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How A Guy Who Tells You How To Buy A PS5 Accidentally Became The World’s Most Powerful Tech Journalist

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Gabby Jones for BuzzFeed News

Matt Swider at his home office in New York City on Sept. 30, 2021.

It’s not unusual for Matt Swider to gain 10,000 Twitter followers in a single day. So it’s natural that Swider, the US editor-in-chief of TechRadar, a popular gadget site, doesn’t review them all. But this past May, one new blue-checked follower stood out: the journalist Ronan Farrow, arguably the most famous investigative reporter in America. Over the past year, Swider has become something of a celebrity himself — to the point that, depending on how you think about these things, he might wield more power than any other tech journalist in the country. Had he risen to such a level that he had become a target? He didn’t know what he could have done. A little alarmed, Swider messaged Farrow to introduce himself.

“Like many gamers, I am watching HotStock for a PS5,” Farrow responded, referring to the popular real-time product tracker. “If there’s anything else I should be doing, I welcome pointers!”

When it comes to finding a PlayStation 5, pointers are Swider’s thing. Sony released its latest gaming console in November 2020, and it’s been nearly impossible to get ever since. The global supply chain can’t move enough microchips to meet the demand of a locked-down world running out of ways to amuse itself indoors. As a result, the consoles — along with the new Xbox Series X and certain computer graphics cards — have become objects of intense desire. For this desperate group of consumers, Matt Swider is the most reliable guide for the trek to the top of Mt. Bandicoot.

When Swider tweets, his followers — nearly a million on Twitter — act. Don’t try telling them it’s just a game. In many cases, they claim their happiness, their relationships with their children, and even their livelihoods depend on buying the consoles. As a result, Swider has the power to conjure thousands of people into digital and physical crowds around the nation, night and day, simply with his reporting. Can anyone else in journalism do that?

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned some unlikely figures into celebrities: science and health reporters, epidemiologists, the TurboVax guy, certain wild-eyed former New York Times journalists with outré opinions about COVID vaccines. But perhaps none is as improbable as Swider, a journeyman consumer tech reporter who had just 8,000 Twitter followers in January 2020. TechRadar, his employer for the past eight years, is a nice place to find, say, a hands-on review of a Samsung tablet, a careful story regarding the superiority of updates in Windows 11 relative to Windows 10, or a roundup of bizarre devices that support Amazon’s Alexa. It is not traditionally a breeding ground of media stars.

Yet Matt Swider, with his unassuming manner and unpolished presentation, has become just that: a star. On the one hand, the circumstances behind his fame are as complex as the flow of world trade. On the other, Swider is doing the oldest job in journalism: figuring out what people want to know and telling them as clearly and accurately as possible.

Just as important, he’s doing it all the time. From his one-bedroom apartment on the East Side of Manhattan, behind a six-monitor setup, Swider has pioneered a form of always-on, participatory multiplatform service journalism — though he does most of his work on Twitter. He sets an alarm many nights for 3 a.m. Eastern (12 a.m. Pacific Time, when Amazon restocks the PS5), misses the occasional shower, and cuts short the occasional date. And he responds to DMs around the clock, mostly from ordinary people but occasionally from someone like Farrow, or actor Chris Williams (perhaps best known as Krazee-Eyez Killa on Curb Your Enthusiasm), or singer Darren Hayes, one half of the heartthrob ’90s pop duo Savage Garden.

Still, as you might expect from Swider, who founded his first video game news site at the age of 14, the long hours are not exactly a hardship.

“This is my game,” he told me recently, in the slight Philadelphia accent he retains from his childhood in Bucks County. “This is what I enjoy.”

To understand the service Swider renders and the loyalty of his audience, it’s necessary to understand what it’s like out there for the poor souls trying to buy a PlayStation 5. Brick-and-mortar stores almost never have them in stock. Online retailers, like Best Buy, GameStop, and Amazon, release limited batches of the system at quasi-regular intervals. These “restocks” are digital feeding frenzies. Untold thousands of shoppers frantically refresh their shopping carts, competing against a silent network of so-called scalper bots, programs that continuously scan hundreds of websites and purchase the consoles as soon as they become available. Sustained, acute demand has created an entire secondary economy of resales and scams. On eBay and StockX, consoles go for twice the price. Meanwhile, on every imaginable social platform, fraudsters try to coax digital payments from naïve buyers — they’ll send you the PS5 after they have your money, of course.


