Plaid improves its account linking flow

Plaid, the company building a universal banking API that lets you connect an app or service with a bank account, has updated Plaid Link. Plaid Link is the interface you see when you add your bank account to any app or service that uses Plaid, such as Cash App or TransferWise.

Given that 3,000 apps have been using Plaid, chances are you’ve seen Plaid Link in the past. According to the company, one in four people in the U.S. have used Plaid to connect their accounts.

And today’s update is all about using Plaid with multiple apps. The first time you connect your bank account, you search for your bank, you enter your credentials and you log in.

The second time you need to add your bank account, Plaid shows you previously added bank accounts. You don’t have to scroll through a list of financial institutions and you don’t have to enter you user ID. Plaid might ask you for your password again or a one-time code.

Image Credits: Plaid

When you buy something on an e-commerce platform, you can save your card so that you don’t have to enter your card details again. With today’s update to Plaid Link, the company is doing the same thing with bank account information.

Payment cards thrived in part because it is much easier to pay with your card than connecting to your bank account to send money. Polishing Plaid Link could slowly make it easier to skip the card and use money from your bank account directly.

Plaid also says that Plaid Link is a bit faster. Each panel loads 30% faster. The list of banks now changes depending on your location. Local banks appear closer to the top of the list so you don’t have to scroll as much.

Once you’ve added a bank account, the original app receives a Plaid token to query your bank account through Plaid.

Source: Tech Crunch

Writer pens a $5M seed round for its AI style guide that flags bias and tone

Anyone who writes online or in a word processor has likely gotten used to the inevitable squiggly line denoting a misspelled word or clumsy phrase. But what if you use a word that’s loaded, a phrase that’s too formal or not formal enough, or refer to a group of people in an outdated way? Writer is a service that watches as you type, flagging language that doesn’t match up with your style guide and values, and it just raised $5M to scale up.

Both people and the companies they work for want to improve the way they write, but not just in terms of grammar and spelling. If a company says it’s inclusive, but the language in its press releases or internal blogs are peppered with anachronism and bias, it suggests their concern only goes so far.

“Companies are hungry to put actions behind their words,” said Writer founder and CEO May Habib. “They want to be able to tell a consistent story to their users everywhere that they’re interacting with them. What Writer does is let people know when they’re using insensitive language, or things that could be considered negative, and let companies set brand guidelines.”

Right off the bat let us admit that there is a whiff of the sinister about the idea of a company dictating how its employees speak, though that’s nothing new when it comes to content and official communications. But this isn’t about controlling speech for power — it’s about recognizing that we are all flawed communicators and could use a hand keeping ourselves honest. Less thought police and more a well-informed angel sitting on your shoulder whispering things like, “Hey. Are you sure you want to describe that lawyer as ‘exotic’?”

Examples of things Writer checks for.

There are tons of slip-ups we all make along those lines, less obvious but no less potentially offensive. It’s important in public communications, among other things, to refer to a group by the term they prefer, not the first one that pops into your head; Writer has up-to-date libraries of this information sourced from the communities themselves. Some phrases may have become politically loaded in the last couple years, but you’re not aware; No problem, it has alternatives. You want to avoid unnecessarily gendered language, great, but everyone slips up now and then; Writer can spot it — or make the connection with previous pronouns to make sure you don’t, for example, gender an anonymous source.

Accusations of “political correctness” will dog the service, but as Habib put it: “This is beyond politics; This is about respect for people who live a certain way, or are a certain way, and prefer to use certain terms. We’re trying to help companies create communities of belonging.” And as we’ve seen over and over again in tech, there is often a serious disconnect between the stated aspiration of a company and how people are treated within them. Just using the right words is a pretty low bar to start with, honestly.

Image Credits: Writer

Writer isn’t just a growing blacklist of words you should think twice about using, though. The natural language processing engine at the heart of it is also very concerned with things like sentence complexity, paragraph length, and tone. It has to have this deeper understanding, Habib explained, because “it’s not enough to underline — you need to know what to replace it with, and when you replace it, you need to fit it into the sentence. These are actually hard NLP problems.”

