Apr 28th 2017 by roflmaocopter • 22 Questions • 71 Points
Quantum computing is a completely different paradigm from classical computing, where weird quantum properties are combined with traditional boolean logic to create something entirely new. There has long been much doubt about whether it was even possible to build one large enough to solve practical problems. But when something is labeled "impossible", of course many physicists, engineers, and mathematicians eagerly respond with "Hold my beer!". QCs have an immense potential to make a global impact (for the better!) by solving some of the world's most difficult computational problems, but they would also crush the math problems underpinning much of today's internet security, presenting an unprecedented challenge to cryptography researchers to develop and standardize new quantum-resistant primitives for post-quantum internet.
We are mathematicians trained in crypto at NSA, and we worked there for over 10 years. For the past year or so we've been at a small crypto sw/hw company specializing in working on a post-quantum research effort, and we've been reading a broad spectrum of the current research. We have a few other co-workers that will likely also chime in at some point.
Our backgrounds: Rino (/u/rabinabo) is originally from Miami, FL, and of Cuban descent. He went to MIT for a Bachelor's in math, then UCSD for his PhD in math. He started at NSA with little programming experience, but he quickly learned over his 11 years there, obtaining a Master's in Computer Science at the Hopkins night school. Now he works at a small company on this post-quantum research.
John (/u/john31415926) graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Mathematics. After graduation, he went to work for the NSA as an applied research mathematician. He spent 10 years doing cryptanalysis of things. He currently works as a consultant doing crypto development in the cable industry. His favorite editor is Emacs and favorite language is Python.
Disclaimer: We are bound by lifetime obligations, so expect very limited responses about our time at NSA unless you're willing to wait a few weeks for a response from pre-pub review (seriously, I'm joking, we don't want to go through that hassle).
Edit to add: Thanks for all the great questions, everyone! We're both pretty beat, and besides, our boss told us to get some work done! :-) If I have a little time later, I'll try to post a few more answers.
I'm sorry we missed some of the higher ranked questions, but I'll try to post answers to most of the questions. Just know that it may take me a while to get to them. Seriously, you guys are taking a toll on my daily dosage of cat gifs.
Any musicians you've met or played alongside that left you awestruck?
Also as a younger jazz fan, if I wanted to get a solid grasp on the genre and the history behind the music what decade of jazz/which performers would you suggest? Thanks!
Thank you to everyone for the feedback as well!
Let's say you have a very successful site. You want to add a related niche, that could live on a site of its own.
Is it better to add the niche to the existing site, using the power of the domain/ranking you have already, or to start a sister site, that can grow on its own and eventually be sold separately ?
any example ?
I read recently that NSA has distanced itself from lattice based crypto. I can't find the article now though of course. Is this true? Can you say why? What approaches do you think will be the future of quantum-resistant crypto?
What do you guys think of the importance of provably secure schemes? Will they ever be practical and used in real world applications?
Finally make your response an even number of characters if Diffie-Hellman has been practically broken, odd if it has not. Thank you.
You can't DM someone who doesn't follow you till they allow that feature and she doesn't have that feature enabled.
We wanted to make a rogue-lite game that focused a LOT less on vertical progression than others in the genre.
Basically what I mean by that is that we wanted our level-up system to work more like Zelda, where you get new abilities that expand your options, and less like Final Fantasy, where you get higher stats that make your 'numbers go higher.'
We also wanted to shift the focus away from the 'lite' persistent progression and more towards variety within specific runs. Chaos Cards are our only persistent progression mechanic. We never liked this idea of unlocking items that then become available for drop inside the 'main game.'
We also wanted to offer more of an opportunity for variety and experimentation earlier in the game so that the first few floors don't seem like such a flog...
We also just hate the 'pick three' level up system in most games in this genre so we got rid of that!
The intention, in a way, ended up being to make an almost real time version of Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup if you have ever played that before.
"Benny Carter. The man who called me from Philadelphia in 1941 to join his orchestra. He was so versatile, a gentleman, so understanding, so patient and he dug the sound of my bass drum!"
When asked about how old he was at the time he said, "you do the math!"
Here's something interesting - the multiple go UP as you build larger, more profitable sites.
So, for example, 4 separate websites earning $5K per month each might be worth $120K each, but one larger site earning $20K per month might be worth $600K or more.
The further up you go in value the larger the multiples, all else being equal.
Sorry for the late response. This was one of the more interesting questions (except for that last request), so we should have responded yesterday. I'm not even going to bother counting the number of characters.
I don't think I've seen anything from the agency indicating disfavor with any of the post-quantum schemes, actually, but as you know, they're rather tight-lipped. Although, the NSA did make [an announcement](tinyurl.com/SuiteB) that recommended to start moving towards post-quantum crypto. They also specifically suggested that ellictic curve cryptography is particularly vulnerable to quantum computers, and there's even a paper that tries to guess at the reasons behind that statement.
As a mathematician, I think provable security should definitely a worthy goal, especially when proofs in this area are hard to come by. Take RSA, which is almost mentioned as difficult to break as factoring. We only know for sure that breaking RSA is at most as hard as factoring, and there are indications that breaking RSA may be easier. So yes, I think that it worthwhile to have a proof that the security of a crypto scheme can be reduced to a long-standing problem. You have to be careful about how tight your bounds are, though, as it's possible for them to be so loose as to render your proofs useless.
One aspect with lattice based crypto that I think is a selling point is the worst-case hardness, which says that breaking the crypto in any case implies that you can break the other long-standing problem in the worst case. The way I think of it is that it gives some assurance that there isn't some broad class of special cases that the crypto has to avoid, which has happened many times with RSA, Diffie-Hellman, and ECC.
As for practicality, Google ran a trial run of New Hope on Canary.
Oh shit, your last sentence might have just sold me on the game. DCSS is incredible. Sometimes, though, I want to play something a little more fast paced that rewards play rather than just strategic planning (which DCSS can feel like from time to time).
