How much is your palm print worth? If you ask Amazon, it’s about $10 in promotional credit if you enroll your palm prints in its checkout-free stores and link it to your Amazon account.
Last year, Amazon introduced its new biometric palm print scanners, Amazon One, so customers can pay for goods in some stores by waving their palm prints over one of these scanners. By February, the company expanded its palm scanners to other Amazon grocery, book and 4-star stores across Seattle.
Amazon has since expanded its biometric scanning technology to its stores across the U.S., including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Texas.
The retail and cloud giant says its palm scanning hardware “captures the minute characteristics of your palm — both surface-area details like lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns — to create your palm signature,” which is then stored in the cloud and used to confirm your identity when you’re in one of its stores.
Amazon’s latest promotion: $10 promotional credit in exchange for your palm print. (Image: Amazon)
What’s Amazon doing with this data exactly? Your palm print on its own might not do much — though Amazon says it uses an unspecified “subset” of anonymous palm data to improve the technology. But by linking it to your Amazon account, Amazon can use the data it collects, like shopping history, to target ads, offers and recommendations to you over time.
Amazon also says it stores palm data indefinitely, unless you choose to delete the data once there are no outstanding transactions left, or if you don’t use the feature for two years.
While the idea of contactlessly scanning your palm print to pay for goods during a pandemic might seem like a novel idea, it’s one to be met with caution and skepticism given Amazon’s past efforts in developing biometric technology. Amazon’s controversial facial recognition technology, which it historically sold to police and law enforcement, was the subject of lawsuits that allege the company violated state laws that bar the use of personal biometric data without permission.
“The dystopian future of science fiction is now. It’s horrifying that Amazon is asking people to sell their bodies, but it’s even worse that people are doing it for such a low price,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, in an email to TechCrunch.
“Biometric data is one of the only ways that companies and governments can track us permanently. You can change your name, you can change your Social Security number, but you can’t change your palm print. The more we normalize these tactics, the harder they will be to escape. If we don’t [draw a] line in the sand here, I am very fearful what our future will look like,” said Cahn.
When reached, an Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.
The creators of Pokémon GO, Niantic developed one of the first mainstream augmented reality games, boasting 166 million users and over a billion dollars in revenue last year. Taking inspiration from the main series Pokémon games, Pokémon GO uses in-game incentives to encourage users to explore their surroundings, team up with other users to fight legendary beasts, and travel to places they’ve never been before.
Before the pandemic, this posed an accessibility issue — when certain tasks could only be completed by walking a certain distance, for example, it alienated users with physical conditions and disabilities that prevent them from easily taking a walk around the neighborhood. Plus, for players in wheelchairs, it might be impossible to access certain PokéStops and Gyms. It’s necessary to interact with these real-world landmarks to play the game to its fullest.
When much of the world entered lockdown March 2020, Pokémon Go doubled the size of the radius that players can be within to interact with a PokéStop or Gym, widening the radius from 40 meters to 80 meters. So, you could now be further away from a landmark but still reap its rewards. This made it easier for users to play from home, or play outside while social distancing — but it also made the game much more accessible. Plus, for a game that still gets a bad rep for causing traffic accidents, the increased radius helped pedestrian players access landmarks without brazenly jay-walking across the street (to be fair, it’s on users to make smart decisions while gaming in augmented reality — but, Niantic has responsibility here too). And for businesses that happened to be located in a prime location for raid battles, which require players to gather in-person within a Gym’s radius to defeat rare monsters, this meant that Pokémon players could maintain a respectful distance from store fronts while playing the game (later in the pandemic, it became possible to join raid battles remotely — this feature will remain in the game, probably because it proved profitable).
These pandemic incentives were always framed as temporary bonuses, but players embraced the changes — in 2020, Pokémon GO had its highest-earning year yet. Now, the increased landmark radius has been removed “as a test” in the U.S. and New Zealand.
“As we return to the outside world again, these changes are aimed at restoring the focus of Pokémon GO on movement and exploration in the real world,” the company wrote in a blog post. “These changes will be introduced slowly and carefully to make it more exciting to explore the world around you.”
One new incentive gives users 10x XP for visiting a new PokéStop for the first time (or, in real-world terms, visiting a new place). But as the Delta variant spreads in the U.S., players find these changes to be frustrating and misguided. Why roll back features that made the game more accessible while also netting the company more money?
The removal of double distance is nothing short of a slap in the face towards the #PokemonGO Community.
I’ll realistic and say I that I’ll quit GO if changes aren’t being made ASAP.
I REFUSE to cover a game that doesn’t have it’s player base in its best interest.
— REVERSAL – Pokémon GO (@REVERSALxPoGO) August 1, 2021
The Pokémon Go YouTuber, Reversal, who has created sponsored content for Niantic, wrote that he will quit the game if changes aren’t being made ASAP. Other players launched a petition with over 130,000 signatures to keep increased PokéStop and Gym interaction distance. Prominent Pokémon Go content creators like ZoëTwoDots and The Trainer Club have referenced a potential boycott of the game in videos they uploaded today, citing Niantic’s refusal to listen to community concerns after they announced the impending end of pandemic bonuses in June.
“I’m more than down to boycott the game with everyone if we’re vibing that,” ZoëTwoDots, who has also partnered with Niantic, told her 212,000 subscribers. “I know for myself personally, I’m just straight up not spending money in the game going forward until they address it publicly.”
My opinion on the Pokéstop radius hasn't changed. It was a clear quality of life change that was only fully realised because of a (ongoing) pandemic. It has provided accessibility to disabled players, safety to all players, and NEVER affected our enjoyment of exploration. https://t.co/DK1VWkw0ga
— ZoëTwoDots (@_ZoeTwoDots) August 1, 2021
As the game celebrates its five year anniversary, the conflict it now faces isn’t about players wishing for the game to be easier. Rather, this represents a failure by Niantic to listen to its user base, prioritize accessibility, and incentivize users to stay home as COVID-19 cases rise again in the U.S.