That lets it fit into a variety of roles in addition to promoting inclusive language. It can watch for the usual spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as things like formality, active voice, “liveliness” (whatever that is, I don’t have it), and other metrics that help define a brand.

And of course you can bring in your own style guide so your editors don’t have to roll their eyes at serial commas in headlines, double dashes instead of em dashes, e-mail instead of email, and all the rest of the little nips and tucks that keep a brand’s writing in a generally recognizable shape.

Image Credits: Writer

The service can also switch between style guides or adjust or disable itself in different apps and sites — so internal emails aren’t given the same guidelines as press releases, or a blog post’s style can be differentiated from a newsletter’s.

Obviously Grammarly is a big competitor here, but Habib feels that it and the growing number of in-browser or in-app checking services are very focused on the technical piece. Writer is less about preventing an individual writer’s errors, and more about creating consistency among groups of writers and making sure they are working from the same high-level linguistic standards.

Of course security is also a concern — no one wants a keylogger running on their machine, however helpful it may be. Habib was careful to emphasize that Writer runs locally in the browser as a plug-in, integrating with Word or Chrome for now but with other apps and services on the way. “None of that data ever hits a writer server, and no metadata — all the processing is done in the text area,” she said. The only data that’s sent back is the fact that a given suggestion was used, such as changing “should of” to “should have” or “illegal aliens” to “undocumented immigrants.” No user data is used to train the models and no content apart from the correction itself is sent or stored on Writer’s servers.

Writer is available now, for $11/person/month (with the obligatory free trial period, of course) for a basic version and some unspecified amount for enterprise deals with multiple style guides, plagiarism detection, and so on. It’s only available in English, and although there is of course demand for the service in other languages, the depth of the NLP model and the specificity of what it recognizes to the language mean it does not generalize well. To take on Spanish or Korean would be to develop an entirely new product. So English it is for now.

The company is new, and has been developing its NLP engine (on the back of a previous effort, which monitored user-facing language in GitHub repos) for 18 months in something like stealth. The $5M seed round, led by Upfront Ventures, Aspect Ventures, Bonfire Ventures, and Broadway Angels should help the company scale, though it already has some top-tier, household-name customers, so with that and the money its immediate future seems to be secure.

Source: Tech Crunch

What if the kernel is corrupt?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s VC-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week, Alex is on a much deserved vacation (but not from Twitter, it seems) so Danny Crichton and I chatted through the news and happenings of the week. Somehow we winded our way through the latest tech controversies, gave Chris Wallace a shout out, and ended with some funding rounds. I’ll be out next week so don’t miss me too much, but expect the entire Equity team to be back full-speed in mid-October. Thanks, as always, to our producer Chris Gates for his patience and diligence.

Now, onto a sneak peek of what we got into:

  •  Moderation continues to be the root of all problems. We got into the anti-semitic comments that were spewed on Clubhouse, and what that means for the future of the audio-only platform. As Danny so eloquently put it: if Clubhouse is having moderation problems even with an exclusive invite-only user base, the problem will grow.
  •  We also talked about Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s blog post, which triggered a debate between us on whether tech companies can even choose to not be political. For the record, Black Lives Matter is not a political statement. It’s a human statement. Read this op-ed for more.
  •  I wrote a piece about how a new program wants to be the Y Combinator for emerging fund managers. The whole “YC for X” model usually makes me roll my eyes, but listen to hear why I’m actually optimistic and bullish on programs like these taking off within tech.
  • Silver Lake added a $2 billion ‘long-term’ hedge fund backed by Abu Dhabi to its tech finance toolkit. The strategy is a signal to privately-backed startups, and potentially a slap in the face to SoftBank.
  • For a quick edtech note, I caught up with Duolingo’s CEO this week in one of his rare press interviews. Luis Von Ahn explained the app’s surge in bookings, and there’s one key metric we pull out to noodle over.
  • Danny explained Gusto’s latest product launch with, wait for it, Gusto. In all seriousness, he brings up interesting points about the future of fin-tech feeling more full-suite, and free.
  • Funding round chatter continued when we unpacked Lee Fixel’s latest investment in India’s Inshorts
  • Finally, we ended with LiquidDeath,  which is not the name of a drinking game, but instead the name of a startup that has successfully attracted millions in venture capital for mountain water.