Compared to DCSS, how deep is the game? DCSS has tons of stuff to do in endgame and extended runes. In Ruin of the Reckless, is level progression the same every time?
What was it like to get married at the age of 90? I'd love to know more about Joy, your wedding, and your perspective on waiting to settle down.
Well, DCSS is like the deepest game ever made! I won't pretend that our two man team created a real time experience with fully animations etc... that even comes CLOSE to comparing to the DCSS team of several hundred people working with tiles.
We tried to nail some of the fun and tone of that gameplay style though!
"Life is unpredictable, that I couldn't really tell you how it happened. I found myself in the midst of it and it was marvelous. Being put together by a mutual friend, Dr.Willis Kurk, without ever knowing each other. I met him as a drummer, in 1948. He stayed in Indianapolis and he got his teaching degree. He became president of city college in San Fransisco, where I moved to. He was Joy's lifetime friend. Much life went on, before Joy came into the picture in a time when i needed someone. She came much after the death of my first wife. He introduced me to some of his homies with his wife, and took me to LA. Joy was in that group.When I saw her, I made up my mind, that's what I wanted. Seeing her dressed beautifully at concerts.
Joy: "He courted me everyday for one year. Gifts, flowers, it wore me down after one year."
Shep: "The same guy that introduced us was our best man. We went to Las Vegas to be married."
Joy: "We invited 25. 72 came, from all over!"
Shep: "We didn't want to get caught in the commercial wedding trap. We flew her minster from Indianapolis We got married in a super suite. It's been up hill ever since, she's my reason."
you released a game on my birthday! im forever linked to it now.
Man, you look great for your age. What's the secret?
What if you closely and transparently integrated the sites? All the cross linking and the fact that a used visiting from either domain would transparently navigate between the site could be just as beneficial.
You would just have differing entry locations for the site based on the domain. But them being separate would mean that as the properties grew you could spin off or even sell off the pieces without dismantling the rest of the site and you'd have a well known domain already connected to the property.
I could see such an approach being even more valuable than using a single site if your goal is sell the additional sites at a later date due to the existing built in value of their separate domains.
HI! I made a comment on your post in /r/crypto yesterday, which stirred up some discussion on the differences between a quantam computer vs. a quantam annealer.
How are these two used differently? Do they have different application domains? Is one more powerful than the other?
I have degrees in Pure Math and CS, but have not been exposed to much quantam physics outside of a Modern Physics course back in (math) undergrad. Do you think it will be difficult for me to break into this field of research?
We are joined at the heart, like that Dragon from... Dragonheart and that douchey guy.
"One day at a time, and get a 2-4 nap when you can! Every possible day. I don't drink or smoke, cause I take too much medicine!"
I've seen this done successfully. (And unsuccessfully) The big players do it. (That are worth far more than the businesses we transact with)
I think I see MANY more do it poorly, though, which is why I wasn't recommending it...for most, anyway.
If you're doing this transparently and on large, authority properties, there's no problem with Google. If you do it badly, with more spammy properties, you're putting yourself at risk.
I think you probably have enough knowledge already to get started. The nice thing about quantum computing is that the physics has been abstracted in such a way that you only need to understand a few basic fundamental quantum properties that are being applied. In computer science, it's like saying that you don't need to understand the physics of semiconductors to write code. I read some of the classic Chuang-Nielsen text back in grad school.
Frankly, I don't know all that much specifically about the quantum annealing approach, but it is definitely far removed from the models that most quantum computing algorithms are based on, that I'm more familiar with. This paper, for example, shows that you could use quantum annealing to factor. One of the key pieces of Shor's algorithm is that it can be efficiently implemented using the quantum fourier transform, and my guess is that the annealing approach is not nearly as efficient, by the time you translate between models.
Any details on the development process? In what language have you guys written the game?
What is Shep's first recollection/ favorite memory of music?
To all the wannabe entrepreneurs reading this, remember survivorship bias is a thing. Just because something worked for these guys doesn't necessarily mean they succeeded because of it, it could be they succeeded despite whatever it is.
How much of a legal/accounting it team do you guys have? How is managing tens of millions of dollars in revenue different from managing 200k?
Thank you for the response, and the links! I will look into these. Your note about the abstractions is encouraging. The thought of writing software in this domain is pretty overwhelming. I suppose through teamwork with physicists and mathematicians that the barriers of entry get looser.
Plenty of details! We wrote the game in Game Maker: Studio version 1.4
As far as other details well... there are a ton of things I could mention so you'd need to be more specific. :)
"I believe, after being trained as a classical percussionist and going into jazz to make a living, which meant putting aside so many things I learned, my favorite memory is recording with Patti Page. She did her gospel album in New York, and the arranger did a beautiful job of it. Some [of the band members] said he didn't put enough timpani in there. They called me to do some timps and chimes, and I played the whole set without any scores, only allowed to listen to first takes. This experience pops up my in my mind whenever I hear gospel."
Definitely true. Survivorship bias is definitely a thing. I try to keep that in mind - thanks for reminding me!
Oh, I just remembered about open-source quantum computing simulators that are around, like LIQUi|>. It's really fun to play around with.
I see a lot of small indie devs who either are artists themselves or work very closely with their artist(s). Can you talk about working on the game without knowing exactly where your art direction might go? What was it like having less total control? Did any issues arise from having so many artists and was it difficult to get your artists to match what you needed?
Do you think you'll ever retire?
Most business partnerships fail, how did your partnership with Joe Magnotti begin and what do you think made the partnership successful?
What are your return rates overall and is there a specific business model that sees a higher return rate? what im trying to figure out is, which business model fails the most and which one succeeds the most?
(I'm not OP, but...)
Quantum computers can perform large numbers of operations simultaneously.
One of the simplest ways to break encryption is through brute force. Pick an initial key, try to decrypt the message, see if the result makes sense. Try another key, and another, until all the keys have been tried. The defense against this is that encryption keys are large - usually 2128 bits or more. That means a brute force attack would require so much computing power and time, that it is impractical.