Gabby Jones for BuzzFeed News


According to Michael Pachter, the longtime game industry analyst at Wedbush Securities, these exorbitant resale prices reflect the greatest imbalance between supply and demand in a console release cycle since the notorious launch of Nintendo’s original Wii system in 2006. That was before the maturation of modern social media, and before online shopping had become the essentially frictionless consumer experience it is today.

Among those who can’t find a console and refuse to pay a premium, an online subculture has sprung up, creating a novel identity: the heartsick gamer. It is marked at some times by an esprit de corps and at others by a nearly existential sense of longing. In places like Reddit’s r/PS5restock, people share simple, free browser extensions that send text or email alerts when the systems are restocked and try to even the odds with the bots. Others wistfully congratulate those who have lucked into escape from consumer purgatory, or speculate darkly about packages that go out for delivery but never arrive. (These are not communities where FedEx is trusted.)

One of the few trusted people in this world is Swider. Like everyone else in the audience he serves, he began as an aspiring PS5 owner. In February, frustrated that Sony’s website produced an error message when he tried to input the details of his American Express card to buy the console, Swider tweeted about it. The next day, when Sony opened the queue back up to customers, he tweeted about that too. People responded to thank him for the heads up and to say they had gotten a PS5. More followed. In fact, Swider noticed that every time he tweeted about a retailer with new stock, he would gain more followers. Ten in a day, then 100, then 1,000, then 5,000. One day, he got 23,000 new followers. And all he was doing was monitoring retailers through bots and then telling his audience as soon as he knew when and where the systems were in stock. Over time, he started to notice patterns: which retailers restocked on which days, which retailers included games with a PS5 (these more expensive bundles tend to last longer), which subscriptions entitled people to enter special private queues.

As Swider’s audience grew, he began to hear from people he had helped find game consoles who worked in and for big box stores — everyone from warehouse workers to marketing managers. Suddenly, he had a network distributed throughout the country tipping him off to a pallet of PS5s in Michigan or an updated inventory count in California. Perhaps unfairly, Swider’s corner of the journalism world is known more for collecting lanyards than cultivating sources. And yet at one point, Swider said, he had ears inside Amazon, the most secretive of retailers. (The source ultimately went quiet after what Swider thinks was a talking-to from corporate security.)

For Swider, the source network was a virtuous cycle: The more people he helped find PS5s, the more people helped him find PS5s for others. Pretty soon, anyone in America who had an internet connection, a Twitter account, and a desire to buy a ninth-generation game console followed him. (That includes, well, me. Disclosure: I did not ask Matt Swider for help finding a PlayStation 5, though it was tempting.) He doesn’t know how many people set alerts for his tweets, but he knows that every time he posts a restock link, 100,000 people click on it. Today, his phone is full of pictures of gamers holding up their new toys, grinning and relieved, like people who just finished a Tough Mudder.

“It’s gratifying to see people being gratified,” Swider said.


Gabby Jones for BuzzFeed News

Swider takes a selfie in front of a GameStop in New York City.

There are other restock accounts on Twitter, but none are as obsessive as Swider about calling out scams. Swider estimates that he gets 2,000 to 3,000 DMs a day, most of which he answers, most frequently with a single word: “Scam.” The second and third lines of Swider’s Twitter biography read, “ALL Twitter resellers=scams. I’ll never SELL u a console.” Swider’s reputation for trustworthiness has made his name itself a resource for scammers, who impersonate him with fake accounts. Others have tried different tactics. Recently, Swider received a phone call. “Is this Matt Swider?” the voice on the other line asked. “I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill your entire family,” he said. The caller wanted Swider to unblock him on Twitter so he could target the thousands of people who clamor for advice in Swider’s mentions. Swider refused, and changed his voicemail message to a false name.

