Finance

Robinhood cuts trading fees, grows profits with in-house clearing

Posted by | Apps, eCommerce, Finance, Mobile, Robinhood, Startups, stock trading, TC, Vlad Tenev | No Comments

As zero-commission stock trading app Robinhood starts preparing to IPO, an engineering investment two years in the making could accelerate its quest for profitability. Most stock broker services have to pay an external clearing house to reconcile trades between buyers and sellers. Now with 6 million accounts up from 4 million just 5 months ago, that added up to a huge cost for Robinhood since it doesn’t demand a trading fee like the $7 to $10 that incumbent competitors E*Trade and Scottrade charge. Relying on outside clearing also introduced bottlenecks around its innovation and user sign ups, limiting onboarding to business hours.

But today Robinhood will start migrating accounts to its new in-house clearing service over the next few months. That will save it from paying clearing fees on stock, option, ETF and cryptocurrency trades. In turn, Robinhood is eliminating or reducing some of its edge case fees: $10 broker assisted trades, $10 restricted accounts, $50 voluntary corporate actions and $30 worthless securities processing will all now be free. Robinhood is meanwhile cutting its margin on fees passed on by banks or FedEx, so ACH reversal fees will drop from $30 to $9, overnight check delivery from $35 to $20 and overnight mail from $35 to $20.

“What’s really interesting is that this is the only clearing system built from scratch on modern technology in at least the last decade,” Robinhood co-founder and co-CEO Vlad Tenev tells me. Most clearing services ran mainframes and terminal-based UIs that aren’t built for the pace of startup innovation. Going in-house “allows us to vertically integrate our business so we won’t have to depend on third-parties for foundational aspects. It’s a huge investment in the future of Robinhood that will massively impact our customers and their experience, but also help us out on building the kind of business we want to build.”

There’s a ton of pressure on Robinhood right now since it’s raised $539 million to date, including a $363 million Series D in May at a jaw-dropping $5.6 billion valuation just a year after raising at $1.3 billion. Currently Robinhood earns revenue from interest on money kept in Robinhood accounts, selling order flow to exchanges that want more liquidity, and its Robinhood Gold subscriptions, where users pay $10 to $200 per month to borrow $2,000 to $50,000 in credit to trade on margin. Last month at TechCrunch Disrupt, Robinhood’s other co-CEO Baiju Bhatt told me the startup is now actively working to hire a CFO to get its business ready to IPO.

Whoever that CFO is will have an easier job thanks to Christine Hall, Robinhood’s Product Lead for Clearing. After stints at Google and Udacity, she was hired two years to navigate the regulatory and engineering challenges of spinning up Robinhood Clearing. She explains that “Clearing is just a fancy word for making sure that when the user places a trade, the price and number of shares matches what the other side wants to give away. In the less than 1 percent chance of error, the clearing firm makes sure everyone is on the same page prior to settlement.

Robinhood Clearing Product Lead Christine Hall

Forming the Robinhood Securities entity, Hall scored the startup the green light from FINRA, the DTCC and the OCC. She also recruited Chuck Tennant, who’d previously run clearing firms and would grow a 70-person team for the project at Robinhood’s Orlando office. They allow Robinhood to clear, settle (exchanging the dollars and shares) and ensure custody (keeping records of asset movements) of trades. 

“It gives us massive cost savings, but since we’re no longer depending on a third-party, we basically control our destiny,” Tenev says. No more waiting for clearing houses to adapt to its new products. And no more waiting the whole weekend for account approval as Robinhood can now approve accounts 24/7. These little improvements are critical to Robinhood staying ahead of the pack of big banks like Charles Schwab that are lowering their fees to compete, as well as other startups offering mobile trading. The launch could also blossom into a whole new business for Robinhood if it’s willing to take on clearing for other brokers, including fintech apps like Titan.

Clearing comes with additional risk. Regulatory scrutiny is high, and the more Robinhood brings in-house, the more security work it must do. A breach could break the brand of user trust it’s been building. Yet if successful, the launch equips Robinhood for an ambitious future beyond playing the markets. “The mission of the company has expanded a lot. It used to be all about stock trading. But if you look at Robinhood five years from now, it’s about being best-in-class for all of our customers’ financial needs,” Tenev concludes. “You should be able to get everything from Robinhood that you could get from walking into your local bank.” That’s a vision worthy of the startup’s epic valuation.