Quantum computers could theoretically try all 2128 keys at once. A bit in a classical computer and be 0 or 1. A qubit in a quantum computer can be in an uncollapsed state where it's either 0 or 1. If you have 128-qubits input, which is uncollapsed, theoretically a quantum computer can perform all 2128 operations simultaneously.
This is a bit of an over-simplification. In particular, for breaking symmetric ciphers, actual techniques won't work this well. But it is thought that the common public key algorithms (like RSA and Diffie-Helman) could be broken.
We were very selective about our artists. I would put out the APB on twitter for artists and generally get between 20-100 replies, usually we would narrow that down to one or two artists and then do a test with them to see if they could match the style.
If the artist couldn't match the style to our satisfaction, that was it. :/
"Hahaha. Well, every time I call myself retired from one facet or another, I get busier. Let it roll, cause I'm enjoying it all. As long as I can do it, I'll do it."
Joe and I are pretty down on partnerships overall. Not because ours has been bad, but because we've seen so many others in bad business partnerships.
We've talked about it at length on podcasts:
We were long-time friends before doing business together. I think that's typically a recipe for disaster. (It was for our 3rd partner on the first business...a real mess)
It helps that we both considered the businesses needs and were able to drop our egos when thinking about what's "best for the business". We've gotten pretty good about dropping personal biases and arguing on the businesses behalf with each other, which is helpful I think.
I'm not sure on the second question. Are you asking which businesses are the most profitable? Are the easiest to get earning? Which fail less often?
That is the power of superposition! Yes, you can create quantum states with the outputs of all those 2128 keys, but in order to look at any of those values, you have to disturb that quantum state, collapsing it. You basically get to make a coin flip on all those 2128 inputs and get to look at just one output, and then you'd have to create that initial state again, if you didn't get the answer you wanted.
Quantum algorithms have to change the odds in their favor, like gaming the roulette wheel to make it more likely to give you the answer you want. In Shor's algorithm, you change the odds so that your roulette wheel spin is more likely to give a result that will factor n.
Do you think Richard Hendrix can successfully pivot Pied Pipper again?
Ethereum is in fact forking to a QC-resistant version. The upcoming Metropolis release will allow users to choose their own signature algorithm, and there's already code for one of the post-quantum algorithms.
Proof of work is also vulnerable. QCs don't completely break hashes but Grover's algorithm could make them billions of times faster than classical miners. Ethereum is planning to transition to proof of stake over the next year or so.
Haha. Saw a preview - doesn't he get fired this next season? Great show.
That's awesome! I hadn't read about the Metropolis release. I'll have to look into what they're using.
Wasup Cape! This is Dylon I lived across from you our senior year at ucsb. I remember one time I had to take a shower at your house and I didn't have any clean underwear and you loaned me a pair of boxer briefs. Until then I had only worn regular boxers and hadn't realized how comfy boxer briefs are. I now exclusively wear boxer briefs. I guess my question is what kind of underwear do you wear no now? No homo.
How do you feel about the transition of music over the years, as well as the newer genres of musical entertainment such as EDM, etc? Do you feel the music that is popular these days is bettering or worsening the industry/the quality of music in the industry?
YO DYLON! That's awesome man. That's so funny that you commented. I don't remember that underwear thing but it sounds pretty sick of me.
"That's a loaded question. I see a bright future, for any serious student because there are so many facets of music. It's a universal language in itself. People all over the world people understand it, and the various structures of. There are only 12 different pitches in a chromatic scale. No matter what language is used to express it, it's just 12 different sounds worked out in different octaves! From generation to generation you have people coming up with different ideas and different events, and you end up with a different sound, and it's universal. It's an on going thing we are blessed with! So there I go, there I go!"
Trailer looks good, but why does the screen shake so much? It's giving me a headache just looking at it.
Did you ever feel like you were stuck in a rut during your jazz career just playing the standards or simple songs that don't push you to get by? Also you're in great shape for 100, I feel honored as a young jazz musician that we can have people like you with such seniority and experience of the big band era still alive and able to perform!
Thank for doing this. I have a site that gets about 50k pv a month and brings in $400/mo through adsense and Amazon. It's growing but at a slow pace as I simply don't have the time. I know your threshold to list at EF is $500/mo for the last 6 months. Do you plan on creating a listing for small potatoes like me?
This may not be wholly related to your research, but how does your group see the use of neural networks growing in tandem with quantum computing, if at all? I have only a cursory understanding of both quantum computers and neural nets, but from my limited understanding it seems like quantum computers are particularly good at finding global minimums, which is what neural nets try to do in a lot of cases. Are there applications of one to the other?
Also thanks for doing this AMA!
Screenshake is a very personal thing, like your sleep number or the angle of the chair in your car!
Screenshake is fully adjustable, so you can turn it down or off if you'd like.
Perhaps we should have capped the trailer footage with a lower screenshake factor...
"No, because there was always a chance to ad-lib. Playing a song over and over again you find something in it you didn't find before. Its never old hat. Put it in another key! Joy:"I think that's one of the beauties of jazz it's impromptu"
Unfortunately, we found less than $500/month to just not be worth it.
(Shhh...a little secret. Typically, if you're $450+ per month we'll let you in with an AdSense/Amazon site)
Huh, I didn't know that existed at all, but there is some work on Quantum neural nets. I have seen a lot about quantum annealing though, where my understanding is that it may be able to use quantum tunneling to prevent from getting stuck in some local minimum.
How do you deal with multiple currency deals? For example, if a US based company is selling a website for $1 million and a UK based company decides to purchase this.
Do you have solutions to counter in the best exchange rates/less fees e.t.c also from a tax perspective what is generally the best solution?
I know its a bit of a wide question, I guess what I am trying to say is...how does the sale work with international customers, multiple currencies and multiple tax regions.
Do you think the NSA is good? When you were working there, were you happy with the impact you were having in the world? We know that the NSA is spying on everyone, we know it grossly oversteps its mandate. You might have to pretend when working at the NSA like you don't know what I'm talking about, but now that you're out, I assume you can be more honest with yourselves.
