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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.

Facebook wants to be a metaverse company. What about Facebook.com?

Will the metaverse kill Facebook's legacy apps and services?

Will the metaverse replace Facebook's existing apps and services?

Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

At this week's Facebook Connect conference, Mark Zuckerberg is expected to unveil additional details about his company's quest to build the metaverse. That includes a new generation of social media services that brings real-time communication to AR, VR and other platforms, complete with varying degrees of embodied presence (in the future, we'll all be avatars).

Facebook has been spending heavily on this endeavor, including more than $10 billion in 2021 alone. During Thursday's Connect keynote, Zuckerberg is expected to share a few more details on what all this money is being spent on, including an update on the company's social VR world, called Horizon.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

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Gaurav Kataria
Group Product Manager, Trello at Atlassian

There’s a platform war brewing in the NFT gaming space

Valve's NFT ban has created the makings of a platform war in the burgeoning blockchain gaming space.

Play-to-earn is a whole new paradigm, based on creating real-world value out of in-game items and other forms of digital goods using non-fungible tokens, cryptocurrency and other blockchain technologies.

Image: Axie Infinity

The worlds of crypto and video games are fast colliding. The combination, dubbed "play-to-earn" and more broadly part of the decentralization movement known as "web3," could result in a whole new generation of gaming experiences with real-world economies and new player incentives. This, in turn, could radically upend traditional business models in the game industry.

That is, of course, if the traditional platform gatekeepers in gaming decide to open their doors. Right now, many of them are shut, leaving these games in their corners of the internet, and it's not clear what it might take to get the most powerful companies in the industry to open their arms to these new technologies. Meanwhile, the blockchain gaming market has become one of the fastest-growing segments in the game industry, and it's showing no signs of stopping.

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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.
Protocol | Policy

5 things to know about FCC nominee Gigi Sohn

The veteran of some of the earliest tech policy fights is a longtime consumer champion and net-neutrality advocate.

Gigi Sohn, who President Joe Biden nominated to serve on the FCC, is a longtime net-neutrality advocate.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Gigi Sohn to serve as a Federal Communications Commissioner, teeing up a Democratic majority at the agency that oversees broadband issues after months of delay.

Like Lina Khan, who Biden picked in June to head up the Federal Trade Commission, Sohn is a progressive favorite. And if confirmed, she'll take up a position in an agency trying to pull policy levers on net neutrality, privacy and broadband access even as Congress is stalled.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | Workplace

Adobe wants a more authentic NFT world

Adobe's Content Credentials feature will allow Creative Cloud subscribers to attach edit-tracking information to Photoshop files. The goal is to create a more trustworthy NFT market and digital landscape.

Adobe's Content Credentials will allow users to attach their identities to an image

Image: Adobe

Remember the viral, fake photo of Kurt Cobain and Biggie Smalls that duped and delighted the internet in 2017? Doctored images manipulate people and erode trust and we're not great at spotting them. The entire point of the emerging NFT art market is to create valuable and scarce digital files and when there isn't an easy way to check for an image's origin and edits, there's a problem. What if someone steals an NFT creator's image and pawns it off as their own? As a hub for all kinds of multimedia, Adobe feels a responsibility to combat misinformation and provide a safe space for NFT creators. That's why it's rolling out Content Credentials, a record that can be attached to a Photoshop file of a creator's identity and includes any edits they made.

Users can connect their social media addresses and crypto wallet addresses to images in Photoshop. This further proves the image creator's identity, but it's also helpful in determining the creators of NFTs. Adobe has partnered with NFT marketplaces KnownOrigin, OpenSea, Rarible and SuperRare in this effort. "Today there's not a way to know that the NFT you're buying was actually created by a true creator," said Adobe General Counsel Dana Rao. "We're allowing the creator to show their identity and attach it to the image."

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

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