Every viral media career fades, but almost no viral media career comes with as obvious an endpoint as Matt Swider’s: the moment when supply meets demand. Sony estimates that will happen sometime in 2022. Swider hasn’t made a killing off of his fame: He got a raise at work, and that’s about it. There are affiliate links in some of the deals he posts, but that money goes to Future Plc, the British company that owns TechRadar. Meanwhile, he’s still writing for the site and driving enormous amounts of traffic when he tweets links to its stories, including a piece on the best way to get a PS5 that he updates daily.

“They call it the Matt Signal,” he said, of the traffic boost from his Twitter.

When I met Swider at a coffee shop in Union Square after a rare recent in-store restock at Best Buy, he didn’t seem to have any overly ambitious plans for leveraging his audience or his personal brand. He has a YouTube channel, where he mostly posts about how to find a PS5. He has a newsletter. He was thinking about doing trivia on Instagram. It seemed unusual to me that someone with such a huge and devoted audience wouldn’t be doing something, anything, everything, to scratch and claw to keep himself in the light. Instead, he was obsessing about Black Friday, which had the potential to be the biggest day of his career. He really wanted to get it right.

“There’s going to be so many deals going on all at once that I’m really going to have to lean on my sources,” he said.

When I arrived at the Best Buy a few hours earlier, Swider had been standing under the big orange countdown clock representing the time left until climate change becomes irreversible. He had a tripod out and was taking photos of the 130-person line that he had helped materialize the previous night by sending a tweet. There were people dozing in camping chairs, and others having a breakfast joint. Swider pulled out his phone to show me similar lines around the country.


Gabby Jones for BuzzFeed News

Eventually, the doors opened and the line started moving. Swider pointed out which people there were going to mark up the consoles and resell them online — he recognized them from other restock events. Someone asked him which game to start with; he advised them to try Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Other customers came out and took smiling photographs with Swider.

“Thank you so much, man,” a tall teenager with long, thin brown hair said to him. A PlayStation clearly meant a lot to him. “This is all because of you.”

Meanwhile, four months later, Ronan Farrow still didn’t have a PS5. Last month, he DM’d Swider to tell him that he kept getting bounced from Sony’s digital line, even after waiting for several hours. That puts him squarely in the category of people Swider calls “lovable losers”: people who follow his advice and just have bad luck. (As you might imagine, Swider’s inbox is full of sob stories, some of which are plausible.) And Farrow had come so tantalizingly close. In an email, Farrow told me that his partner, the Pod Save America host Jon Lovett, had given away a console to a friend, thinking Farrow — Ronan Farrow! — would be able to find another one easily enough.

“That’s not up to me,” he recalled saying to Lovett. “That’s up to a global supply chain in crisis.” ●

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Rivian shares down more than 17% following report of Ford sell-off – TechCrunch

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Rivian’s stock price fell more than 17% Monday, a drop prompted by a CNBC report that Ford was selling 8 million shares of the EV automaker.

Ford held a 12% stake, or about 102 million shares, of Rivian.

Over the weekend, David Faber of CNBC reported that Ford would sell 8 million of its Rivian shares through Goldman Sachs. Faber followed up on Monday, describing the sale as “done.” The sell-off came as an insider lockup for the stock expired Sunday.

TechCrunch will update the article if Ford responds to a request for comment.

The news has further accelerated the decline of Rivian’s share price since its IPO last year. Rivian debuted as a publicly traded company in November with an opening share price of $106.75, a price that made it one of the largest IPOs in U.S. history and put its market cap above GM as well as Ford. (At the time, GM’s market cap was $86.31 billion; Ford’s was $78.2 billion.)

Rivian’s share price reached as high as $179.47 a week later, before coming back down to earth. Rivian shares have fallen more than 75% since its public market opener.

That freefall has also affected its largest shareholders, Ford and Amazon. Last month, Ford reported it lost $3.1 billion in GAAP terms in Q1, largely due to a write-off of the value of its stake in Rivian. 