The math is doubtlessly interesting, and there are many selfish reasons to want to work at the NSA. But I want to know, if you do some soul-searching, do you think you did the right thing for the world by working at the NSA?
We regularly deal with international clients on both sides of the deal. (American living in HK selling a business to a Chinese national in Italy, for example)
I hate to chump out on this one, but "consult a tax professional" is the best advice here.
For listing businesses, we convert to USD as it makes it easier to compare one listing to another.
I will not make any comment on the leaks, other than to say what was leaked was specifically chosen by the leakers. For what purpose, I cannot say, but it was definitely not to improve NSA's public relations.
More relevant to me are what the leaks have failed to reveal. The NSA has a very broad mission, and there is a lot of great work being done there that is not represented in the leaks. I worked in Information Assurance for most of my NSA career, and at the end of the day I don't feel bad in any way about my work at the agency. I can't really say anything more than that.
What was the learning curve like for game maker studio? Given your background was it easy to jump right in on the programming side?
Shep, I'm a classically trained Baritone choral music educator and I just love the video of you performing "This is All I Ask" and "So Young". I hope to be as hale and hearty as you are when I'm 99!
What is the best way for a classically trained singer to get into jazz singing?
What songs/musicians from jazz would you want every child to know about through their education?
How has the recent Amazon affiliate payout change (mostly decrease) affected sales prices? Obviously prices will be down a little, but are buyers more skeptical about sites monetized through a single affiliate program or channel now?
Am I mistaken that Shor's algorithm is the only known algorithm with quantum supremacy that poses a threat to encryption algorithms? If not, then why are you so concerned about the future of cryptography?
If it continues to be difficult to create a general-purpose quantum computer, then there may be less need to worry about quantum attacks that require hardware with lots of fault-tolerance. We may only need to worry about quantum attacks that will be feasible on the best imaginable quantum hardware. Do you have any insights about which cryptographic methods (or problem classes) may be broken first?
Do you think that Google will be able to break the quantum computing "record" with its new chip design? link
Learning curve was pretty friendly I would say. Danny and I each had a small amount of programming education, but in a lot of ways we were basically working blind.
We made a lot of mistakes and were forced to re-write the code-base several times. Overall I can't complain though, within a week we were making 'real games' and at this point (after just over three years working with the tools) I am pretty confident I could make 'any thing I could imagine' at least as far as the coding part of it goes...
Edit: I should also note that we worked REALLY REALLY hard to develop our skills as quickly as possible. Especially at the beginning we were spending oftentimes 10+ hours a day researching code. I don't think there is a friendlier langauge out there than GMS, but it's still programming, and it's still plenty of work if you want to do it right.
"Listen! Listen, and emulate until you find that you can, not necessarily duplicate, but move on your own knowing that your within the structure of the song that your working with. Listen to others, and experiment. You'll always find something different to work with, and keep an open ear. Thelonius monk, will turn your mind around if you've never been associated. Dizzy Gillespie, with whom I went to school with. Benny Carter, was my first impression of professional music, that could ad-lib read your part, and write."
Sites have definitely taken a hit. This is a rough guess, but probably down around 20% or so across the board from the listings we've seen?
We saw some hesitation around Amazon Associate sites for a week or two, but that's mostly passed now that the change has been announced and finalized. Here's a blog post on the topic:
Yes, Shor's is the main threat to current encryption. One of the main reasons for my concern is that it is a really long process from creating a crypto scheme, to implementing it, to creating a standard, to actually getting used by a majority of users. Just that last step can take ten years or more, if I remember correctly from a great CRYPTO 2016 talk by Brian Sniffen from Akamai.
It seems like elliptic curve crypto is actually more vulnerable to quantum computing than RSA, because the small key size is actually a bit of a drawback.
I don't know if google will be the first, because they also have some competition from Intel.
In a similar situation, a brother and I have dabbled in GM:S (even buying the humble bundle license and some stuff) but it ultimately got put on the backburner.
In getting back into it again - the brother moves in tomorrow, and we start our hobby-but-still-serious, first actual project - I started looking into Unity and UE4. While IMO they are way more complex for a beginner (using C# and not a native 'easy' language like GML), the number of things you can kind of just do compared to GM:S is still blowing my mind every day. Lighting, texturing, even scripting is just so much more powerful it's crazy.
IMO, while GM:S is a fine option and excellent introduction into thinking like a programmer and tackling problems, I would heavily recommend at least looking into the idea of using Unity. Interestingly, it still carries a bit of the reputation of "for indie/new developers", which seems silly if you come from GM:S, which is like the "even more for indie/new developers" program.
The trick is not to worry about how the assholes are rubbing you and instead worry about how you're rubbing the assholes.
I read this as couchability
Yeah, I think you have a great start programming-wise, from my perspective. One thing I would suggest is to try out some of these online coding competitions, like topcoder.
My friends in the student programs came from all kinds of different schools, so I wouldn't hesitate to apply. The only way to know for sure is to apply!
We put out posts to our audience like this one about hiring for customer service.
We then ask other peers and friends that have relevant audiences to share if they think it will be helpful for their audience and they typically do it.
We share for others too! Check out these available opportunities from others we work with, friends, etc:
From the math side, I'd recommend discrete math, algorithms, maybe linear algebra, intro to number theory and/or cryptography.
related to /u/ScatStallion's question:
- two people quit their job 3 years ago
- ~17k were raised to continue "full time" development
do you guys live in your parent's basement? sell your firstborn? inherit a lot? how did you live for 3 years pretty much without income?
Previously, you mentioned you would be looking into changing the commission model you currently charge on websites listed on EF.
When will this be looked at? For someone with online properties in the high six and low seven-figure valuations, I am not sure how the 15% fee can be justified.
Also, how do you deal with fraud? I know previously you had a pretty big issue with a Russian (think they were Russian) customer. What systems do you have in place to protect the buyer / seller and your own interests?
