Piano raises $88M for analytics, subscription and personalization tools for publishers, adds LinkedIn as investor

As publishers face up to whatever might be their next existential crisis — there are so many options from which to choose, including Substack stealing all their writers; or Clubhouse pulling in people through audio-based conversations where news and analysis intermingle seamlessly with networking — a startup that’s helping them build more tools to keep their businesses and audiences intact, and hopefully grow, is announcing a growth round of its own.

Piano, which provides analytics and subscription services to publishers, has closed a round of $88 million, funding that it will be using to continue building out the technology that it provides to its customers, as well as forge into newer areas where it can better connect audiences online.

The funding comes on the heels of a strong period for Piano. The company works with around 1,000 customers — they include CNBC, Wall Street Journal, NBC Sports, Insider, The Economist, Gannett, Le Parisien, Nielsen, MIT Technology Review, The Telegraph, South China Morning Post and (disclaimer) TechCrunch; and it has seen revenues grow 400% since 2019.

Piano has an interesting new backer in this round that might point to what form those newer areas of development might take. LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social networking site aimed at the working world, is participating in this Series B, which is being led by previous backer Updata Partners. Rittenhouse Ventures, which is based in Piano’s hometown of Philadelphia, is also participating.

(Piano is not disclosing valuation with this round but I understand it’s operating on a $75 million annual run rate currently. It has now raised just over $241 million.)

Trevor Kaufman, Piano’s CEO, would not be drawn out on how it specifically will be working with LinkedIn, but it’s notable that the latter company has long held back from leveraging the profiles it holds on its 740 million users to do much outside of the core LinkedIn experience.

That could be applied in a number of ways, for example similar to Facebook and Google logins to third-party sites; or for providing an identity layer to comment on stories; or even building a way to manage logins via a LinkedIn profile, which could then potentially be used to help people manage and read/consume all the content they subscribe to. Or something totally different: LinkedIn has a lot of unrealised potential that Piano could help tap.

“Members are increasingly turning to LinkedIn to stay informed on the news and views that shape their respective industries – critical to this is the work we do with trusted publishers and journalists,” said Scott Roberts, VP and Head of Business Development at LinkedIn, in a statement. “The opportunity to collaborate with Piano to help unlock more value for publisher content on LinkedIn makes it a natural strategic investment opportunity.”

The last year has seen many of us spending significantly more time indoors, and for a number of us that has also meant more reading, especially of smaller and more digestible formats such as periodicals. In a way, it’s no surprise that models like Substack’s have emerged and apparently thrived in this period, where writers are looking for different approaches and ways of connecting with readers while publishers by and large are conserving costs and strategies to weather out the storm.

Piano’s rise in that context is especially interesting, as in many cases it’s not reinventing the wheel for publishers but providing them with the tools to better leverage the content production that they already have in place. What’s notable is that in the process, it’s been able to capitalize on changing sentiments in the publishing industry. Whereas paywalls and subscriptions have in the past been seen as a drag on traffic (and the ads that get sold against it) and only useful for those in the world of B2B, now they are increasingly becoming more commonplace in a much wider range of settings, Kaufman said.

Piano’s tools are notable not just as basic levers to manage subscriptions (free and paid) but a more sophisticated set of analytics that provide more insight into how content is being read, which can in turn be used to develop those subscription tiers and determine the likelihood of people subscribing (Nieman Lab has good article on how that works here). 

To add to that, now another area where Piano is likely to develop more products is in the area of newsletters. No, not the Substack kind, but building tools for publishers to help them build out newsletter businesses that they can monetize if they choose. Indeed, the other kind of newsletter venture is far from Piano’s agenda.

“I can’t imagine a more damaging entity for journalism than Substack,” Kaufman told me. “I think it’s gotten a tremendous amount of attention from writers because it is a fantasy come true for journalists, this idea that you can make $500k a year for writing on occasion. But nothing can be farther from the truth.” He believes the model is so “pumped up venture funding” that it’s not a viable one for the long haul.

That remains to be seen, I suppose, and of course Piano has a strong vested interest in supporting its publisher customers. What it mainly says to me is that there are still some innings left in this game, and maybe some more games in a longer series.

The company may also be dipping into more M&A, given how fragmented the audience development, analytics and measurement space is. In March of this year, the company acquired AT Internet, a French company, to better manage and crunch analytics from across a number of silos, including traffic, advertising, subscriptions, engagement and more.

“Piano’s recent growth has been outstanding, and we continue to be impressed by the expanding set of capabilities they bring to both media companies and brands looking to drive more revenue from their audiences,” said Jon Seeber, general partner at Updata Partners and a member of Piano’s board, in a statement “They now have a true end-to-end platform that can power all aspects of the customer journey, allowing their clients to incorporate only the highest-quality data from across touchpoints to create the best experiences for users.”

