Twitter rolls out improved ‘reply prompts’ to cut down on harmful tweets

A year ago, Twitter began testing a feature that would prompt users to pause and reconsider before they replied to a tweet using “harmful” language — meaning language that was abusive, trolling, or otherwise offensive in nature. Today, the company says it’s rolling improved versions of these prompts to English-language users on iOS and soon, Android, after adjusting its systems that determine when to send the reminders to better understand when the language being used in the reply is actually harmful.

The idea behind these forced slow downs, or nudges, are about leveraging psychological tricks in order to help people make better decisions about what they post. Studies have indicated that introducing a nudge like this can lead people to edit and cancel posts they would have otherwise regretted.

Twitter’s own tests found that to be true, too. It said that 34% of people revised their initial reply after seeing the prompt, or chose not to send the reply at all. And, after being prompted once, people then composed 11% fewer offensive replies in the future, on average. That indicates that the prompt, for some small group at least, had a lasting impact on user behavior. (Twitter also found that users who were prompted were less likely to receive harmful replies back, but didn’t further quantify this metric.)

Image Credits: Twitter

However, Twitter’s early tests ran into some problems. it found its systems and algorithms sometimes struggled to understand the nuance that occurs in many conversations. For example, it couldn’t always differentiate between offensive replies and sarcasm or, sometimes, even friendly banter. It also struggled to account for those situations in which language is being reclaimed by underrepresented communities, and then used in non-harmful ways.

The improvements rolling out starting today aim to address these problems. Twitter says it’s made adjustments to the technology across these areas, and others. Now, it will take the relationship between the author and replier into consideration. That is, if both follow and reply to each other often, it’s more likely they have a better understanding of the preferred tone of communication than someone else who doesn’t.

Twitter says it has also improved the technology to more accurately detect strong language, including profanity.

And it’s made it easier for those who see the prompts to let Twitter know if the prompt was helpful or relevant — data that can help to improve the systems further.

How well this all works remains to be seen, of course.

Image Credits: Twitter

While any feature that can help dial down some of the toxicity on Twitter may be useful, this only addresses one aspect of the larger problem — people who get into heated exchanges that they could later regret. There are other issues across Twitter regarding abusive and toxic content that this solution alone can’t address.

These “reply prompts” aren’t the only time Twitter has used the concept of nudges to impact user behavior. It also reminds users to read an article before you retweet and amplify it in an effort to promote more informed discussions on its platform.

Twitter says the improved prompts are rolling out to all English-language users on iOS starting today, and will reach Android over the next few days.

Apple expands its ad business with a new App Store ad slot

At the same time as it’s cracking down on the advertising businesses run by rivals, Apple is introducing a new way for developers to advertise on the App Store. Previously, developers could promote their apps after users initiated a search on the App Store by targeting specific keywords. For example, if you typed in “taxi,” you might then see an ad by Uber in the top slot above the search results. The new ad slot, however, will reach users before they search. This can expose the app to a wider audience.

This new and more prominent ad placement is found on the App Store’s Search tab, which sees millions of visits from Apple device owners every month. Today, the Search tab offers two sections below the search box itself: a “Discover” section that highlights current App Store trends, and a “Suggested” section with recommended apps and games to try. The ad will appear in the latter section at the top of the list of Suggested apps.

These new ad placements, which Apple calls “Search tab campaigns,” are being made available as part of Apple’s Search Ads Advanced service, and can take advantage of the assets that developers have already uploaded to their App Store product page — like the app’s name, icon, and subtitle. Because developers are buying a direct placement on the App Store, they don’t need to submit keywords as they would for other App Store ads, nor any other creative assets.

Image Credits: Apple

Like the existing Search results campaigns, there’s no minimum spend required for a Search tab campaign. Developers can spend as little or as much as they want, then start, stop or adjust the campaign at any time, says Apple. Ad pricing is based on a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) model. The actual cost is the result of a second price auction, which calculates what the developer will pay based on what the next closest bidder is willing to pay. Impressions are counted when at least 50% of the ad is visible for one second, Apple notes.

Apple’s decision to expand its advertising business appears to be a calculated move timed with the launch of iOS 14.5, the latest version of the iPhone’s operating system. Through a feature called App Tracking Transparency (ATT), rolling out in iOS 14.5, Apple is cracking down on apps that track users’ data without permission. After updating, users will see a new pop-up box appear in each app, where the developer will ask permission to collect and share the user’s information with data brokers and other third parties, if they previously collected this information without users’ consent. Users can also go into their iOS Settings to turn on or off app tracking for individual apps at any time.