We've definitely looked at and discussed it. Since our last AMA we've continued with our current model and have seen continued growth. We're now selling 7-figure businesses and haven't yet run into any issues.
For the most part, I think our customers think our value proposition is worth it and enough of them have gone with us for us to continue to grow. I think if growth becomes stunted it's something we'd look harder at.
Wow - yep, definitely had an issue with credit card fraud. We KNEW it was potentially a problem, but hadn't actually had an issue yet. Once that happened, we definitely had to change our process.
Our vetting process (for the businesses and the sellers selling them) has been continuously tweaked and I'm guessing that will continue. Although we represent sellers, it's important to us to keep the quality of our marketplace high. Especially considering many of our buyers are repeat sellers.
Does that make sense? Let me know if I need to expand on something...
The issue isn't really that ECC is less secure, but rather that the key sizes are so small compared to RSA for example. If you work out the numbers, one could attack ECC with a smaller number of qubits, so it will be vulnerable to earlier quantum computers than RSA. I had looked at this one relevant paper, but can't find it at the moment.
BTW, /u/stillalone, you're never alone on reddit.
I don't get this science talk but my question is are you guys the nerds from the simpsons?
We are ALL about transparency. however, I struggled to come up with a title that was both 100% clear and also not like, incredibly annoyingly long to read.
If I failed you somehow, I apologize.
If the temperature for everything you drank and your shower/bath temperature had to be exactly the same for the rest of your life how hot or cold would you chose?
With online businesses it is very difficult to use traditional valuation methodologies to derive a value. How do you value a company when purchasing or what are the steps you follow to get an idea of pricing metrics as a vendor and issuer?
Most online businesses under a $10M valuation (and outside the world of tech startups) are based on a multiple of net profit.
This multiple can vary pretty widely - from a low of 20X their monthly net profit up to 40X or more. The multiple will depend on things like how long they've been in business, how diversified their traffic/earnings are, and other risk factors with the business itself.
We've built a Valuation Tool that will help you get a (rough) valuation on your online business. We actually use this to list/price businesses for sale on our marketplace.
Worst comment ever!
Any plans for future content/features? Borderless window mode would be great!
When Empire Flippers was first starting out, how did you get traffic? and what was the most difficult thing during the first year of running Empire Flippers?
Back when we first started out we were called Adsense Flippers. Honestly, we didn't sell anyone's sites but our own at first. We would build out these little Adsense sites and then sell them on Flippa. It got to the point where we were doing so many of these, that we became a Flippa power user. We started a blog that detailed our journey along the way, which helped a lot to build an audience initially of other niche site builders who were doing the same thing. When they saw we were selling these sites for a healthy profit on Flippa, people in our audience started asking us if we'd sell their sites for them on our Flippa account if they pay us a small commission fee. It got us thinking... maybe there is something here for us.
Eventually we started selling so many other peoples sites instead of our own, we stopped building our own and eventually transformed our little niche site journey blog into an actual brokerage (and rebranded to Empire Flippers)
I personally think that it's likely in the next 10-20 years. The difficulty about that making a prediction is that
- Not all the engineering is solved on how to scale up current tech.
- We don't know if/how fast the rate of research investment will grow.
One of the ways that you can tell that we have a ways to go is that there are several competing physical implementations of quantum computers still being actively researched.
Quantum computers aren't really general computing devices, so I don't think it'll be use for individual end-users for things like gaming and video editing. Currently, they can be used to solve fairly special problems. However, there will definitely be commercial uses. They can be used to simulate quantum interactions, which can be used to improve industrial chemical processes for example.
Of course! Packaging sites is an interesting way to put together a larger listing. (And, sometimes, getting a larger multiple in the sale!)
We generally advise, though, that the seller be open to breaking those up if we get a good buyer for one or more of those sites.
At NSA? Lots of us had "applied research mathematician" as our title, but our actual job descriptions would vary pretty widely.
What would you say was your greatest struggle during the process?
The multiples seem to be going up to 35x on some sales. Does EF try test the market by pushing multiples up slowly to see at what level they are willing to buy or do you follow what multiples other brokers are doing?
Unless I'm mistaken wouldn't an error correcting quantum computer capable of actually being a threat to our current encryption schemes require over a million q-bits. We don't scale up our current quantum computers in part because our q-bits have somewhat poor fidelity.
Unless there has been some remarkable way of scaling back the number of T-gates and the T-depth of a quantum computer like the one you'd need to crack any reasonable encryption scheme you'd see. Is there some recent paper I'm missing which cuts down on that number significantly or is this all just more speculative?
I don't want to dump on your field, quantum computing is an amazing science where a lot of progress is being made. I think the public tends to have an unrealistic expectation of the results these computers are capable of and I think part of that is the responsibility of researchers who announce the field as "making crypto obsolete". Especially since the field of Post-quantum cryptography is quite active.
Alright let me try to explain it as maybe it is a little hard to understand. You have a limited time frame,30 days, to raise as much as you can. You are constantly refreshing dozens of different websites all day. You have NO free time, every minute you spend NOT paying attention to your Kickstarter is a minute you wasted (remember you just have the 30 days.) Every passing negative thought any one has is a devastating blow to your chances, and every waking moment must be spent minding your backers, sending out press releases, writing developer updates, investigating new communities to reach out to, creating gameplay GIFs... making trailers... literally every second you are not working you COULD have been working and it would have made you more money. For our case specifically we were also pushing updates to the game DURING the Kickstarter... so we were also programming, testing, etc... It was more than a fulltime job by a LOT. That's not even mentioning the pre-kickstarter work that you have to put in to get things ready beforehand...
Don't get me wrong, doing a Kickstarter is great. It's a wonderful way to build a community, gauge interest in your product, get feedback, interact with fans... we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
But people think a Kickstarter Campaign is just something you put up and then the money rolls in... that is not the case at all. Raising 17,656 on Kickstarter... A number that one of the other posters in this thread called a "pathetic" amount (I disagree strongly but...) took Danny, Me, and our PR team working constantly all day every day for 30 days straight.