With new owner Naver, Wattpad looks to supercharge its user-generated IP factory

Toronto-based Wattpad is officially part of South Korean internet giant Naver as of today, with the official close of the $600 million cash and stock acquisition deal. Under the terms of the acquisition, Wattpad will continue to be headquartered in, and operate from Canada, with co-founder and Allen Lau remaining CEO of the social storytelling company and reporting to the CEO of Naver’s Webtoon, Jun Koo Kim.

I spoke to Lau about what will change, and what won’t, now that Wattpad is part of Naver and Webtoon. As mentioned, Wattpad will remain headquartered in Toronto — and in fact, the company will be growing its headcount in Canada under its new owners with significant new hiring.

“For Wattpad itself, last year was one of our fastest growing years in terms of both in terms of revenue and company size,” Lau said. “This year will be even faster; we’re planning to hire over 100 people, primarily in Toronto and Halifax. So in terms of the number of jobs, and the number of opportunities, this puts us on another level.”

While the company is remaining in Canada and expanding its local talent pool, while maintaining its focus on delivering socially collaborative fiction, Lau says that the union with Naver and Webtoon is about more than just increasing the rate at which it can grow. The two companies share unique “synergies,” he says, that can help each better capitalize on their respective opportunities.

“Naver is one of the world’s largest internet companies,” Lau told me. “But the number one reason that this merger is happening is because of Webtoon. Webtoon is the largest digital publisher in the world, and they have over 76 million monthly users. Combined with our 90 million, that adds up to 166 total monthly users — the reach is enormous. We are now by far the leader in this space, in the storytelling space, in both comics and fiction: By far the largest one in the world.”

The other way in which the two companies complement each other is around IP. Wattpad has demonstrated its ability to take its user-generated fiction, and turn that into successful IP upon which original series and movies are based. The company has both a Books and a Studios publishing division, and has generated hits like Netflix’s The Kissing Booth out of the work of the authors on its platform. Increasingly, competing streaming services are looking around for new properties that will resonate with younger audiences, in order to win and maintain subscriptions.

“Wattpad is the IP factory for user generated content,” Lau said. “And Webtoons also have a lot of amazing IP that are proven to build audience, along with all the data and analytics and insight around those. So the combined library of the top IPs that are blockbusters literally double overnight [with the merger]. And not just the size, but the capability. Because before the acquisition, we had our online fiction, we have both publishing business, and we have TV shows and movies, as well; but with the combination, now we also have comics, we also have animation and potentially other capabilities, as well.”

The key to Wattpad’s success with developing IP in partnership with the creators on its platform isn’t just that its’ user-generated and crowd-friendly; Wattpad also has unique insight into the data behind what’s working about successful IP with its fans and readers. The company’s analytics platform can then provide collaborators in TV and movies with unparalleled, data-backed perspective into what should strike a chord with fans when translated into a new medium, and what might not be so important to include in the adaptation. This is what provides Wattpad with a unique edge when going head-to-head with legacy franchises including those from Disney and other megawatt brands.

“No only do we have the fan bases — it’s data driven,” Lau said. “When we adapt from the fiction on our platform to a movie, we can tell the screenwriter, ‘Keep chapter one, chapter five and chapter seven, but in seven only the first two paragraphs,’ because that’s what the 200,000 comments are telling us. That’s what our machine learning story DNA technology can tell you this is the insight; where are they excited? This is something unprecedented.”

With Naver and Webtoon, Wattpad gains the ability to leverage its insight-gathering IP generation in a truly cross-media context, spanning basically every means a fan might choose to engage with a property. For would-be Disney competitors, that’s likely to be an in-demand value proposition.

Fewcents raises $1.6M to help publishers take payments for individual articles, videos and podcasts

Fewcents co-founders Dushyant Khare and Abhishek Dadoo

  Fewcents co-founders Dushyant Khare and Abhishek Dadoo

Many publishers are focused on converting visitors to subscribers, but there’s another important bracket: people who want to view a premium article or video, but not enough to sign up for a subscription. Fewcents, a Singapore-based fintech startup that enables publishers to take “micropayments” for individual pieces of content, announced today it has raised $1.6 million in seed funding.

Fewcents can be used to monetize articles, video and podcasts. It accepts 50 currencies and is meant to serve as a complementary stream of revenue to advertisements and subscriptions. Its current clients include India’s Dainik Jagran, which has a readership of 55 million; Indonesian news site DailySocial; and streaming video site Dailymotion. The company, which monetizes by sharing revenue with digital publishers, also struck a partnership with Jnomics Media to expand in Europe.