Shares of Square are up this morning after the company announced its second-quarter earnings and that it will buy Afterpay, an Australian buy now, pay later (BNPL) player in a $29 billion deal. As TechCrunch reported this morning, Afterpay shareholders will receive 0.375 shares of Square in exchange for their existing equity.
Shares of Afterpay are sharply higher after the deal was announced thanks to its implied premium, while shares of Square are up 7% in early-morning trading.
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Over the past year, we’ve written extensively about the BNPL market, usually from the perspective of earnings from companies in the space. Afterpay has been a key data source, along with the yet-private Klarna and U.S. public BNPL outfit Affirm. Recall that each company has posted strong growth in recent periods, with the United States arising as a prime competitive market.
Most recently, consumer hardware and services giant Apple is reportedly preparing a move into the BNPL space. Our read at the time was that any such movement by Cupertino would impact mass-market BNPL players more than niche-focused companies. Apple has a fintech base and broad IRL payment acceptance, making it a potentially strong competitor for BNPL services aimed at consumers; BNPL services targeted at particular industries or niches would likely see less competition from Apple.
From that landscape, let’s explore the Square-Afterpay deal. We want to know what Afterpay brings to Square in terms of revenue, growth and reach. We also want to do some math on the price Square is willing to pay for the company — and what that might tell us about the value of BNPL and fintech revenues more broadly. Then we’ll eyeball the numbers and try to decide if Square is overpaying for Afterpay.
As with most major deals these days, Square and Afterpay released an investor presentation detailing their argument in favor of their combination. Let’s dig through it.
Square is a two-part company. It has a large consumer business via Cash App, and it has a large business division that offers payments tech and other fintech services to corporate customers. Recall that Square is also building out banking services for its business customers and that Cash App also serves some banking and investing functionality for consumers.
Zoom has agreed to pay $85 million to settle a lawsuit that accused the video conferencing giant of violating users’ privacy by sharing their data with third parties without permission and enabling “Zoombombing” incidents.
Zoombombing, a term coined by TechCrunch last year as its usage exploded because of the pandemic, describes unapproved attendees entering and disrupting Zoom calls by sharing offensive imagery, using backgrounds to spread hateful messages, or spouting slurs and profanities.
The lawsuit, filed in March 2020 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, also accused the firm of sharing personal user data with third parties, including Facebook, Google and LinkedIn.
In addition to agreeing to an $85 million settlement, which could see customers receive a refund of either 15% of their subscription of $25 if the lawsuit achieves class-action status, Zoom has said it will take additional steps to prevent intruders from gatecrashing meetings. This will include alerting users when meeting hosts or other participants use third-party apps in meetings and offering specialized training to employees on privacy and data handling.
“The privacy and security of our users are top priorities for Zoom, and we take seriously the trust our users place in us,” Zoom said in a statement. “We are proud of the advancements we have made to our platform, and look forward to continuing to innovate with privacy and security at the forefront.”
The settlement requires approval from US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, to be finalized.
With the rise of Open Banking, PSD2 Regulation, insurtech and the whole, general fintech boom, tech investors have realized there is an increasing place for dedicated funds which double down on this ongoing movement. When you look at the rise of banking-as-a-service offerings, payments platforms, insurtech, asset management and infrastructure providers, you realize there is a pretty huge revolution going on.
European fintech companies have raised $12.3 billion in 2021 according to Dealroom, but the market is still wide open for a great deal more funding for B2B fintech startups.
So it’s no surprise that B2B fintech-focused Element Ventures has announced a $130 million fund to double down on this new fintech enterprise trend.
Founded by financial services veterans Stephen Gibson and Michael McFadgen, and joined by Spencer Lake (HSBC’s former vice chairman of Global Banking and Markets), Element is backed by finance-oriented LPs and some 30 founders and executives from the sector.
Element says it will focus on what it calls a “high conviction investment strategy,” which will mean investing in only around a handful of companies a year (15 for the fund in total) but, it says, providing a “high level of support” to its portfolio.
So far it has backed B2B fintech firms across the U.K. and Europe, including Hepster (total raised $10 million), the embedded insurance platform out of Germany which I recently reported on; Billhop (total raised $6.7 million), the B2B payment network out of Sweden; Coincover (total raised $11.6 million), a cryptocurrency recovery service out of the U.K.; and Minna (total raised $25 million), the subscription management platform out of Sweden.
Speaking to me over a call, McFadgen, partner at Element Ventures, said: “Stephen and I have been investing in B2B fintech together for quite a long time. In 2018 we had the opportunity to start element and Spencer came on board in 2019. So Element as an independent venture firm is really a continuation of a strategy we’ve been involved in for a long time.”
Gibson added: “We are quite convinced by the European movement and the breakthrough these fintech and insurtech firms in Europe are having. Insurance has been a desert for innovation and that is changing. And you can see that we’re sort of trying to build a network around companies that have those breakthrough moments and provide not just capital but all the other things we think are part of the story. Building the company from A to C and D is the area that we try and roll our sleeves up and help these firms.”
Element says it also will be investing in the U.S. and Asia.
Nozomi Networks, an industry cybersecurity startup that aims to shield critical infrastructure from cyberattacks, has raised $100 million in pre-IPO funding.
The Series D funding round was led by Triangle Peak Partners, and also includes investment from a number of equipment, security, service provider and go-to-market companies including Honeywell Ventures, Keysight Technologies and Porsche Digital.
This funding comes at a critical time for the company. Cyberattacks on industrial control systems (ICS) — the devices necessary for the continued running of power plants, water supplies, and other critical infrastructure — increased both in frequency and severity during the pandemic. Look no further than May and June, which saw ransomware attacks target the IT networks of Colonial Pipeline and meat manufacturing giant JBS, forcing the companies to shut down their industrial operations.
Nozomi Networks, which competes with Dragos and Claroty, claims its industrial cybersecurity solution, which works to secure ICS devices by detecting threats before they hit, aims to prevent such attacks from happening. It provides real-time visibility to help organizations manage cyber risk and improve resilience for industrial operations.