You've mentioned Gamemaker 1.4 was used to build the game - did you make use of any third party software like Tiled for designing levels or did you use Gamemaker's level editor exclusively? I like Gamemaker in general but have found the level editor tedious.
Very interesting model. One of the biggest challenges with online businesses is that many of the conventional economic metrics can be spoofed. Traffic (and even transactions) can be spoofed. What does Empire Flippers do to weed out this kind of fraudulent businesses?
Also, how do you guys go about setting a 'multiple' on revenue/transactions to set a sales price for a site?
Fyrfoot got it but yeah... basically the built in editor in 1.4 is borderline unusable. (I have heard 2.0 is MUCH better) You either need to code your own editor or code a solution that does not require an editor.
You're so right. We've seen many of the ways people use to fake/spoof traffic over the years. Additionally - the bots have become more complicated. It's something we regularly look at.
That being said - we value based on earnings, not traffic. You can spoof all the traffic you want, but it won't necessarily make the site profitable!
Our multiple was based on a formula we've put together over years of selling websites and online businesses. It takes our other sales into account and we adjust it over time. Larger multiples based on less risky factors (diversity of traffic/earnings, quality of content, etc.)
Grats on the release! I'm curious if you've figured out how many copies you need to sell in order to make this whole endeavor "worth it" to you guys. How did that factor into your pricing decisions? And two days into launch, how are you currently feeling about hitting those goals.
If you don't hit those goals, will you be trying again with a new game project, or does the dream die here?
Couldn't I just fake business for a drop shipping company? There's no audits of revenue I assume? Are there revenue guarantees post sale?
Hi PP! Good to see you sir!
For it to have been 'worth it', we do have a number of copies we need to sell. We haven't reached that goal quite yet but I don't think many games do so quickly!
I believe we will almost certainly hit our goal, but maybe not as quickly as I would have liked/hoped.
If things don't go great, I have several contingency plans... some of them involve continuing to work on games full time and others involve me doing other stuff and making games part time.
I won't know which avenue makes the most sense for at least a few months I would imagine.
I think it would be very foolish for us to completely throw away all of the goodwill and credibility we have built during our crowdfunding stage up to now by liquidating the company. It is very, very unlikely that RotR will be our last game.
You could try!
We've gotten awfully good over the years at sniffing most of these out. Enough to where we're just not a soft target...you're better off listing on those platforms that do NOT dig into the traffic/financials.
As someone who is interested in getting involved or starting in a similar business/trade how do you suggest I learn the IT stuff? Do you think an actual degree is necessary? At this point I'm an accountant and not very knowledgable with technology
I mean, I'm 21 and decent with software, I just know 0 about coding or other complicated IT stuff
I think I'd like to one day help out/consult local businesses but I have no idea where to start
I did IT for about 3 years, it was just really not rewarding for me. I found myself getting frustrated with the customers and that's just not cool to them. I was doing everything I could to get out of the office ASAP every day, it wasn't fair to my boss, the company, our customers, or myself... so I quit.
Oh, also my degree is in 'Communication' (Yes, I know...) Danny has tons of degrees! I think he even has one in forensics!
No degree needed.
The best way to get started is just to...get started.
Seriously. Head over to GoDaddy (or whatever domain company you want to work with), purchase a domain, set up your hosting, add WordPress to the site, add a theme, and get started.
You'll donk your way through creating a site, figure a few things out, etc. Just start writing and then read blogs like Cloud Living, Niche Pursuits, Authority Hacker, etc.
Your YouTube link for the trailer isn't working for me. Maybe dead?
What percentage of businesses you sell doesn't go belly up in the next year?
This is a tough question to answer. Buyers really don't have a lot of self-interest in promoting how good the business they bought is doing (unless they have an authority website targeted towards entrepreneurs). This IS something we are looking to explore though as we do more buyer-based case studies.
What I can say is that we have several portfolio buyers that have bought businesses from us over and over again, some at an "institutional" level of investing. We have a few other smaller entrepreneurs that come in and buy a business from us multiple times over the years as well. From time to time a client emails or joins an event and let's us know how the business has gone - sometimes positive sometimes negative.
Buying an online business is a RISKY endeavor, but it can obviously be a high ROI. If you are curious about businesses that did actually flop, we did a podcast with a client of ours that actually did buy a business from us that didn't go too well for him. You can check it out here:
Holy shit! I've actually met the drummer for slime girls, and even shared some venues with him in some of his previous musical endeavors. I'm also super hyped to see a melee based rougelike. What was the biggest "oh shit I have to learn this now" moment when developing the game?
What path or course of actions would you recommend to someone who wants to make a living investing in websites but doesn't have the capital to buy into 10K+ sites immediately? By investing in websites I mean growing a portfolio of profitable diversified websites.
I am currently bootstrapping my first large content site. The money is slowing starting to trickle in from a combination of amazon, lead gen, and other programs. I plan to grow it to $4k-5k and month and then sell to buy a couple to a few smaller sites that are already making money and then grow them. Rinse. Repeat.
Am I on the right track and do you have any suggestions to speed up progress?
While building my own site has allowed me to start with just a few hundred dollars of monetary investment, it's a painfully slow process of finally getting traffic and earning a sizable profit. It would seem to me that buying established sites and growing them could provide a more efficient return on both monetary and time investment. Also, as I stated, I want to be in the business of diversified website investing, not simply be an affiliate marketer.
Yes Slime Girls is Fing AWESOME...
As for your other question... there was a moment during development where we realized that our object based collision system had to be replaced with a grid based collision system. That was a BIG overhaul that required re-writing a huge amount of the code.
If you don't have (at a minimum) $10K to start buying, you're MUCH better off building yourself from scratch.
Don't worry - those skills you'll learn in bootstrapping some profitable websites will be very helpful when you start to buy your portfolio of sites.
