Protocol | Fintech

Square buys Crew, a messaging app for frontline workers

With Cash App and Tidal, Square is looking less like a payments company every day. And even in its core payments business, it's diversifying.

A cafe using Square's register software and stand.

Many businesses using Square for payments also need to manage workers' schedules.

Square has acquired Crew, maker of a messaging service for retail and other in-person workers, in a deal to bolster Square's workforce management products.

It's the latest move by Square to widen its business beyond payments. Recent deals have included a majority stake in music-streaming service Tidal and a tax-preparation business to bolster Square's Cash App unit.

Square already has team-management tools such as digital time cards and shift scheduling, but Crew furthers Square's goal of offering merchants an array of integrated tools for managing their businesses beyond the payments hardware and software for which it was first known.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Crew had raised about $58 million from Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners, Aspect Ventures and Harrison Metal. Founding CEO Danny Leffel left in 2019, less than a year after the company raised a $35 million series C round. Co-founder Broc Miramontes — who previously worked with Leffel at Yardsellr, an ecommerce startup — has run the company since then.

Crew's main product is a messaging app for frontline workers. Square has a text-message marketing product and a text scheduling product for customers, but not a messaging product for workers.

Crew helps companies communicate with large groups of employees through broadcast messages, or target only certain groups, such as workers at certain locations or managers only. And workers can message with other workers. In its focus on retail workers and others who work primarily on-site rather than in an office, it's different from Slack, which is focused on knowledge workers.

"Communication for knowledge workers has become revolutionized over the last five to 10 years," said Saumil Mehta, general manager of Square Point of Sale. "And for frontline workers, there hasn't been that much investment in collaboration and communication."

This type of messaging, like many digital tools, has seen an uptick in usage during the pandemic, when businesses are trying to stay in touch with employees, Mehta said.

"You imagine a scenario where you have hundreds of employees and you don't have email addresses for many of them, maybe all of them," he said. "And all of a sudden the store's shut down and you still want to be able to communicate."

In addition to messaging, Crew also has features such as rewards and recognition for workers, employee surveys, broadcast announcements, and assigning and management of tasks for workers.

Square's existing team management offering helps merchants manage their workforce, including scheduling workers' shifts, tracking labor with timecards, handling tips and sales commissions, and analyzing sales data — and managing individual access to things such as bank accounts. Some of this also integrates into other Square products, such as time cards rolling into Square's payroll product.

In its core payments business, Square's strategy has been to layer on a suite of services to help merchants manage their businesses, from business loans to marketing products. Crew helps fill out the labor management piece. It also helps Square differentiate from the many payments-processing and point of sale offerings for merchants.

This is especially true for larger and more complex businesses. Last year, of Square's mid-market and large enterprise customers with $500,000 or more a year in payments processed, nearly all used Square's team-management products, Mehta said. About a quarter of the gross payment volume in Square's seller business in 2020 came from businesses that use Square's team-management products.

Crew has a free tier of service, which could provide leads for Square to cross-sell other paid services.

Miramontes and Crew COO Scott Van Brunt are joining Square.

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.

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
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.

Protocol | China

Why another Chinese lesbian dating app just shut down

With neither political support nor a profitable business model, lesbian dating apps are finding it hard to survive in China.

Operating a dating app for LGBTQ+ communities in China is like walking a tightrope.

Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

When Lesdo, a Chinese dating app designed for lesbian women, announced it was closing down, it didn't come as a surprise to the LGBTQ+ community.

It's unclear what directly caused this decision. 2021 hasn't been kind to China's queer communities; WeChat has deactivated queer groups' public accounts and Beijing has pressured charity organizations not to work with queer activists.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

The Oura Ring was a sleep-tracking hit. Can the next one be even more?

Oura wants to be a media company, an activity tracker and even a way to know you're sick before you feel sick.

Over the last few years, the Oura Ring has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch.

Photo: Oura

Oura CEO Harpreet Rai swears he didn't know Kim Kardashian was a fan. He was as surprised as anyone when she started posting screenshots from the Oura app to her Instagram story, and got into a sleep battle with fellow Oura user Gwyneth Paltrow. Or when Jennifer Aniston revealed that Jimmy Kimmel got her hooked on Oura … and how her ring fell off in a salad. "I am addicted to it," Aniston said, "and it's ruining my life" by shaming her about her lack of sleep. "I think we're definitely seeing traction outside of tech," Rai said. "Which is cool."

Over the last couple of years, Oura's ring (imaginatively named the Oura Ring) has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch. The company started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, but really started to find traction with its second-generation model in 2018. It's not exactly a mainstream device — Oura said it has sold more than 500,000 rings, up from 150,000 in March 2020 but still not exactly Apple Watch levels — but it has reached some of the most successful, influential and probably sleep-deprived people in the industry. Jack Dorsey is a professed fan, as is Marc Benioff.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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