Amazon reported a $7.6 billion loss on its investment in Rivian.

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Why Twitter’s top lawyer has come under fire from Elon Musk

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Vijaya Gadde came reluctantly to the decision that cemented her reputation on the right as Twitter’s “chief censor.” For years, the company’s top lawyer had resisted calls to boot then-President Donald Trump from his favorite social media platform.

Even after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, Gadde explained during an emotional virtual company town hall on Jan. 8 that Trump hadn’t broken enough of Twitter’s rules against glorification of violence to merit a permanent ban of his account.

Three hours later, after her team produced evidence that Trump’s latest tweets had sparked calls to violence on other sites, Gadde relented, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. She reached then-CEO Jack Dorsey in French Polynesia, and they agreed to lower the boom.

Elon Musk wants ‘free speech’ on Twitter. But for whom?

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account,” the company announced in a blog post, “… we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

The ban on Trump, which continues to this day, is the most prominent example of the deeply polarizing decisions that have led conservatives to accuse Twitter of political censorship. As billionaire Elon Musk, a self-declared free-speech absolutist, seeks to acquire the social network, these decisions — and Gadde herself — are coming under fresh scrutiny.

Critics have derided her as Twitter’s “top censorship advocate,” a barb amplified by Musk, who tweeted a meme with a photo of Gadde that cast her as an icon of “Twitter’s left wing bias.” Musk’s legions of followers have tweeted calls for her firing, some of them racist. (Gadde, 47, is Indian American.)

Twitter colleagues describe Gadde’s work as difficult but necessary and unmotivated by political ideology. Defenders say her team, known as the trust and safety organization, has worked painstakingly to rein in coronavirus misinformation, bullying and other harmful speech on the site, moves that necessarily limit some forms of expression. They have also disproportionately affected right-leaning accounts.

But Gadde also has tried to balance the desire to protect users with the values of a company built on the principle of radical free speech, they say. She pioneered strategies for flagging harmful content without removing it, adopting warning labels and “interstitials,” which cover up tweets that break Twitter’s rules and give people control over what content they see — strategies copied by Twitter’s much larger rival, Facebook.

Many researchers and experts in online harassment say Gadde’s policies have made Twitter safer for its roughly 229 million daily users and say they fear Musk will dismantle them if the sale goes through.

“If Musk takes things in the direction he has been signaling — which is a rather simplistic view that more or less anything goes in the name of free speech — we will certainly see the platform go back to square one,” said Rebekah Tromble, director of the Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics at George Washington University.

Twitter workers face a reality they’ve long feared: Elon Musk as owner

Whatever happens to her policies, Gadde signaled at a staff meeting late last month that her days at Twitter may be numbered, telling employees that she would work to protect their jobs as long as she is around, according to a person who attended the meeting.

She did not respond to requests for comment. Twitter declined to comment. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

This story is based on interviews with 10 current and former Twitter employees, as well as others familiar with decisions made by Gadde and her team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private company discussions.

“I do believe very strongly — and our rules are based on this framework — that free expression is a fundamental right, that everyone has a voice and they should be able to use it,” said Gadde in a 2019 interview with The Washington Post. There is a line between doing that and committing what we call abuse or harassment, and crossing over into a place where you’re preventing someone else from using their voice.”

Gadde is a previous donor to Kamala Harris and other Democrats, and in 2017 she helped lead Twitter’s $1.59 million donation to the ACLU to fight Trump’s executive order banning immigration from majority Muslim countries.

Among employees, Gadde is known for taking a legalistic yet pragmatic approach to content moderation. As with Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection, she often has argued against limiting speech and has rejected colleagues who wanted to take a stronger approach to removing content, moving to do so only after careful consideration.

For years, she has been the animating force pushing Twitter to champion free expression abroad. In India and Turkey, for example, her team has resisted demands to remove content critical of repressive governments. In 2014, Gadde made Twitter the only Silicon Valley company to sue the U.S. government over gag orders on what tech companies could say publicly about federal requests for user data related to national security. (Five other companies settled.)