The technology currently supports more than a quarter of a million devices in sectors such as critical infrastructure, energy, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and utilities, with Nozomi Networks doubling its customer base in 2020 and seeing a 5,000% increase in the number of devices its solutions monitor.
The company will use its latest investment, which comes less than two years after it secured $30 million in Series C funding, to scale product development efforts as well as its go-to-market approach globally.
Specifically, Nozomi Networks said it plans to grow its sales, marketing, and partner enablement efforts, and upgrade its products to address new challenges in both the OT and IoT visibility and security markets.
In a blockbuster deal that rocks the fintech world, Square announced today that it is acquiring Australian buy now, pay later giant Afterpay in a $29 billion all-stock deal.
The purchase price is based on the closing price of Square common stock on July 30, which was $247.26. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022, contingent upon certain closing conditions. It values Afterpay at more than 30% premium to its latest closing price of A$96.66.
Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said in a statement that the two fintech behemoths “have a shared purpose.”
“We built our business to make the financial system more fair, accessible, and inclusive, and Afterpay has built a trusted brand aligned with those principles,” he said in the statement. “Together, we can better connect our Cash App and Seller ecosystems to deliver even more compelling products and services for merchants and consumers, putting the power back in their hands.”
The combination of the two companies would create a payments giant unlike any other. Over the past 18 months, the buy now, pay later space has essentially exploded, appealing especially to younger generations drawn to the idea of not using credit cards or paying interest and instead opting for the installment loans, which have become ubiquitous online and in retail stores.
As of June 30, Afterpay served more than 16 million consumers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, including major retailers across industries such as fashion, homewares, beauty and sporting goods, among others.
The addition of Afterpay, the companies’ statement said, will “accelerate Square’s strategic priorities” for its Seller and Cash App ecosystems. Square plans to integrate Afterpay into its existing Seller and Cash App business units, so that even “the smallest of merchants” can offer buy now, pay later at checkout. The integration will also give Afterpay consumers the ability to manage their installment payments directly in Cash App. Cash App customers will be able to find merchants and buy now, pay later (BNPL) offers directly within the app.
Afterpay’s co-founders and co-CEOs Anthony Eisen and Nick Molnar will join Square upon closure of the deal and help lead Afterpay’s respective merchant and consumer businesses. Square said it will appoint one Afterpay director to its board.
Shareholders of Afterpay will get 0.375 shares of Square Class A stock for every share they own. This implies a price of about A$126.21 per share based on Square’s Friday close, according to the companies.
Will there be more consolidation in the space? That remains to be seen, and Twitter is all certainly abuzz about what deals could be next. Here in the U.S., rival Affirm went public earlier this year. On July 30, shares closed at $56.32, significantly lower than its opening price and 52-week-high of $146.90. Meanwhile, European competitor Klarna — which is growing rapidly in the U.S. — in June raised another $639 million at a staggering post-money valuation of $45.6 billion.
No doubt the BNPL fight for the U.S. consumer is only heating up with this deal.
Software developers and engineers have rarely been in higher demand. Organizations’ need for technical talent is skyrocketing, but the supply is quite limited. As a result, software professionals have the luxury of being very choosy about where they work and usually command big salaries.
In 2020, the U.S. had nearly 1.5 million full-time developers, who earned a median salary of around $110,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the next 10 years, the federal agency estimates, developer jobs will grow by 22% to 316,000.
But what happens after a developer or engineer lands that sweet gig? Are they able to harness their skills and grow in interesting and challenging new directions? Do they understand what it takes to move up the ladder? Are they merely doing a job or cultivating a rewarding professional life?
To put it bluntly, many developers and engineers stink at managing their own careers.
These are the kinds of questions that have gnawed at me throughout my 25 years in the tech industry. I’ve long noticed that, to put it bluntly, many developers and engineers stink at managing their own careers.
It’s simply not a priority for some. By nature, developers delight in solving complex technical challenges and working hard toward their company’s digital objectives. Care for their own careers may feel unattractively self-promotional or political — even though it’s in fact neither. Charting a career path may feel awkward or they just don’t know how to go about it.
Companies owe it to developers and engineers, and to themselves, to give these key people the tools to understand what it takes to be the best they can be. How else can developers and engineers be assured of continually great experiences while constantly expanding their contributions to their organizations?
Developers delight in solving complex challenges and working hard toward their company’s objectives. Care for their own careers may feel unattractively self-promotional or political — even though it’s in fact neither.
Coaching and mentoring can help, but I think a more formal management system is necessary to get the wind behind the sails of a companywide commitment to making developers and engineers believe that, as the late Andy Grove said, “Your career is your business and you are its CEO.”
That’s why I created a career development model for developers and engineers when I was an Intel Fellow at Intel between 2003 and 2013. This framework has since been put into practice at the three subsequent companies I worked at — Google, VMWare, and, now, Juniper Networks — through training sessions and HR processes.
The model is based on a principle that every developer can relate to: Treat career advancement as you would a software project.
That’s right, by thinking of career development in stages like those used in app production, developers and engineers can gain a holistic view of where they are in their professional lives, where they want to go and the gaps they need to fill.
In software development, a team can’t get started until it has a functional specification that describes the app’s requirements and how it is supposed to perform and behave.
Why should a career be any different? In my model, folks begin by assessing the “functionality” expected of someone at their next career level and how they’re demonstrating them (or not). Typically, a person gets promoted to a higher level only when they already demonstrate that they are operating at that level.
Blue Origin’s protest to a U.S. governmental watchdog over NASA’s decision to award SpaceX a multi-billion dollar contract to develop a lunar lander was rejected.
The Government Accountability Office said Friday that it was denying both Blue Origin’s protest and a separate challenge filed by Dynetics, a defense contractor that also submitted a proposal for the contract. GAO concluded that NASA did not violate any laws or regulations when granting the sole award to SpaceX.
“As a result, GAO denied the protest arguments that NASA acted improperly in making a single award to SpaceX,” the agency said in a statement.
