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Jack Dorsey, king of the creators

Jack Dorsey

Good morning! This Friday, Square's Tidal acquisition might make more sense than you expect, how Etsy thinks about working with small businesses, and Plaid sees every company as a fintech.

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The Big Story

Why Square bought Tidal

Your nobody-saw-this-coming deal of the week: Square buying a majority stake in Tidal for $297 million, and turning it into a new joint venture with Jesse Dorogusker at the helm. As Protocol's Ben Pimentel, Tomio Geron and Janko Roettgers report, there are two ways to see the acquisition:

  • One, as just adding another company to the portfolio. Dorsey has always seen Square as a Disney-like conglomerate rather than a single financial services company. What entertainment IP is to Disney — the underlying infrastructure powering lots of different businesses — financial services are to Square. Dorsey was even on Disney's board for a while, so he knows how well this can work.
  • Two, as a big bet that musicians and other creators need the same sort of easy financial services that small businesses do, and that Square can be the company that takes them beyond ticket sales and Patreon accounts into the next phase of their business.

In reality, it's both. But it's mostly the second thing. Dorsey already runs one company that is pushing hard into giving creators ways to grow audiences and make money — I'm talking about the newsletter-sending, Spaces-having, Super Follow-building company Twitter is becoming — and now he runs another.

  • "Given what Square has been able to do for sellers of all sizes and individuals through Cash App," Dorsey tweeted, "we believe we can now work for artists to see the same success for them, and us. We're going to start small and focus on the most critical needs of artists and growing their fanbases."
  • "With Square buying Tidal, they essentially are buying access to those artists and circumventing the creator acquisition challenge that many emerging companies will have," Canaan's Laura Chau told us.

Dorogusker is a telling choice of leader for Squaredal (as I like to call it) in its first days. He's Square's head of hardware, ran Apple's accessories team before that, and in both cases a big part of his job has been figuring out how to build ecosystems.

  • He also indicated that he doesn't see Tidal as only, or even mostly, a streaming service. "We're especially interested in creating new adjacent opportunities in service of the whole artist experience and their experience with their fans in addition to the streaming service," he told Billboard.
  • Jay-Z said the same: "I said from the beginning that Tidal was about more than just streaming music," he tweeted, "and six years later, it has remained a platform that supports artists at every point in their careers. Artists deserve better tools to assist them in their creative journey."

Thinking of the industry holistically is a familiar playbook, not to mention one that's applicable way beyond the music business. What Squaredal is setting out to build sounds a lot like what Apple Music has intermittently tried to be: a place for musicians to share their music, but also sell merch and tickets, interact with fans, share behind-the-scenes content and monetize it all. Combining Tidal with Square, under the watch of the guy who also runs Twitter? It all kind of makes sense.

Ecommerce

The frenemies to small business

Anna Kramer writes: Tech companies just won't stop talking about small businesses. It seem almost every fight involving Square, Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon and all the others seems to invoke small business to make someone's point. (Seriously! Epic versus Apple, Facebook versus Apple, Amazon versus Shopify — they all do it.)

Etsy has a better case than most when it argues that it really does serve — and need — a thriving small-business community. So I asked Etsy's chief product officer, Kruti Patel Goyal, how to suss out the real friends from the fake ones. It boils down to the business model, she said: If a company exists just to serve other local businesses, it's probably a much better friend.

  • "Small businesses have become almost like a marketing hook for other businesses," Goyal told me. "If you look at other businesses whose core customer is not necessarily the small business, that's where it starts to feel more like marketing."
  • "We only make money when our sellers are successful, so it's always in our best interest to do what makes value for them," she explained.
  • That happened for Etsy this year. The company saw what Goyal called "explosive" growth; creators and sellers needed a place to help them survive the year, and Etsy did everything it could to be what they needed. And it worked. The company added more than 1 million sellers and 60 million buyers in 2020, and the success of their sellers pushed the company to hit record profits last quarter.

If you think about creators of all kinds as small businesses — which they increasingly are — Square may come out of the Tidal acquisition looking pretty good on this front. It's also a useful lens to apply to Facebook's argument that its targeted ads really help small businesses. Does Facebook depend on the success of small businesses? Are local shops central to its business model? Those are questions we should be asking.