The change is shaking up the $350+ billion digital ad industry, led by Facebook and Google. Facebook has argued the impacts of the change will hurt small businesses, who have historically relied on highly targeted, personalized ads that allow them to reach potential customers without spending a lot of money. Advertisers, meanwhile, have suggested that Apple’s changes will benefit its own bottom line at the expense of their own.

But Apple’s response, to date, has simply been that the changes were necessary to protect consumer privacy. People should have a right to know “when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites,” the company said, “and they should have the choice to allow that or not.”

According to early data by Flurry Analytics, only around 11% of users are opting in to being tracked after the iOS 14.5 launch. For app publishers looking to acquire new users, that could make this new ad slot look more appealing than it would have, had it launched before ATT rolled out.

Apple’s plans to launch the new ad slot were reported by the Financial Times in April, which noted that ultimately, the changes may be more about money — they could also be about control. In years past, getting featured on the App Store could boost a company’s valuation as new users flooded in. Apple may want to shift that power away from third-parties and back to itself and its own App Store both in terms of app discovery and anointing the next hit apps.

alt.bank, Brazil’s latest fintech targeting the unbanked, raises $5.5M

It looks like everyone and their mother is trying to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. Earlier this year we wrote about Nubank’s $400 million Series G, last month there was the PicPay IPO filing and today, alt.bank, a Brazilian neobank, announced a $5.5 million Series A led by Union Square Ventures (USV).

It’s no secret that the Brazilian banking system has been poised for disruption, considering the sector’s little attention to customer service and exorbitant fee structure that’s left most Brazilians unbanked, and alt.bank is just the latest company trying to take home a piece of the pie.

Following Nubank’s strategy of launching a bank with colors that are very un-bank-like, signaling that they do things differently, alt.bank similarly launched its first financial product in 2019 — a fluorescent-yellow debit card which the locals have endearingly dubbed, “o amarelinho,” meaning, “the little yellow card.”

The company, founded by serial entrepreneur Brad Liebman, follows the founder’s $480 million exit of Simply Business, which was acquired by U.S. insurance giant Travelers in 2017.

Unlike many fintechs, alt.bank has a strong social mission and pays commissions for referrals that last for the customer’s lifetime. 

“Most fintechs just help wealthy people get wealthier, so I thought let’s do something with a social mission,” Liebman told TechCrunch in an interview.

To drive home the mission, and really target the unbanked, Liebman and his team of 80 employees have designed an app that can be used by the illiterate. Instead of words, users can follow color-coded prompts to complete a transaction. The company also plans to launch credit products soon.

According to the company, close to a million people have downloaded the android app since launch, but Liebman declined to disclose how many active users the company actually has.

Today, the company’s core offerings include the debit card, a prepaid credit card, Pix (similar to Zelle), a savings account and even telemedicine visits via a partnership with Dr. Consulta, a network of healthcare clinics throughout the country. The prepaid credit card is key because online stores in Brazil don’t accept debit card purchases.

In addition to the perk of ongoing commissions, alt.bank has also partnered with three major drugstores, allowing their users to get 5-30% off any item at the stores, including medication.

While the company is based in São Paulo and São Carlos, Liebman and his family are currently based in London due to regulations around the pandemic.

The investment in alt.bank marks USV’s first investment in South America, solidifying a trend by other major U.S. investors such as Sequoia who only in the last several years have started looking to LatAm for deals.

“The bar was high for our first investment in South America,” said Union Square Ventures partner John Buttrick. “The combination of the alt.bank business model and world-class management team enticed us to expand our geographic focus to help build the leading digital bank targeting the 100 million Brazilians who are currently being neglected by traditional lenders,” he added in a statement. 

 

Riot Games and Konvoy Ventures back games publisher Carry1st in $6M Series A

Africa is the last frontier for basically anything. Mobile gaming is no exception. For a continent that is home to more than 1 billion millennials and Gen Zers, mobile gaming has never really picked up, despite the continent witnessing rapid economic growth and smartphone adoption.

Two issues have proved detrimental to this growth: distribution and payments. With fragmented and unresolved distribution and digital payments ecosystems, game studios have found it difficult to serve African consumers and make a ton of money doing so. Carry1st is a mobile games publishing platform fixing this problem, and today it is announcing the close of its $6 million Series A round.