The formal protest was over NASA’s decision to award the contract for the Human Landing System Program, which aims to return humans to the moon for the first time since Apollo, solely to SpaceX — and not to two companies, as was originally intended. SpaceX’s proposal for the Human Landing System Program came in at $2.9 billion, around half of Blue Origin’s $5.99 billion proposal. Earlier this week, Bezos penned an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson offering to knock $2 billion off that price to solve the “near-term budgetary issues” that caused NASA to select just one company for the contract.
NASA’s decision to give just one company the award did veer from historical standard, but GAO maintained that “the [contract] announcement reserved the right to make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all.”
Blue Origin maintains that it was not given time to revise its bid after NASA concluded it did not have sufficient funding for two awards. “Blue Origin was plainly prejudiced by the Agency’s failure to communicate this change in requirements,” the company said in the protest. “Blue Origin could have and would have taken several actions to revise its proposed approach, reduce its price to more closely align with funding available to the Agency, and/or propose schedule alternatives.”
Blue Origin and Dynetics submitted their separate protests in April.
Update: In response to the decision, a Blue Origin spokesperson told TechCrunch:
“We stand firm in our belief that there were fundamental issues with NASA’s decision, but the GAO wasn’t able to address them due to their limited jurisdiction. We’ll continue to advocate for two immediate providers as we believe it is the right solution.”
The spokesperson noted that the company was encouraged by lawmakers adding a provision to a bill in Senate that would require NASA to select two providers for the HLS program.
Elon Musk, meanwhile, had this to say about the decision…
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 30, 2021
TechCrunch has reached out to Dynetics for comment. We will update the story if they respond.
Robinhood priced at $38 per share this week, opened flat and closed its first day’s trading yesterday worth $34.82 per share, or a bit more than 8% underwater. The company posted a mixed picture today, falling early before recovering to breakeven in late-morning trading.
It wasn’t the debut that some expected Robinhood to have.
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To close out the week, we’re not going to noodle on banned Chinese IPOs or do a full-week mega-round discussion. Instead, let’s parse some notes from a chat The Exchange had with Robinhood’s CFO about his company’s IPO and go over a few reasonable guesses as to why we’re not wondering how much money Robinhood left on the table by pricing its public offering lower than it closed on its first day.
Let’s not be dicks about it. The time for Twitter jokes was yesterday. We’ll put our thinking caps on this morning.
Chatting with Robinhood CFO Jason Warnick earlier this week, we wanted to know why this was the right time for Robinhood to go public.
Now, no public company CEO or CFO will come out and directly say that they are going public because they think that they can defend — or extend — their most recent private valuation thanks to current market conditions.
Instead, execs on IPO day tend to deflect the question, pivoting to a well-oiled bon mot about how their public offering is a mere milestone on their company’s long-term trajectory. For some reason in our capitalist society, during an arch-capitalist event, by a for-profit company, leaders find it critical to downplay their IPO’s importance.1
With that in mind, Warnick did not say Robinhood went public because the IPO market has recently rewarded big-brand consumer tech companies like Airbnb and DoorDash with strong debuts. And he didn’t say that with tech shares near all-time highs and a taste for high-growth concerns, the company was likely set to enter a market that would be willing to price it at a valuation that it found attractive.
Don’t miss your chance to experience TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 — the startup world’s must-attend event of the season — for less than $100. Why not get the best ROI of your time while simultaneously learning about the latest industry trends and mining for opportunities that can take your startup to new levels of success?
Disrupt takes place on September 21-23, but the early-bird deal expires today, July 30 at 11:59 p.m. (PDT). Buy your Disrupt 2021 pass now and save.
Let’s talk about what you’ll experience at Disrupt. Over on the Disrupt Stage you’ll find one-on-one interviews with icons and interactive, expert-led, presentations from across the tech, investing and policy sectors. Folks like Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn and Mirror CEO Brynn Putnam. And that’s just the tip of the tech iceberg. You can check out all the speakers here.
You’ll find plenty of actionable advice and how-to tips and strategies on the Extra Crunch Stage. Take a gander at just two of the topics we have scheduled there and explore the full Disrupt agenda here.
Crafting a Pitch Deck that Can’t Be Ignored: Investors may be chasing after the hottest deals, but for founders selling their startup’s vision, it’s never been more important to communicate it in the clearest way possible. Pitch deck experts Mercedes Bent (partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners), Mar Hershenson (co-founder and managing partner, Pear VC) and Saba Karim (Techstars’ head of accelerator pipeline) dig into what’s essential, what’s unnecessary and what could just make all the difference in your next deck.
How Do You Select the Right Tech Stack: From day zero, startups have to make dozens of trade-offs when it comes to the infinite variety of tech stacks available to today’s engineers. Choose the wrong combination or direction, and a startup could be left with years of refactoring to fix the legacy damage. What are the best practices for assessing potential stacks, and how can you minimize the risk of a painful mistake? Preeti Somal (executive vice president of engineering, HashiCorp) and Jill Wetzler (head of engineering, Pilot) will discuss strategies for improving engineering right from the beginning and at every stage of a startup’s journey.
Disrupt’s virtual format provides plenty of opportunity for questions, so come prepared to ask the experts about the issues that keep you up at night.
One post can’t possibly contain all the events and opportunities of Disrupt. Don’t miss the epic Startup Battlefield competition, hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley expo area, special breakout sessions — like the Pitch Deck Teardown — and so much more.
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
Pinterest’s shares had popped last week when Snap posted its best quarter in four years, as investors were betting Pinterest’s image-based social app would also see a return in advertiser spending. Those expectations now appear to be correct, as Pinterest beat on earnings with second-quarter revenue of $613.2 million and earnings per share of 25 cents, above analysts’ estimates. However, Pinterest’s stock still tanked as the company reported monthly active user growth of just 9% to reach 454 million, when analysts were expecting 482 million.
Ahead of Pinterest’s announcement, Wall St. had forecast revenue of $562.3 million and earnings of $0.133 per share, up from a loss of $0.70 per share from the same quarter last year.