Its funding round venture capital funds M Venture Partners and Hustle Fund. Participation also came from angel investors from some of the top fintech, adtech and media companies: Koh Boon Hwee (fomer chairman of DBS Bank); Kenneth Bishop (former managing director of Southeast Asia at Facebook); Jeremy Butteriss (head of partnerships at Stripe); Shiv Choudhury (partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group); Francesco Alberti (former APAC regional sales director for Bloomberg Media Distribution); Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng (Summit Media president); Prantik Mazumdar (Dentsu managing director), Saurabh Mittal (Mission Holdings chairman and founder) and Nitesh Kripalani (former director and country head of Amazon Video India).

Fewcents was launched last year by Abhishek Dadoo and Dushyant Khare. Dadoo’s previous startup Shoffr, an online-to-offline attribution platform, was acquired by Affle in 2019. Khare spent 12 years working at Google, including as director of strategic partnerships in Southeast Asia and India.

In an email, Dadoo and Khare told TechCrunch that only 1% to 5% of publishers’ active users are willing to commit to a monthly subscription. The majority are casual or referred users, and publishers rely on advertising to monetize that traffic.

Content creators are experimenting with micropayments, and other services include Flattr, which allows people to make one-time contributions and Axate’s pay-per-article tools. But publishers still debate how effective the model is and last year, TechCrunch reported that Google decided not to launch a tipping feature for sites.

To successfully implement a pay-per-content model, publishers not only need to produce compelling content, but also make it extremely easy for people to pay for it. For Fewcents, this means solving three key challenges, Dadoo and Khare said. First, they need to create a ubiquitous platform, since casual users won’t want to sign up for a new service every time they visit another site. It also needs to accept cross-border payments in local currency using the most popular payment methods, like digital wallets. And publishers need to be able to manage digital rights, like how long someone has access to content.

Publishers also need to determine price points that won’t turn away buyers, but will generate substantial enough revenue. Fewcents currently uses existing traffic data to manually price each piece of content. “Based on the supply-demand curve within each geography, we retroactively change the price to get the best revenue results,” Dadoo said. “However, as we develop our AI algorithms, the intent is to dynamically suggest the pricing depending on the geography and the semantics of the content.”

Khare said that by unbundling content, Fewcents can also provide deeper data than pageviews, helping them understand the preferences of specific markets and user segments, and develop customized “micro-bundles.” He added that Fewcents’ goal is to be able to automatically recommend customized content bundles for each user.

How Shopify aims to level the playing field with its machine learning-driven model of lending

Shopify is widely known for giving independent merchants a platform to start, run, market and manage their businesses.

But over the past 5 years, the company has been steadily growing another part of its own business: Shopify Capital. Through this arm, the Canadian commerce giant revealed today that it has provided $2 billion in funding to tens of thousands of entrepreneurs.

Besides being a cool milestone, how it works is interesting. Merchants don’t necessarily have to apply for loans. Shopify’s machine learning models identify eligible merchants based on their previous sales history and store performance, according to Solmaz Shahalizadeh, vice president of data science and engineering, commerce intelligence at Shopify. If a merchant accepts a pre-approved offer, they can generally receive funding in 2 to 5 business days.

While the milestone is significant, I was especially intrigued by the model by which Shopify lends money to its merchants. 

It is intentional about using machine learning and AI “to make sure offers are based on factors different from any other in the financial industry,” Shahalizadeh said. “We don’t ask for a business plan. Our models see the business performance and it’s potential and makes an offer based on that.”

“We use 70 million data points to understand larger trends across the platform for merchants, and can see they are growing before they even can so we can preemptively offer them,” she added.

Kaz Nejatian, vice president of merchant services at Shopify, emphasizes that Shopify Capital does not lend in the manner of traditional banks by charging interest on loans.

“Our funding is designed to work off sales. If you don’t sell anything, we don’t get paid back until you make sales,” Nejatian said. “It’s a highly merchant aligned form of funding designed to fund the type of people banks and VCs won’t fund.”

The company’s model also aims to eliminate any biases that exist in the current financial system, when it comes to educational background, ethnicity, race or gender, he added.

For Nejatian, it’s also personal. His mother is a Shopify merchant who herself struggled with getting capital herself last year.

“Our goal is to reduce barriers to entrepreneurship by offering access to funds,” he said.

As part of that effort, Shopify Capital has increased the maximum amount of funding to $2 million. Previously, it granted funds ranging from $200 to $1 million.

Shopify offers two types of funding – merchant cash advances and loans. Shopify Capital charges a fixed fee (factor rate) on its financings.

On a merchant cash advance for example, it purchases $10,000 of a merchant’s future receivables in exchange for a promise to remit $10,900 of their future sales. The $900 is the amount it charges for the financing, and is repaid by a merchant’s daily remittances on days they make sales.

