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.
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All eyes were on Miami this weekend for the city’s inaugural Formula One Grand Prix. The European racing event has attracted American fans in droves, thanks to the “Netflix effect” of “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” — the franchise that’s spurred some of the most captivating rivalries in modern streaming and just been renewed for seasons 5 and 6. TechCrunch reporter Jaclyn Trop is there and she looked around for tech that showed up on track. Here’s what got her attention.
We kicked off “Mobility month” with a TechCrunch Live event focused on building a better mobility fintech startup featuring Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Caribou CEO Kevin Bennett. (Click the link to watch the session) This coming week, Waabi founder and CEO Raquel Urtasun and Khosla Ventures partner Sven Strohband will join us to talk about raising monster rounds.
TechCrunch Live records weekly on Wednesday at 11:30 am PT / 2:30 pm ET. Click here to register for free and gain access to Waabi’s pitch deck, enter the pitch practice session and access the livestream where you can ask the speakers questions.
A reminder that the agenda is out for TC Sessions: Mobility 2022. VW CEO Herbert Diess will be our sole online interview, which will air May 20. The in-person event is scheduled for May 18 and May 19 in San Mateo, Calif. I hope to see you there. TC Sessions: Mobility will feature the founders from AV and lidar companies Aurora, Luminar, Nuro and Zoox, cybersecurity experts and infamous car hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valesek, Veo founder and CEO Candice Xie and Ralph Gilles, who heads design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles under Stellantis.
Here’s a little offer for y’all.
The first 50 people to buy a discounted $99 General Admission pass to TC Sessions: Mobility will also get a free Disrupt Expo pass. Use promo code “99disruptexpo” at checkout or just click this link to unlock the $99 General Admission pass. P.S. the general admission ticket is normally $295.
One of the main reasons cities loath scooters parked (or fallen over) on sidewalks is the risk they present to the visually impaired. Voi has tried to combat this with computer vision-based pilots in the past. Now, the company has announced a partnership with the Lazarillo app, which helps to improve mobility and accessibility for blind and visually impaired people.
The GPS app works by providing users with real-time voice messages with info about nearby places, the street they’re walking on, upcoming intersections and more. The app will be able to alert users of a Voi scooter parked in their way. At the same time, Lazarillo will give users the ability to report poorly parked scooters directly to Voi.
The service is available in Bristol, Liverpool and Birmingham and should reach more UK cities in the future.
Cities 🤝 Micromobility
Auckland is a city that I can say — as someone with first-hand knowledge — has terrible access to mobility of almost any kind, from inefficient public transport to scarce (and scary) bike lanes. As a result, most people drive everywhere, which, as we all know, contributes massively to climate change.
The city’s 2020 Climate Action Plan called for a 64% cut in transport emissions by 2030, goals that will require serious work in order to reach. This week, Auckland councilors and the board of Auckland Transport sat down to work out how to spend the NZD $306 million that’s been allocated in the Regional Land Transport plan, but are being told that’s not even close to the amount of money needed to make a dent in the city’s climate ambitions. A recent plan is now calling for $2 billion in order to achieve 260 km of cycling connections, spanned over 14 focus areas, by 2030.
Meanwhile in San Diego, the city is proposing more than 20 new rules for e-scooters, including requiring companies to use technology to alert users when they ride into illegal areas and slow them if needed or requiring operators respond to scooter complaints within an hour.
The city is also exploring limiting the number of vendors it allows from seven to between two and four. If approved, that would mean the annual fee for each company could increase to $20,000, up from around $5,100.
The proposed rules are due for a vote in late May and could be implemented as soon as July.
In other news…
Lime quietly killed off its electric moped sharing program in NYC less than a year after it launched. The company said it wants to focus on its e-scooter pilot in the city, but it’s also possible it was having a hard time standing up against its well-established competition, Revel.
Something environmentally friendly has come out of the fume festival otherwise known as Formula One. A champion of the international racing organization, Fernando Alonso, has launched an e-bike during the Miami Grand Prix, and it actually looks amazing. The Kimoa e-bike is made of 3D printed carbon fiber, and it can come completely tailored to a rider’s measurements and riding style.
See you next week!
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
Not every “deal of the week” is an acquisition or a giant funding round. This week, I have to put a spotlight on Rivian and the eye-popping $1.5 billion incentives package it received to build factory in Georgia. For those looking for a deep dive, here is a link that will give you access to all the docs.
