Becoming an Author – The launch of Shopify Empire

Shopify Empire SEO


Shopify Empire SEO BookWell, I did it. I wrote and released a book. “Shopify Empire” went live a few weeks ago and it’s been a whirlwind sense then.

I’ve written and released dozens of apps over my career. I expected this book release to be similar to an app release – I was wrong. I’ve learned that people react very differently to apps and books.

Almost everyone uses computers and apps everyday, but there is a disconnect from them. Apps are generally easy to install, and use. How they work, most people couldn’t tell you. Most people don’t write code, even less write SaaS products. For the most part, apps are magical things, written by anonymous geeks.

I think that most people understand what books are, what goes into them, and they understand the struggle of the writing process. Not everyone is a “writer” but most people write all the time – work reports, school work, text messages, emails, blog posts, Facebook, etc, so they can better appreciate books.

I’ve never thought of myself as a writer. I have a lot of thought and opinions, but putting them into written form has always been difficult for me. I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking, video, and podcasting, but always avoiding the written form whenever possible. To be completely honest the real magic happened during the editing process. It was basically worse than the worse code review I have even been through, but in the end the book is MUCH better for it, as am I.

Josh Highland book signingOne of my reasons for writing this book was to push myself to grow in a new direction. I think it’s done that in a major way. The process for me was much more difficult than creating an app, and oddly just as satisfying. I might not be the best writer in the world, but I no longer can make excuses to avoid writing and generating content.

I’m very grateful for the outpouring of support I have received. In the few short weeks that the book has been out, I’ve already been a guest on a Shopify podcast, done an #AMA event, and even did some book signing. I’m excited to see what the future holds as Shopify Empire gets into the hands of more people.

You can find Shopfy Empire at

My Goals For 2015


Keeping with tradition, here is the list of goals I have for 2015:

  • Be more mindful (meditate / don’t stress out)
  • Improve my work life balance (spend more quality time with family and friends)
  • Improve my cardio
  • Continue to pay off more debt
  • Launch my book, Shopify Empire
  • Become more involved in the Shopify community
  • Grow my Shopify app user base
  • Move more of my apps on to “the cloud”
  • Develop a platform independent SaaS product
  • Automate and delegate as much as possible
  • Reduce the amount of “Stuff” I have
  • Drive a Tesla Model S (test drive or rent one)
  • Have a conversation with Kevin Rose and Tim Ferriss
  • Sleep more
  • Blog more

2014 Year In Review



For the last few year I list the goals that I would like to achieve for the year. With this post I’d like to take some time and see how many of my 2014 goals I managed to achieve.

Get more involved in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies

2014 started off with massive bitcoin hype. I jumped in with both feet and built a bitcoin mining rig, I called it “miner threat”. The price tag for the parts was about $5500. After a few short months, the mining rig was costing more money to operate then we were mining. Overall, mining bitcoins was fun, but not profitable. I can say however that I used bitcoins to pay a ransom to Russian hackers! Grade: #win

Involve more wearable tech in my life

2014 was definitely the year of the wearable and I embraced it. This year I tried the following wearable devices.

Google Glass was the biggest loser of the bunch with few apps, poor battery life and limited usability. Everyone I know who had Glass has ditched it. My favorite wearable was the Misfit Shine. The Shine is a beautiful wearable and I loved wearing it. The down fall of the Shine was the poorly designed wristband that lead to me losing the tracker. I replaced the Shine with the Misfit Flash. The Flash is an extremely cheap version of the Shine, but features an improved wristband. Last week I received my Spire tracker. Spire is worn in the waistband of your pants and tracks your breathing patterns. It detects stress and calmness. I really like the Spire, and I’ll be interested to see the data of my breathing habits. Honorable mention goes to Muse, the brain wave tracker. Muse is very interesting, but hard for me to get into. I like the idea of training myself to live in a calmer state. Moving into 2015, the Misfit Flash, Muse and Spire are the only devices I plan on wearing on a daily basis. Grade: #epicWin

Work on educating people more about MFA and account security

Account security and MFA (multi-factor authentication) has been central to my day job for the last few years. Okta is a cloud identity solution that I help manage at Esri. MFA and MFA education is a key feature of Okta. In November I was honored to be presented with the Okta Atlas Award at the Okta user conference in San Francisco. Grade: #epicWin

Get more involved in the Shopify community

In 2013 I went to the first west coast Shopify meet-up and absolutely loved it. A few months into 2014 a Los Angeles Shopify meet-up group formed. I had the pleasure of  speaking about SEO and my upcoming book at one of the first meetings. You can see my presentation here. Grade: #win

Continue to automate more of my income

With the growth of my apps I was able to automate more of my income in 2014 than ever before. I’m getting closer to that 4-hour work week. Grade: #epicWin

Continue to pay off more debt

I read a great book called “I will teach you to be rich” by Ramit Sethi. It was one of those books that hit me hard. I’ve been following some of his advice and am working my way towards a debt free lifestyle. I’m using more automated tools to make that happen, and it feels great. Grade: #win

Launch another Shopify app

I totally smashed this goal by launching two Shopify apps in 2014 – SEO Scan Pro and Social Share Manager. Grade: #insanelyEpicWin

Continue to delegate more of my tasks

This is something that is really hard for me. I’m going to be honest on this one and admit that I just need to let go of somethings and trust others to help me. Grade: #fail

