Elizabeth Warren for President open-sources its 2020 campaign tech

Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren may have ended her 2020 presidential run, but the tech used to drive her campaign will live on.

Members of her staff announced they would make public the top apps and digital tools developed in Warren’s bid to become the Democratic nominee for president.

“In our work, we leaned heavily on open source technology — and want to contribute back to that community…[by] open-sourcing some of the most important projects of the Elizabeth Warren campaign for anyone to use,” the Warren for President Tech Team said.

In a Medium post, members of the team — including chief technology strategist Mike Conlow and chief technology officer Nikki Sutton — previewed what would be available and why.

“Our hope is that other Democratic candidates and progressive causes will use the ideas and code we developed to run stronger campaigns and help Democrats win,” the post said.

Warren’s tech team listed several of the tools they’ve turned over to the open source universe via GitHub.

One of those tools, Spoke, is a peer to peer texting app, originally developed by MoveOn, which offered the Warren Campaign high volume messaging at a fraction of the costs of other vendor options. The team used it to send four million SMS messages on Super Tuesday alone.

Pollaris is a location lookup tool with an API developed to interface directly with Warren’s official campaign website and quickly direct supporters to their correct polling stations.

One of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign app, Caucus, designed for calculating delegates. (Image: supplied)

Warren’s tech team will also open-source Switchboard (FE and BE) — which recruited and connected volunteers in primary states — and Caucus App, a delegate calculating and reporting tool.

The campaign’s Redhook tool took in web hook data in real time and experienced zero downtime.

“Our intention in open sourcing it is to demonstrate that some problems campaigns face do not require vendor tools and are solved…efficiently with a tiny bit of code,” said the Tech Team.

Elizabeth Warren ended her 2020 presidential bid on March 4 after failing to win a primary. Among her many policy proposals, the Massachusetts senator had proposed breaking up big tech companies, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Her campaign will continue to share the tech tools they used on open source channels.

“We’ll have more to say in the coming weeks on all that we did with technology on our campaign,” the team said.

Twitter opens its ‘Hide Replies’ feature to developers

Last November, Twitter rolled out its Hide Replies feature to all users worldwide. The feature, largely designed to lessen the power of online trolls to disrupt conversations, lets users decide which replies to their tweets are placed behind an extra click. Today, Twitter is making Hide Replies available to its developer community, allowing for the creation of tools that help people hide the replies to their tweets faster and more efficiently, says Twitter.

These sorts of tools will be of particular interest to businesses and brands who maintain a Twitter presence, but whose accounts often get too many replies to tweets to properly manage on an individual basis. With Hide Replies now available as a new API endpoint, developers can create tools that automatically hide disruptive tweets based on factors important to their customers — like tweets that include certain prohibited keywords or those that score high for being toxic, for example.

Ahead of today’s launch, Twitter worked with a small number of developers who are now releasing tools that take advantage of the added functionality.

Jigsaw, an Alphabet-owned company tackling the worst of the web, has integrated Twitter’s new endpoint with its Perspective API, which uses A.I. to score tweets based on their toxicity. The integration will automatically hide replies that exceed a certain toxic threshold (.94), freeing up the time it would otherwise take to comb through replies manually.

A scripting platform for business workflows, reshuffle, has used the endpoint to develop scripts that detect and hide replies based on keywords or even by user.

Dara Oladosu, the creator of the popular app QuotedReplies, also used the endpoint to build a new app called Hide Unwanted Replies. The app today automatically hides replies by keywords or Twitter handles. Soon, it will add support for hiding replies from likely troll or bot accounts — including tweets from user accounts created too recently or from accounts with few followers.

Hide Replies has been one of Twitter’s more controversial launches to date, as it could potentially allow users to silence critics or stifle dissent even when warranted — such as in the case of refuting misinformation or propaganda, for example. Others argue it’s not really helping address online abuse; the abuse still occurs, but in the shadows. One organization even recently leveraged Hidden Replies for a clever online campaign about how domestic violence goes unseen which further illustrates this problem.

Nevertheless, adoption of Hide Replies is growing, with organizations like the CIA even leveraging it on some tweets.

