agile methodologies and how they could hurt the Start-Up’s performance. In the second one, I shall present what worked for me in the past and what did not.
But let’s start with little history of the product management frameworks and how they evolved. Historically the initial management framework was the so-named waterfall or phased approach. With that approach, the companies copied how most engineering products are created by multiple phases and initial requirements gathering. This way of working does an excellent job when you want your solution to be installed on-premise and must work for a long time without interruption.
In the 80s of the last century, Watts Humphrey, during his work at Carnegie Mellon University, founded the Software Process Program, and with that, he started the so-named PSP (Personal Software Process). This process heavily relies on not comparing the performance between different developers but rather trying to improve every developer as a single unit. Additionally, in PSP, we have the notation of knowledge re-usage – aka if the developer has implemented something similar as a block in the past, we could expect him to implement such block with the same speed.
In 1986 Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka started Scrum and the foundation of different agile methodologies. At its core, the agile development process defines that the “customer/client/company owner” will work together with the team and provide business knowledge and requirements weekly. A fundamental principle of Scrum is the dual recognition that customers will change the scope of what is wanted (often called requirements volatility) and that there will be unpredictable challenges — for which a predictive or planned approach is not suited. These changes come from various sources, but understanding why is irrelevant: change should be accepted, embraced, and analyzed for benefits.
And now here are some reasons they do not work well for complex Start-Ups:
R&D: All of the listed methods work on the assumption that the team will not do any research and development. Aka, the business owners know their business niche and that someone else already did the R&D part. In reality, this rarely happens, except when we start a business without any innovation. When you want to make an innovation, all traditional product management frameworks stop working. Usually, in the Start-Up World, the team must do R&D and code writing simultaneously (investors and clients want to see progress).
Burnouts: Constant changes in business requirements and business situations usually involve many changes in the technology stack and your programming code. Sometimes you must rewrite the whole product from zero. And this typically takes its toll on the engineering team. For sure, if you do not manage to make business traction (aka finding clients) for the first three years of your Start-Up, it is virtually certain that this lack of progress will demotivate your technical team, and most probably some of the members will feel the effects of burnout.
The process will not mitigate your people’s weaknesses: According to most agile methodologies fans, these methods are the panacea for every technological problem. However, we have to ask ourselves why only 5% of the Start-Up technical companies pass the second year of work? All of them use these methodologies. For sure, we could blame the business development and marketing, and we will be right that 70-80% of one successful business is the way you sell. However, at the same time, I saw many technical teams struggling in their performance because of leaning too much on the agile principles.
In conclusion, I would want to emphasize that no product management workflow in the World will mitigate the weaknesses your team has in the first three years of your Start-Up. The only way to increase your team productivity is by training them, and by training, I mean the business and the psychological part of being into a Start-Up. Technical knowledge is much easier to adopt and realize than handling that your odds of winning a VC are 1:300.
For a long time, I had this discussion with colleagues and friends about whether open source technologies, especially Linux, could replace all of your software needs. In the past, the main problem regarding using Linux was not mature enough ecosystem and being too complex to work with. However, after the introduction of Android (we could categorize it as a Linux distribution), things became less difficult, and many companies invested much of their time into making their products work on Linux.
But still, something is missing. By official data, the Desktop Linux users are between 0.6 and 1.5% of the overall Desktop Users. And this is quite a low count of Desktop users. It seems free is not enough for business owners to make the shift. But let’s compare the traditional business software stack to what Linux can offer:
Microsoft Office and Outlook: LibreOffice is an excellent alternative for having an on-premise installation of the office software package. It usually has good compatibility with the original Microsoft Office and could open and edit files. Sometimes the styles of the original files are destroyed. In that case, one can use the cloud variant of Microsoft Office in a web browser. This way, we could avoid such issues. Additionally, Linux comes with Thunderbird, which is an excellent alternative to Outlook.