I think you're on the right track, actually. Some good friends of mine started with that plan, but ended up realizing that their ability to rinse/repeat on building lower 6-figure websites was HUGELY valuable. They instead decided to just repeat and scale THAT process. They brought in around $500K in 2016 building from scratch and selling off 2-3 years down the road.
Hope that helps!
The game Hyper-Light-Drifter looks quite similar to your game in art-style and gameplay. I was thinking about buying that, but now i have to choose between either that or your game. How would you convince me to choose your title?
Hello Mr. Cooke, Is it pronounced Cook or like Cookie?
I won't try to convince you! Hyper Light Drifter is a fantastic game. I would not try to compare what we have to HLD, it's apples and oranges.
HLD is a fantastic, polished, wonderful game with extremely good pixel art, a beautiful cohesive world, and great game-feel.
Personally, I got frustrated with HLD because I would just wander around these giant beautiful areas struggling to figure out what I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to go.
If you want something really fast paced and intense, that is constantly putting pressure on you forcing you to learn and improve, maybe check out RotR too!
It's pronounced "Cook" - thanks for asking!
Do excuse the negative tone for the question. Do you have a plan in place should you and your partner in this venture fall out and your friendship is genuienly irreconcilable?
This sounds horrible, but I guess I'm thinking along the lines of a pre-nup. It's horrible to plan for your marriage breaking up, but sometimes you just gotta
When vetting websites for sale on Empire Flippers what is your process and policy when it comes to PBNs and links which seriously violate Google's policies?
Is the buyer always informed of these, and do you need to see a sustained period of traffic before approval to omit churn/burn risk?
Good Question! Faux-Operative Games is an incorporated Partnership (LLC)
If we fall out, we will each own 50% of the company and the game. In that case, it would still be in each of our best interests to work together at least professionally.
I don't foresee any conflict of that type though, we have an extremely good relationship both professionally and personally.
We sell websites and online businesses that use Private Blog Networks (PBNs) but we require disclosure of the PBN, which is unique in our industry.
We always inform potential buyers through our marketplace about the PBN.
We require the business to have 12 months of history and at least 12 months of steady earnings for businesses we sell.(6 months for AdSense/Amazon Associates) Many are around 2-4 years old.
What's your take on kickstarter games becoming more and more prevalent in the industry? I'm particularly excited about Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a game that otherwise probably wouldn't have happened.
I've been in the military for 13 years and work in food service. I plan on retiring in 7 years but want nothing to do with food service. I have a pipe dream to be able to travel the world and work from a laptop much like your company. What would be the beginning steps I would need to do to work for a company like yours? What should I be learning to help me achieve this goal?
Bloodstained looks awesome! But my take is honestly that Kickstarter is almost a dead platform for video games. It seems to me like it is getting harder and harder to convince people that you're not some kind of scammer... mainly because there are a lot of scammers.
I think the chances that we will return to Kickstarter for the next project are quite low!
Thank you for your service. I was in the US Navy for 6 years from 1996-2002, so heading down that path is definitely possible!
I did a podcast interview where I talk in some depth about our apprenticeships:
Here are some others we know that have apprenticeships available right now you should look at:
When will the Linux port be released?! :) No, really, unless it runs under wine, I won't be able to enjoy this awesome looking game.
What level of experience, in online business, do you require from potential apprentices before considering them for the position?
If the Windows version sells well, we will be looking at other ports. Linux is definitely on the list!
They don't have to be entrepreneurs themselves, necessarily, but they to know their way around the internet.
Have they dabbled with an Amazon affiliate site? Have they setup hosting for their own travel blog? These are helpful skills when working with us, for sure!
Do you have any advice to somebody who is considering game development as a career?
Mr. Cooke, how often do you browse Reddit and what are your favorite subreddits?
This is a really tough one! I don't want to give bad advice, and i'm not sure what good advice I can actually give. We followed our own path and ignored a LOT of the advice we were getting from indie-devs. We were just... really stubborn.
Overall even at the beginning I thought we were just being insane. I dont know if I can recommend our path to someone else, especially with how much harder crowd funding gets every day that goes by. It remains to be seen whether we will even actually make enough money to 'pay ourselves' for the three years of work we did.
I guess I don't feel qualified to give such advice yet.
More often than I SHOULD, definitely.
I like: Digital Nomad, Entrepreneur, IAmA, Neutral Politics, etc.
Every once in a while I'll look at one of those very popular reddit posts about the "strange" subreddits and can't help myself and have to dig a bit, heh.
Mr. Cooke, have you ever had any of guys or ladies from the Shark Tank TV show want to buy into your company?
Haha... Noooooooooooooooooo Tech support is NOT fun. But it was a good work environment so i'm not complaining.
We haven't! We've had a couple of entrepreneurs that were on Shark Tank that were looking to sell their businesses, though. :-)
Congratulations, but from what you said, you basically lived together with your friend, for 3 years, on $17K?
I'm always very curious about the background and lead-up story to people who have found success in unique ways. What were you doing before this and what exactly led you to where you are today?
I posted a reply explaniing things a bit more clearly, here it is again
"Sorry, there is a slight lack of clarity in my post here. We worked on the game for about 2 years part-time BEFORE the Kickstarter. After the Kickstarter we worked for about 7 months before the game was released. ALL of our living expenses were paid out of our own finances/savings, Kickstarter money was only spent on game assets, contractor fees, etc... We certainly didn't leave for that entire time without any income!"
Tons of comments, so going to make this short and dirty:
Was in the Navy for 6 years.
Got out and went to school.
Left school to join my buddy who was making good money in mortgage industry.
Started mortgage company. Failed. Sucked...bad.
Got a job at an SEO company. Got promoted a few times. Got a "seat at the table".
My mentor and COO mentioned Joe and I should put a proposal to scale our outsourced Philippines team.
We pitched CEO/CFO on plan to "outsource ourselves" to the Philippines to run/scale this crew. They agreed.
We left to Philippines to start outsourcing company.
Moderate success. Previous employer bailed, but we kept afloat and paid bills with new clients.