Elon Musk boosts criticism of Twitter executives, prompting online attacks

“She wasn’t a censorship warrior or a free expression warrior,” said a former colleague familiar with Gadde’s approach. “She is pragmatic, but not doctrinaire.”

A dedication to free speech has been part of Twitter’s DNA since its founding in San Francisco 16 years ago. Early executives were such believers that they famously referred to Twitter as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” That approach made Twitter ripe for abuse in its early days, and the platform developed a reputation as unsafe — particularly for high-profile women, who endured threats of rape and other sexist attacks.

Back then, Twitter’s attitude was, “we don’t touch speech,” said University of Virginia law professor Danielle Citron, an expert on online harassment. In 2009, Citron prepared a three-page, single-spaced memo for the Twitter C-suite, explaining the legal definition of criminal harassment, true threats and stalking.

Gadde joined Twitter’s legal team two years later, leaving her post at the Silicon Valley firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati. People who worked with her said her move was inspired by the Arab Spring uprising, when pro-democracy activists used Twitter and other social platforms to organize protests across the Middle East. The Arab Spring solidified the belief among Twitter’s leaders that their job was to protect speech, not police it.

Twitter was soon engulfed in scandal, however. In 2014, online trolls launched a brutal campaign against women in the video game industry. The attacks — which came to be known as “GamerGate” — were carried out on multiple tech platforms. But they were most visible on Twitter, where women received highly graphic threats of violence, some including the woman’s address or an exact time of attack.

The incident was a wake-up call for the company, said software engineer Brianna Wu, one of the women targeted in GamerGate, who worked with Twitter to improve the site.

In an op-ed published in The Post, Gadde wrote that she was “seriously troubled by the plight of some of our users who are completely overwhelmed by those who are trying to silence healthy discourse in the name of free expression.”

Elon Musk wants a free speech utopia. Technologists clap back.

By then, Gadde had been promoted to general counsel, overseeing all legal and trust and safety matters facing the company.

In response to GamerGate, Twitter streamlined the company’s complicated nine-step process for reporting abuse and tripled the number of people on its trust and safety team, as well as other teams that protect users, according to the op-ed and other reports at the time.

But the moves to clamp down on harassment soon stirred fresh controversy. Internal emails obtained by BuzzFeed in 2017 showed Gadde and other executives engaged in messy, seemingly ad hoc deliberations over whether to shut down the accounts of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and right-wing flamethrower Chuck C. Johnson, who had tweeted that he was raising money in the hopes of “taking out” a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Johnson, who says his comment was part of a “journalistic project,” has complained that Twitter never offered a clear reason for the ban. He sued the company over it and lost. He has since abandoned his alliance with Trump and declared his support for President Biden, he said, leading to attacks online. Because his Twitter account is still suspended, Johnson argues he is unable to defend himself.

About the same time, Twitter was confronted with another conundrum: the candidacy of Trump, who made Twitter central to his 2016 presidential campaign. With nearly 90 million followers at his peak, Trump routinely lobbed tweets at political opponents, journalists and even private citizens, triggering waves of online harassment.

After Trump’s election, Gadde and Dorsey convened a “free speech roundtable” at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, where top Twitter executives heard from Citron, former New York Times editor Bill Keller and Tom Goldstein, former dean of the graduate journalism school at University of California at Berkeley. During the meeting, which has not been previously reported, Citron expressed concerns about online harassment, especially directed at journalists.

Gadde “understood how speech could silence speech,” Citron recalled, “and could be incredibly damaging to people’s lives.”

Goldstein declined to comment on the meeting. Keller said the group discussed how new standards could bring order to the “wild west” of social media.

Elon Musk acquires Twitter for roughly $44 billion

Internally, some employees faulted Gadde for ineffectiveness, as rules were unevenly applied across the massive platform. Three former workers said her trust and safety unit did not coordinate well with other teams that also policed the site.

Even as the company took action to limit hate speech and harassment, Gadde resisted calls to police mere misinformation and falsehoods — including by the new president.