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N26 is launching its bank in the UK

Posted by | Banking, Battlefield, Europe, Finance, Mobile, N26, Revolut, Startups | No Comments

Nearly a year after German fintech startup N26 announced that it would launch its service in the U.K., the company is launching in the U.K. N26 is already quite popular in the Eurozone, with more than 1.5 million customers. In this new market, it will face tough competition from existing players, such as Revolut, Monzo, Starling and many others.

N26 is going to roll out its product in multiple phases. Some lucky few will be able to open an account right away. The startup will then go through its waiting list — 50,000 people already left their email addresses to express interest. After that, anybody will be able to download the app and sign up.

This might sound like a convoluted process, but N26 expects a full public launch in just a few weeks. So it should be quite quick if everything goes as planned.

So what can you expect exactly? British customers will get all the basic N26 stuff with one killer feature — U.K. account numbers and sort codes. This way, customers will be able to receive payments and share banking information with their utility providers just like they would with a regular Barclays or Lloyds account.

When you open an N26 account, you get a true bank account and a MasterCard. Basic accounts are free, and N26 has a proper banking license — your deposits up to €100,000 are guaranteed by the European deposit guarantee scheme. You can then send and receive money and pay with your card. Sending money to other N26 users is instantaneous (they call it MoneyBeam).

N26 recently launched Spaces, a new feature that lets you create sub accounts and put some money aside. It’s still limited, but the company plans to add more features.

Your MasterCard works like any other challenger bank. Every time you use it, you receive a push notification. You can set payment and withdrawal limits, lock your card if you lose it and reset your PIN code. N26 will also bring Black and Metal plans to the U.K.

How does it compare to Revolut?

Let’s be honest, the elephant in the room is Revolut . The company has hundreds of thousands (if not over a million) customers in the U.K. N26 lets you do many of the things you can already do with your Revolut account.

So let me point out a few differences. As I noted, N26 has a banking license and U.K. banking information. N26 cards work in Apple Pay and Google Pay.

When it comes to international payments, N26 lets you pay with your card anywhere in the world without any additional fee. The company uses MasterCard’s conversion rates. Revolut first converts the money with its forex feature and then lets you spend your money.

There are an infinite number of forum posts about the exchange rates you’ll get. Sometimes Revolut is cheaper, sometimes N26 is cheaper. It mostly depends on the day of the week (Revolut conversion rates are more expensive on the weekend) and the currency. Unless you plan to spend tens of thousands of GBP during your vacation, you won’t see a huge difference on your bank statement.

Revolut also has many more features than N26. You can insure your phone, buy bitcoins, buy travel insurance, create virtual cards and more. It’s clear that N26 and Revolut have two different styles.

Revolut has a bigger user base than N26. But it’s always been a bit hard to compare them, as N26 wasn’t available in the U.K. Of course, they will both say there are tens of millions of people relying on old banks — multiple challenger banks can grow at the same time if they capture market share from those aging players. Still, the battle between N26 and Revolut is on.

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Indonesian fintech startup Moka raises $24M led by Sequoia India

Posted by | Android, Asia, East Ventures, eCommerce, fenox, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Indonesia, moka, PayPal, softbank ventures korea, Southeast Asia, Vertex Ventures | No Comments

Indonesia’s Moka, a startup that helps SMEs and retailers manage payment and other business operations, has pulled in a $24 million Series B round for growth.

The investment is led by Sequoia India and Southeast Asia — which recently announced a new $695 million fund — with participation from new backers SoftBank Ventures Korea, EDBI — the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board — and EV Growth, the later stage fund from Moka seed investor East Ventures. Existing investors Mandiri Capital, Convergence and Fenox also put into the round.

The deal takes Moka to $27.9 million raised to date, according to data from Crunchbase.

Moka was started four years ago primarily as a point-of-sale (POS) terminal with some basic business functionality. Today, it claims to work with 12,500 retailers in Indonesia and its services include sales reports, inventory management, table management, loyalty programs, and more. Its primary areas of focus are retailers in the F&B, apparel and services industries. It charges upwards of IDR 249,000 ($17) per month for its basic service and claims to be close to $1 billion in annual transaction volume from its retail partners.

