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Bird hopes a payment pivot could fix what ails high-growth startups

Investors want to see profits. Is adding payments to products the solution?

Bird hopes a payment pivot could fix what ails high-growth startups

A scooter company pivoting to mobile payments is an incredibly 2020 tech industry move.

Photo: Getty Images.

Bird, the scooter company, is pivoting into payments — kind of.

On Tuesday, Bird is announcing a test of Bird Pay, a new feature that lets people buy smoothies and açaí bowls from local businesses by scanning a QR code with the Bird app. The company says it's already testing it in Los Angeles and Santa Monica (the latter city being notorious as a testing ground in the scooter wars).

If the idea sounds familiar, it's because so many companies — from Google to Walmart to PayPal — have tried to get people to pay with QR codes. Even more companies have struggled to get people to use QR codes in the first place. And none of them has found a strong foothold in the U.S.

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So, why would a micro-mobility company that has nothing to do with fintech or payments now be giving it the old college try? A desire to diversify its revenue streams and the chance to get into a hot and profitable market, most likely — especially given investors' growing emphasis on profits and a recent string of billion-dollar fintech acquisitions. Despite an infusion of VC money in 2019, Bird struggled to stem massive losses, and its CEO admitted that profitability was the new north star: "Gone are the days when top line growth was the leading KPI for emerging companies. Positive unit economics is the new goal line," said founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden in October.

Expanding into payments is also increasingly part of a mobility company's playbook, despite how seemingly unrelated they may sound. Southeast Asia's Grab has made a push into fintech, as have other mostly Asian transportation companies. Grab's financial services arm does everything from payments and rewards to money-lending and insurance.

Even Uber has a credit card and an Uber Cash wallet where people can add money to their account to pay for Uber rides or Uber Eats delivery (but nothing outside of Uber).

Getting Americans to use QR codes is going to be a tougher sell than preloading some cash.

Every few years, U.S. companies try to re-create the success WeChat's had in China with QR codes, but none has yet succeeded. Snapchat and Spotify both leaned into QR-style codes as easy ways to add friends or share music. Facebook launched its own type of scannable profile codes in Messenger, then killed it three years later in 2019 (Messenger now supports normal QR codes). In retail, stores like Walmart have launched their own mobile wallet apps that let people scan QR codes to pay. Others, like Target and Starbucks, instead use bar codes inside the app that the cashier scan in order to check them out.

Bird may have one advantage when it comes to getting people to make QR code payments: Its riders are already trained to pull their smartphones out to scan the QR code when they unlock a scooter. Bird says that 58% of its riders head to or end at a local business, though whether a rider actually goes into that business to buy something, rather than just leaving their Bird scooter nearby and going elsewhere, the company can't know.

Even if riders do hop off their scooter and bound into a shop, it's a leap for riders to then keep the scooter app open, or open it again, so they can pay for their oat milk once they walk into a store.

The question is whether there's something about using a scooter to arrive at a shop means that Bird Pay will have a better chance of success than all of the other companies who have tried before it. Soon the verdict from Santa Monica will probably be clear. Just monitor the Instagram posts tagged at the shopping mecca of the Third Street Promenade to see whether Bird riders are buying into it.

Protocol | Workplace

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has opened the floodgates

An employee walkout, a tumbling stock price and damning new reports of misconduct.

Activision Blizzard is being sued for widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard is in crisis mode. The World of Warcraft publisher was the subject of a shocking lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week over claims of widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination against female employees. The resulting fallout has only intensified by the day, culminating in a 500-person walkout at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine on Wednesday.

The company's stock price has tumbled nearly 10% this week, and CEO Bobby Kotick acknowledged in a message to employees Tuesday that Activision Blizzard's initial response was "tone deaf." Meanwhile, there has been a continuous stream of new reports unearthing horrendous misconduct as more and more former and current employees speak out about the working conditions and alleged rampant misogyny at one of the video game industry's largest and most powerful employers.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

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Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.
Protocol | Workplace

Founder sues the company that acquired her startup

Knoq founder Kendall Hope Tucker is suing the company that acquired her startup for discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Kendall Hope Tucker, founder of Knoq, is suing Ad Practitioners, which acquired her company last year.

Photo: Kendall Hope Tucker

Kendall Hope Tucker felt excited when she sold her startup last December. Tucker, the founder of Knoq, was sad to "give up control of a company [she] had poured five years of [her] heart, soul and energy into building," she told Protocol, but ultimately felt hopeful that selling it to digital media company Ad Practitioners was the best financial outcome for her, her team and her investors. Now, seven months later, Tucker is suing Ad Practitioners alleging discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Knoq found success selling its door-to-door sales and analytics services to companies such as Google Fiber, Inspire Energy, Fluent Home and others. Knoq representatives would walk around neighborhoods, knocking on doors to market its customers' products and services. The pandemic, however, threw a wrench in its business. Prior to the acquisition, Knoq says it raised $6.5 million from Initialized Capital, Haystack.vc, Techstars and others.

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Megan Rose Dickey
Megan Rose Dickey is a senior reporter at Protocol covering labor and diversity in tech. Prior to joining Protocol, she was a senior reporter at TechCrunch and a reporter at Business Insider.
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Protocol | Workplace

What’s the purpose of a chief purpose officer?

Cisco's EVP and chief people, policy & purpose officer shares how the company is creating a more conscious and hybrid work culture.

Like many large organizations, the leaders at Cisco spent much of the past year working to ensure their employees had an inclusive and flexible workplace while everyone worked from home during the pandemic. In doing so, they brought a new role into the mix. In March 2021 Francine Katsoudas transitioned from EVP and chief people officer to chief people, policy & purpose Officer.

For many, the role of a purpose officer is new. Purpose officers hold their companies accountable to their mission and the people who work for them. In a conversation with Protocol, Katsoudas shared how she is thinking about the expanded role and the future of hybrid work at Cisco.

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Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Protocol | Fintech

The digital dollar is coming. The payments industry is worried.

Jodie Kelley heads the Electronic Transactions Association. The trade group's members, who process $7 trillion a year in payments, want a say in the digital currency.

Jodie Kelley is CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association.

Photo: Electronic Transactions Association

The Electronic Transactions Association launched in 1990 just as new technologies, led by the World Wide Web, began upending the world of commerce and finance.

The disruption hasn't stopped.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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