But while Pinterest delivered on financials, the company’s struggles with user growth sent the stock tumbling.
The image pinboard and shopping inspiration site had initially benefitted from increased engagement and user growth during the early days of the pandemic, but both slowed in the first quarter of 2021 due the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, which had then sent the stock down by more than 10% after its first quarter earnings were posted.
Today, the stock was down more than 12% in after-hours trading, shortly after earnings were announced.
Pinterest addressed the issues around user growth upfront on the earnings call, again blaming the COVID pandemic for declines in usage.
“The pandemic was an unprecedented and unique global event,” explained Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann. “In past earnings calls, we talked about how stay-at-home orders significantly increased usage of Pinterest. And for the past year, we’ve highlighted how people came to Pinterest for inspiration to reinvent their lives during such a difficult time,” he continued. “Now, as the world opens up, we’re seeing the similar effect in the opposite direction that impacted our growth — particularly because some of the core use cases we see on our platform are less common in 2021 than they were a year ago. That shifting behavior in Q2 impacts engagement,” Silbermann said.
The company also noted that, as of July 27, 2021, its monthly active users in the U.S. had declined by approximately 7%, while global monthly active users gained approximately 5% year over year.
Pinterest said its web users tend to be less engaged and generate less revenue than those who come from mobile apps. In the second quarter, its monthly active users on mobile apps grew in U.S. and internationally, year over year, by more than 20%.
The company’s issues with user growth and engagement indicate just how critical Pinterest’s plan to cater to the creator industry is the company’s future. Recently, the company launched video-first Idea pins that allow creators to showcase their crafts, recipes, fashion, beauty tutorials, projects or anything else. This week, Pinterest introduced new features that will now allow creators to make money from those pins.
Despite user growth issues, the return of ad spending led to year-over-year revenue growth of 78% in the first quarter, and the company predicted it would see even higher 105% year-over-year revenue growth in Q2. Today, it reported 125% revenue growth — above with the 116% Snap reported in its record second quarter — a figure Pinterest attributed to advertisers’ return.
But once the U.S. consumer investing and trading app began to allow investors to trade its shares, they went down sharply, off more than 10% in the first hours of its life as a floating stock. Robinhood recovered some in later trading, but closed the day worth $34.82 per share, off 8.37%, per Yahoo Finance.
The company sold 55,000,000 shares in its IPO, generating gross proceeds of $2.1 billion, though that figure may rise if its underwriting banks purchase their available options. Regardless, the company is now well-capitalized to chart its future according to its own wishes.
So, why did the stock go down? Given the hungry furor we’ve seen around many big-brand, consumer-facing tech companies in the last year, you might be surprised that Robinhood didn’t close the day up 80%, or something similar. After all, DoorDash and Airbnb had huge debuts.
Thinking out loud, a few things could be at play:
Regardless, in the stonk and meme-stock era, Robinhood’s somewhat downward debut is a bit of a puzzler. More as the company’s stock finds its footing and we dig more deeply into investor sentiment regarding its future performance.
We have more coming on the company’s debut, including notes from an interview with the company’s CFO about its IPO coming tomorrow morning on Extra Crunch.
Merqueo, which operates a full-stack, on-demand delivery service in Latin America, has landed $50 million in a Series C round of funding.
IDC Ventures, Digital Bridge and IDB Invest co-led the round, which also included participation from MGM Innova Group, Celtic House Venture Partners, Palm Drive Capital and previous shareholders. The financing brings the Bogota, Colombia-based startup’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception.
Merqueo CEO and co-founder Miguel McAllister knows a thing or two about the delivery space in Latin America, having also co-founded Domicilios.com, a Latin American food delivery company that was bought by Berlin-based Delivery Hero and later merged with Brazil’s iFood.
McAllister describes Merqueo as a “pure-play online supermarket with a fully integrated grocery delivery service” that sources directly from large brands and local suppliers, bypassing intermediaries and “delivering directly from its dark store network.” (Dark stores are traditional retail stores that have been converted to local fulfillment centers.”
Merqueo offers more than 8,000 products, including fresh foods, packaged goods, home essentials, beverages and frozen products. It currently operates in more than 25 cities in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and has over 600,000 users.
Image Credits: Merqueo
It must be doing something right. The startup is close to $100 million in “run-rate revenue,” according to McAllister, having grown more than 2.5x in 2020. Merqueo also reached positive cash flow in Colombia, its most mature market. Over the last year, large Latin American retail chains and retailers have approached the company about potentially acquiring it, McAllister said.
Part of the company’s success might be attributed to the speed and flexibility it offers. Users can choose how and when to receive their groceries according to their needs, with the startup offering delivery in as little as 10 minutes or three to four hours. Users can also schedule delivery of their groceries in two-hour intervals for the same day or the next day.
Also, owning and controlling the “entire” vertical supply chain gives it the ability to obtain better margins, offer competitive pricing and achieve healthy unit economics, according to McAllister.
Merqueo plans to use its new capital in part to expand geographically. The company is currently in phase one of its expansion to Brazil, entering initially in Sao Paulo later this month. Next year, it expects to launch in other Brazilian cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza and Salvador de Bahia.
The market opportunity in Latin America is massive considering that online grocery sales only represent just 1% of the market –– far lower than in the U.S., EU or China, for example. Other players in the increasingly crowded space include GoPuff in the U.S., Getir out of Turkey and Mexico-based Jüsto, which raised $65 million in a Series A led by General Atlantic earlier this year.
“The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online grocery shopping in LatAm,” McAllister told TechCrunch. “The region went from 0.3% share of online groceries to 1%. And after the pandemic, we are seeing a 50% increase in the pace of user adoption.” Overall, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly, with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.
Currently, Merqueo has over 1,300 employees in LatAm, up 60% from last year. It plans to continue hiring with the proceeds from the Series C round as well work “to become the largest and most ambitious dark stores network of Latin America.”
Alejandro Rodríguez, managing partner at IDC Ventures, is naturally bullish on Merqueo’s potential.