That’s the company’s core offering, a mobile app that turns any Android or iOS device into a point-of-sale terminal, but CEO and co-founder Haryanto Tanjo — who started the firm with CTO Grady Laksmono — said it harbors larger goals.

“Our vision is to be a platform, we want to be an ecosystem,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.

That’s where much of this new capital will be invested.

Tanjo said the company is opening its platform up to third-party providers, who can use it to reach merchants with services such as accounting, payroll, HR and more. The focus is initially on local services that cater to SMEs in Indonesia, but as Moka targets larger enterprises as clients, he said that it will integrate larger, global solutions, too.

Moka offers services beyond point-of-sale, but the core offering is turning any smart device into a cash machine

Moka itself is expanding its capabilities on the payment side.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country based on population and Southeast Asia’s largest economy, is in the midst of a fintech revolution with numerous companies pioneering mobile-based wallet services aimed at ending the country’s fixation on cash-based transactions. That’s mean that there are a plethora of options available today. Tanjo said Moka is working to support them all in order to help its merchants grow their businesses and consumers to have easier lives.

There are so many wallets here in Indonesia,” he said. “There are more than 10 right now and maybe in the next few months there’ll be 15-20, we want to be the platform that works with all of them.”

Already it works with the likes of OVO, T-Cash and Akulaku, and e-wallets including DANA and Kredivo. The startup is also working in another area of fintech: loans.

As an extension of its platform, it has tied up with SME loan companies who can reach out to Moka businesses using its platform. With the merchant’s consent, Moka can provide business data — including revenue, profit, etc — to help provide data to assess a loan application. That’s important because the process is particularly challenging in Southeast Asia, where few organized credit checking facilities exist — it makes sense that Moka — which has built its business around encouraging business growth and management — uses the information it has access to help its partners.

Tanjo said the company takes an undisclosed cut of the loan in cases where it has successfully connected the two parties. He said that he doesn’t expect that to initially become a major revenue stream, but over time he anticipates it will help its customer base grow and become a more important source of income for the startup.

Sequoia India has some experience in POS startups having backed Pine Labs in India, which recently landed a big $125 million round from PayPal and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek. Still, there are plenty of local players across various markets in Southeast Asia, including StoreHub, which is backed by Temasek subsidiary Vertex Ventures, and Malaysia’s SoftSpace.

While those two competitors have established a presence in multiple markets in Southeast Asia, Tanjo — the Moka CEO — said there are no plans to venture overseas for at least the next 12 months.

“We’re still scratching the service,” he said. “So [it] doesn’t make sense to expand too soon.”

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With a $10 million round, Nigeria’s Paga plans global expansion

Posted by | africa, alipay, Android, Bank, bank transfers, california, cellulant, ceo, Column, e-commerce, economy, ethiopia, Finance, kenya, M-Pesa, Mexico, mobile devices, mobile payment, money, Nigeria, Omidyar Network, online payments, p2p, PayPal, Philippines, Safaricom, San Francisco, Spotify, Sweden, Uber, vodafone, western union | No Comments
Jake Bright
Contributor

Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa.

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga is gearing up for an international expansion with $10 million in funding let by the Global Innovation Fund. 

The company is planning to release its payments product in Ethiopia, Mexico, and the Philippines—CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga looks to go head to head with regional and global payment players, such as PayPal, Alipay, and Safaricom’s M-Pesa, according to Oviosu.

“We are not only in a position to compete with them, we’re going beyond them,” he  said of Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile money product. “Our goal is to build a global payment ecosystem across many emerging markets.”

Founded in 2012, Paga has created a multi-channel network and platform to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally that’s already serving 9 million customers in Nigeria—including 6000 businesses. All of whom can drop into one of Paga’s 17,167 agents or transfer funds from one of Paga’s mobile apps.

Paga products work on iOS, Android, and basic USSD phones using a star, hashtag option. The company has remittance partnerships with the likes of Western Union and Moneytrans and allows for third-party integration of its app.

Paga has also built out considerable scale in home market Nigeria—which boasts the dual distinction as Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy.