On its loans, it also applies a similar fixed fee to get a total repayment number, which is repaid via daily payments and milestone payments.

Simply put, the fixed fee that it charges is how Shopify earns money in exchange for funding our merchants. This fee, plus the amount advanced, are returned to the company over the life of a financing via daily remittance payments.

Says the company: “By charging a fixed fee, a merchant is able to understand exactly how much they’ll be expected to repay, before they take financing from Shopify Capital. These amounts don’t change over the life of a financing.”

Over time, Shopify plans to continually improve the machine learning algorithm behind Capital, making its predictive model “even smarter,” Shahalizadeh said. 

“Our model allows us to predict merchants’ minimum sales with 90% accuracy while helping us make more proactive, pre-qualified offers as quickly as possible,” she added.

Shopify merchant Steven Borrelli, Founder of CUTS, says that when he was looking for funding as a newer business, he ran into the challenge of most traditional banks and lenders wanting to see that he had been in business for several years.

CUTS started with getting $2,000 in funding from Shopify Capital. Over the last three years, it has grown into a business with sales “in the tens of millions.”

“We found Shopify Capital to be so valuable that we’ve returned for 10 rounds of funding. Our most recent round of Shopify Capital was $1 million,” he said. “So far we’ve used the funding for expanding our product line and growing our inventory.”

US indicts California man accused of stealing Shopify customer data

A grand jury has indicted a California resident accused of stealing Shopify customer data on over a hundred merchants, TechCrunch has learned.

The indictment charges Tassilo Heinrich with aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by allegedly working with two Shopify customer support agents to steal merchant and customer data from Shopify customers to gain a competitive edge and “take business away from those merchants,” the indictment reads. The indictment also accuses Heinrich, believed to be around 18-years-old at the time of the alleged scheme, of selling the data to other co-conspirators to commit fraud.

A person with direct knowledge of the security breach confirmed Shopify was the unnamed victim company referenced in the indictment.

Last September, Shopify, an online e-commerce platform for small businesses, revealed a data breach in which two “rogue members” of its third-party customer support team of “less than 200 merchants.” Shopify said it fired the two contractors for engaging “in a scheme to obtain customer transactional records of certain merchants.”

Shopify said the contractors stole customer data, including names, postal addresses and order details, like which products and services were purchased. One merchant who received the data breach notice from Shopify said the last four digits of affected customers’ payment cards were also taken, which the indictment confirms.

Another one of the victims was Kylie Jenner’s cosmetics and make-up company, Kylie Cosmetics, the BBC reported.

The indictment accuses Heinrich of paying an employee of a third-party customer support company in the Philippines to access parts of Shopify’s internal network by either taking screenshots or uploading the data to Google Drive in exchange for kickbacks. Heinrich paid the employee in thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency, and also fake positive reviews claiming to be from merchants to whom the employee had provided customer service but had not left feedback. The indictment alleges that Heinrich received a year’s worth of some merchants’ data.

Heinrich allegedly spent at least a year siphoning off incrementing amounts of data from Shopify’s internal network, at one point asking if he could “remotely access” the customer support employee’s computer while they were asleep.

Heinrich was arrested by the FBI at Los Angeles International Airport in February,and is currently detained in federal custody pending trial, set to begin on September 7. Heinrich has pleaded not guilty.

A Shopify spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Nuvemshop, LatAm’s answer to Shopify, raises $90M in Accel-led Series D

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to people everywhere shopping more online and Latin America is no exception.

São Paulo-based Nuvemshop has developed an e-commerce platform that aims to allow SMBs and merchants to connect more directly with their consumers. With more people in Latin America getting used to making purchases digitally, the company has experienced a major surge in business over the past year.

Demand for Nuvemshop’s offering was already heating up prior to the pandemic. But over the past 12 months, that demand has skyrocketed as more merchants have been seeking greater control over their brands.

Rather than selling their goods on existing marketplaces (such as Mercado Libre, the Brazilian equivalent of Amazon), many merchants and entrepreneurs are opting to start and grow their own online businesses, according to Nuvemshop co-founder and CEO Santiago Sosa.

“Most merchants have entered the internet by selling on marketplaces but we are hearing from newer generations of merchants and SMBs that they don’t want to be intermediated anymore,” he said. “They want to connect more directly with consumers and convey their own brand, image and voice.”

The proof is in the numbers.

Nuvemshop has seen the number of merchants on its platform surge to nearly 80,000 across Brazil, Argentina and Mexico compared to 20,000 at the start of 2020. These businesses range from direct-to-consumer (DTC) upstarts to larger brands such as PlayMobil, Billabong and Luigi Bosca. Virtually every KPI tripled in the company in 2020 as the world saw a massive transition to online, and Nuvemshop’s platform was home to 14 million transactions last year, according to Sosa.