And with that, we will be back next week. Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Source: Tech Crunch

Oracle’s TikTok and Zoom deals won’t move cloud market share needle significantly

While the overall cloud infrastructure market is booming having reached $30 billion last quarter worldwide, Oracle is struggling with market share in the low single digits. It is hoping that the Zoom and TikTok deals can jump start those numbers, but trying to catch the market leaders Amazon, Microsoft and Google, never mind several other companies ahead of it, is going to take a lot more than a couple of brand name customers.

By now, you know Oracle and TikTok were joined together in unholy acquisition matrimony last month in the acquisition equivalent of a shotgun wedding. In spite of that, Oracle founder and chief technology officer Larry Ellison gushed in a September 19 press release about how TikTok had “chosen” his company’s cloud infrastructure service. The statement also indicated that this “choice” was influenced by Zoom’s decision to move some percentage of its workloads to Oracle’s infrastructure cloud earlier this year.

The mechanics of the TikTok deal aside, the question is how big an effect will these two customers have on the company’s overall cloud infrastructure market share. We asked a couple of firms who closely watch all things cloud.

John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy Research Group, wasn’t terribly optimistic that they would have much material impact on moving the market share needle for the database giant. “Oracle’s cloud infrastructure services growth has been consistently below overall IaaS and PaaS market growth rates so its market share has [actually] been nudging downward. Zoom may be a good win but it is unlikely to move the needle too much — and remember Zoom also buys cloud services from AWS,” Dinsdale told TechCrunch.

As for TikTok, Dinsdale, like the rest of us, wasn’t clear how that deal would ultimately play out, but he says even with both companies in the fold, it wasn’t going to shift market share as much as Oracle might hope. “Hypothetically, even if Zoom/TikTok helped Oracle increase its cloud infrastructure service revenues 50% over 12 months, which would be a real stretch, its market share would still be nearer to 2% than 3%. This compares with Google at 9%, Microsoft 18% and AWS 33%,” Dinsdale said.

He did point out that the company’s SaaS business is much stronger. “Broadening the scope a little to other cloud services, Oracle’s SaaS growth is running roughly in line with overall market SaaS market growth so market share is steady. Oracle’s share of the total enterprise SaaS market is running at around 6%, though if you drill down to the ERP segment it is obviously doing much better than that,” he said.

Canalys, another firm that follows the cloud infrastructure market says their numbers tell a similar story for Oracle. While it’s doing well in Saas with 7.8% market share, it’s struggling in IaaS/PaaS.

“For IaaS/PaaS, Oracle Cloud is at 1.9% for Q2 2020 and that isn’t moving much. The top three providers are AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, who have 30.8%, 20.2% and 6.2% respectively,” Blake Murray from Canalys told TechCrunch.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Google hired Diane Greene five years ago with the hope of accelerating its cloud infrastructure business. Former Oracle exec Thomas Kurian replaced her two years ago and the company’s market share still hasn’t reached double digits in spite of a period of big overall market growth, showing how much of a challenge it is to move the needle in a significant way.

Another big company, IBM bought Red Hat two years ago for $34 billion with an eye toward improving its cloud business, and while Red Hat has continued to do well, it does not seem to have much impact on the company’s overall cloud infrastructure market share, which has been superseded by Alibaba in fourth place, according to Synergy’s numbers. Both companies are in the single digits.

Synergy Research Q2 2020 cloud infrastructure market share graphs

Image Credits: Synergy Research

All that means, even with these two clients, the company still has a long way to go to be relevant in the cloud infrastructure arena in the near term. What’s unknown is if this new business will help act as lures for other new business over time, but for now it’s going to take a lot more than a couple of good deals to be relevant — and as Google and IBM have demonstrated, it’s extremely challenging to gain chunks of market share.

Source: Tech Crunch

Latin America’s digital transformation is making up for lost time

“Gradually, then suddenly.” Hemingway’s words succinctly capture the recent history of tech in Latin America. After more than a decade of gradual progress made through fits and starts, tech in Latin America finally hit its stride and has been growing at an accelerating pace in recent years.