Since inception, the startup has processed 57 million transactions worth $3.6 billion, according to Oviosu.

That’s no small feat given the country straddles the challenges and opportunities of growing digital payments. Only recently did Nigeria’s mobile and internet penetration break 50 percent and 40 percent of the country’s 196 million remain unbanked.

To bring more of Nigeria’s masses onto digital commerce, Paga recently launched a new money transfer-app that further simplifies the P2P payment process from mobile devices.

For nearly a decade, Kenya’s M-Pesa—which has 20 million active users and operates abroad—has dominated discussions of mobile money in Africa.

Paga and a growing field of operators are diversifying the continent’s payment playing field.

Fintech company Cellulant raised $47 million in 2019 on its business of processing $350 million in payment transactions across 33 African countries.

In Nigeria, payment infrastructure company Interswitch has expanded across borders and is pursuing an IPO. And Nigerian payment gateway startups Paystack and Flutterwave have digitized volumes of B2B transactions while gaining global investment.

So why does Paga—a Nigerian payments company—believe it can expand its digital payments business abroad?

“Why not us?,” said CEO Oviosu. “People sit in California and listen to Spotify that was developed in Sweden. And Uber started somewhere before going to different countries and figuring out local markets,” he added.

“The team behind this business has worked globally for some of the top tech names. This platform can stand shoulder to shoulder with any payments company built somewhere else,” he said.

On that platform, Oviosu underscores it has positioned itself as a partner, not a rival, to traditional banks. “Our ecosystem is not built to compete with you, it’s actually complimentary to you,” he said of the company’s positioning to big banks—enabling Paga to partner with seven banks in Nigeria.

Paga also sees potential to adapt its model to other regulatory and consumer environments. “We’ve built an infrastructure that rides across all mobile networks,” said Oviosu. “We’re not trying to be a bank. Paga wants to work with the banks and financial institutions to enable a billion people to access and use money,” he said.

As part of the $10 million round (which brings Paga’s total funding up to $35 million), Global Innovation Partners will take a board seat. Other round participants include Goodwell, Adlevo Capital, Omidyar Network, and Unreasonable Capital.

Paga will use the Series B2 to grow its core development team of 25 engineers across countries and continents. It will also continue its due diligence on global expansion—though no hard dates have been announced.

On revenues, Paga makes money on merchant payments, bank to bank transfers, and selling airtime and data. “As we roll out other services, we will build a model where we will make money on savings and lending,” said the company’s CEO.

As for profitability, Paga does not release financials, but reached profitability in 2018, according to Oviosu—something that was confirmed in the due diligence process with round investors.

On the possibility of beating Interswitch (or another venerable startup) to become Africa’s first big tech IPO, Oviosu plays that down. “For the next 3-5 years I see us staying private,” he said.

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Amazon-backed lending platform Capital Float buys consumer finance startup Walnut

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Apps, Asia, Capital Float, economy, Finance, financial services, Fundings & Exits, india, money | No Comments

India-based lending platform Capital Float has been busy raising capital, having closed an Amazon-led $22 million extension to its $45 million Series C last year —  now it’s putting some of that capital to work after it acquired personal finance service Walnut.

The acquisition is $30 million spread across cash and stock, the companies said, and it’ll boost five-year-old Capital Float’s move into the consumer space. The company has to date focused on serving SME and business customers, but last year it began to offer financial services to consumers.

Walnut helps consumers manage their finances and track spending, and it claims seven million downloads on Android . It also includes a feature — Walnut Prime — that offers an instant credit line. Already, it said, it has handed out nearly $15 million in consumer loans.

“Walnut Prime is a product of deep interest to us, and it will essentially become a new addition
to our stable of exceptional, customized credit products,” Capital Float co-founders Sashank Rishyasringa and Gaurav Hinduja said in a statement.

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Titan launches its mobile ‘not a hedge fund’

Posted by | Apps, BlackRock, eCommerce, Finance, hedge fund, Mobile, Robinhood, Startups, TC, titan, Wealthfront | No Comments

What Robinhood did to democratize buying individual stocks, Titan wants to do for investing in a managed portfolio. Instead of being restricted to rich accredited investors willing to pour $5,000 or even $500,000 into a traditional hedge fund that charges 2 percent fees and 20 percent of profits, Titan lets anyone invest as little as $1,000 for just a 1 percent fee on assets while keeping all the profits. Titan picks the top 20 stocks based on data mined from the most prestigious hedge funds, then invests your money directly in those with personalized shorts based on your risk profile.