The new Twitter API endpoint for Hide Replies is available today to all developers in a production-ready form, Twitter says, initially through Twitter Developer Labs. This program launched last year to serve as a way for developers to try out Twitter’s latest APIs ahead of their wider release and offer feedback. Participation in Twitter Developer Labs is free, but interested developers have to sign up using an approved developer account. Twitter is also inviting developers building with the new endpoint to collaborate with the company by way of the community forums.

Based on early feedback from the first testers, Twitter says it’s already making a few changes to the endpoint including support to unhide replies via the endpoint, a higher rate limit to support high-volume use cases, and a way to retrieve a list of replies that indicate if they’re hidden or not.

Snap accelerator names its latest cohort

Yellow, the accelerator program launched by Snap in 2018, has selected ten companies to join its latest cohort.

The new batch of startups coming from across the U.S. and international cities like London, Mexico City, Seoul and Vilnius are building professional social networks for black professionals and blue collar workers, fashion labels, educational tools in augmented reality, kids entertainment, and an interactive entertainment production company.

The list of new companies include:

  • Brightly — an Oakland, Calif.-based media company angling to be the conscious consumer’s answer to Refinery29.
  • Charli Cohen — a London-based fashion and lifestyle brand.
  • Hardworkersa Cambridge, Mass.-based professional digital community built for blue-collar workers.
  • Mogul Millennial — this Dallas-based company is a digital media platform for black entrepreneurs and corporate leaders.
  • Nuggetverse — Los Angeles-based Nuggetverse is creating a children’s media business based on its marquee character, Tubby Nugget.
  • SketchAR — this Lithuanian company is developing an AI-based mobile app for teaching drawing using augmented reality.
  • Stipop — a Seoul-based sticker API developer with a library of over 100,000 stickers created by 5,000 artists.
  • TRASH — using this machine learning-based video editing toolkit, users can quickly create and edit high-quality, short-form video. The company is backed by none other than the National Science Foundation and based in Los Angeles.
  • Veam — another Seoul-based social networking company, Veam uses Airdrop as a way to create persistent chats with nearby users as a geolocated social network.
  • Wabisabi Design, Inc. — hailing from Mexico City, this startup makes mini games in augmented reality for brands and advertisers.

The latest cohort from Snap’s Yellow accelerator

Since launching the platform in 2018, startups from the Snap accelerator have gone on to acquisition (like Stop, Breathe, and Think, which was bought by Meredith Corp.) and to raise bigger rounds of funding (like the voiceover video production toolkit, MuzeTV, and the animation studio Toonstar).

Every company in the Yellow portfolio will receive $150,000 mentorship from industry veterans in and out of Snap, creative office space in Los Angeles and commercial support and partnerships — including Snapchat distribution.

“Building from the momentum of our first two Yellow programs, this new class approaches mobile creativity through the diverse lenses of augmented reality, platforms, commerce and media, yet each company has a clear vision to bring their products to life,” said Mike Su, Director of Yellow. “This class shows us that there’s no shortage of innovation at the intersection of creativity and technology, and we’re excited to be part of each company’s journey.”

Apple Card users can now download monthly transactions in a spreadsheet

One of the big questions I got around the time the Apple Card launched was whether you’d be able to download a file of your transactions to either work with manually or import into a piece of expenses management software. The answer, at the time, was no.

Now Apple is announcing that Apple Card users will be able to export monthly transactions to a downloadable spreadsheet that they can use with their personal budgeting apps or sheets.

When I shot out a request for recommendations for a Mint replacement for my financing and budgeting a lot of the responses showed just how spreadsheet oriented many of the tools on the market are. Mint accepts imports, as do others like Clarity Money, YNAB and Lunch Money. As do, of course, personal solutions rolled in Google Sheets or other spreadsheet programs.

The one rec I got the most and which I’m trying out right now, Copilot, does not currently support importing spreadsheets but founder Andres Ugarte told me that it’s on their list to add. Ugarte told me that they’re happy to see the download feature appear because it lets users monitor their finances on their own terms. “Apple Card support has been a top request from our users, so we are very excited to provide a way for them to import their data into Copilot .”