“As much as we and many of the individuals might have deeply held beliefs about what is true and what is factual and what’s appropriate, we felt that we should not as a company be in the position of verifying truth,” Gadde said on a 2018 Slate podcast, responding to a question about right-wing media host Alex Jones, who had promoted the falsehood on his show, Infowars, that the Sandy Hook school shooting was staged.

A year later, nearly every other major platform banned Jones. Twitter initially declined to do so, saying Jones hadn’t broken any of its rules. Within a month, however, Gadde reversed course, banishing Jones for “abusive behavior.” In a 2019 appearance on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, Gadde explained that Jones had earned “three strikes” by posting videos that did violate Twitter’s rules, including one she deemed an incitement to violence against the news media.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment. At the time, he called Infowars “a rallying cry for free speech in America,” adding that he was “very honored to be under attack.”

Gadde and her team later escalated the company’s efforts to fight disinformation — along with spam and fake accounts — after news broke that Twitter, Facebook and other platforms had been exploited by Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign. The company began removing a million accounts a day in a broad effort to crack down on abuse.

In a move described as signature Gadde, Twitter also launched an initiative called “Healthy Conversations” that sought feedback from hundreds of experts about how to foster more civil dialogue. That effort led to updated hate speech policies that banned “dehumanizing speech” — such as racial slurs and negative stereotypes based on religion, caste or sexual orientation — because it could have the effect of “normalizing serious violence,” according to a company blog post.

In subsequent years, Dorsey became increasingly absent and would effectively outsource a growing number of decisions to Gadde, including those around content moderation, three of the people said.

Gadde also was key to a 2019 decision to ban political advertising on the platform, according to four people familiar with the decision, arguing that politicians should reach broad audiences on the merits of their statements rather than by paying for them. Other companies copied the move, enacting temporary pauses during the 2020 election.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, at the company’s monthly town halls, Twitter employees regularly called on Gadde to ban Trump, accusing him of bullying and promoting misinformation. Gadde argued that the public had a right to hear what public figures such as Trump have to say — especially when they say horrible things, the people said.

How Twitter decided to ban Trump

Meanwhile, Gadde and her team were quietly working with engineers to develop a warning label to cover up tweets — even from world leaders such as Trump — if they broke the company’s rules. Users would see the tweet only if they chose to click on it. They saw it as a middle ground between banning accounts and removing content and leaving it up.

In May 2020, as Trump’s reelection campaign got underway, Twitter decided to slap a fact-checking label on a Trump tweet that falsely claimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent — the first action by a technology company to punish Trump for spreading misinformation. Days later, the company acted again, covering up a Trump tweet about protests over the death of George Floyd that warned “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” More such actions followed.

Later that year, Gadde was involved in a decision that drew widespread criticism. In October 2020, the New York Post published an exclusive story based on material found on a laptop allegedly belonging to Biden’s son Hunter. Gadde and other trust and safety executives suspected the story was based on material obtained through hacking and therefore violated the company’s rules against publishing such material.

Anxious to avoid a repeat of Russia leaking hacked material during the 2016 election,Twitter executives took the unusual step of temporarily locking the newspaper’s Twitter account and blocking Twitter users from sharing a link to the story.

Even within liberal Twitter, the decision was controversial, two of the people said. It was not entirely clear the materials had been hacked, nor that the New York Post had participated in any hacking. A Post investigation later confirmed that thousands of emails taken from the laptop were authentic.

Amid mounting outrage among conservatives, Gadde conferred with Dorsey and announced an 11th-hour change to the hacked-materials policy: The company would remove only content posted by the hackers themselves or others acting in concert with them. It also would label more questionable tweets.

Dorsey later tweeted that the decision to block mention of the New York Post story was a mistake. Recently, Musk tweeted that “suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.”

Here’s how The Post analyzed Hunter Biden’s laptop

Now employees are worried that Musk will undo much of the trust and safety team’s work. Many people silenced by policies adopted under Gadde are clamoring for Musk to avenge them. Johnson, for example, said he has appealed via text to Jared Birchall, head of Musk’s family office, asking when his account might be restored.