For everyone else … a quick download. That sizable $1.5B carrot — the biggest in the state’s history — comes with several commitments from Rivian, including that it will hire 7,500 people who will earn an average annual salary of $56,000 by the end of 2028. Rivian has agreed to continued maintenance of these jobs through 2047. Rivian has to make repayments to the state and joint development authority (JDA) in any year in which it is 80% below its maintenance.
Rivian also agreed to invest $5 billion into the factory project located near Atlanta during that same timeframe.
The incentives package is comprised of a mix of tax credits and other subsidies. State and local incentives total $1.28 billion. Another $198 million is for site and road improvements. The state and the joint development authority are contributing the 1,978 acres of land for the project, which is worth an estimated $83 million.
The state is spending about $26.7 million to provide a rough-graded 500-acre pad for Rivian and $2.77 million on survey, design and permitting for all site development costs. The state and its Department of Transportation will also cover $47 million plus a $4.67 million in contingencies for road work that includes road widening, traffic signals and a new interchange.
Other deals that got my attention …
Apex.AI, a mobility and autonomous applications software developer, said Daimler Truck has made a strategic minority investment in the company.
CH-AUTO Technology Corp., a Chinese EV company, agreed to go public with special purpose acquisition company Mountain Crest Acquisition Corp IV in a deal valued at nearly $1.7 billion, including debt, Reuters reported.
RideTandem, a mobility startup trying to tackle the problem of “transport poverty,” raised $2.16 million in seed funding. The company works with local taxi, minicab and coach companies to provide shared commuter services in areas with poor public transport connectivity.
Shenzhen State Fuel Cell Corporation, a Chinese provider of hydrogen used in fuel cell vehicles, is considering a Nasdaq debut early next year via a SPAC merger that would land it a $1 billion valuation after listing.
Spirit Airlines rejected JetBlue’s $3.6 billion all-cash offer. Spirit plans to stick with a $2.9 billion deal to merge with Frontier Airlines.
Zepto, the instant grocery startup, raised $200 million in a Series D round led by Y Combinator Continuity. The Mumbai-based startup is now valued at $900 million.
Notable news and other tidbits
Howdy, if you’re looking to catch up on earnings, keep scrolling. Earnings got its own section this week.
Aurora Innovation unveiled a fleet management system that it says can be used to help optimize operations for the startup’s trucking and ride-hailing products. The system was revealed alongside its first-quarter earnings.
Embark is partnering up with U.S. Xpress, the truckload carrier that is openly collaborating with a handful of AV companies, to create a playbook for executing the process of having an autonomous truck at a trucking terminal. The partnership will also see Embark help US Xpress identify the best terminals in their national network for autonomous delivery based on volume.
Sensible 4, a Finnish self-driving technology company, completed a 2.5-month autonomous driving pilot in Tampere, Finland, that aimed to see how AVs work with public transportation networks and collect feedback from users.
Volta Trucks revealed its product, services and manufacturing roadmap to bring its electric commercial vehicles into the North American market as part of its Route to Zero Emissions strategy. This includes a plan to launch its Volta Zero Class 7 truck in the U.S. next year.
Electric vehicles and batteries
Arrival said in a securities filing that its electric bus has achieved EU certification and received European Whole Vehicle Type Approval.
The Biden Administration said it will provide $3.1 billion in funding to support the domestic production of advanced batteries that will spur electric vehicle adoption.
Fisker Inc. teased a fully electric luxury GT sports car it plans to add as the third model to its fledgling lineup. The Project Ronin concept, code-named after the 1998 stunt-heavy action-thriller starring Robert De Niro, is a long-range, four-passenger grand tourer with plenty of luggage room, according to the company.
Sila bought a 600,000-square-foot factory in Moses Lake, Washington, where the company will start producing its next-gen battery technology by the second half of 2024. Full production is scheduled to begin in early 2025. The factory will serve existing joint ventures with automakers like BMW and Daimler, as well as other partnerships that Sila has not publicly named.
Stellantis said it will spend $2.8 billion (CAD $3.6 billion) to increase production of electric vehicles at two of its Canadian plants.
VW Group CEO Herbert Diess wrote a post on LinkedIn that gives a little insight into the company’s deal with Qualcomm. One nugget stood out. He wrote: “Important: That doesn’t mean that we stop to work with Intel — the opposite is going to be reality: We want to expand our very successful partnership with Mobileye, are already in talks.”
Apple has hired a longtime Ford executive to provide the iPhone maker with automotive expertise, signaling that its mysterious car project is still alive. Desi Ujkashevic, Ford’s global director of safety engineering, will join the software giant’s efforts to develop a fully electric autonomous car, which has been beset by delays, regulatory issues and executive departures.