Started building niche sites. They made a little money. Started selling them so we could recoup and reinvest/scale. It worked.
Started allowing others to list/sell with us. This blew up. Focused on this full time.
Here we are!
Your story is similar to the developers of No Man's Sky. I wish you a lot of luck mate, I hope it turns out to be a great game.
If you had to choose between going deaf or going mute, which would you choose?
Do service businesses ever sell? Say - an SEO agency?
Oh dang, that's tough...
I guess mute, although it would make it a lot harder to win in Overwatch!
They do, but we see them much less often than business models like Amazon Associate, eCommerce, etc.
One thing with any type of agency - have a well-diversified customer base. If any client is adding more than 7-10% of your total revenue, that's too much.
Long-term contracts helps as well...
Do you envision a console release if RotR becomes successful enough?
When's next apprenticeship coming up?
We just hired 3 apprentices for our Customer Service team and ended up adding another for Marketing. We need to get them trained and up-to-speed before we bring anyone else on.
I think it might be sooner rather than later, though. I'm guessing we'll be bringing on a couple more by Q3, at least.
I don't know if you're still answering questions. Where do you get your leads/What kind of people are looking at buying websites? If a website is netting x amount each month...how is it not more profitable to just keep it?
In terms of sales and marketing I've got it down...How hard is this computer stuff to learn--is it coding, building from templates, etc?
I also just want to be clear on the service you provide-I get a business site going, market it around, etc and then I can use you to broker a sale OR I can invest large up front for a quasi successful website and continue to market until the passive income makes me profitable?
We've been blogging and podcasting in this industry for years and that content marketing drives the bulk of our leads. (For buyers and for sellers)
Some potential sellers DO keep their sites when they realize what they'd get for them. Maybe they keep them for another year or two and then decide to sell. We can help them out then.
Our service is as follows: You build a profitable online business with a track record of earnings/growth. You're looking to sell it, we connect you with a buyer in our network, and we negotiate the deal and get the business over to the buyer and get you paid.
How old were you when you did this? I'm asking for someone else who says he's too old to follow his dream and quit his job like you guys did. He also has a game he wants to build out. I don't think you're ever too old but I'm just curious. Thanks for posting :-)
How many hours do you work? What's your work life balance like? Is it hard to find good wifi by the beach in some of those countries?
I'll be 30 in May. I don't think it's ever too late but I hesitate to encourage people to do what we did.
Overall we are pretty dumb to have done this but i'm crossing my fingers that it works out anyway! @_@
I work quite a bit. Some weeks it's 60+ hours, but others it's less than 20.
I was just married last month, so I ended up working very little for around a month. I had to catch up quickly as we were bringing our management team to Vietnam for a month's worth of intense work.
I'm happy with the balance at this point, but it wasn't always that way. Earlier in my career I was working CRAZY hours, but I loved it at the time. (For the most part, anyway)
Any thoughts on changing your policy to accepting Bitcoin? I have spoken to you guys in the chat on your page before and asked why you won't accept Bitcoin as a down payment to view a site. The response I got was that the price moves too much. Is there any chance or thought to just increasing the deposit amount to view a website in Bitcoin to a higher %. I would be happy to pay double the %, but I hate the idea of having to deal with banks paying for a deposit in a different currency, and having it held up for so long + the fees.
We accept Bitcoin for purchases, just not deposits. That isn't likely to change, unfortunately. It just didn't make much sense. A VERY small percentage of our customers were using bitcoin anyway so it's not much of a loss, overall.
Sucks, though, because I love the idea of using bitcoin in our industry. At least you can still purchase (and get paid out) in Bitcoin. :-)
Justin, I recently got a 'thanks for being a customer' package from you. Full of swag. Bonus! Thanks.
My Q - I notice you've abandoned the lower end of the market and I wonder if that's a permanent deal or if you'd reconsider? Selling sites for under 10k might be a pain in the ass but they are 'entry drugs' to the higher value sites (for people like me anyway).
Awesome! Glad you dug it. We call it "Swig Swag" as the guy who put that together is named Mike Swigunski, hehe.
We're not reconsidering our $10K minimum, unfortunately. We looked closely at the numbers and it just wasn't worth it.
These aren't exact, but they're close....we were spending 30% of our time in a range that was bringing in less than 5% of our total take. That's just bad man-hour management, IMO.
What's the best way to find great apprentices? What personality or experience traits do you look for?
The best way we've found is to build a wide audience of potential candidates! Recruiting from our blog readers and podcast listeners has been fantastic for us.
Aside from that, you can reach out to others in your space that have similar audiences (For us, Tropical MBA, Authority Hackers, etc.) and ask them if they'd be willing to promote your position.
We actually have a blog post on our site where we list/promote other apprenticeship opportunities you can check out here.
Congrats on all the success! As a business owner, what was the most challenging growing-pain you experienced along the way?
For me - we had to shut down our office in the Philippines at one point. Sucked - thought we weren't a "real" business any more. Bounced back, of course...and I'm actually SO glad to not have an office now, hehe.
You've already answered some of the parts of your hiring process for things such as apprentice. Every good company needs a good bit of background staff. What does your support structure look like? Do you use third parties to do your back-end stuff, or do you have your own internal team to help your business run smoothly? Infrastructure, support desk, etc.
Here's a really in-depth podcast interview I did about apprentices that I think you might like:
We have our own team running our back-end. We primarily use Hubspot, Zendesk, and Slack with our support staff. (And a shit-ton of spreadsheets, heh)
We did. Our outsourcing company had one major client (our previous employer) who ended up canceling our contract. That left many of our employees out of work. We ended up having to close the office down and it was definitely a low point.
My business partner dealt with that blow better than I did. The upside was we saved the office costs. Months later we pulled out of it and, in the end, I'm VERY glad we figured out how to run a company that didn't require a physical office!
A good lesson - it's never THAT bad. Even when it feels really shitty in your entrepreneurial career, it will likely get better. Doesn't feel like it at the time, but you'll probably be laughing about it years later.