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.
Bound in sky blue cloth and marked with the number 5, the manuscript had lain dormant in a private collection for almost half a century. Between its covers is a doomed vision that the legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky had described as “the coming of a God”: his plans to turn Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic, Dune, into one of the most ambitious films ever made.
To execute his vision, Jodorowsky assembled a phalanx of celebrated artists, visual effects experts, illustrators, and designers. Pink Floyd agreed to do the music. Salvador Dalí would play the emperor of the universe (for a fee of $100,000 per minute of screentime). Orson Welles was to play the evil Baron Harkonnen. Even Mick Jagger signed on.
To sell the idea to Hollywood studios, Jodorowsky’s producers printed 20 luxurious volumes detailing the screenplay, illustrations, and designs in what he referred to as a “director’s bible.”
The studios passed, and Jodorowsky’s film was never made. (Dune, the novel, has since been adapted twice — a 1984 version directed by David Lynch and the first part of Denis Villeneuve’s two-part adaption, which was released this year.) Over time, the bibles, which attained almost religious status among reverential scholars and sci-fi obsessives, vanished from the public eye. Until this November, when number 5 came up for auction at Christie’s. Appraisers thought it would sell for about $40,000.
They were wrong.
The winning bid was $2.9 million, placed by Soban Saqib, a 25-year-old cryptocurrency nerd, NFT collector, and freshly minted millionaire from Woodland, California.
“This is pretty much my entire liquid net worth,” said Saqib, who goes by “Soby,” soon after the auction. “But I fronted the $3 million knowing that the community has my back.”
The community in question is TheSpiceDAO, a network of Dune-loving cryptocurrency enthusiasts — most of whom have never met each other in person — who hatched the plan to liberate the sacred volume from private ownership and make it available, in some form or another, to all the obsessives who have long dreamt of flipping through its pages.
“It’s almost like a jailbreak kind of situation,” Saqib said. One idea is to make an animated film inspired by the volume. Another is to hold frequent IRL viewings where enthusiasts can see it for themselves.
A 25-year-old staking $3 million on the promise that his internet friends will somehow pay him back may sound terrifying, but a day after the auction, Saqib seemed sanguine.
“I want to fulfill an unattained dream,” he said, explaining that he had been captivated by Dune when he first read it and was blown away by a 2013 documentary that detailed Jorodowsky’s ecstatic embrace of the project and the agony of his rejection.
A week later, TheSpiceDAO asked its members for $6 million — $3.8 million, after taxes and legal fees, to buy Jodorowsky’s bible, and another $2.2 million to make an animated film inspired by his vision. By the next day, the donations from thousands of friends, well-wishers, and perfect strangers totaled $12 million.
“I woke up this morning and my jaw dropped,” Saqib texted over WhatsApp. “I told you the community had my back!!!!”
A Decentralized Autonomous Organization, or DAO, is often described as an internet community with a bank account. TheSpiceDAO (initially called DuneDAO) came together two days before the Christie’s auction when one of Saqib’s friends realized the bible was on sale. They set up what amounts to a cryptocurrency version of a GoFundMe. Anyone who contributed funds became a member and got voting rights to decide how to proceed.
DAOs have been around since at least 2016. The first one — called The DAO – got hacked, but this has been a wild year for this new type of financial collective.
The 10 biggest DAOs currently hold almost $20 billion worth of cryptocurrency in their treasuries. In October this year, PleasrDAO revealed itself as the winner of a $4 million auction to buy an unreleased Wu-Tang Clan album. In November, 17,000 people organized themselves as ConstitutionDAO and raised $47 million in a week in an impressive but ultimately unsuccessful bid to buy a rare copy of the US Constitution.
A big reason for all this financial flexing is the dizzying appreciation in value of digital art such as NFTs and cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether. Many holders of these currencies are suddenly dollar millionaires looking for investment opportunities for their newfound wealth.
In August this year, for instance, Saqib sold an NFT that looks a lot like LA Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He sold it to Odell Beckham Jr. himself for $2.7 million worth of the cryptocurrency ether.
The NFT was a CryptoPunk, meaning it was one of a set of 10,000 unique digital characters that have become valuable collectors’ items. Saqib sold Beckham Jr. the 3,365th character in the series. Digital files can be endlessly replicated, so each CryptoPunk comes with its own nonfungible token, or NFT — a digital certificate of authenticity that contains the web address and ownership information of the “original” copy.
Cryptocurrency has been on a red-hot run this year. For example, the 888 ether that Beckham Jr. paid Saqib for his CryptoPunk was worth $2.7 million when it was transacted just back in August. It’s now worth almost $4.2 million.
“Most early crypto people aren’t elite investors,” said Charlie/Charlotte Fang, an artist and a member of Remilia, an avant net art collective whose members are also founder members of TheSpiceDAO. “They are just gamers and programmers who got into crypto because they were close to the technology.” As a result, cryptocurrency’s new millionaires often think of their wealth, and how they spend it, very differently than bankers and hedge fund managers do. This impulse seems to have informed TheSpiceDAO’s decision to purchase the Dune bible.
The plot of Dune, a sprawling series of six novels, follows the fate of many factions of an interplanetary civilization as they battle for control of a desert planet called Arrakis — the source of a mysterious substance called the spice, or melange. If there is one throughline to be found across all the sequels and prequels, it is the power of collective uprisings against the old noble houses grown decadent with ill-gotten wealth.