“From all the opportunities we looked into, Merqueo is undoubtedly the most advanced in the region. … The Merqueo team has proved they know how to scale the business and how to get to profitability,” Rodríguez told TechCrunch.
Online grocery delivery is a business with many technical and operational complexities, he said. In his view, Merqueo’s technology and operational expertise allow it to tackle those issues in a way that has led to “the best customer experience that we have seen in a scalable way.”
“They have the best combination of both great service metrics and healthy unit economics,” Rodríguez added.
PayPal’s plan to morph itself into a “superapp” has been given a go for launch.
According to PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, speaking to investors during this week’s second-quarter earnings call, the initial version of PayPal’s new consumer digital wallet app is now “code complete” and the company is preparing to slowly ramp up. Over the next several months, PayPal expects to be fully ramped up in the U.S., with new payment services, financial services, commerce and shopping tools arriving every quarter.
The company has spoken for some time about its “superapp” ambitions — a shift in product direction that would make PayPal a U.S.-based version of something like China’s WeChat or Alipay or India’s Paytm. Like those apps, PayPal aims to offer a host of consumer services under one roof, beyond just mobile payments.
In previous quarters, PayPal said these new features may include things like enhanced direct deposit, check cashing, budgeting tools, bill pay, crypto support, subscription management, and buy now, pay later functionality. It also said it would integrate commerce, thanks to the mobile shopping tools acquired by way of its $4 billion Honey acquisition in 2019.
So far, PayPal has continued to run Honey as a standalone application, website and browser extension, but the superapp could incorporate more of its deal-finding functions, price-tracking features and other benefits.
On Wednesday’s earnings call, Schulman revealed the superapp would have a few other features as well, including high-yield savings, early access to direct deposit funds and messaging functionality outside of peer-to-peer payments — meaning you could chat with family and friends directly through the app’s user interface.
PayPal hadn’t announced its plans to include a messaging component until now, but the feature makes sense in terms of how people often combine chat and peer-to-peer payments today. For example, someone may want to make a personal request for the funds instead of just sending an automated request through an app. Or, after receiving payment, a user may want to respond with a “thank you,” or other acknowledgment. Currently, these conversations take place outside of the payment app itself on platforms like iMessage. Now, that could change.
“We think that’s going to drive a lot of engagement on the platform,” said Schulman. “You don’t have to leave the platform to message back and forth.”
With the increased user engagement, the company expects to see a bump in average revenue per active account.
Schulman also hinted at “additional crypto capabilities,” which were not detailed. However, PayPal earlier this month increased the crypto purchase limit from $20,000 to $100,000 for eligible PayPal customers in the U.S., with no annual purchase limit. The company also this year made it possible for consumers to check out at millions of online businesses using their cryptocurrencies, by first converting the crypto to cash then settling with the merchant in U.S. dollars.
Though the app’s code is now complete, Schulman said the plan is to continue to iterate on the product experience, noting that the initial version will not be “the be-all and end-all.” Instead, the app will see steady releases and new functionality on a quarterly basis.
However, he did say that early on, the new features would include the high-yield savings, improved bill pay with a better user experience, and more billers and aggregators, as well as early access to direct deposit, budgeting tools and the new two-way messaging feature.
To integrate all the new features into the superapp, PayPal will undergo a major overhaul of its user interface.
“Obviously, the [user experience] is being redesigned,” Schulman noted. “We’ve got rewards and shopping. We’ve got a whole giving hub around crowdsourcing, giving to charities. And then, obviously, buy now, pay later will be fully integrated into it. … The last time I counted, it was like 25 new capabilities that we’re going to put into the superapp.”
The digital wallet app will also be personalized to the end user, so no two apps are the same. This will be done using both artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to “enhance each customer’s experiences and opportunities,” said Schulman.
PayPal delivered an earnings beat in the second quarter with $6.24 billion in revenue, versus the $6.27 billion Wall Street expected, and earnings per share of $1.15, versus the $1.12 expected. Total payment volume from merchant customers also jumped 40% to $311 billion, while analysts had projected $295.2 billion. But the company’s stock slipped due to a lowered outlook for Q3, impacted by eBay’s transition to its own managed payments service.
In addition, PayPal gained 11.4 million net new active accounts in the quarter, to reach 403 million total active accounts.
Despite their rich engineering talent, Blockchain entrepreneurs in the EU often struggle to find backing due to the dearth of large funds and investment expertise in the space. But a big move takes place at an EU level today, as the European Investment Fund makes a significant investment into a blockchain and digital assets venture fund.
Fabric Ventures, a Luxembourg-based VC billed as backing the “Open Economy” has closed $130 million for its 2021 fund, $30 million of which is coming from the European Investment Fund (EIF). Other backers of the new fund include 33 founders, partners, and executives from Ethereum, (Transfer)Wise, PayPal, Square, Google, PayU, Ledger, Raisin, Ebury, PPRO, NEAR, Felix Capital, LocalGlobe, Earlybird, Accelerator Ventures, Aztec Protocol, Raisin, Aragon, Orchid, MySQL, Verifone, OpenOcean, Claret Capital, and more.
This makes it the first EIF-backed fund mandated to invest in digital assets and blockchain technology.
EIF Chief Executive Alain Godard said: “We are very pleased to be partnering with Fabric Ventures to bring to the European market this fund specializing in Blockchain technologies… This partnership seeks to address the need [in Europe] and unlock financing opportunities for entrepreneurs active in the field of blockchain technologies – a field of particular strategic importance for the EU and our competitiveness on the global stage.”
The subtext here is that the EIF wants some exposure to these new, decentralized platforms, potentially as a bulwark against the centralized platforms coming out of the US and China.
And yes, while the price of Bitcoin has yo-yo’d, there is now $100 billion invested in the decentralized finance sector and $1.5 billion market in the NFT market. This technology is going nowhere.
Fabric hasn’t just come from nowhere, either. Various Fabric Ventures team members have been involved in Orchestream, the Honeycomb Project at Sun Microsystems, Tideway, RPX, Automic, Yoyo Wallet, and Orchid.