Zoom/Viber/Microsoft Teams/Slack: All of these have binaries for Linux, which means you could have the standard video conferencing apps installed on your machine and have the same experience as the Windows-native users. Additionally, they all support web browsers, which means no need for a native app for communication.
Exchange/Sharepoint: Most Linux distributions do not support an active directory out of the box. However, one German distro supported all the group policy features and made it possible for Ubuntu-based clients to connect to this active directory. The name of that distribution is Univention Corporate Server and could be used as a drop-in replacement for Windows Server.
Specialized Software: And usually, here comes the main problem with Linux. Most of the specialized software does not have builds for Linux. Some examples are Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, 3D rendering software, most of the accounting software, most of the governments’ software, etc. Unfortunately, there are no signs of bringing this software to Linux soon. Fortunately, most of the workers in a given company do not need highly specialized software, and they could do their job in the web browser.
In conclusion, using Linux in the corporate environment has become more and more user-friendly. At the same time, I firmly believe that Linux could entirely replace the software stack for SMEs, excluding those using the specialized software. Fortunately, there is a shift in software development for going into the cloud, which could, even more, help the SMEs with the specialized software (some vendors are already moving their software in the cloud). Additionally, all Linux distributions support Firefox and Chrome out of the box. And as a final – during my coronavirus sick leave, I managed to open my X-Ray photos (DCM image format) on CentOS 8 (I have been using CentOS for the last up to 10 years) without installing anything. ImageMagick supported it out of the box.
In the last part, we finished the description of our network protocol and its advantages over other encrypted video streaming protocols. In this part, we shall discuss how we created our hardware prototype for the body camera system and what performance problems we had to resolve when we implemented the software part of it. At the end of the article, we shall show you how much our prototype costs and a sample budget for doing something similar.
But before that, let’s first see what our competition was and what features they had for their cameras.
Axon Body 2
The Axon Body 2 is a camera system incorporating an audio and video recording device. This camera is designed for use in harsh environmental conditions encountered in law enforcement, corrections, military, and security activities. The Axon Body 2 camera is designed to record events for secure storage, retrieval, and analysis via Evidence.com services. The recorded events are transferred to your storage solution via the Axon Dock or by using Evidence Sync software installed on a Windows computer.
HD Video and Dual Audio Channels: Record in low-light and HD, and make voices more distinct with automatic tuning and noise reduction.
Wireless Activation: Axon Signal reports events, like when you open the car door or activate the light bar, so your camera can start recording.
Wi-Fi & Bluetooth Connectivity: Use Wi-Fi to stream videos and Bluetooth to assign metadata.
Mobile App: Connect with Axon View to stream, tag, and replay videos from your phone.
Unmatched Durability: Handle in extreme weather and brutal conditions.
Full-Shift Battery: Record for more than 12 hours.
Axon RapidLock Mounts: Keep your shot steady with versatile mounts.
Motorola V300 Body Camera
This camera is built specifically for law enforcement. The V300 continuous-operation body-worn camera is ready to go when you are with its detachable battery, 128GB of storage space, wireless uploading, and Record-after-the-Fact® technology. Integrated with the technology you use daily to enhance your focus and combined with powerful device and evidence management software, the V300 body-worn video solution enables you to capture every encounter.
Detachable Battery: Easily change the V300’s rechargeable battery while on the go. Keep an extra battery at the ready for unexpectedly long shifts, extra shifts, or part-time jobs where a body-worn camera is required.
Natural Field of View: Eliminate the fisheye effect from wide-angle lenses that warps video footage. Our distortion-correction technology provides clear and complete video evidence.
Built-in Display: A clear LCD on the top of the camera allows easy viewing of device status.
Absolute Encryption: Elevate your data security with encryption at rest and in transit. The V300 guards your data and your reputation.
Rugged & Durable: Tested ruthlessly to survive in a public safety environment, the V300 is shockproof and waterproof to IP67.
Automatic Wireless Upload: Send critical video back to headquarters while still in the field. When docked in the car, the V300 body camera uploads to cloud-based or on-premise evidence management systems via wireless networks like LTE and FirstNet, anytime, anywhere.