Wisk Aero, an advanced air mobility startup, hired Tyler Painter as its CFO. Painter was most recently CFO for electric regional air travel developer Surf Air Mobility. He was also CFO of Fair Financial Corp. and spent ten years as the CFO and COO of Solazyme.
Lyft is bringing back shared rides to San Francisco, San Jose, Denver, Las Vegas and Atlanta this May. Lyft, which abandoned its carpooling service in March 2020 as COVID-19 swept across the U.S., will bring the reduced fare service to other markets throughout the year.
Earnings season is in full swing. Next week, we’ll be watching Aeye, Canoo, Innoviz, Lordstown, Rivian and Workhorse.
Here is a rundown of some mobility companies that reported Q1 earnings.
The AV developer reported an operating loss of $143 million, a slight improvement from the $192 million loss in the same year-ago period. Its net loss this quarter was $77 million, down from $189 million last year.
Its Q1 report included a term you don’t see everyday. It’s called “collaboration revenue” — Aurora took in $42 million — for development work associated with the company’s agreement with Toyota, which will support its planned ride-hailing product. Ultimately, collaboration revenue is not revenue, and as a pre-revenue company, Aurora declined to provide any guidance, allowing the company to finish its call, including Q&A, in about 30 minutes.
Welp. Investors sure didn’t like what they saw. Shares are down more than 33% since the ride-hailing company reported Q1 earnings May 3.
Tl;dr: The company beat revenue expectations but it wasn’t enough to quell concerns over a few other metrics, including a notable decline in per-rider revenue compared to Q4 2021 levels, and a second quarter of sequential declines in active ridership. Lyft’s contribution result — which is essentially its ride-hailing top line minus revenue costs, with certain items added back in — of $502.5 million in Q1 2021 was also smaller than what it recorded in both Q3 and Q4 of 2021.
TC+ editor Alex Wilhelm dug in a little deeper to root out why investors were so uneasy. The market seems to be focused on slightly soft guidance on revenue growth in Q2 2022 as well as the cost of driver incentives.
That labor problem likely won’t go away. So what about Uber? The company also beat revenue expectations and unlike Lyft seems to be in a better position in terms of driver supply.
The EV automaker closed out the quarter with $57.7 million in revenue, driven mainly by customer deliveries of 360 vehicles over the three months ended March 31. That’s up massively from the $313,000 the company pulled in during the same quarter last year. It’s also more than analysts’ expectations of $53.43 million, according to Yahoo Finance estimates.
The company experienced a net loss of $81.3 million during the first quarter, an improvement on the loss of $748 million last year.
The Lucid 10Q provided an update on its legal matters. The company has few lawsuits from investors who largely allege the company made false and misleading statements regarding the expected start of production for the Lucid Air, as well as an SEC probe regarding its SPAC merger with Churchill Capital Corp. IV and Atieva Inc.
The company also announced that it was raising prices of the variants of its luxury Air sedan, beginning June 1. The price hikes push the base price of the Air sedan as much as 13%.
Back in March, it was reported that TuSimple was thinking of selling off its China business. The company has since confirmed this, saying that the company’s stock price today doesn’t reflect the value of the China autonomous freight business during its Q1 2022 earnings call this week. It would therefore be good business to split the Asia-Pacific operations off and seek other pools of capital that would ascribe the proper value to that stock, TuSimple’s executives said.
It might be true that TuSimple, which has stated that it’s a U.S.-focused company, wants to separate itself from its China business due to monetary concerns, but not necessarily for the reasons they say.
Investments in TuSimple by Sun Dream Inc, a Sina affiliate, resulted in a review last year by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). CFIUS concluded that review in February, and as part of the resolution, TuSimple entered into a National Security Agreement (NSA) with the agency, which includes: adopting a technology control plan, appointing a security officer and security director, establishing a government security committee to be chaired by the security director and periodically meeting with and reporting to certain CFIUS monitoring agencies.
The risk factors outlined in TuSimple’s 10Q reveal that the company has already incurred substantial costs adhering to the NSA and expects to continue to incur costs. It also revealed that the company is a bit nervous about the agency’s far-reaching authority into its company.
The tl;dr here is that maybe peeling off TuSimple’s China operations is a smart financial decision, but it’s possible that’s less to do with the market and more to do with the expensive regulatory headaches the company is facing by U.S. agencies for straddling this particularly taut geo-political fence.
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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