Here’s how to export a spreadsheet of your monthly transactions:

  • Open Wallet
  • Tap ‘Apple Card’
  • Tap ‘Card Balance’
  • Tap on one of the monthly statements
  • Tap on ‘Export Transactions’

If you don’t yet have a monthly statement you won’t see this feature until you do. The last step brings up a standard share sheet letting you email or send the file however you normally would. The current format is CSV but in the near future you’ll get an OFX option as well.

So if you’re using one of the tools (or spreadsheet setups) that would benefit from being able to download a monthly statement of your Apple Card transactions then you’re getting your wish from the Apple Card team today. If you use a tool that requires something more along the lines of API -level access like something using Plaid or another account-linking-centric tool then you’re going to have to wait longer.

No info from Apple on when that will arrive if at all but I know that the team is continuing to launch new features so my guess is that this is coming at some point.

Space Angels’ Chad Anderson on entering a new decade in the ‘entrepreneurial space age’

Space as an investment target is trending upwards in the VC community, but specialist firm Space Angels has been focused on the sector longer than most. The network of angel investors just published its most recent quarterly overview of activity in the space startup industry, revealing that investors put nearly $6 billion in capital into space companies across 2019.

I spoke to Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson about what he’s seen in terms of changes in the industry since Space Angels began publishing this quarterly update in 2017, and about what’s in store for 2020 and beyond as commercial space matures and comes into its own. Informed by data released publicly, SEC filings and investor databases — as well as anonymized and aggregated info from Space Angels’ own due diligence process and portfolio company management — Anderson is among the best-positioned people on either the investment or the operator side to weigh in on the current and future state of the space startup industry.

“2019 was a record year — record number of investments, record number of companies, a record on all these fronts,” Anderson said. “2019 in its own right was a huge year, but then you look at everything that happened over the last decade. We always refer to this last decade as ‘the entrepreneurial space age’ […] and you see everything that’s happened over the last 10 years, you see it all culminating in a record year like this one.”

Visa is acquiring Plaid for $5.3 billion, 2x its final private valuation

Visa announced today that it is buying financial services API startup Plaid for $5.3 billion. 

Plaid develops financial services APIs. It is akin to what Stripe does for payments, but instead of facilitating payments, it helps developers share banking and other financial information more easily. It’s the kind of service that makes sense for a company like Visa.

The startup bought Quovo two years ago to move beyond just banking, and into broader financial services and investments. The idea was to provide a more holistic platform for financial services providers. As the founders wrote in a blog post at the time of the acquisition, “Financial applications have historically used Plaid primarily to interact with checking and savings accounts. In acquiring Quovo, we are extending our capabilities to a wider class of assets.”

The Price

Plaid’s exit price is a triumph for its investors, who put a combined $353.3 million into the company, according to Crunchbase data. Most important among those rounds was a $250 million infusion that came in late 2018. Index and Kleiner led that round, valuing Plaid at $2.65 billion, or 50% of its final sale price (we doubt that that ratio is a coincidence).

At the same time, it was later revealed, Mastercard and Visa also took part in the round, with TechCrunch reporting in 2019 that the two payments giants “quietly participated in the round.” 

Whether those investments were large enough to grand Visa information rights isn’t clear, but certainly the two credit card giants had more insight into what Plaid was doing than they did before their investment. We can presume, then, that Plaid was doing well as a private company; no one pays twice a multi-billion dollar valuation for a firm unless they want to keep it away from their core business, or a key competitor. 

Or perhaps both in the case of Plaid.

The Twilio comparison

Plaid is often compared to Twilio, another API-first company that sits in the background, helping other players do business. Noyo, on the early-stage front, is doing something similar with its healthcare information and insurance APIs. Stripe, as mentioned above, is similar but in the payment space. The model has proved lucrative for Twilio, which has soared as a public company; Plaid’s huge exit will add extra shine to the startup varietal.

However, unlike Twilio, Plaid was bought while still private, depriving us of a good look into its figures. We anticipate that they would show growth in high-margin revenues. That’s something that all companies, public and private, covet.

For Visa, however, there’s likely something more to the deal. Namely it now has a view into scads of high-growth, private companies that are reinventing the world that Visa operates in. Buying Plaid is insurance against disruption for Visa, and also a way to know who to buy. 