During the time of development, these were the two main competitions. Both of them lacked the real-time streaming support we wanted. However, both of them had pretty exciting features, without which our solution would not have enough commercial traction.
After a good amount of market analysis and tests of different technologies, we decided our body camera system to have the following features:
Full-Shift Battery: Record for more than 12 hours.
Automatic Upload: Send critical video back to headquarters while still in the field.
LTE Real-Time Streaming: With adaptive bitrate, we could make our camera system send data during the whole shift.
Rugged & Durable: Tested ruthlessly to survive in a public safety environment
Built-in Display: A clear LCD in the camera system to allow easy viewing of system status.
Absolute Encryption: We wanted data security with encryption at rest and in transit.
Fisheye Field Of View: We wanted our camera system to support more than 100 degrees field of view.
Low Light Vision: Having in mind that most of the crimes happen during the night, we wanted this feature.
But we had a problem. Being a small, underfunded team located in Burgas, we did not have access to many hardware vendors, nor did we have the hardware team who could implement a body camera system from scratch. We had to take another approach. After a couple of weeks of analysis, we decided to implement a pluggable system using manufactured customer devices. The final system design consisted of the following components:
Android-based hardware device: For the last decade, almost all Android devices have supported USB On-The-Go. USB On-The-Go (USB OTG or just OTG) is a specification first used in late 2001 that allows USB devices, such as tablets or smartphones, to act as a host, allowing other USB devices, such as USB flash drives, digital cameras, mouse or keyboards, to be attached to them. USB OTG allows those devices to switch back and forth between the roles of Host and Device. A mobile phone may read from removable media as the Host but present itself as a (USB Mass Storage) Device when connected to a host computer. In short, we could attach a standard USB web camera to a typical smartphone.
Body mounted USB camera: Here, we had quite an interesting problem. Standard USB web cameras are not tailored for body mounting, neither are they durable enough. We spent a good amount of time checking how to solve this issue, and finally, we managed to find a suitable USB camera vendor using Sony-based camera sensors. The vendor could mount any lens to the camera sensor, and the whole board came with a good amount of mounting holes. After that, one of our hardware people designed a custom mountable case for our USB camera and 3d printed it.
New extended battery: The standard battery of our Android device was around 4100mah. Unfortunately, after multiple tests, we saw that with every needed hardware capability activated, aka LTE, USB OTG, GPS, and microphone, the Android device was taking around 800-900mah per hour. And this was not enough for the whole 12 hours shift. So we took the extraordinary decision of creating our battery. Finally, we managed to produce a proof of concept 12400 mah battery replacement for our Android device. And indeed, it took 12 hours to recharge.
Mount for cars and bicycles: We wanted our system to support multiple different mounting points. So, to allow this to happen, we bought standard multi-camera mounts for vehicles and bikes and created adapters for our 3d printed camera to enable attachment to the stock mounts.
UDP streamer module: This module’s main functionality was sending UDP packets and receiving answers for these UDP packets. It sent analytics data to the Adaptive bitrate control module to decide how to switch between different formats and resolutions.
Encryption module: This module was highly optimized to perform hybrid encryption and decryption of byte objects. We managed to optimize the performance, so the module supported encryption and decryption of real-time h.264 frames coming from the USB module.
Network protocol module: Main functionality here was to construct and decode UDP datagrams messages. It used the encryption module to encrypt the data before sending it to the UDP streamer.
Adaptive bitrate and codec control module: This module controlled what type of compression strategy to use to ensure that the headquarters will receive data no matter the LTE signal.
Objects pool module: The idea of the module was to reuse different bytes arrays during the lifecycle of the h.264 packets. With around 24 frames streamed per second, creating and destroying many bytes arrays would entirely kill our application.
USB camera module: This module wrapped the communication and handling of the USB video camera bus. The idea was to support multiple different cameras and formats here.