Titan has more $10 million under management after quietly spinning up five months ago, and this week the startup graduates from Y Combinator. Now Titan is ready to give upscale millennials a more sophisticated way to play the markets.

This startup is hot. It refused to disclose its funding, likely in hopes of not tipping off competitors and incumbents to the opportunity it’s chasing. But it’s the buzz of YC, with several partners already investing their own money through Titan. When you consider Stanford-educated free stock-trading app Robinhood’s stunning $5.6 billion valuation thanks to its disruption of E*Trade, it’s easy to imagine why investors are eager to back Titan’s attack on other financial vehicles.

“We’re all 28 to 30 years old,” says co-founder Clayton Gardner about his team. “We want to actively invest and participate in the market but most of us who don’t have experience have no idea what we’re doing.” Most younger investors end up turning to family, friends or Reddit for unreliable advice. But Titan lets them instantly buy the most reputable stocks without having to stay glued to market tickers, while using an app to cut out the costs of pricey brokers and Wall Street offices.

Titan co-founders (from left): Max Bernardy, Joe Percoco, Clayton Gardner

“We all came from the world of having worked at hedge funds and private equity firms like Goldman Sachs. We spent five years doing that and ultimately were very frustrated that the experiences and products we were building for wealthy people were completely inaccessible to people who weren’t rich or didn’t have a fancy suit,” Gardner recalls. “Instead of charging high fees, we can use software to bring the products directly to consumers.”

How Titan works

Titan wants to build BlackRock for a new generation, but its origin is much more traditional. Gardner and his co-founder Joe Percoco met on their first day of business school at UPenn’s Wharton (of course). Meanwhile, Titan’s third co-founder, Max Bernardy, was studying computer science at Stanford before earning a patent in hedge fund software and doing engineering at a few startups. The unfortunate fact is the world of finance is dominated by alumni from these schools. Titan will enjoy the classic privilege of industry connections as it tries to carve out a client base for a fresh product.

“We were frustrated that millennials only have two options for investing: buying and selling stocks themselves or investing in a market-weighted index,” says Gardner. “We’re building the third.”

Titan’s first product isn’t technically a hedge fund, but it’s built like one. It piggybacks off the big hedgies that have to report their holdings. Titan uses its software to determine which are the top 20 stocks across these funds based on turnover, concentration and more. All users download the Titan iOS or Android app, fund their account and are automatically invested into fractional shares of the same 20 stocks.

Titan earns a 1 percent annual fee on what you invest. There is a minimum $1,000 investment, so some younger adults may be below the bar. “We’re targeting a more premium millennial for start. A lot of our early users are in the tech field and are already investing,” says Gardner.

For downside protection, Titan collects information about its users to assess their risk tolerance and hedge their investment by shorting the market index 0 to 20 percent so they’ll earn some if everything crashes. Rather than Titan controlling the assets itself, an industry favorite custodian called Apex keeps them secure. The app uses 256-bit encryption and SSL for data transfers, and funds are insured up to $500,000.

How have its bets and traction been doing? “We’ve been pleasantly surprised so far,” Gardner beams, noting Titan’s thousands of clients. It claims it’s up 10 percent year-to-date and up 33 percent in one year compared to the S&P 500’s 2 percent year-to-date and 22 percent in one year. Since users can pull out their funds in three to four business days, Titan is incentivized to properly manage the portfolio or clients will bail.

But beyond the demographic and business model, it’s the educational elements that set Titan apart. Users don’t have to hunt online for investment research. Titan compiles it into deep dives into top stocks like Amazon or Comcast, laying out investment theses for why you should want your money in “the everything store” or “a toll road for the Internet.” Through in-app videos, push notifications and reports, Titan tries to make its users smarter, not just richer.

With time and funding, “Eventually we hope to launch other financial products, including crypto, bonds, international equities, etc.,” Percoco tells me. That could put Titan on a collision course with Wealthfront, Coinbase and the recently crypto-equipped Robinhood, as well as direct competitors like asset managers BlackRock and JP Morgan.