This month last year, we reported that the company had just raised a $2.5 million seed investment. CRE Ventures led that round, but this time, the company, which has offices in Cape Town and New York, brought in a blue-chip group of investors spanning gaming, media and fintech.

U.S. VC firm Konvoy Ventures led the Series A round. The firm is known for its investment in the video gaming industry’s infrastructure, technology, tools and platforms. Riot Games (developer of League of Legends), Tokyo’s Akatsuki Entertainment Technology Fund (the company behind Dragon Ball Z), Raine Ventures and fintech VC TTV Capital participated.

Carry1st was founded by Cordel Robbin-Coker, Lucy Hoffman and Tinotenda Mundangefupfu in 2018. The company started as a game studio, developing and launching its own mobile games. But a projection on what it could be in the long run made the company switch tactics.

Instead of the studio model (quite popular among gaming companies in Africa), Carry1st sought to become a regional publisher, thereby opening the continent to international studios. Also, the company helps local studios that find it difficult to create games with a global appeal by pairing them with strong operators.

“We learned that African users don’t need their own games; they want to play the best games in the world,” CEO Robbin-Coker told TechCrunch.

COO Hoffman said that the company provides a full-stack publishing platform for its partners. It also handles localization, distribution, user acquisition, monetization, customer experience for studios and licenses their games on exclusive, long-term contracts.

“We fund user acquisition so that the games are played by as many users as possible, and then send our partners a royalty in return for the ability to leverage their IP,” Hoffman said.  

Carry1st

L-R: Cordel Robbin-Coker (CEO), Lucy Hoffman (COO) and Tinotenda Mundangefupfu (CTO)

This is somewhat akin to how Tencent-backed Sea Limited (parent company of Garena) took off. The company was the publisher of League of Legends across Southeast Asia but launched its own game, Free Fire. Now, the company has built out the largest consumer payments and e-commerce platform in the region, which is now worth over $130 billion. Carry1st aspires to do the same for Africa.

Although there aren’t many details about its e-commerce activity, Carry1st is tackling payments and difficult monetization issues by partnering with some fintechs like Paystack, Safaricom, and Cellulant. These partnerships have been pivotal to developing its in-house payments platform Pay1st, which allows customers to pay in their preferred way. “For global studios, this is the difference between making money and not,” Robbin-Coker added

Demand for Carry1st has grown rapidly. Since its seed round last year, the company has signed seven games with well-known mobile gaming studios. They include Sweden’s Raketspel (the company has more than 120 million downloads across its portfolio), Cosi Games and Ethiopia’s Qene Games.

All these signups happened in 2020 and the catalyst for this growth has pandemic-induced lockdowns written all over it. The African mobile gaming market has always pointed toward a strong growth market, but being forced indoors surely skyrocketed mobile usage and gaming.

People who might not have previously needed a mobile phone have now come to rely on them to keep in touch with family and friends. For the average user using a smartphone for the first time, there’s a natural tendency to explore the fun things available on their device.

Typically, the first things people do when they get their first smartphone is to chat with friends and play games. This is the same all over the world — Africa is no different. For that reason, we are seeing more and more mobile gamers across Africa,” remarked Robbin-Coker.

The company has also grown its team from 18 to 26 across 11 countries with recruits from Carlyle, King, Jumia, Rovio, Socialpoint, Ubisoft and Wargaming — a testament to the company’s global ambitions to be a top gaming publisher. 

Expanding the team, which cuts across product, engineering and growth departments, is one way Carry1st will put the new investment to use. The company also plans to secure new partnerships with global gaming studios while launching and scaling its existing games like Carry1st Trivia and All-Star Soccer.

Carry1st

User playing a Carry1st game

With this investment, Carry1st has raised a total of $9.5 million. On the caliber of investors brought on, Robbin-Coker said their investment in the company would put them in a place to “delight millions of users across Africa and the globe.”

Carry1st is Konvoy Ventures first foray into the African gaming market (same can be said for Riot Games), and representatives from both teams (Konvoy managing partner Jackson Vaughan and Riot Games head of corporate development Brendan Mulligan) believe the company is unequivocally solving the continent’s distribution and gaming experience problems. Vaughan will also join the company’s board.

Africa’s gaming industry has lacked innovation in times past. While we’ve seen companies try to change the narrative, most have operated as studios. Carry1st is one of the few companies to operate a hybrid model, but the endgame for the company really is to be one of the region’s dominant consumer internet companies. 