Telemetry module: In this module, we collected all the additional data we had – current battery consumption, remaining battery time, GPS coordinates, sd card storage, etc.
h.264 decoding module: This module’s main functionality was to transfer video frame data in a different format. For example, we supported h.264 frames, png, and jpeg formats. The application was intelligent enough to decide when to switch between the different formats.
We used Java and C++ programming languages for the implementation of all the modules. The only C++ part was the USB camera module because of the low-level communication with the USB bus.
Let me share some notes on why we decided to use an Android device. We could implement our body camera system using an ARM-based board with Linux installed on top of it. It would dramatically reduce our software efforts. However, from a hardware point of view, most ARM-based boards lacked good CPUs, battery support, and housing. Not to mention, the development of a custom ARM board was entirely outside of our budget. Fortunately, our software was designed this way, so we could easily switch the hardware platform in case of investment or more considerable client interest.
In conclusion, our body camera system managed to fulfill our initial requirements for MVP. It worked well, and we made multiple videos and streams testing it in various environments and locations. Our system even managed to send data through 3G mobile cells in areas where LTE/4G was not supported.
A sample video of how the system works could be found here
As you can see from the previous paragraphs, there are multiple ways to penetrate your devices. In the following sections, I shall list some methods of making your devices more secure. You can find the previous part – here.
There are multiple options for physically securing your laptop and smartphone. At the end of the article, I shall give multiple variants for your budget, but ideally, the essential hardware security upgrades are:
Secured Notebook Backpack: There are multiple hardware vendors for securing your laptop backpack. It is essential to know the standard branded bags do not offer enough security options. For example, most backpacks do not provide RFID protection and proper locking mechanism.
USB Port Lockers: Port lockers can keep your laptop safe from Rubber Ducky-based attacks. At the same time, port lockers are pretty interesting because they make attackers’ lives more complicated in case of steal. To access the USB port of the device, they have to break the locker, which can damage the USB port and make it unusable.
Hardware Tokens: Bussines series laptops usually come with internal TPM chips, which can encrypt your entire hard drive. It is terrific, but if you want better security, it is advisable to encrypt your most critical files using external USB hardware tokens.
The average number of new malware programs per day is around 450 000. It is an astonishing number and almost destroys the necessity of antivirus software. Still, it is crucial to understand that the goal of your Antivirus Software is to stop the most critical pieces of malware, but not all of them. Let me list some of the mechanisms your Antivirus Software uses to keep you safe.
Malware Database: Every Antivirus program comes with a malware database with different strains of already analyzed computer malware. As we already understood, there are around 450 000 new strains per day. Antivirus companies’ teams keep only the most dangerous strains in the database to keep with the speed of making new strains.
Malware Scanner: Usually, every malware tries to gain access to resources, which are not part of its resources pool. Antivirus software can monitor your operating system for such activities and can block them and finally notify you.
Operating System Files Hash Check: Some antivirus software can check whether there are changes in your operating systems and notify you and revert the system files for the previous state. It is especially true with Red Hat-based Linux distros.
One of the reasons people choose Open Source is the level of security it offers. You can perfectly set up your business to use an open-source stack from the beginning. And this is not only the applications but the operating system and even your hardware. Especially Linux is a beautiful example of how an Open Source ecosystem can increase its security by being open. Instead of using pirated software, you download it from a free repo, which has the source code of the app already reviewed. Every major Linux distro has all of its packages signed, and the repo can verify them. But let me list the different advantages an open-source operating system has.
SELinux and AppArmor: SELinux and AppArmor are kernel modifications and user-space tools added to various Linux distributions. Its architecture strives to separate enforcement of security decisions from the security policy and streamlines the amount of software involved with security policy enforcement. Significantly, the fundamental concepts underlying SELinux can be traced to several earlier projects by the United States National Security Agency (NSA).
Open Source Repos: All the packages are part of the software repos, maintained by the distro authors. Bigger Linux distros such as Red Hat and SUSE support big security teams to find and patch holes.