“If we fast-forward 10 to 20 years in the future, millennials will have inherited $10 trillion, and at this rate they’re not equipped to handle that money,” says Gardner. “Financial management isn’t something taught in school.”

Worryingly, when I ask what they see as the top threats to Titan, the co-founders exhibited some Ivy League hubris, with Gardner telling me, “Nothing that jumps out…” Back in reality, building software that reliably prints money is no easy feat. A security failure or big drop could crater the app’s brand. And if its education materials are too frothy, they could instill blind confidence in younger investors without the cash to sustain sizable losses. Competitors like Robinhood could try to swoop in an offer managed portfolios.

Hopefully if finance democratization tools like Titan and Robinhood succeed in helping the next generations gather wealth, a new crop of families will be able to afford the pricey tuitions that reared these startups’ teams. While automation might subsume labor’s wages and roll that capital up to corporate oligarchs, software like Titan could boost financial inclusion. To the already savvy, 1 percent might seem like a steep fee, but it buys the convenience to make the stock market more accessible.

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Apple is worth over $1,000,000,000,000

Posted by | aapl, Apple, Finance, Gadgets | No Comments

It happened. Apple won the race to $1 trillion in market capitalization. Following this week’s earnings release, Apple shares (NASDAQ:AAPL) briefly traded at $207.05, which values the company sightly over $1 trillion based on the most recent share count of July 20.

While the smartphone market is more or less saturated, Apple managed to increase its margins and the average selling price thanks to the iPhone X.

iPhone sales grew by 1 percent, but revenue jumped by 20 percent. With $53.3 billion in revenue, the company managed to grow by 17 percent year-over-year.

iPad sales are more or less flat while Mac sales are down. For the past few years, Apple has been saying that services are going to become a key part of the company’s bottom line. All various services (Apple Music, iCloud, Apple Pay, etc.) now represent $9.6 billion in revenue.

But let’s be honest. Apple is killing it on the iPhone front, and it’s all that matters.

Big tech companies have been performing incredibly well for the past year. Alphabet (Google), Amazon and Microsoft now all have a credible shot at crossing the $1 trillion mark.

It’s a meaningless milestone, but an impressive one — $1,000,000,000,000.

Apple has been the biggest company in the world when it comes to market cap for years. It might not remain the case forever, so the company can celebrate this moment.

Now that tech companies have become so big, it raises a ton of questions. Do they cause antitrust issues? Is there enough regulation to make sure they don’t hold too much economical and political power?

Apple (and Tim Cook) are more powerful than many countries and political leaders. Let’s hope they use this power for good.

Apple shares are now slightly below today’s high:

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Facebook loses $120 billion in market cap after awful Q2 earnings

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Facebook ads, Facebook Earnings, facebook privacy, Facebook Stories, Finance, instagram, Mobile, Snapchat Clone, Social, WhatsApp | No Comments

Facebook’s share price fell over 20 percent in after-hours trading today after the company announced its slowest-ever user growth rate and a scary warning that its revenue growth would rapidly decelerate. Before today’s brutal Q2 earnings, Facebook’s share price closed today at $217.50 – a record high — but fell to around $172 after the earnings call. That’s a market cap drop of roughly $123 billion. In two hours, Facebook lost more value than most startups and even public companies are ever worth.

Here’s the full story on Facebook’s disastrous Q2 2018 earnings:

So why did Facebook’s share price sink like a stone? There are five big reasons:

Slowest-Ever User Growth Rate – Facebook’s monthly user count grew just 1.54, compared to 3.14 last quarter. Daily active users grew even slower at 1.44 percent, compared to 3.42 percent last quarter. For reference, 2.18 percent was its previous slowest DAU growth rate back in Q4 2017. Suddenly hitting this wall could limit Facebook’s total user count over the long-run, and its revenue with it. Facebook tried to distract from these facts by announcing a new “family of apps audience” metric of 2.5 billion people using at least one of its apps, which will hide the shift of users from Facebook to Instagram and WhatsApp.