“With us, businesses can find a more comprehensive ecosystem around payments, logistics, shipping and catalogue/inventory management,” he said.

Nuvemshop’s rapid growth caught the attention of Silicon Valley-based Accel. Having just raised $30 million in a Series C round in October and achieving profitability in 2020, the Nuvemshop team was not looking for more capital.

But Ethan Choi, a partner at Accel, said his firm saw in Nuvemshop the potential to be the market leader, or the “de facto” e-commerce platform, in Latin America.

“Accel has been investing in e-commerce for a very long time. It’s a very important area for us,” Choi said. “We saw what they were building and all their potential. So we pre-emptively asked them to let us invest.”

Today, Nuvemshop is announcing that it has closed on a $90 million Series D funding led by Accel. ThornTree Capital and returning backers Kaszek, Qualcomm Ventures and others also put money in the round, which brings Nuvemshop’s total funding raised since its 2011 inception to nearly $130 million. The company declined to reveal at what valuation this latest round was raised but it is notable that its Series D is triple the size of its Series C, raised just over six months prior. Sosa said only that there was a “substantial increase” in valuation since its Series C.

Nuvemshop is banking on the fact that the density of SMBs in Latin America is higher in most Latin American countries compared to the U.S. On top of that, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.

“In Brazil, it grew 40% last year but is still underpenetrated, representing less than 10% of retail sales. In Latin America as a whole, penetration is somewhere between 5 and 10%,” Sosa said.

Nuvemshop co-founder and CEO Santiago Sosa;
Image courtesy of Nuvemshop

Last year, the company transitioned from a closed product to a platform that is open to everyone from third parties, developers, agencies and other SaaS vendors. Through Nuvemshop’s APIs, all those third parties can connect their apps into Nuvemshop’s platform.

“Our platform becomes much more powerful, vendors are generating more revenue and merchants have more options,” Sosa told TechCrunch. “So everyone wins.” Currently, Nuvemshop has about 150 applications publishing on its ecosystem, which he projects will more than triple over the next 12 to 18 months.

As for comparisons to Shopify, Sosa said the company doesn’t necessarily make them but believes they are “fair.”

To Choi, there are many similarities.

“We saw Amazon get to really big scale in the U.S.. Merchants also found tools to build their own presence. This birthed Shopify, which today is worth $160 billion. Both companies saw their market caps quadruple during the pandemic,” he said. “Now we’re seeing the same dynamics in LatAm…Our bet here is that this company and business has all the same dynamics and the same really powerful tailwinds.”

For Accel partner Andrew Braccia, Nuvemshop has a clear first mover advantage.

Over the past decade, direct-to-consumer has become one of the most important drivers of entrepreneurship globally,” he said. “Latin America is no exception to this trend, and we believe that Nuvemshop has the level of sophistication and ability to understand all that change and fuel the continued transformation of commerce from offline to online.”

Looking ahead, Sosa expects Nuvemshop will use its new capital to significantly invest in: continuing to open its APIs; payments processing and financial services; “everything related to logistics and logistics management” and attracting smaller merchants. It also plans to expand into other markets such as Colombia, Chile and Peru over the next 18-24 months. Nuvemshop currently operates in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

“While the countries share the same secular trends and product experience, they have very different market dynamics,” Sosa said. “This requires an on the ground local knowledge to make it all work. Separate markets require distinct knowledge. That makes this a more complicated opportunity, but one that enables a long-term competitive advantage.”

Maple launches with $3.5 million in funding to become the SaaS backoffice for the family

Much of our daily lives have been transformed in one way or another by technology – and often through intentional efforts to innovate thanks to the advent of new technology. Now more than ever, we rely on shared collaboration platforms and digital workspaces in our professional lives, and yet most of the changes wrought by tech on our home and family lives seem like the accidental effects of broader trends, rather than intentional shifts. Maple, a new startup launching today, aims to change that.

Founded by former Shopify product director and Kit (which was acquired by Shopify in 2016) co-founder Michael Perry, Maple is billed as “the family tech platform,” and hopes to ease the burden of parenting, freeing up parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and kids to spend more quality time together. The startup, which is launching its app on iPhone and Android for all and onboarding new users from its waitlist over the next few weeks, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding – an impressive round for a company just about seven months into its existence. The round was led by Inspired Capital, and includes participation by Box Group, but is also supported by a number of angels who were Perry’s former colleagues at Shopify, including Shopify President Harley Finkelstein.