Much of the internet learned of Jodorowsky’s manuscript through a 2013 documentary called Jodorowsky’s Dune, which features long, hypnotic sequences of illustrations from the bible while the surrealist director speaks of his project in messianic overtones. The fact that Hollywood executives found Jodorowsky’s adaptation too far out for their tastes has only contributed to its aura.
“Because the film was not made, but because all this creation happened, it became more powerful and it got a life unto itself and it permeated the world and many aspects of our culture in an inexplicable way,” Frank Pavich, the director of the documentary, said this week.
Jodorowsky and his collaborators created a visual language that influenced a generation of Hollywood movies — most visibly, Ridley Scott’s Alien, which was written by Dan O’Bannon and designed by H.R. Giger, both Jodorowsky collaborators.
In the documentary, the Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn describes a late-night dinner in Paris at which Jodorowsky pulled out his copy of the Dune bible and talked him through every scene.
“In a way I’m the only guy who ever saw Jodorowsky’s Dune,” Refn says. “I am the only spectator who has seen the movie and I’m going to tell you something — it’s awesome!”
BuzzFeed News reached out to Jodorowsky through his social media accounts, his literary agent, and his family, but did not receive a response.
“Jodorowsky’s bible, this manuscript, it had gone from one private collector to another,” Fang said. “It had never seen the light of day. The only people to see it were Hollywood insiders, but the public has never seen it. It is a very strong, crypto-minded sensibility — decentralization, underdog story — to liberate it.”
Saqib’s path to liberate Jodorowsky’s bible began when he was a brown Muslim kid getting bullied in post-9/11 America. “I was the one who spent my time doing puzzles and reading books in recess while the other kids played,” he said. The Dune books draw much of their symbolism and world-building from Islamic and Middle Eastern cultures, something that Saqib said he identified with when he first read them.
Saqib and his parents lived in Woodland, a suburb of Sacramento, where his father worked minimum-wage jobs in everything from fast food to construction. The family had painstakingly put together a tire business by the mid-2000s only to see it flounder in the 2008 recession.
“Just when things were picking up, bankers decided to ruin the global economy,” he said. He was 12 years old at the time. In the long years of wage deflation that followed, Saqib found himself thinking deeply about “the system.” When he was 17, he wrote a change.org petition titled “Reforming fiat currency and the call for regulation of the Federal Reserve” addressed to Congress and the White House, and immersed himself in the world of online gaming, where many early cryptocurrency enthusiasts hung out. He bounced around California’s college system before dropping out, then did stints at emerging cryptocurrency businesses and investment companies, sometimes asking for payment in ether.
“In February 2017, ether was like 12 bucks to the dollar,” Saqib said. “I liquidated to send $1,200 to my parents. That would be worth over $400,000 today.”
Ether really started picking up toward the end of 2019 and has been on a rip ever since. Ether breached the $1,000 benchmark in January this year and stood at about $4,300 at the time this article was published. In March this year, Saqib cofounded a Bay Area gaming startup called Ex Populus. But Saqib’s dad still drove a truck at construction sites around Sacramento.
“Dude, I don’t even own a house, I rent. I need to buy a house for my parents,” Saqib said in a rare moment of what sounded like doubt. He hadn’t yet told his parents that he had splashed out $3 million at a Christie’s auction.
“I think I’ll tell my dad,” he said. “My mom — I don’t know if my mom will understand.”
A week after this initial conversation, Saqib texted to say he had finally convinced his father to retire.
Now that they have won the bid, Saqib and his associates must make good on their promise to bring the bible to the people and prove that their fundraising approach was not just a gimmick.
As things stand, Saqib still owns Jodorowsky’s bible but is in the process of transferring ownership to the DAO. Meanwhile, the copyrights for the bible’s contents are held by multiple artists and their estates. Jodorowsky is now 92 years old; Jean Giraud, or Moebius, the legendary French illustrator who did all the storyboards, died in 2012; H.R. Giger, who designed the creepy home planet of the House of Harkonnen, died two years later.
“We can’t just scan it and put it on the internet,” Fang said. But by raising the money as a DAO, Fang said they hoped to show the various estates and stakeholders that there is a massive online interest in making the bible more accessible to the public.
TheSpiceDao appears to have won over at least one influential skeptic. Last week, Pavich, the director of the Jodorowsky documentary, met Saqib while recording a podcast.
“I went in there skeptical, like who is this guy who spent all this money on this book?” Pavich recalled. “Is he a hedge fund manager or something horrible?” But he said he was struck by Saqib’s youth, his humble roots, and his personal journey and has agreed to try to put him in touch with Jodorowsky himself.
“To be 25 years old and to have figured out whatever he has figured out with this cryptocurrency and he’s not out buying Ferraris and, you know, being a moron,” Pavich said. “My impression of him is that he was coming from a very pure place.”
For Saqib, Dune’s parable of the power of collective world-changing, decentralized action sounds a lot like the new promise of cryptocurrency and blockchain.
“Dude,” Saqib said, “imagine if a generation of kids had grown up on Jodorowsky’s Dune instead of fucking Star Wars.” ●
Rivian shares down more than 17% following report of Ford sell-off – TechCrunch
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.
Why Twitter’s top lawyer has come under fire from Elon Musk
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.
“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.
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.)
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Gradient Ventures backs Mentum’s goal to democratize investment services in LatAm – TechCrunch
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.
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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