User Count Shrank In Europe, Flat In US & Canada – Facebook saw its first-ever decline in monthly user count in Europe, from 377 million to 376 million. It got stuck at 241 million in the US & Canada after similarly pausing at 239 million in Q4 2017. Those are Facebook’s two most lucrative markets, with it earning $25.91 per user in North America and $8.76 in Europe. If those markets stall, even swift growth in the Rest Of World region where it earns just $1.91 per user won’t save it.

Decelerating Revenue Growth – Facebook’s revenue grew a remarkable 42 percent year-over-year this quarter. But CFO David Wehner warned that metric would decelerate by high single-digit percentage per quarter over the coming quarters. Wehner said a combination of currency headwinds, new privacy controls, and new experiences like Stories will contribute to the deceleration. This news is what caused Facebook’s share price to drop from -7 percent to `-20 percent.

Privacy And Well-Being – Q2 saw the debut of Europe’s GDPR that forced Facebook to change its privacy policies and get users to agree to how it collects data about them. Wehner blamed GDPR for Facebook loss of users in Europe. That law and Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal led the company to have to improve its privacy controls. These could make it tougher for Facebook to target people with ads or show their content to more people.

Meanwhile, Facebook has continued to adopt the “Time Well Spent” philosophy, removing click-bait news and crappy viral videos that lead to passive internet content consumption that studies say is unhealthy. Instead, Facebook is pushing features like Watch Party where users actively interact with each other. Those might not produce as much time on site and subsequent ad views, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the changes are “positive and we’re going to continue in this direction.”

The Shift To Stories – Facebook estimates that by in 2019, sharing via ephemeral vertical Stories slideshows will surpass sharing via feeds. The problem is that advertisers may be slower than users to make that shift. “Will this monetize at the same rate as News Feed? We honestly don’t know” COO Sheryl Sandberg said. Stories ads might be full-screen and more immersive, but they don’t show off links to online stores as well, nor are they as well optimized from decades of banner ad experience by the industry.

Luckily, even though Snapchat invented the Stories format, Facebook has far more people using it each day, with 150 million Stories users on Facebook, 70 million on Messenger, 400 million on Instagram, and 450 million on WhatsApp . If Facebook does manage to figure out Stories ads, it could dominate, but it could take years for its advertiser count and ad prices to rise to offset the shift away from feeds.

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Twitter buys a startup to battle harassment, e-cigs are booming, and a meditation app is worth $250M

Posted by | calm, equity, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, juul, Mobile, Podcasts, smyte, Startups, Twitter, Venture Capital | No Comments

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley Editor Connie Loizos and I jammed out on a couple of topics as Alex Wilhelm was out managing his fake stock game spreadsheets or something. (The jury is out on whether this was a good or bad thing.)

First up is Twitter buying Smyte, a startup targeting fixes for spam and abuse. This is, of course, Twitter’s perennial problem and it’s one that it’s been trying to fix for some time — but definitely not there yet. The deal terms weren’t disclosed, but Twitter to its credit has seen its stock basically double this year (and almost triple in the past few years). Twitter is going into a big year, with the U.S. midterm elections, the 2018 World Cup, and the Sacramento Kings probably finding some way to screw up in the NBA draft. This’ll be a close one to watch over the next few months as we get closer to the finals for the World Cup and the elections. Twitter is trying to bill itself as a home for news, focusing on live video, and a number of other things.

Then we have Juul Labs, an e-cigarette company that is somehow worth $10 billion. The Information reports that the PAX Labs spinout from 2015 has gone from a $250 million valuation all the way to $10 billion faster than you can name each scooter company that’s raising a new $200 million round from Sequoia that will have already been completed by the time you finish this sentence. Obviously the original cigarette industry was a complicated one circa the 20th century, so this one will be an interesting one to play out over the next few years.

Finally, we have meditation app Calm raising a $27 million round at a $250 million pre-money valuation. Calm isn’t the only mental health-focused startup that’s starting to pick up some momentum, but it’s one that’s a long time coming. I remember stumbling upon Calm.com back in 2012, where you’d just chill out on the website for a minute or so, so it’s fun to see a half-decade or so later that these apps are showing off some impressive numbers.

That’s all for this week, we’ll catch you guys next week. We apologize in advance if Alex makes it back on to the podcast.