We think social games and payments is the best first step to doing so, but we have very large ambitions. If we execute this, we will catalyze massive growth in the digital ecosystem across the region, creating tons of high-quality jobs in the process. We think all of the ingredients are in place — we want to be the catalyst,” Hoffman said. 

Amazon’s over-the-top business, including IMDb TV and Twitch, tops 120M monthly viewers

Amazon’s free, ad-supported streaming service IMDb TV is getting its own mobile app. The company announced the news today at its first-ever NewFronts presentation to advertisers, where it also shared that its over-the-top streaming businesses combined — meaning, IMDb TV, Twitch, live sports like Thursday Night Football, Amazon’s News app and others — have now grown to more than 120 million monthly viewers.

This over-the-top business, or Amazon OTT as it’s called, includes anywhere ads show up alongside content on the IMDb TV app, Twitch’s game streaming site, during live sports Amazon streams through Prime Video, its 3P network and broadcaster apps and its Amazon’s News app for Fire TV.

IMDb TV viewership, in particular, jumped 138% year-over-year, Amazon noted.

The ad-supported service, which likely benefited from the same pandemic bump that drove streaming service viewership higher across the board last year, is something of a rival to other free, ad-supported streamers, like Fox’s Tubi, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV or Roku’s The Roku Channel. However, more like Roku’s hub, Amazon leverages IMDb TV to help it sell its own media devices by promising users easy access to free, streaming content.

Today, that’s resulted in the IMDb TV app seeing the majority of its usage on Fire TV. But over the past several months, the app has become more broadly available, with launches on Roku, Chromecast with Google TV, PlayStation 4 consoles, Xbox One and Series X devices, LG Smart TVs, Nvidia, Sony Android TV and TiVo Android TV devices, Amazon says.

Now it will get its own dedicated mobile app, as well, instead of only a small section inside the IMDb app where the service’s content can be found today on smartphones. The new standalone app will arrive this summer on both iOS and Android, says Amazon.

Amazon also told advertisers about IMDb TV’s current user base, noting that 62% were in between ages 18 and 49. And they spend 5.5 hours per week on the app, on average.

The forthcoming mobile launch was one of several announcements Amazon made today at its Newfronts presentation today.

The company also detailed its upcoming IMDb TV slate, including unscripted series “Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary,” “Bug Out” and “Untitled Jeff Lewis Project” as well as scripted releases “Blessed and Highly Favored,” “Greek Candy,” “Primo,” “The Fed,” and “The Pradeeps of Pittsburgh, PA.” Music duo Tegan and Sara’s memoir “High School” will be adapted as an original series for IMDb TV. IMDb TV also announced a new crime drama, “Leverage: Redemption,” and police drama, “On Call.”

IMDb TV parent company Amazon, meanwhile, expanded its deal with the NFL for Thursday Night Football, which now runs 11 seasons, starting with the 2022 season instead of the following year.

Digital comics startup Madefire is shutting down

R.I.P. Madefire, a startup that recruited high-profile artists to reinvent comics for new formats and platforms.

An announcement on the Madefire website states the company entered into “an assignment of benefit for creditors” (explained as “a state-level insolvency proceeding similar to bankruptcy”) earlier this month, which was then reported this morning in The Beat. As a result, no new books will be published, users will not be able to purchase any additional books and they’re also encouraged to download all their purchased content before the end of the month.

This news affects other apps built with Madefire’s technology. The Archie comics app has shut down as well, with the publisher writing, “We realize this comes as a surprise and we are making every effort to do right by our loyal customer base,” specifically by offering readers a free one-month subscription to Comixology Unlimited. (Amazon acquired digital comics platform Comixology in 2014, launching an Unlimited subscription service two years later.)

Madefire first launched in 2012, back when publishers were experimenting with formats like motion comics. The company described its titles as “motion books,” combining the animation and effects of motion comics with a more traditional reading experience.

“Motion comics are a passive experience, a watching experience that is tantamount to bad animation – it’s like watching a movie,” co-founder and CEO Ben Wolstenholme said at the time. “Motion Books is a reading experience, actively controlled by the reader – it’s like reading a book. Our goal is to be the best reading experience developed for the iPad.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the company was the artists it had enlisted before launch, including Dave Gibbons and Bill Sienkiewicz.

More recently, Madefire announced partnerships with other tech platforms, including Snapchat and troubled augmented reality company Magic Leap.