Perry and his co-founder Mike Taylor, who also co-founded Kit, decided to leave Shopify in order to pursue Perry’s vision of a platform that can help parents better manage their family lives – a platform made up of a social layer, a task-focused list of shared responsibilities, and a bourgeoning service marketplace that looks and feels a lot like the ecosystem Shopify has built for empowering e-commerce entrepreneurs. That’s by design, Perry says.

“I think you’re gonna see a lot of Shopify inspiration in this product – we think we’re the back office of every family,” Perry told me in an interview. “And we think we’re building the app ecosystem of apps, services, all kinds of things that are going to live on this platform that’s going to revolutionize parenting.”

In its current early incarnation, Maple’s primary interface for parents is a list of various tasks they need to take care of during the day. During onboarding, Maple asks parents what they’re typically responsible for in the household, and then uses some basic machine learning behind the scenes to build a customized schedule for getting those things done. Maple has signed on three initial partners to assist with accomplishing some of these tasks, including Evelyn Rusli’s Yumi food and nutrition brand for infants; Lalo, a DTC baby and toddler furniture and gear brand; and Haus, which will be providing date night packages for parents to enjoy for some getaway time.

Maple co-founder Micheal Perry with his son.

The platform will offer users the ability to tap others for help with tasks – these could be other family members added to the household, or the partners mentioned above (the plan is to bring on more, but to gate admittance initially while developing API endpoints that any company can potentially tap into). When interacting with family members, Maple also encourages smalls social interactions, like thanking someone for their help on a particular task or just showing general appreciation. Perry says this is a key ingredient he prioritized in product design.

“We have this cool thing that every day at eight o’clock, we give you an end of the day recap with your family,” Perry said. “So you click on it, and it will show me that, for example, Alex [Perry’s wife] completed three responsibilities for our family today, and how many I did for my family today, and how much help I received from other people today. And directly in app, you can send these cool little ‘Thank you ‘messages and say, you know, I love you, I appreciate you – we’re a great team. And Alex will get those messages. We believe in a world where this can be incredibly dynamic, in many different ways kto kind of bring some love and appreciation and make parenting feel more rewarding and easier.”

Perry is quick to note that what Maple offers today is only the beginning, and it’s clear he has bold ambitions for the platform. He talked about building “the family graph,” or a trove of data that can be used to not only build intelligent recommendations and develop ever more advanced machine learning to optimize family management, but also to provide partners with the tools they need to build products to best serve families. I asked Perry what that means for privacy, given that people are likely to be far more reluctant to share info around their families than they are about their work lives. He said the they team plans to go slow in terms of what it exposes to partners, when, and how, and that they’ll have user privacy in mind at each step – since, after all, Perry himself is a father and a husband and is wary of any incursions on his own private life.

For now, partners like Yumi only receive what users share with them through their own account creation and login mechanism, and they only pass back a basic attribution token – essentially letting Maple know the task was completed so it can mark it off in a user’s list.

Image Credits: Maple

Maple’s partners today are representative of the kind of businesses that might make use of the platform in future, but Perry has a much broader vision. He hopes that Maple can ultimately help parents handle their responsibilities across a wide range of needs and income levels. Right now, Perry points out, a lot of what’s available to parents in terms of support is only available to higher income brackets – ie., nannies and dedicated caregivers. Perry says that his experience growing up relatively poor with a young mother supporting the family while his father worked long hours led him to want to provide something better.

“You have 125 million households in America, you have 3 million children being born every year, you have 30% of the households in America being single parent-run households,” Perry said. “It’s hard. Some people are working one two jobs, most couples are working couples. Every industry that’s changed has been about making things more accessible. In the case of Shopify, at one point building, an online store required hundreds of thousands of dollars and a bunch of skilled people. Now you can start a store for $20 in five minutes – 20 years ago, that was unfathomable.”

For Perry, Maple represents a path to that kind of shift in the economics of parenting and a network of family services, including goods, care, leisure and more. The startup has plans to eventually enlist other parents to provide services, which Perry says will unlock part-time income generation for full-time parents, allowing parents to help each other at the same time.

I asked him if he thought people would be reluctant to treat their family lives with the same kind of optimization approach favored by enterprise and commercial platform tools, but he suggested that in fact, not taking advantage of those same technologies in our personal lives is a missed opportunity.

“We believe that, uniquely, we’re living through a generation where we can start creating more time for people,” Perry said. “I think what makes Maple so unique is that no company has approached this by asking ‘How do we create more time for you so that you can spend more time with your kids?’ in the consolidated way that we have.”

Disclosure: I worked at Shopify from 2018 to 2019 while Perry was employed there, but we did not work together directly.