But for today, it’s a win for Plaid shareholders (including employees).

Twitter offers more support to researchers — to ‘keep us accountable’

Twitter has kicked off the New Year by taking the wraps off a new hub for academic researchers to more easily access information and support around its APIs — saying the move is in response to feedback from the research community.

The new page — which it’s called ‘Twitter data for academic researchers’ — can be found here.

It includes links to apply for a developer account to access Twitter’s APIs; details of the different APIs offered and links to additional tools for researchers, covering data integration and access; analysis; visualization; and infrastructure and hosting.

“Over the past year, we’ve worked with many of you in the academic research community. We’ve learned about the challenges you face, and how Twitter can better support you in your efforts to advance understanding of the public conversation,” the social network writes, saying it wants to “make it even easier to learn from the public conversation”.

Twitter is also promising “more enhancements and resources” for researchers this year.

It’s likely no accident the platform is putting a fresh lick of paint on its offerings for academics given that 2020 is a key election year in the U.S. — and concerns about the risk of fresh election meddling are riding high.

Tracking conversation flow on Twitter also still means playing a game of ‘bot or not’ — one that has major implications for the health of democracies. And in Europe Twitter is one of a number of platform giants which, in 2018, signed up to a voluntary Code of Practice on disinformation that commits it to addressing fake accounts and online bots, as well as to empowering the research community to monitor online disinformation via “privacy-compliant” access to platform data.

“At Twitter, we value the contributions of academic researchers and see the potential for them to help us better understand our platform, keeping us accountable, while helping us tackle new challenges through discoveries and innovations,” the company writes on the new landing page for researchers while also taking the opportunity to big up the value of its platform — claiming that “if it exists, it’s probably been talked about on Twitter”.

If Twitter lives up to its promises of active engagement with researchers and their needs, it could smartly capitalism on rival Facebook’s parallel missteps in support for academics.

Last year Facebook was accused of ‘transparency-washing’ with its own API for researchers, with a group of sixty academics slamming the ad archive API as as much a hinderance as a help.

Months later Facebook was still being reported to have done little to improve the offering.

Credit startup Migo expands to Brazil on $20M raise and Africa growth

After growing its lending business in West Africa, emerging markets credit startup Migo is expanding to Brazil on a $20 million Series B funding round led by Valor Group Capital.

The San Mateo based company — previously branded Mines.io — provides AI driven products to large firms so those companies can extend credit to underbanked consumers in viable ways.

That generally means making lending services to low-income populations in emerging markets profitable for big corporates, where they previously were not.

Founded in 2013, Migo launched in Nigeria, where the startup now counts fintech unicorn Interswitch and Africa’s largest telecom, MTN, among its clients.

Offering its branded products through partner channels, Migo has originated over 3 million loans to over 1 million customers in Nigeria since 2017, according to company stats.

“The global social inequality challenge is driven by a lack of access to credit. If you look at the middle class in developed countries, it is largely built on access to credit,” Migo founder and CEO Ekechi Nwokah told TechCrunch.

“What we are trying to do is to make prosperity available to all by reinventing the way people access and use credit,” he explained.

Migo does this through its cloud-based, data-driven platform to help banks, companies, and telcos make credit decisions around populations they previously may have bypassed.

These entities integrate Migo’s API into their apps to offer these overlooked market segments digital accounts and lines of credit, Nwokah explained.

“Many people are trying to do this with small micro-loans. That’s the first place you understand risk, but we’re developing into point of sale solutions,” he said.

Migo’s client consumers can access their credit-lines and make payments by entering a merchant phone number on their phone (via USSD) and then clicking on “Pay with Migo”. Migo can also be set up for use with QR codes, according to Nwokah.

He believes structural factors in frontier and emerging markets make it difficult for large institutions to serve people without traditional credit profiles.

“What makes it hard for the banks is its just too expensive,” he said of establishing the infrastructure, technology, and staff to serve these market segments.

Nwokah sees similarities in unbanked and underbanked populations across the world, including Brazil and African countries such as Nigeria.