The region now boasts 17 unicorns up from zero just three years ago. For the first time, the most valuable company in the region isn’t a state-controlled oil or mining behemoth, but rather e-commerce platform MercadoLibre.

We are only in the first chapter of this long story, however. When we compare the penetration of tech companies in Latin America to both developed and developing markets, we estimate that the market could grow nearly tenfold over the next decade. The value to be unlocked will be measured in trillions of dollars and the lives improved in the hundreds of millions.

Our venture capital fund, Atlantico, conducts a thorough annual analysis of market data from Latin America in what we call the Latin America Digital Transformation Report. The report consists of hundreds of data-rich slides based off of original studies, surveys and models constructed from a combination of public and proprietary data shared by many of the region’s leading tech companies. This year, for the first time, we have decided to make the report public and here we highlight some of the findings from this year.

Global venture capitalists, the likes of Sequoia, Benchmark and a16z have planted their flags through key investments in companies like Nubank, Wildlife and Loft. Those are not isolated incidents – venture capital investments in the region have nearly doubled annually for the last three years according to the Latin American Venture Capital Association (LAVCA). In order to understand what investors are seeing in the region, we analyzed the market through a simple framework we apply throughout our report.

The starting point for this framework is the socioeconomic foundation in place. The context in which transformation occurs is important in shaping its possible outcome. The same ingredients applied in different contexts and time periods will produce very different results. Thus, we believe that Latin America is unique globally, and the types of companies that will flourish (and to what extent) will be different than in other parts of the world. Trying to shoehorn foreign business models and products is unlikely to yield good results.

In the case of Latin America, it’s key to remember the region boasts a population twice that of the United States and a GDP half that of China’s (but similar on a per capita basis). In short: Latin America is big, a central factor that has the power to attract capital and talent. However, also critical to note is that economic inequality is severe. While a quarter of the region’s population lives in poverty, the wealthy in Mexico City and São Paulo enjoy living standards in line with their peers in New York and London.

This unique mix of large opportunity and critical problems waiting to be solved has provided fertile ground for the gig economy to flourish. Case-in-point: Brazil is Uber’s largest market globally in volume of rides, with São Paulo its largest city. Rappi, a major food delivery player in the region, valued at over $3 billion, grew its sales by 113% over the first five months of the pandemic. When taken together, the largest ride-hailing and food-delivery services in Brazil are already the largest private employer in Brazil, a formidable contribution to reducing high unemployment.

When we track technology company value as a percent of the economy (tech company market cap as a % of GDP) we clearly see that Latin America, at 2.2% penetration, has a ways to go. Our estimate is that it is 10 years behind China (at 27% penetration), which itself is five years behind current U.S. levels (39% penetration).

Image Credits: Atlantico

However, it is important to note that Latin America is making up for lost time. This metric for tech company penetration or share has been growing on average at 65% per year since 2003. In comparison, the growth in U.S. tech company penetration has grown at 11% annually in the same period, while China’s has expanded at 40%.

Image Credits: Atlantico

Drivers of digital transformation

Within the socioeconomic context of the region, we advance to looking at the three drivers of change in our framework: people, capital and regulation.

On the people front, the greater visibility of successful role models has catalyzed a desire to follow entrepreneurial footsteps. People like Mike Krieger (co-founder of Instagram), Marcos Galperin (founder/CEO of Mercado Libre) and Henrique Dubugras (founder/co-CEO of Brex) have shown that local talent can go on to build global companies.

In a survey we conducted with nearly 1,700 college students from the top universities in Brazil, 26% of students voiced a desire to work at startups or big tech companies. A whopping 39% expressed plans to start a company in the future, that number rising to 60% when we consider only computer science students. As more and more of the region’s top graduates flock to tech, it gives us confidence in the accelerating growth of the sector over many years to come.

On the capital front, the growth of venture funding in the region has been frequently written about. Last year, it hit a peak of $4.6 billion after doubling from the year before. However, what perhaps is more surprising is that despite this rapid growth, we are still far from the ceiling. When we view venture capital investments as a proportion of GDP, we see Latin America as only one-seventh of the U.S. level and a quarter of the level in India.

Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook won’t accept ads that ‘delegitimize’ US election results

Following a particularly dark and vivid display of the threats to the 2020 U.S. election during Tuesday’s first presidential debate, Facebook has further clarified its new rules around election-related ads.

Facebook is now expanding its political advertising rules to disallow any ads that “[seek] to delegitimize the outcome of an election” including “calling a method of voting inherently fraudulent or corrupt, or using isolated incidents of voter fraud to delegitimize the result of an election.”

Facebook Director of Product Management Rob Leathern, who leads the company’s business integrity team, announced the changes on Twitter.

Facebook says it will also not allow ads that discourage users from voting, undermine vote-by-mail or other lawful voting methods, suggest voter fraud is widespread, threaten safe voting through false health claims and ads that suggest the vote is invalid because results might not be immediately known on election night.

Both Twitter and Facebook recently issued new guidelines on how they will handle claims of election victory prior to official results, though Facebook’s rules appear to only apply to those claims if they’re made in advertising. We’ve asked Facebook for clarification about how those claims will be handled outside of ads, on a candidate’s normal account.

While Twitter opted to no longer accept political advertising across the board, Facebook is instead tweaking its rules about what kinds of political ads it will allow and when. Facebook previously announced that it would no longer accept ads about elections, social issues or politics in the U.S. after October 27, though political ads that ran before that date will be allowed to continue.

Facebook is already grappling with a deluge of attacks on the integrity of November’s U.S. election originating with President Trump and his supporters. During Tuesday night’s debate, Trump again cast doubt about voting by mail (a system already trusted and in use nationwide in the form of absentee ballots) and declined to commit to accepting election results in the event that he loses.

While the unique circumstances of the pandemic are leading to logistical challenges, voting through the mail is not new. A handful of states including Colorado and Oregon already conducted elections through the mail and vote-by-mail is just a scaled-up version of the absentee voting systems already in place nationwide.

On Wednesday, President Trump sowed conspiratorial ideas about defective ballots that were sent out in New York state as a result of vendor error. The state will reissue the ballots, but Trump seized on the incident as evidence that vote-by-mail is a “scam” — a claim that evidence does not bear out.

Trump’s attacks on the U.S. election are an unprecedented challenge for social platforms but also one for the nation as a whole, which has never in modern times seen the peaceful transfer of executive power threatened by a sitting president.

Source: Tech Crunch

Last chance to demo at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 — package sales end tomorrow

Opportunity alert! We’re just five short days away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2020, a two-day event focused on building the future of transportation. Thousands of attendees from around the world will be looking for the latest technologies and up-and-coming startups. Will they find your up-and-coming startup?

The answer is a resounding yes — if you buy an Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package. Join more than 40 other early-stage startups exhibiting in our expo area and plant your company in the path of the influencers who can help drive your business forward. Expand your network and build sustainable relationships that can provide long-lasting benefits.

Deadline alert! Act now because exhibitor package sales end tomorrow, October 2, at 11:59 p.m. (PDT).

Let’s look at just some of the benefits that come from exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility. It’s a “Field of Dreams” moment — if you exhibit, they will come. We’re talking media hunting for their next great story, investors who want to pack their portfolio pipeline, founders looking for partnerships, brilliant engineers eager for employment and, of course, potential customers.

Exhibiting lets you present your pitch decks, schedule demos, start conversations and see where they lead. Add it all together and you get invaluable exposure, increased brand recognition and infinite opportunity.

TC Sessions Mobility offers several big benefits. First, networking opportunities that result in concrete partnerships. Second, the chance to learn the latest trends and how mobility will evolve. Third, the opportunity for unknown startups to connect with other mobility companies and build brand awareness. — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

Want even more exposure? We’ve got you covered. Every exhibiting startup will get five minutes to pitch live in a pitch session. Think of it: You — strutting your stuff in front of influential mobility movers, shakers and startup dream makers from around the world. Warm up your pitching arm, folks. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 takes place October 6-7, but your opportunity to exhibit in the expo comes to a screeching halt tomorrow, October 2 at 11:59 p.m. (PDT). Don’t waste another minute. Secure your Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package now and get ready to fast-track opportunity.

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Source: Tech Crunch