According to Crunchbase, Madefire had raised $16.4 million in funding from investors including True Ventures, Plus Capital, Kevin Spacey (yes, that Kevin Spacey) and Drake, but The Beat reports that the total was “even more than that.”

Smartphone shipments jumped 27% globally in Q1

More good news from a smartphone market currently rebounding from the far reaching impacts of the pandemic. New numbers from Canalys put global shipments for Q1 2021 at 27% above where they were the same time last year.

The industry was hit early and hit hard by Covid-19. The first quarter saw company running into serious supply chain issues as the pandemic first hit China and parts of Asia where most manufacturing occurs. Following that, demand began to slow, as fewer people were interested in buying mobile devices, coupled with broader economic and job impacts.

Image Credits: Canalys

Samsung continued to lead the way globally, with 76.5 million, up from 59.6 million, representing a 28% jump, year-over-year. In all, the company controls around 22% of global shipments (same as a year prior).

In second place, Apple represented the biggest jump of the quarter, with a 41% increase from 37.1 million to 52.4 million. That no doubt owes substantially to the big upgrades that arrived toward to the end of last year. Huawei’s struggles, meanwhile, have knocked the company out of the top five.

“Xiaomi is in pole position to be the new Huawei,” said Canalys’ Ben Stanton said in a release. “Its competitors offer superior channel margin, but Xiaomi’s sheer volume actually gives distributors a better opportunity to make money than rival brands. But the race is not over. Oppo and Vivo are hot on its heels, and are positioning in the mid-range in many regions to box Xiaomi in at the low end.”

The study also notes that LG’s exit from the category should mix things up a bit, as well, particularly in the Americas region, which accounted for 80% of the company’s sales last year.

Vivid Money raises $73 million to build a European financial super app

German startup Vivid Money has raised a new $73 million Series B funding round (€60 million) led by Greenoaks with existing investor Ribbit Capital also participating. Following today’s funding round, Vivid Money has reached a valuation of $436 million (€360 million).

Vivid Money could be considered as a Revolut competitor designed specifically for the Eurozone. Built on top of Solarisbank for the banking infrastructure, the company lets you send, receive, spend, invest and save money in different ways.

When you create an account, you get a German IBAN that starts with DE as well as a metal card. There are no card details on the card itself — everything is available in the app instead. Like other fintech startups, Vivid Money lets you control your card from the app — you can lock it and unlock it, add it to Google Pay and Apple Pay, etc.

After that, you can top up your account and hold dozens of different currencies. When you pay with your card abroad, the startup applies a small mark-up on the current exchange rate — you should get a better exchange rate than what you usually get with a regular bank.

In addition to this fairly standard feature set, Vivid Money offers stock trading with fractional shares. You can invest in stocks and ETFs and there’s no commission. Similarly, you can buy, hold and share cryptocurrencies from the app. The startup has partnered with CM Equity AG for those features.

The company also has a cashback program and a premium subscription for €9.90 per month. Paid users get higher limits on free cash withdrawals, the ability to create a virtual card, support for additional currencies and better cashback rewards.

Finally, users can create sub-accounts called pockets. You can move money around from one pocket to another and add other users to your pockets. Each pocket has its own IBAN, which means that you can pay for certain bills with a separate pocket. You can also associate your card with a specific pocket for upcoming purchases.

Vivid Money has managed to add a ton of features in no time. It now has a ton of money on its bank account. Now let’s see if it can attract a significant user base to compete with other, well-established European fintech players.

Daily Crunch: Uber adds vaccine booking

Uber unveils half a dozen new features, Samsung announces a new flagship laptop and Zomato files to go public. This is your Daily Crunch for April 28, 2021.

The big story: Uber adds vaccine booking

Uber announced a half dozen new features today, including the ability to make a vaccine appointment at Walgreens and then reserve a ride to get there.

Other additions include a valet service to drop off rental cars, reserved rides at airports and the ability to pick up food during a ride. In an interview, CPO Sundeep Jain suggested that these features are part of the company’s key focus for the past year, namely “helping users ‘go’ and helping users ‘get.’”

The tech giants

Here’s Samsung’s new flagship laptop series, the Galaxy Book Pro — These Windows machines continue the company’s push to blur some of the productivity lines between its Galaxy PC and mobile offerings.

Facebook hides posts calling for PM Modi’s resignation in India — Facebook temporarily hid all posts with the hashtag “ResignModi” in India, although a spokesperson said those posts have now been restored.