“Statistically, the number of people without credit in Nigeria is about 90 million people and its about 100 million adults that don’t have access to credit in Brazil. The countries are roughly the same size and the problem is roughly the same,” he said.

On clients in Brazil, Migo has a number of deals in the pipeline — according to Nwokah — and has signed a deal with a big-name partner in the South American country of 290 million, but could not yet disclose which one.

Migo generates revenue through interest and fees on its products. With lead investor Valor Group Capital, new investors Africinvest and Cathay Innovation joined existing backers Velocity Capital and The Rise Fund on the startup’s $20 million Series B.

Increasingly, Africa — with its large share of the world’s unbanked — and Nigeria — home to the continent’s largest economy and population — have become proving grounds for startups looking to create scalable emerging market finance solutions.

Migo could become a pioneer of sorts by shaping a fintech credit product in Africa with application in frontier, emerging, and developed markets.

“We could actually take this to the U.S. We’ve had discussions with several partners about bringing the the technology to the U.S. and Europe,” said founder Ekechi Nwokah. In the near-term, though, Migo is more likely to expand to Asia, he said.

 

VTEX, an e-commerce platform used by Walmart, raises $140M led by SoftBank’s LatAm fund

E-commerce now accounts for 14% of all retail sales, and its growth has led to a rise in the fortunes of startups that build tools to enable businesses to sell online. In the latest development, a company called VTEX — which originally got its start in Latin America helping companies like Walmart expand their business to new markets with an end-to-end e-commerce service covering things like order and inventory management; front-end customer experience and customer service — has raised $140 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue taking its business deeper into more international markets.

The investment is being led by SoftBank, specifically via its Latin American fund, with participation also from Gávea Investimentos and Constellation Asset Management. Previous investors include Riverwood and Naspers, and Riverwood continues to be a backer, too, the company said.

Mariano Gomide, the CEO who co-founded VTEX with Geraldo Thomaz, said the valuation is not being disclosed, but he confirmed that the founders and founding team continue to hold more than 50% of the company. In addition to Walmart, VTEX customers include Levi’s, Sony, L’Oréal and Motorola . Annually, it processes some $2.4 billion in gross merchandise value across some 2,500 stores, growing 43% per year in the last five years.

VTEX is in that category of tech businesses that has been around for some time — it was founded in 1999 — but has largely been able to operate and grow off its own balance sheet. Before now, it had raised less than $13 million, according to PitchBook data.

This is one of the big rounds to come out of the relatively new SoftBank Innovation Fund, an effort dedicated to investing in tech companies focused on Latin America. The fund was announced earlier this year at $2 billion and has since expanded to $5 billion. Other Latin American companies that SoftBank has backed include online delivery business Rappi, lending platform Creditas, and proptech startup QuintoAndar.

The common theme among many SoftBank investments is a focus on e-commerce in its many forms (whether that’s transactions for loans or to get a pizza delivered) and VTEX is positioned as a platform player that enables a lot of that to happen in the wider marketplace, providing not just the tools to build a front end, but to manage the inventory, ordering and customer relations at the back end.

“VTEX has three attributes that we believe will fuel the company’s success: a strong team culture, a best-in-class product and entrepreneurs with profitability mindset,” said Paulo Passoni, managing investment partner at SoftBank’s Latin America fund, in a statement. “Brands and retailers want reliability and the ability to test their own innovations. VTEX offers both, filling a gap in the market. With VTEX, companies get access to a proven, cloud-native platform with the flexibility to test add-ons in the same data layer.”

Although VTEX has been expanding into markets like the US (where it acquired UniteU earlier this year), the company still makes some 80% of its revenues annually in Latin America, Gomide said in an interview.

There, it has been a key partner to retailers and brands interested in expanding into the region, providing integrations to localise storefronts, a platform to help brands manage customer and marketplace relations, and analytics, competing against the likes of SAP, Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce (but not, he said in answer to my question, Commercetools, which builds Shopify -style API tools for mid- and large-sized enterprises and itself raised $145 million last month).