Birchall did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Though Johnson does not plan to tweet, he said, he wants his account back on principle. According to text messages first reported by the Wall Street Journal and subsequently viewed by The Post, Birchall replied: “Hopefully soon.”

Birchall also shed light on one of the biggest questions looming over the Musk takeover: Will Musk undo Gadde’s decision to ban Trump? At a recent TED conference, Musk said he supports temporary bans over permanent ones.

Musk “vehemently disagrees with censoring,” Birchall texted to Johnson. “Especially for a sitting president. Insane.”

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Gradient Ventures backs Mentum’s goal to democratize investment services in LatAm – TechCrunch

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Investment in stocks or retirement accounts can seem like a complicated process if you are not sure where to begin.

Mentum is out to change that in Latin America, and is working on customizable investment APIs and widgets so businesses in Latin America can build and offer fully digital investment products, like local mutual funds, ETFs and stocks, to their customers. The products are also compliant with local regulations.

Co-founder and CEO Gustavo Trigos started the San Francisco-based company in 2021 with Simon Avila and Daniel Osvath. The trio, who participated in Y Combinator’s summer 2021 cohort, come from a mixture of backgrounds in payments, technology, APIs and investment services.

All of them came to the U.S. from Latin America to study and work, and in the course of using some of the investment apps offered in the U.S., they struggled to find similar products in Latin America that provided a way to fully invest. And, in Latin America, just 2% of the population in each country have access to investment products, and that’s mainly because they are high-net-worth individuals, Trigos said.

He noted in talking to folks at Chile-based Fintual, which is operating in the retail investing space, why there was not more competition, and what they discussed was a huge gap in the infrastructure and understanding the regulations in each country.

“You have to start from scratch in each country,” Trigos told TechCrunch. “We saw no one was building it, so we did.”

Mentum is not alone in working to provide an easier way for Latin Americans to learn about investing and try it out. In the past year or so, some significant venture capital dollars have been infused into companies, like Vest, Flink and Grupo Bursátil Mexicano, that have also developed investment products as a way to boost financial inclusion within the region.

Trigos considers Mentum a technology company operating in the fintech space versus a fintech company. It started in Colombia and acts as a middle layer, developing technology that companies can build on top of.

One of the early approaches the company took was to reach out to 10 of the top broker-dealers in each country to understand the regulations and build relationships to get the greenlight to do business. While Trigos called that process “burdensome,” once Mentum did that, it was able to more easily repeat the process in Chile and now is eyeing Peru and Argentina for expansion.

Initially, Mentum targeted fintech companies because they already knew how to work with APIs, but then demand started coming in from traditional banks and even supermarkets, insurance companies, credit unions and super apps that deliver food.

Mentum’s widgets. Image Credits: Mentum

Having so many different kinds of companies eager to offer investment products is a big reason why the company wanted to make its products easier to use, Trigos said.

“We analyzed hundreds of apps to see what the general experience should look like, then we created widgets that do require some code, but we also have a desktop simulator in beta that will require no code to set up the experience,” he added.

Mentum’s products are still in beta, but plans to launch them this year were accelerated by $4.2 million in funding, led by Google’s Gradient Ventures, with participation from Global Founders Capital, Soma Capital Y Combinator and co-founders of Plaid and Jeeves.

Trigos intends to use the new capital to increase its headcount from the seven employees it has now, including setting up its founding team. One of his goals for the year is to grow in Colombia and Chile by integrating five clients in each country. The company will work on product development and features that will enhance the experience, like more payments and adding DeFi and crypto.

Mentum already has two strategic partnerships with broker-dealers and is currently in the integration process with two of its fellow YC-backed fintech companies in Colombia and another 25 companies interested in launching its products.

“The financial services industry is undergoing a massive transformation in Latin America. APIs have created new opportunities for the way we bank,” said Wen-Wen Lam, partner at Gradient Ventures, in a written statement. “With its innovative technology, Mentum has opened up a wide range of possibilities for Latin America fintech apps. We’re excited to back Gus and his team as they usher in the next generation of banking.”

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