Netflix launches its shuffle feature, now called ‘Play Something,’ to users worldwide — This should make it easier to find something to watch when you can’t make a decision on your own.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Alchemy raises $80M at a $505M valuation to be the ‘AWS for blockchain’ — The company describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry.

MessageBird acquires SparkPost for $600M using $800M Series C extension — The acquisition enables MessageBird to get a stronger foothold in the U.S. market.

Splitwise raises $20M Series A to help everyone in the world divvy expenses — Splitwise aims to reduce the stress and awkwardness that money puts on relationships of all sorts.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Zomato juice: Indian unicorn’s proposed IPO could drive regional startup liquidity — Zomato’s debut could lead to a liquidity rush in India.

Dear Sophie: What’s the latest on DACA? — The latest edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

Fund managers can leverage ESG-related data to generate insights — Apex Group’s Georges Archibald argues that environmental, social and governance insights can yield treasure in the form of alternative data.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

CES will return to Las Vegas in 2022 — Per a press release, roughly 1,000 companies have committed to returning.

India’s entrepreneurs and investors are mobilizing to help the nation fight COVID-19, and you can too — For a week straight, India has reported more than 300,000 daily new infections, about half of all the cases across the globe.

Porsche makes its case for an all-electric Taycan wagon — The Porsche Taycan 4 Cross Turismo offers a blend of practicality with a whole lot of power and speed for under $100,000.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Teen banking service Step raises $100M Series C, announces Steph Curry’s investment

Step, the digital banking service aimed at teens and endorsed by TikTok star Charli D’Amelio, announced this morning the close of a $100 million round of Series C funding after growing to over 1.5 million users just six months after launch. The new round, led by General Catalyst, comes shortly after Step’s $50 million Series B, announced at the end of last year after the startup hit half a million users in only two months post-launch.

The new round also includes participation from Step’s existing investors, Coatue, Stripe, Charli D’Amelio, The Chainsmokers, Will Smith and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and brings on newcomer Franklin Templeton, signaling a plan to move into investments is on the horizon. It also includes actor and musician Jared Leto. Step is also formally announcing NBA All-Star Stephen Curry as an investor, which had not previously been disclosed, as well as former Square executives, Sarah Friar, Jacqueline Reses and Gokul Rajaram.

As a result of the fundraise, Kyle Doherty of General Catalyst is joining Step’s board. To date, Step has raised over $175 million.

Image Credits: Step

According to CEO CJ MacDonald, Step hasn’t yet spent the money from its Series B yet, but believes the additional funds can help the startup to grow more quickly.

“We’ve signed up more than a million and a half accounts in the first six months. We’re signing up 10,000 accounts-plus a day, and there’s just a lot of things that we want to do to bring this to millions and millions of households to help educate the next generation be smarter with money,” he says. At the time of the Series B, for comparison, Step said it was adding round 7,000 to 10,000 accounts per day.

“Honestly we don’t need the capital,” MacDonald added. “It’s just we think speed to market is really key and we think we can accelerate our growth and invest in infrastructure.”

The company is also planning to hire across operations, engineering, product, and design, to double its now 65-person team over the next year.

Step today competes in a crowded market of mobile banking services aimed at a younger demographic, but it’s one of very few that targets teenagers ages 13 to 18. Through Step’s app, teens gain access to an FDIC-insured bank account without fees and a secured Visa card that helps them to establish credit before they turn 18. The app also offers Venmo-like functionality for sending money to friends.

Image Credits: Step

Step’s growth so far has benefitted from a combination of factors including word-of-mouth, use of social media, and its popular referral program, which has paid out a few dollars per new sign-up. Step has also leveraged its partnerships with social media influencers like D’Amelio and Josh Richards as well as celebs like Step investor Justin Timberlake.

The company believes the Curry announcement may also help to raise awareness about the banking app. As a father of three, if Curry talks about introducing Step to his own children, people will take notice.

While the additional funds are focused on driving growth, Step is also thinking about its future as its existing users begin to age up. The company plans to enter into the credit and lending market, as well as introduce investments at some point in the future. The Franklin Templeton investment could be useful here, MacDonald notes.

“Franklin [Templeton is] obviously, one of the largest financial institutions in the world. And, as we start thinking about investments and the journey of the customer, to have a great brand like Franklin Templeton that’s invested in this round — I think it’s just a testament to where they see the world going,” he says.

Step’s fundraise falls on the same day that competitor Current and Greenlight, both who focus on families, also raised new rounds.