Richard Muirhead is Managing Partner, and is joined by partners Max Mersch and Anil Hansjee. Hansjee becomes General Partner after leaving PayPal’s Venture Fund, which he led for EMEA. The team has experience in token design, market infrastructure, and community governance.
The same team started the Firestartr fund in 2012, backing Tray.io, Verse, Railsbank, Wagestream, Bitstamp, and others.
Muirhead said: “It is now well acknowledged that there is a need for a web that is user-owned and, consequently, more human-centric. There are astonishing people crafting this digital fabric for the benefit of all. We are excited to support those people with our latest fund.”
On a call with TechCrunch Muirhead added: “The thing to note here is that there’s a recognition at European Commission level, that this area is one of geopolitical significance for the EU bloc. On the one hand, you have the ‘wild west’ approach of North America, and, arguably, on the other is the surveillance state of the Chinese Communist Party.”
He said: “The European Commission, I think, believes that there is a third way for the individual, and to use this new wave of technology for the individual. Also for businesses. So we can have networks and marketplaces of individuals sharing their data for their own benefit, and businesses in supply chains sharing data for their own mutual benefits. So that’s the driving view.”
Facebook posted its second quarter earnings Wednesday, beating expectations with $29 billion in revenue.
The world’s biggest social media company was expected to report $27.8 billion in revenue for the quarter, a 50 percent increase from the same period in 2020. Facebook reported earnings per share of $3.61, which also bested expectations. The company’s revenue was $18.6 billion in the same quarter of last year.
In the first financial period to really reflect a return to quasi-economic normalcy after a very online pandemic year, Facebook met user growth expectations. At the end of March, Facebook boasted 2.85 billion monthly active users across its network of apps. At the end of its second quarter, Facebook reported 2.9 billion monthly active users, roughly what was expected.
The company’s shares opened at $375 on Wednesday morning and were down to $360 in a dip following the earnings report.
In spite of a strong quarter, Facebook is warning of change ahead — namely impacts to its massive ad business, which generated $28.5 billion out of the company’s $29 billion this quarter. The company specifically named privacy-focused updates to Apple’s mobile operating system as a threat to its business.
“We continue to expect increased ad targeting headwinds in 2021 from regulatory and platform changes, notably the recent iOS updates, which we expect to have a greater impact in the third quarter compared to the second quarter,” the company stated its investor report outlook.
On the company’s investor call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed to Facebook’s plans to reduce its reliance on ad revenue, noting the company’s expanded efforts to attract and support content creators and its e-commerce plans in particular. “We want our platforms to be the best place for creators to make a living,” Zuckerberg said, adding that the company plans to monetize creator tools starting in 2023.
Zuckerberg also emphasized Facebook’s grand aspirations for social experiences in VR. “Virtual reality will be a social platform, which is why we’re so focused on building it,” Zuckerberg said.
No matter what Facebook planned to report Wednesday, the company is a financial beast. Bad press and user mistrust in the West haven’t done much to hurt its bottom line and the company’s ad business is looking as dominant as ever. Short of meaningful antitrust reform in the U.S. or a surging competitor, there’s little to stand in Facebook’s way. The former might still be a long shot given partisan gridlock in Congress, even with the White House involved, but Facebook is finally facing a threat from the latter.
For years, it’s been difficult to imagine a social media platform emerging as a proper rival to the company, given Facebook’s market dominance and nasty habit of acquiring competitors or brazenly copying their innovations, but it’s clear that TikTok is turning into just that. YouTube is huge, but the platforms matured in parallel and co-exist, offering complementary experiences.
TikTok hit 700 million monthly active users in July 2020 and surpassed three billions global downloads earlier this month, becoming the only non-Facebook owned app to do so, according to data from Sensor Tower. If the famously addictive short form video app can successfully siphon off some of the long hours that young users spend on Instagram and Facebook’s other platforms and make itself a cozy home for brands in the process, the big blue giant out of Menlo Park might finally have something to lose sleep over.
Walmart’s investments in software and retail technologies it used to transform its business from a brick-and-mortar to one that combines both in-person and online shopping will now be made available to other retailers for the first time, the company announced today. Through a strategic partnership with Adobe, Walmart will integrate access to Walmart’s Marketplace, as well as its various online and in-store fulfillment and pickup technologies, into the Adobe Commerce Platform.
The technologies will be made available to both Adobe Commerce and Magento Open Source customers, Adobe says.
The deal will allow Walmart to potentially reach thousands of small to mid-sized retailers, who will effectively be able to tap into the same tools that one of the largest global retailers is using to run their business.
Through the partnership, Adobe retail customers will be able to do things like show store pickup eligibility and available pickup times online; offer multiple pickup options like curbside and in-store pickup; provide their store associates with mobile tools to pick for orders, validate item selections and handle substitutions; and use tools to communicate with customers about their pickup orders, like those where customers can alert store associates of their ETA or arrival for curbside pickup.
Another aspect of the partnership will allow retailers to syndicate and sell their products across Walmart’s Marketplace.
The arrangement not only aims to benefit Walmart’s bottom line as it offers new revenue streams related to retail technologies, it could also serve as another tool in Walmart’s battle with Amazon for online retail dominance.
Retail businesses will use the Adobe Commerce platform to reach an expanded set of customers by listing products on Walmart’s Marketplace and then leverage Walmart’s Fulfillment Services to offer two-day shopping across the U.S.
And this, in turn, could boost the number of available products sold on Walmart’s Marketplace, which is still largely dwarfed by Amazon.
Walmart’s Marketplace had grown to an estimated 70,000 sellers in 2020, fueled by a surge in online shopping triggered by the pandemic, according to third-party estimates. This was a more than doubling over 2019. Today, the marketplace is topping 100,000 sellers, per Marketplace Pulse data. Amazon’s Marketplace, on the other hand, counts an estimated 6.3 million total sellers worldwide, 1.5 million of which are currently active, per estimates.