Equity  drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

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Venmo is discontinuing web support for payments and more

Posted by | Finance, Mobile, mobile apps, mobile payments, p2p payments, payments, PayPal, Venmo | No Comments

PayPal-owned, peer-to-peer payments app Venmo is ending web support for its service, the company announced in an email to users. The changes, which are beginning to roll out now, will see the Venmo .com website phasing out support for making payments and charging users. In time, users will see even less functionality on the website, the company says.

The message to users was quietly shared in the body of Venmo’s monthly transaction history email. It reads as follows:

NOTICE: Venmo has decided to phase out some of the functionality on the Venmo.com website over the coming months. We are beginning to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website, and over time, you may see less functionality on the website – this is just the start. We therefore have updated our user agreement to reflect that the use of Venmo on the Venmo.com website may be limited.

The decision represents a notable shift in product direction for Venmo. Though best known as a mobile payments app, the service has also been available online, similar to PayPal, for many years.

The Venmo website today allows users to sign in and view their various transaction feeds, including public transactions, those from friends, and personal transactions. You can also charge friends and submit payments from the website, send payment reminders, like and comment on transactions, add friends, edit your profile, and more.

Some users may already be impacted by the changes, and will now see a message alerting them to the fact that charging friends and making payments can only be done in the Venmo app from the App Store or Google Play.

It’s not entirely surprising to see Venmo drop web support. As a PayPal-owned property after its acquisition by Braintree which later brought it to PayPal, there’s always been a lot of overlap between Venmo and its parent company, in terms of peer-to-peer payments.

Venmo had grown in popularity for its simple, social network-inspired design and its less burdensome fee structure among a younger crowd. This made it an appealing way for PayPal to gain market share with a different demographic.

It’s also cheaper, which people like. PayPal doesn’t charge for money transfers from a bank account or PayPal balance, but does charge 2.9 percent plus a $0.30 fixed fee on payments from a credit or debit card in the U.S. Venmo, meanwhile, charges a fee of 3 percent for credit card payments, but makes debit card payments free. That’s appealing to millennials in particular, many of whom have ditched credit cards entirely, and are careful about their spending.

Plus, as a mobile-first application, Venmo was offering a more modern solution for mobile payments, at a time when PayPal’s app was looking a bit long in the tooth. (PayPal has since redesigned its mobile app experience to catch up.)

Another factor in Venmo’s decision could be that, more recently, it began facing competition from newcomer Zelle, the bank-backed mobile payments here in the U.S. which is forecast to outpace Venmo on users sometime this year, with 27.4 million users to Venmo’s 22.9 million. In light of that threat, Venmo may have wanted to consolidate its resources on its primary product – the mobile app.

Not everyone is happy about Venmo’s changes, of course. After all, even if the Venmo website wasn’t heavily used, it was used by some who will certainly miss it.

@venmo i only use the website to send/receive payments so in guess you’re cancelled!

— respectfully yours (@biking_away_) June 15, 2018

@venmo This makes me really #sad….”Venmo has decided to phase out some of the functionality on the https://t.co/Dw7W551BsL website over the coming months.” #CanWeGoBackToHowItWas

— V Lav (@Druzy920) June 14, 2018

@venmo Why are you breaking your website?

— Lozaning (@lozaning) June 14, 2018

@VenmoSupport @venmo Just got an email saying you’re phasing out website functions. What’s the justification? Pay and charge by web is incredibly useful.

— Woode (@Woode2380) June 14, 2018

Venmo email: “We are beginning to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the https://t.co/iAFTbn3EY0 website, and over time, you may see less functionality on the website – this is just the start.”

Is this a threat?

— Noah Mittman (@noahmittman) June 14, 2018

Reached for comment, Venmo explained the decision to phase out the website functionality stems from how it sees its product being used.

A Venmo spokesperson told TechCrunch:

Venmo continuously evaluates our products and services to ensure we are delivering our users the best experience. We have decided to begin to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website. Most of our users pay and request money using the Venmo app, so we’re focusing our efforts there. Users can continue to use the mobile app for their pay and charge transactions and can still use the website for cashing out Venmo balances, settings and statements.

The company declined to clarify what other functionality may be removed from the website over time, but noted that using Venmo to pay authorized merchants is unaffected.

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