E-commerce, as we’ve pointed out before, is a business of economies of scale. Case in point, while VTEX processes some $2.5 billion in transactions annually, it makes a relative small return on that: $69 million, to be exact. This, plus the benefit of analytics on a wider set of big data (another economy of scale play), are two of the big reasons why VTEX is now doubling down on growth in newer markets like Europe and North America. The company now has 122 integrations with localised payment methods.

“At the end of the day, e-commerce software is a combination of knowledge. If you don’t have access to thousands of global cases you can’t imbue the software with knowledge,” Gomide said. “Companies that have been focused on one specific region and now realising that trade is a global thing. China has proven that, so a lot of companies are now coming to us because their existing providers of e-commerce tools can’t ‘do international.'” There are very few companies that can serve that global approach and that is why we are betting on being a global commerce platform, not just one focused on Latin America.”

Chaka opens up global investing to Africa’s most populous nation

Fintech startup Chaka aims to open up online investingd to Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria.

The seed-stage company recently went live with its mobile-based platform that offers Nigerians stock trading in over 40 countries.

Chaka positions itself as a passport to local and global investing. The startup has created an API and interface that allows Nigerians with a bank account (and who meet KYC requirements) to create trading accounts to purchase global blue chip and local Nigerian stocks.

Investors can get started with as little as 1000 Naira or $10 to create a local and global wallet to trade, according to Chaka founder and CEO Tosin Osibodu.

The platform has partnerships with two brokers to facilitate stock purchases: Citi Investment Capital and U.S. based DriveWealth.

“Embedded in our offer is the ability to buy on the local stock market…we make it more seamless than usual, and assets…from this whole universe outside the continent,” said Osibodu.

The Nigerian Stock Exchange has been upgrading its platform to digitize and accommodate more listings. It has a five-year partnership with NASDAQ and Airtel Africa listed on the NSE in July. 

On the Chaka’s addressable market, “Our outlook is that within Nigeria…between one and two million people are strongly in the market for this product,” Osibodu said.

Tosin Osibodu

Chaka looks to offer more than stocks. “Our product road-map includes not just equities, but other investment products people are interested in — mutual funds, fixed income products, and eventually even cryptocurrencies — so that really expands our bounds,” said Osibodu.

Chaka’s fee structure is 100 Naira (or 3%) for local trades and $4.00 for global trades.

To mitigate the FX risk of the often volatile Nigerian Naira, the startup converts locally to dollars and funds client trades in USD. Chaka agrees to intra-day forward rates at 9am each day and locks them in until 2pm for transactional activity on its platform, according to Osibodu

Chaka hasn’t disclosed amounts, but confirms its has received pre-seed funding from Nigerian founder and investor Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, aka E.

The startup is in a unique position in African fintech. The sector receives the bulk of the continent’s VC (according WeeTracker), but most of it is directed toward P2P payments startups — vs. personal investment platforms.

An alum of U-Penn and Dartmouth, Chaka’s founder got the idea to form the venture, in part, due to challenges attempting to access well-known trading platforms, such as E-Trade.

“I tried to open these accounts and whenever I…disclosed I was Nigerian very shortly after those accounts were closed or denied,” said Osibodu. 

For decades, Nigeria has been known as an originating country for online fraud, commonly referred to as 419 scams. This is something for which the country’s legitimate business operators pay an undue reputational cost, according to Osibodu. 

In recent years, Nigeria has also become a magnet for legitimate business in Africa. The country has the continent’s leading movie and entertainment industry and has emerged as a hotspot for startup formation and VC activity.

Chaka backer Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, who confirmed his investment in the company to TechCrunch, believes progressive trends in Nigeria will open up a new investor class.

In addition to Aboyeji, Chaka has also received seed-funds from Microtraction, a Lagos located early-stage investment shop founded by Yele Bademosi and supported by Y-Combinator CEO Michael Seibel.

Chaka allows for API integrations and has a developer team. The company has created an automated customer verification process. “It sounds trivial compared to the American market, but it’s a bit of a first in Nigeria,” said CEO Tosin Osibodu.

On Chaka’s long-game, “The grand mission of the company is to reduce capital market access barriers,” cording to Osibodu.

“With a two to five million customer base — and a $40 to $200 ARPU — on the really conservative end that’s a $100 million revenue opportunity,” he said.