💳 Visa is slowly embracing crypto


April 1, 2021

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The big idea
credit card

Visa is the latest legacy finance player to embrace crypto

In October 2018, Visa Inc. CEO Aflred Kelly told CNBC’s Jim Cramer that cryptocurrencies are not a big threat but “if we have to go there, we will go there.”

At the time, Visa was a $300B+ company and the combined market cap of all cryptocurrencies was $200B+. Today, things are looking different:

  • Visa = $450B+
  • Crypto (primarily Bitcoin/Ethereum) = $1.8T+

Well, earlier this week… Visa went there. Per Reuters, the payments giant will roll out a pilot program with crypto platform Crypto.com.

How it works

Crypto.com already offers its users a Visa card. However, any payments used by the cryptocurrency card have to be converted to fiat, which adds costs and complexities for merchants.

Here’s the new process:

  • A Crypto.com Visa card purchase is made
  • Instead of converting to fiat, Visa will settle the transaction using Crypto.com’s USDC stablecoin, which is pegged to the US dollar (to limit volatility)
  • It will all be done on the Ethereum blockchain

This should reduce the friction in using crypto for payments

Ethereum has its own fee — called gas costs — to operate on the blockchain.

According to Protocol, a single transaction could rack up a fee of $10 to $20. Visa’s solution: to bundle payments as it does on its existing network to reduce costs and increase speed.

Such an improved process will go a long way to mainstreaming crypto for everyday payments.

The cryptocurrency momentum is undeniable

As Bitcoin continues to rise, other big finance names are jumping aboard the crypto train. Among the moves:

  • PayPal will offer a checkout service that turns crypto assets into fiat to pay for goods across 29m merchants on its network
  • Fidelity plans to launch a bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF)
  • Goldman Sachs is on the verge of offering bitcoin and crypto services to its wealth management clients

JPMorgan Chase, BNY Mellon, BlackRock, and Mastercard are all making their own moves in tandem.

It’s safe to expect more finance players to “go there” in the very near future.

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Snippets
  • Music distributor UnitedMasters raised $50m from Apple and Alphabet. Founded by an industry vet, the startup does 2 things atypical of record companies: 1) It gives artists full access to data; 2) It lets artists retain masters of their works.
  • Walgreens saw profits rise as the pharma chain has administered 8m+ vaccines in its stores. (We wrote about how pharmacies planned to capitalize on vaccine-related foot traffic here).
  • Fit for an IPO? At-home workout startup Tonal raised $250m at a $1.6B valuation. Its 2020 revenue was up 8x and the company is eyeing an IPO.
  • Charge me up: A big part of the Biden administration’s proposed $2T+ infrastructure bill is EV charging stations. It has plans to install 500k+ new units by 2030.
  • Seems like a good idea: Startup Ensemble raised $3m to help divorcees co-parent their children. How? With an expense tracking tool.
  • WFH or hybrid? Not at Amazon. The company released details of its plan to return to an “office-centric culture.”
Check the link
phone

Popular ‘link-in-bio’ company now has $45m ash-in-bank

Spend any time on Instagram and you’ll probably hear the phrase, “link in bio.” Turns out that the little link is big business.

Last week, Linktree, the Aussie startup behind bio links for influencers like Selena Gomez and Gary Vee, closed a $45m Series B round of funding just 5 months after raising $10.7m in the previous round.

These days, “link in bio” startups like Linktree, Linkin.bio, and Beacons are having their moment in the ring light.

What’s so special about the bio link?

“Link in bio” services give social media users an easy way to gather links outside of social apps. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram are notoriously stingy with coveted off-site links, allowing most users a single URL located in… their bio.

The services function like a pseudo website for influencers and brands where they can host affiliate links, newsletter signups, and even sell products.

In this link-land, Linktree is the top dog

Founded in 2016, Linktree was one of the first “link in bio” providers and now the most popular with 12m+ users and 88% of market share.

About 1/3 of those users signed up in the last 3 months, driven by the pandemic-related surge in ecommerce and social media binging, per Linktree.

The company plans to use the cash to grow its headcount and open “creator hubs” across the globe to double as Linktree offices.

More in Linktree’s bio

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AI Making Money Moves
bots

OpenAI is open for business

Last year, San Francisco-based AI lab OpenAI released GPT-3, its latest attempt at a program that writes like humans.

To do this, the program is trained using 175B parameters. For context, all of the English Wikipedia is estimated to make up just 0.6% of the training data.

Now, OpenAI is looking to bring in the dough

The lab was founded as a nonprofit in 2015, but created a for-profit offshoot in 2019 to help drive funding, including a $1B investment from Microsoft.

Now, just 9 months after GPT-3’s launch, 10s of thousands of developers are building on the platform and the API is generating ~4.5B words per day.

Already, >300 apps are using GPT-3 for everything from productivity apps to games:

  • Viable is using it to help companies summarize customer feedback
  • Fable Studio is creating GPT-3-powered interactive video game characters
  • Algolia offers customers GPT-3-driven semantic search capabilities

But there are hurdles ahead

GPT-3 itself isn’t always the sharpest tool in the shed. In one instance, a GPT-3-powered medical chatbot encouraged suicide.

Some worry that OpenAI’s leaders quietly envision a world in which they run every non-AI company out of business. On the surface, that doesn’t entirely align with the group’s mission to benefit “all of humanity.”

However, the group’s CEO has said AI can soon generate enough wealth to pay every adult in the US $13.5k annually. That doesn’t sound too bad.

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Leak of the day

Amazon’s project Veritas (AKA creating a clapback army) (Source: The Intercept)

A leaked Amazon PDF from 2018 is roiling the Twitter-sphere. Unearthed by The Intercept, the document outlines Amazon’s attempt at creating a “Twitter army” of warehouse employees to clap back at critics on social media about working conditions.

The project was code-named “Veritas” (Latin for “truth”) and set out parameters to recruit Fulfillment Center Ambassadors (FCAs).

Some highlights from the doc:

  • 3 tenets of the program were: 1) “Tell your truth”; 2) “Preserve customer trust”; and 3) “Respect”
  • Ideal candidates had a “great sense of humor,” a willingness to speak their minds, and personal social accounts (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Reddit)
  • The program’s operating principle was to be “polite but blunt” about warehouse workplace conditions
  • It was recommended that Twitter profiles add the an emoji (like this box one, 📦) to “show personality”
  • Candidates were screened by responding to sample tweets critical of Amazon or Jeff Bezos

Interesting times we’re living in.

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