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TikTok Made Them Famous. Figuring Out What’s Next Is Tough.

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Before Charli D’Amelio became the most popular creator on TikTok — she currently has 132 million followers — she danced on the competitive contemporary-dance circuit in the Northeast, the sorts of theatrical styles you might know from “So You Think You Can Dance?” Once she began posting to TikTok in 2019, and especially after her videos began taking off and her family moved to Los Angeles to support the viral dreams of her and her older sister, Dixie (56 million followers), that sort of dance became an afterthought, a relic of an old life.

The D’Amelios made a leap from the phone screen to the small screen this year with the Hulu docuseries “The D’Amelio Show,” which captures, in sometimes excruciating detail, the thrills and the wages of TikTok success. Its most curious subplot is about Charli’s side quest to return, at least temporarily, to her precapitalist self, squeezing in time to work with a coach to relearn what those old dances require of her body, and pushing herself to remaster them.

For Charli, TikTok stardom is a rocket ship, and potentially a ceiling, too. The past year or so has been a kind of testing ground for what the app’s biggest creators — the D’Amelio sisters, Noah Beck (32 million followers), Chase Hudson (32 million followers), Addison Rae (86 million followers) and others — might do next, either voluntarily and enthusiastically, or simply to satisfy the insatiable maw of demand that their sheer existence occasions.

It’s been a mixed bag, a chaotic blend of behind-the-scenes vulnerability, eager-to-please willingness, bro impudence and performed resistance. Navigating the chasm between the instinctual charisma that fuels the app and the long(er) form seriousness and vision that might make for a stable, sustainable career in entertainment has been playing out across reality television, pop music, film, books, other social media platforms — and even TikTok itself.

What’s become clear is that the skill set that led to big-tent triumph on the app in 2019 and 2020 is, by and large, sized to the medium. Given more room to breathe in other formats, most of TikTok’s superstars are still figuring out how to create beyond the phone.

Throughout many of these projects, what you sense is the offscreen number-crunchers hoping to hang potential franchises on the heads and necks of these young people, who are less fully formed creative thinkers than fan-aggregation platforms in desperate need of content.

“Noah Beck Tries Things,” which appears on AwesomenessTV’s YouTube channel, is the ne plus ultra of this phenomenon — an entire series, two seasons deep, wholly devoted to figuring out what to do with this uncooked meal of a man.

Beck, 20, is a deeply affable former soccer player who, of all of the current crop of TikTok crossover stars, appears most baffled about how to amplify it. “Noah Beck Tries Things” is a slapdash trifle of consequence-free content production. It simply winds Beck up, places him in unlikely scenarios — cooking a steak, dancing the tango, recording a dis track — and watches him gulp for air. In one episode, when someone shows him how to do a handstand on a hoverboard, his awe is genuine — not the practiced “gosh!” of someone used to being filmed for reactions, but more like the off-the-cuff “derp” of someone who understands he has landed somewhere near the deep end and has no idea how to swim.

On his show, he’s mostly hapless, apart from the occasional athletic task. But what’s emerging as his calling card is his almost raging commitment to goodnaturedness. The only times Beck’s brow ever genuinely furrows are in scenes in the D’Amelios’ Hulu show when Dixie, his girlfriend — she refers to him as a “golden retriever,” a familiar TikTok good-boy archetype — can’t quite muster the optics of a reciprocative relationship. In those moments, he looks frazzled, as if an Apple IIc is being updated with this year’s operating system.

Beck is genial and gentle — in short bursts on the app, he’s a palliative. But he never seems truly hungry. In stark contrast to that approach stands Addison Rae, or rather, revs Addison Rae. Of this generation of TikTok stars, she is the most intentional, the most iron-willed, the most determined. Off camera, she has been loosely adopted into the Kourtney Kardashian orbit. Her parents have been game TikTokers. (The D’Amelios play along, too, but much less so.) Even when Rae, 21, was focused more intently on her social media presentation — she’s now often comically late to trends on the app — she always appeared to have her eyes somewhere beyond the phone.

Unsurprisingly, Rae’s star turn in “He’s All That,” the updating of the 1999 teen rom-com “She’s All That” (itself an update of “Pygmalion”/“My Fair Lady”) is the most vivid post-TikTok performance of the year. That’s because Rae understands viral stardom not just as a job, but as an archetype.

Like “The D’Amelio Show,” “He’s All That” is a metacommentary about the falsity of viral fame, albeit fictionalized. Rae plays Padgett (pronounced, more or less, “pageant”), a social media influencer falsifying her bona fides. After a fall from grace, she sets about remaking a surly outcast classmate (who wears a G.G. Allin T-shirt) as her new hottie. High jinks ensue, followed by love.

Beauty and popularity are inventions, and have been long before TikTok came along. “He’s All That” plays those constructions for chuckles and awws. And the end of the film savvily mimics the turn away from polished inaccessibility toward Emma Chamberlain-type relatability. Padgett returns to social media, but posting more naturalistic photos, taken by her new paramour: She found herself an Instagram boyfriend after all.

“He’s All That” still valorizes and reinforces Big Algorithm, even converting the punk skeptic. But some of the young men who thrived on the app in 2020 decided to pivot in the opposite direction: refusenik. Most notably, this has been the direction taken by two stars trying to transition into music careers — Chase Hudson, 19, who records music as Lilhuddy, and Jaden Hossler, 20, who records music as jxdn.