Finish and publish my SEO book

I knew that was on the list for 2014 and I really wanted to get it done. In August I really buckled down and started working hard on the book. The writing process was tough but was nothing compared to the editing process. My editor really helped refine the book into something that I’m truly proud of (thanks Rhian!). On December 29th 2014 I finished my first book. It’s been an amazing journey that has pushed me and forced me to grow. The book is in the publishing process and will be available soon. Grade: #win

Expand my SEO offerings to clients

In 2014, along with releasing two new SEO related Shopify apps, NewLeaf Labs also started to offer more personalized and hands on SEO consulting along with copy writing. Grade #win

Drive a Tesla Model S (at least a test drive or a rental)

Man, I totally blew this one. I had a Tesla model S lined up to rent but I never pulled the trigger on it. I guess I’m going to have to move this one to the 2015 list. Grade: #epicFail

Have a  conversation with Kevin Rose, and Tim Ferris

This is another one that didn’t happen for me, then again I didn’t really try hard for it. I did have a few twitter exchanges with Kevin Rose this year but I’m not counting those. Grade: #fail

Contribute to more charities

I’m proud of this one. This year I was able to contribute more to charitable causes than ever before. One of the charities that really grabbed my attention this year was The Pratyasha Foundation. My friend Kristin lives in India and started this non-profit to provide food, health care and hope to children in the slums of India. Money donated to them goes directly to the children. I encourage you to join me in supporting Kristin in her efforts. Grade: #epicWin

Over all 2014 was a hard year for me. It was a time of growth and change – becoming more of a grown up. Change is never easy. Despite the challenges I was able to accomplish most of my goals in 2014. I’m looking forward to the adventures  that 2015 holds as #jacksonHighland grows up and as my wife and I welcome our second son into the world.

I used bitcoins to pay a ransom

bitcoin-hackerThis post is going to be vague in some areas to protect the identities of the parties involved.

A person I know contacted me via facebook and asked if I was still involved with bitcoin. And this is where the story begins.

This person’s friend works for a business with sensitive personal data. The businesses computers got “hacked” and  their data was encrypted. The Russian hackers were asking for $500 USD worth of bitcoins to release the data. If the demand was not met in 72 hours, the price would become $1000 USD worth of bitcoin. Finally, if the ransom was not paid within the next 72 hours period, the data on the hard drive would be destroyed.

The business was crippled because their customer data was encrypted and they needed it for their day to day tasks. Of course they didn’t have any backups of this data.

They wanted to pay the money and move on with doing business but had no idea what bitcoins were, how to acquire them or how to use them.

I was asked if I could help out and facilitate the bitcoin payment. I wanted to check off the “paid a ransom” checkbox on my bucket list, and I had never seen ransomware in person, so I agreed to help.

I had the business owner send me the $500 via paypal. Once I received the money I used my account to purchase the 1.43 BTC ($500 USD at the time).

The hackers had a website setup on a tor network (anonymous and private network of computers). The website had detailed instructions and information on how to pay the ransom. They provided a bitcoin wallet address, along with a field for a transaction number.


I used coinbase to send the bitcoins to the wallet, and entered the transaction number into the website. After a few minutes the transaction was verified and complete.

The website updated with instructions on how to download the decryption software and keys needed to recover the data and remove the ransomware from the computer. I forwarded the information on the the business owner and his staff.


An hour later I got an email from the business owner telling me that the data was recovered and thanking me for my help. Everything worked out. The business owner got his data, the hackers got their bitcoins, and I get to tell the story of how I paid a ransom to russian hackers with bitcoin.


Okta Atlas Award 2014

oktaI’ve worked at Esri for 13 years, and I’ve had this blog for over 10 years. Despite those facts, I’ve never blogged about my job. This post will venture into some new territory, and with that I would like to state that the postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s positions, strategies or opinions.

In February 2013 I took on the role of Identity and Access Management (IAM) Team Lead at Esri. The teams focus was on consolidating user stores and account systems across the enterprise. Along with consolidation, improving the end user experience and hardening security or both internal staff and external customers was also key. Very large goals.

Enterprise identity management is difficult. It’s a balance of IT infrastructure, user account management, and security. In today’s world we all know the problems that happen when one of those areas is compromised and user accounts or data is leaked.

My team reviewed many IAM solutions, and ultimately selected Okta. It’s been an awesome experience. There is only a hand full of companies that I’m a complete fan boy for, and Okta is one of them – along with Shopify and Apple.

I feel that Okta has help me change our Enterprise IT for the better. It’s allowed us to be more agile and enabled better collaborate with our colleagues around the world. Our needs have pushed the Okta platform into some new areas, and Okta staff has always been there to support us. We have grown together.

Last week Okta held their annual conference – Oktane, in San Francisco. As part of the keynote presentation Okta presents awards to recognize organizations and individuals that have taken major leaps into the Okta platform.

I’m proud to say that the Esri IAM team won the 2014 Okta Atlas Award

“The Atlas Award celebrates the customer teams that have effectively extended Okta and are “doing it all,” this award is given to those who take all on their shoulders like the primordial Titan, to cover the identities of their employees, customers, partners or other external users alike.”

Okta Award 2014

I shared the award along with my friend and teammate from Esri, Ramchand Rao. Gaston Zilleruelo of Amway was also presented with the award.

Ramchand and I may have accepted the award on stage, but it also belongs to the other members of the Esri IAM team, Aaron Asencio and Alagukannan Alagappan. We’re a small team but we’ve pulled off some amazing things together.

I truly think that cloud Identity and Access Management is the future, and Okta is leading that charge.

You can read more about the Okta conference and the winners of other Okta awards here –