Open Source Hardware: There are multiple open-source hardware initiatives, including PowerPC and ARM-based processors. It is essential to know those hardware devices attached to your PC come with drivers, and sometimes these drivers can be an entire operating system. For example, server-based Intel Xeon processors come with network-based remote access control.
So after we have listed most of the penetration vectors which an attacker can take, we can finish the topic by creating a budget. We will focus the funding towards underfunded organizations with a limited budget for their cybersecurity program. The budget will be per employee.
Pacsafe Backpack (190$): Pacsafe is a brand of travel equipment emphasizing anti-theft features. The company’s products include adventure backpacks, urban and leisure bags, women’s bags, photography bags, luggage, and travel accessories such as straps, cables, and locks. Their middle-end backpacks offer a pretty good level of security.
Business Series Laptop (1000$): For this one, I would choose Lenovo Thinkpad-based laptop. It supports TPM and will offer a good level of harddrive encryption. It is essential to mention here that you have to encrypt all of your storage drives, no matter SSD or HDD ones.
Laptop Operating System(0$): Here, we shall go with either CentOS or OpenSUSE. I would personally go with CentOS here because of the native SELinux support. If you want to use the Ubuntu operating system, you should live with AppArmor or set yourself SELinux. CentOS additionally support free Antivirus Sofware supporting all the listed features in the previous paragraphs.
Smartphone(200$): Here, we shall use any device, which supports LineageOS. LineageOS is an operating system for smartphones, tablet computers, and set-top boxes, based on Android with primarily free and open-source software. It is the successor to the custom ROM CyanogenMod, from which the devs forked it in December 2016. It offers a good level of privacy, including the complete removal of the Google Play Store for the most paranoid ones. Most of the devices officially supported are in the 200$ range.
With a total budget of around 1390$, we achieved a pretty good level of security. Still, a determined attacker can penetrate this setup, but it will take him more time and resources. If you want to improve this setup further, you can add USB locks and hardware tokens. But, again, the improvement will not be much because, in case of hardware steal, hackers would have to break your TPM module, and the TPM modules are designed to resist this kind of attack.
After the two weeks-long enforced COVID pause I had to endure, now I am back with the last part of the StartUp Lifecycle series. In this part, we shall speak about what happens after the Start-Up has multiple rounds of bank loans and the usual working strategy after the Start-Up has reached the IPO. Previous parts of the series you can find here and here.
Now, once the Start-Up reaches the IPO status, the modus operandi has to change a bit. The company has to prove itself as a leader in the field and acquire as many clients as possible. Usually, the founders try to balance between too many bank loans and enough income to pay for the developed infrastructure and employees. At that phase, the Start-Up is no longer “categorized” as a Start-Up but usually as a mature and more giant company. Better and more mature processes are established, and usually, the management has to find a way to delegate and distribute the management power and duties.
On the economic side of things, we could not expect new investments and fundings. Usually, the board of directors is trying to survive on IPO and profits. As a rule of thumb, we could expect the company to operate at a loss and cover this loss using IPO profits or bank loans. This way of operation usually gives a good long run of business execution. With this strategy, the company can survive for around 10-15 years, and during this lifespan, the company owners have three options:
To find another company for merger or acquisition: At this stage, the company usually has enough assets and IP, which could interest another company. Mergers and acquisitions are typically categorized as successful exits and will leave founders’ reputations intact.
To make the company run on profit: Some owners could decide to stop the company’s growth and focus on getting enough clients to keep the company on profit. That was not a rare choice in the past. However, many company owners will pursue option one because it gives them less risk in the long term.
To fill bankrupt: As everything in our world, companies could come to an end. Balancing between shares, bank loans, and profit could be tricky sometimes and lead to erroneous results. Significantly, the share price is sometimes quite volatile and could be affected by the CEO’s matters and life choices.
In conclusion, at that stage, companies rarely fall bankrupt. Most owners and major shareholders would prefer to sell the company and its assets instead of bankrupting. At least this way, the employees usually retain their jobs and can be moved to more successful projects in the new company/structure.