Unlike Rae, who this year released a peppy club pop single, “Obsessed,” a perfectly textureless workout anthem, Hudson and Hossler (nine million followers) swerved hard into dissident territory, embracing pop-punk and, in places, the grittier textures that emerged from SoundCloud in the late 2010s. They’re heavily tattooed, wear haute mall-goth clothing and paint their fingernails — their pushback against TikTok’s centrism is highly aestheticized (as opposed to, say, Bryce Hall, he of the Covid-era partying, drug arrest and boxing match, whose post-TikTok direction seems inspired by Jake Paul).

For creators determined to make it clear they are not bound by TikTok’s cutesy videos and algorithm, it is a purposeful choice. Hossler’s debut album, “Tell Me About Tomorrow,” traverses anxiety and addiction. He has a reedy voice, and when he’s singing self-lacerating lines like “I don’t like taking pills, but I took ’em anyway,” he still sounds like an accessible teddy bear, albeit one whose stuffing is coming undone.

By contrast, Hudson comes off as if he’s spoiling for a fight on his debut album, “Teenage Heartbreak.” He’s a sneerer: “I’m not sorry that I crashed your party.” In “Downfalls High,” the surprisingly puckish long-form music video-film that accompanies Machine Gun Kelly’s latest album “Tickets to My Downfall,” Hudson plays Fenix, a ghoulish loner with punk charisma — basically, the kind of guy Padgett tries to clean up in “He’s All That.” When his girlfriend, who is popular and rich and slumming it, asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, he replies sullenly but not terribly convincingly, “Dead.” It all feels like one long elaborate Halloween performance. (Hudson is also one of several TikTokers featured in the long-simmering reality show “Hype House,” which will have its premiere on Netflix next month.)

Hudson’s and Hossler’s albums kill two urges with one groan: the need for these TikTokers to find a viable path forward in music, and the music industry’s need to amplify and reinforce the still-emergent revival of pop-punk, the music of white rebellion most readily available to new arrivals with little history or experience.

Given the apparent craving for safe spaces, it’s notable how, on both “The D’Amelio Show” and in “He’s All That,” nonwhite characters are deployed as foils who are far more knowing and worldly than the white protagonists. Deliberately or not, they serve as reminders that the world beyond the app is far more diverse and complex. “Noah Beck Tries Things” undertakes a version of this as well with queer collaborators, striking given that one of the most frequent critiques of Beck during his rise has been of queerbaiting. (That said, the show’s first episode, where Beck learned how to apply makeup from James Charles, appears to have disappeared from the internet.)

It’s tough to know how purposeful these indictments about privilege are — they generally serve the narratives of the shows while reifying their stars, who are presented as being open to personal growth.

“The D’Amelio Show,” however, often comes off as quietly ruthless toward its stars, whether in its array of more-experienced secondary characters, its lingering on the excruciating challenges of growing up in public on the internet, or even in the fish-out-of-water talking head shots juxtaposing the relentlessly normal family members against their relentlessly grand Southern California mansion.

Ultimately, “The D’Amelio Show” is about the toxicity of viral fame and also about child labor. (Charli is 17 now, and was 15 and 16 when the show was taping. Dixie is 20.) It is presented as a moral victory, near the end of the season, when after a period of deep decompression by Charli, it is determined that she will only work three days a week, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On TikTok, though, life itself is labor. You feel that burden perhaps most acutely in how Dixie navigates the fame that has arrived at her feet in the wake of Charli’s breakthrough. Dixie is older, a little more cynical and a lot less comfortable. For her next step, she chooses music, and the show captures, with discomfiting intimacy, just how challenging that decision is, artistically and emotionally. Her voice is rough, her confidence is low and she is besieged by online naysayers. (The persistent Greek chorus of negative online comments, represented on the show in on-screen pop-up graphics, is both effective and perverse.) Her worldview is encapsulated in the opening lines of her first single, “Be Happy”: “Sometimes I don’t want to be happy/Don’t hold it against me/If I’m down just leave me there, let me be sad.”

Perhaps this heartbreaking transparency will be the ultimate legacy of this era of TikTok crossover. It’s there in Charli’s book “Essentially Charli: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping It Real,” which came out in late 2020, which juxtaposes workbook-esque pages about friendship and style with confessions about anxiety and therapy. (An even more involved discussion of this fundamental viral-stardom tension is in “Backstory: My Life So Far,” the memoir of the TikTok superstar Avani Gregg, 19, a close friend of Charli’s (38 million followers). Gregg’s book is striking for its matter-of fact-conversations about self-doubt and mental health.)

Charli’s anxiety is a recurrent topic on “The D’Amelio Show,” which can often feel like crisis footage: Charli having a panic attack in the car when she spies paparazzi waiting for her, or Dixie breaking down after being bullied online.

But Charli’s most revealing content may well be in the form of her secondary TikTok account, @user4350486101671, which she began in April, during a trip to Las Vegas for, of all things, a Jake Paul boxing match. It has a mere 15 million followers, and Charli treats it far more casually. The videos are in general looser than those on her main account, with a broader range of emotions, from exuberance to exasperation. The dancing is a little smoother, a little less performed.

Sometimes the gap between the two accounts is as vast as the one between burden and freedom, and sometimes it’s just enough for her to zestily lean into lip-syncing a curse word that might not fly on her main account. She might owe the most commodified version of herself to TikTok, but here she’s trying on different selves, and in nearly every video, her smile is broad and relaxed. She looks like someone fully at home.

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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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