Facebook to restore news sharing in Australia after government amends proposed law

Facebook said it will begin restoring news sharing to Australian users’ feeds in “the coming days” after reaching an agreement with the country’s government. The social media giant made the drastic move of restricting news content in Australia last Wednesday after a dispute over a proposed media bargaining code that is expected to be voted into law soon. The code would have forced Facebook, and other major tech companies like Google, to make revenue-sharing agreements with publishers for content posted to their social media platforms.

Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said changes have been made to the code to “provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the Code is intended to operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated,” reported Seven News.

The amendments mean the code now includes a two-month mediation period to allow digital platforms like Facebook and publishers to agree on deals before they are forced to enter into arbitration. The Australian government will also consider commercial agreements tech platforms have already made with local publishers before deciding if the code applies to them, and give them one month’s notice before reaching a final decision.

William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement that the company was “satisfied” with the changes, adding that they addressed Facebook’s “core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”

Facebook’s restrictions last week meant Australian publishers were restricted from sharing or posting content from Facebook Pages, and users in Australia were unable to view or share Australian or international news content.

The Australian government announced in April 2020 it would adopt a mandatory code ordering Google, Facebook and other tech giants to pay local media for reusing their content, after an earlier attempt to create a voluntary code with the companies stalled.

As it lobbied against the proposed law, Facebook first threatened to restrict the public sharing of news content in Australia last September. Google also claimed that user experience in Australia would suffer and suggested it may no longer be able to offer free services in the country.

Talking tech’s exodus, Twitter’s labels, and Medium’s next moves with founder Ev Williams

Earlier today, we had the chance to talk with Twitter and Medium cofounder Ev Williams, along with operator-turned investor James Joaquin, who helps oversee the day-to-day of the mission-focused venture firm they separately cofounded six years ago, Obvious Ventures.

We collectively discussed lot of venture-y things, some of which we’ll publish next week, so stayed tuned. In the meantime, we spent some time talking specifically with Williams about both Twitter and Medium and some of the day’s biggest headlines. Following are some excerpts from that chat, lightly edited for length and clarity.

TC: A lot of tech CEOs saying have been saying goodbye to San Francisco in 2020. Do you think the trend is attracting too much attention or perhaps not enough?

EW: I moved away from the Bay Area a little over a year ago, with my family to New York. I’d lived in San Francisco for 20 years, and I had never lived in New York, and thought, ‘Why not go? Now seems like a good time.’ Turns out I was wrong. [Laughs.] It was a very bad time to move to New York. So I was there for for six months, and quickly came back to California, which is a great place to be in a world where you’re not going into bars and restaurants and seeing people.

TC: You moved when COVID took hold?

EW: Yes. In March, Manhattan suddenly seemed not ideal. So now I’m on the peninsula.

I’m from San Francisco. It was really, for me, just honestly looking for a change. But an enabling factor that could be common in many of these cases is the fact that I no longer have to be in the office in San Francisco every day, [whereas] for most of 20 years [beforehand], all my work life was in an office in San Francisco, generally with a company I had started, so I thought it was important to be there.

This was pre COVID and remote work. But remote work was becoming more common. And I noticed in 2018 or so, with this massive number of companies that were in San Francisco —  startups and large public companies and pre IPO companies — the competition for talent had gotten more extreme than it had ever been. So it got me —  along with a lot of founders and CEOs — thinking about maybe the advantage of hiring locally and having everybody in the same office [was a pro] that was starting to get outweighed by the cons. . . And, of course, the tools and technology that make remote work possible were getting better all the time.

TC: As a cofounder of Twitter, I have to ask about this presidential transition that is maybe, finally happening. In January, Donald Trump will lose the privileges he enjoyed as president. Given the amount of disinformation he has published routinely, do you think Twitter should have cracked down on him sooner? How would you rate its handling of a president who really tested its boundaries in every way?

EW: I think what Twitter has done especially recently is a pretty good solution. I mean, I don’t agree with the the notion or that he should have been removed altogether a long time ago. Having the visibility, literally seeing, what what the President is thinking at any given moment, as ludicrous as it is, is helpful.

What he would be doing if he didn’t have Twitter is unclear, but he’d be doing something to get his message out there. And what the company has done most recently with the warnings on his tweets or blocking them is great. It’s providing more information. It’s kind of ‘buyer beware’ about this information. And it’s a bolder step than any platform had done previously. It’s a good version of an in between where previously [people would] talk about just kicking people off, [and] allowing freedom of speech.

TC: You started Blogger, then Twitter, then Medium. As someone who has spent much of your career  focused on content and distribution, do you have any other thoughts about what more Twitter or other platforms could be doing [to tackle disinformation]? Because there is going to be somebody who comes along again with the same autocratic tendencies.

EW: I think all of society gets more information savvy — that’s one hope over the long term. It wasn’t that long ago that if something was in “media,” it was accepted as true. And now I think everyone’s skeptical. We’ve learned that that’s not necessarily the case and certainly not online.