Part of Walmart’s problem in scaling its marketplace business could be related to its ease-of-use on the seller side. Many smaller sellers have reported that Walmart’s Marketplace is far more difficult to use than Amazon’s, and they’ve complained about waiting months to hear back from Walmart about whether they were approved to sell on the platform.
Adobe’s partnership could help to address some of those challenges.
Adobe also notes it’s working to consolidate its other channel solutions into a single, unified extension that would allow its retail customers to sell across multiple sales channels — including Amazon’s — using one, integrated tool for easy account setup and catalog syndication.
This is the first time Walmart has made its retail technologies available to other businesses, the company said. And it has yet to forecast what sort of revenue the new partnership could bring in. But it’s a path that Amazon has also been pursuing in recent years to maximize the return on investment from its novel, retail innovations, like its A.I. and computer vision-powered Just Walk Out system that lets customers skip the checkout line.
“The core mission of helping people save money and live better is at the heart of every idea including Scan & Go and checkout technologies, AI-powered smart substitutions and pickup and delivery,” said Suresh Kumar, chief technology officer and chief development officer of Walmart Inc., in a statement. “Combining Adobe’s strength in powering commerce experiences with our unmatched omni-customer expertise, we can accelerate other companies’ digital transformations,” he said.
Adobe’s retail customers in the U.S. will be able to integrate Walmart’s technologies in their own storefronts starting in early 2022, the companies said. Pricing and other details will be provided closer to launch.
While today’s announcement concerns channel partner Adobe, who will help to resell the technologies, Walmart also has a GoToMarket team that will target retailers directly.
What’s big enough, bold enough and influential enough to inspire more than 10,000 people around the world to carve out three days from their intensely busy schedules? If you said TechCrunch Disrupt 2021, the grand matriarch of startup tech conferences, well friend, you’d be right on the money.
And speaking of money, you have just 48 hours left to score the early-bird price on TC Disrupt Innovator, Founder and Investor passes. Buy any of these passes and attend all three days of Disrupt for less than $100. Here’s the catch: The early bird price expires on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).
Don’t miss the dynamic 1:1 interviews and panel discussions on the Disrupt Stage. We’ve tapped high-profile speakers — all leading voices in their fields — to download their insight, trends and sage advice. You’ll hear U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg discuss some of the major challenges of moving people and packages around the block and across the globe.
Houseplant COO, Haneen Davies will join company co-founders Michael Mohr and Seth Rogen — who, it seems, has a somewhat successful side hustle as a Hollywood writer, director and actor — for a lively CBD: Cannabis Business Discussion.
Head on over to the Extra Crunch Stage where you’ll find strategic insight across a range of essential startup skills. Think fundraising, product iteration, tech stack development and growth marketing.
Here’s a quick peek at just some of what’s going down Extra Crunchy.
How to Cultivate a Community for your Company that Actually Lasts: The word of the year in startup-land is “community.” In this panel, Community Fund’s Lolita Taub, Commsor’s Alex Angel and Seven Seven Six’s Katelin Holloway will extract buzz from reality and help founders understand the growing importance of chief community officers in startup culture and, ultimately, financial success today.
The Path for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs: Founding a startup comes with a wide array of challenges but, unfortunately, underrepresented founders face an extra layer of bias, both conscious and unconscious. We’ll talk with Hana Mohan (MagicBell), Leslie Feinzaig (Female Founders Alliance) and Stephen Bailey (ExecOnline) about their journeys, as founders, through fundraising and scaling — and as advocates who can offer tactical insights and advice.
We’re just warming up, folks. You’ll hear from execs, founders and CEOs from companies like Twitter, Calendly, Mirror, Evil Geniuses, Andreessen Horowitz and plenty more. Check out the Disrupt 2021 agenda. We’ll add even more speakers, events and ticket discounts in the coming weeks. Register for updates so you don’t miss out.
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Continuing our global look into the torrid pace of venture capital investment in the second quarter, today we turn to Canada. While many markets have posted impressive results, like the United States setting the pace for new all-time records in dollars invested into startups, Canada’s numbers stand out.
The country, now famous in the startup world for giving birth to Shopify, has already crushed prior yearly records for venture investment thus far in 2021. Indeed, CB Insights data indicates that Canadian startups this year have already raised more than double their 2020 totals.
The same data set indicates that Canada’s venture capital results now rival those of the entire Latin American region, with exits and mega-deals coming in roughly on par in the second quarter, and a similar number of total venture capital rounds in the period.
That caught our attention.
The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.
The Exchange reached out to a number of venture capitalists to expand our perspective on the Canadian market beyond the data points. Matt Cohen, a Toronto-based investor at Ripple Ventures, told The Exchange that “Canada is in a venture explosion” today, leading to results that are “unprecedented” for the country.
Taking the data and investor notes in aggregate, Canada’s startup industry seems to be benefiting from both domestic and international trends, a wide genre focus and more than one hub. Let’s talk aboot it.
In the first half of 2021, Canadian startups raised $6.3 billion across 414 deals, per CB Insights data. Both numbers compare favorably to Canada’s 2020 results, when 617 deals led to $2.9 billion in total capital raised by Canadian startups. Canada has already bested its previous record in venture dollars invested ($4.3 billion, 2019), and is on pace to beat its all-time deal count as well (720, 2018).
By itself, the second quarter’s outsize results are even more extreme than its H1 2021 results might have led you to expect, amazingly. Observe the following chart from the same data set:
Image Credits: CB Insights
Canadian startups just had their single best quarter ever in both deal volume and dollar volume terms. Furthermore, the country boosted capital raised by nearly 10x from its local minimum in Q4 2020.
Notably, no Canadian startup deal in the quarter was worth more than $500 million; indeed, Trulioo’s $394 million Series D was the largest. From there the list includes $300 million for ApplyBoard’s Series D and Vena’s $242 million Series C. We read that list of results as indicative of an investing landscape in Canada that is not dominated by a handful of companies raising billion-dollar rounds. That’s good news, mind you: The data implies that the Canadian startup market is not being bolstered by one or two standout companies, but rather performing well more generally.