Unfortunately, we’re now at the point where a lot of people have lost faith in everything published or shared anywhere. But I think that’s a step along the evolution of just getting more media savvy and knowing that sources really matter, and as we build both better tools, things will get better.

TC: Speaking of content platforms, Medium charges $50 per year for users to access an unlimited amount of articles from individual writers and poets. Have you said how many subscribers the platform now has?

EW: We haven’t given a precise number, but I can tell you it’s in the high hundreds of thousands. It’s been a been a couple years now, and I’m a very firm believer in the model — not only that people will pay for quality information, but that it’s just a much healthier model for publishers, be they individuals or companies, because it creates that feedback loop of ‘quality gets rewarded.’

If people aren’t getting value, they unsubscribe, and that isn’t the case with an advertising model. If people click, you keep making money, and you can kind of keep tricking people or keep appealing to lowest-common-denominator impulses. There were a couple of decades where the mantra was ‘No one will pay for content on the internet,’ which obviously seems silly now. But that was that was the established belief for such a long time.

TC: Do you ever think you should have charged from the outset? I  sometimes wonder if it’s harder to throw on the switch afterward.

EW: Yes, and no. When we first switched to this model in 2017, we created a subscription, but the vast majority of content was — and actually still is — outside of the paywall. And our model is different than most because it’s a platform, and we don’t own the content, and we have an agreement with our creators that they can publish behind the paywall if they want, and we will pay them if they do that. But they can also publish outside the paywall if they’re not interested in making money and want maximum reach. And those those models are actually very complimentary because the scale of the platform brings a lot of people in through the top of the funnel.

Scale is really important for most businesses, but for a paywall, it’s especially important because people have to be visiting with enough frequency to actually hit the paywall and be motivated to pay.

TC: Out of curiosity, what do you make of Substack, a startup that invites writers to create their own newsletters using a subscription model and then takes a cut of their revenue in exchange for a host of back end services.

EW: There’s a bit of a creator renaissance going on right now that is part of a bigger wave of a people being willing to pay for quality information, and independent writers and thinkers actually breaking out on their own and building brands and followings. And I think we’re going to see more of that.

TC: Medium has raised $132 million over the years. Will you raise more? Where do you want to take the platform in the next 12 to 24 months?

EW: We’re not yet not yet profitable, so I anticipate that we will raise more money.

There’s a very big business to be built here. While more and more people are willing to pay for content way, I don’t think that means that most people will subscribe to dozens of sources, whether they’re websites with paywalls or newsletters. If you look at how basically every media category has evolved, a lot of them have gone through this shift from free to paid, at least at the higher end of the market. That includes music, television, and even games. And at the high end, there tend to be players who own a large part of the market, and I think that comes down to offering the best consumer value proposition — one that gives people lots of optionality, lots of personalization, and lots of value for one price.

I think that the same thing is going to play out in this area, and for the subscription that’s able to reach critical mass, that’s a multi-billion dollar business. And that’s what we’re aiming to build.

This is how police request customer data from Amazon

Anyone can access portions of a web portal, used by law enforcement to request customer data from Amazon, even though the portal is supposed to require a verified email address and password.

Amazon’s law enforcement request portal allows police and federal agents to submit formal requests for customer data along with a legal order, like a subpoena, a search warrant, or a court order. The portal is publicly accessible from the internet, but law enforcement must register an account with the site in order to allow Amazon to “authenticate” the requesting officer’s credentials before they can make requests.

Only time sensitive emergency requests can be submitted without an account, but this requires the user to “declare and acknowledge” that they are an authorized law enforcement officer before they can submit a request.

The portal does not display customer data or allow access to existing law enforcement requests. But parts of the website still load without needing to log in, including its dashboard and the “standard” request form used by law enforcement to request customer data.

The portal provides a rare glimpse into how Amazon handles law enforcement requests.

This form allows law enforcement to request customer data using a wide variety of data points, including Amazon order numbers, serial numbers of Amazon Echo and Fire devices, credit cards details and bank account numbers, gift cards, delivery and shipping numbers, and even the Social Security number of delivery drivers.

It also allows law enforcement to obtain records related to Amazon Web Services accounts by submitting domain names or IP addresses related to the request.

Assuming this was a bug, we sent Amazon several emails prior to publication but did not hear back.

Amazon is not the only tech company with a portal for law enforcement requests. Many of the bigger tech companies with millions or even billions of users around the world, like Google and Twitter, have built portals to allow law enforcement to request customer and user data.

Motherboard reported a similar issue earlier this month that allowed anyone with an email address to access law enforcement portals set up by Facebook and WhatsApp.