A MESSAGE FROM INTEL

Intel

In an interview with Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., Lantzach shares his take on edge computing: There are more innovations to come — and technology leaders should think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

Read more

People Are Talking

On Protocol | Fintech: Fintech eventually comes for everyone, Plaid's Eric Sager said:

  • "The first wave is the core fintech companies — the Robinhoods, the Venmos, the Squares, the Chimes … early fintechs are getting more and more successful. The second wave [composed of] banks and financial institutions are rapidly moving to digitize. … The third wave are the Googles, the Apples, the Lyfts, the Teslas. Everybody is moving towards building digital financial services."

Joanna Geary, Twitter's director of curation, had a great explanation for how those Trend descriptions work:

  • "We're attempting to remove the 'WTF?' from the trending tab ... Our goal is to give you the gist so you're not spending five minutes looking at the trend trying to figure out what it even means."

Donald Trump will be back on YouTube, but not anytime soon, Susan Wojcicki said:

  • "I do want to confirm that we will lift the suspension of the channel ... when we determine that the risk of violence has decreased. Where we stand today it's hard for me to say when that's going to be, but it's pretty clear that right now where we stand that there still is that elevated risk of violence."

WarnerMedia's Jason Kilar defended ad-based streaming, for one simple reason:

  • "It turns out that most people on this planet are not wealthy. If we can wake up and use price and be able to kind of invent and do things elegantly through advertising to reduce the price of the service, I think that's a fantastic thing for fans."

Making Moves

GM is reportedly looking to build another battery factory in the U.S. Sounds like it's going to be in Tennessee.

Brad Smith will reportedly testify to the House antitrust subcommittee about antitrust and the news business next Friday.

Coursera is filing to go public, TechCrunch reported, after having a huge year helping users transition to online learning.

Hopin raised another $400 million, valuing the company at $5.65 billion. Has any company grown faster during the pandemic than Hopin?

India's Wipro bought London-based Capco for $1.45 billion. The British tech consultancy employs around 5,000 consultants.

In Other News

  • The EU is set to charge Apple with antitrust abuse, The Financial Times reported. It will reportedly be acting on a complaint from Spotify first filed two years ago.
  • Amazon's growing fast in NYC. It's opened at least nine warehouses in the city in the past year, and delivers around 2.4 million packages a day.
  • LinkedIn is stopping IDFA data collection. It said it might reevaluate later, and that it expected "limited impact" to advertisers.
  • Salesforce's LinkedIn account was hacked and posted support for Black Lives Matter. It comes after employee criticisms of the company's culture and diversity efforts.
  • Google didn't prioritize recruiting from HBCUs, The Washington Post reported. While schools such as Stanford were marked as "elite" and other institutions "tier 1" or "tier 2" in the company's ranking system, all HBCUs were reportedly marked as "long tail" — a decision recruiters allege affected the company's diversity.
  • Locate X sold data to a military unit that conducts drone strikes, Motherboard reported. The Iowa Air National Guard didn't say what it used the consumer location data for. Motherboard also reported that Locate X's dataset is based on Venntel's, another data broker that has been linked to Muslim prayer apps.
  • China will increase R&D spending by 7% annually for the next five years, it said. Semiconductors, cloud computing and 5G networks are key priorities for the country. Meanwhile, by 2030 the EU reportedly wants to make at least 20% of global leading-edge semiconductors by value.

One More Thing

Crypto is the new vinyl

Here's another one for the "surprisingly sensible reasons for Square to acquire Tidal" list: The music industry is all over the crypto scene. First Portugal The Man launched its own cryptocurrency for superfans, and now Kings of Leon's new album, "When You See Yourself," has dropped as an NFT that comes with some special extras. So I'm assuming Jay-Z's next album will be an NFT exclusively sold on Tidal and paid for via Square Cash. The future!

A MESSAGE FROM INTEL

Intel

In an interview with Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., Lantzach shares his take on edge computing: There are more innovations to come – and technology leaders should think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

Read more

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Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend; see you Sunday.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Jesse Dorogusker's name. This story was updated on March 5, 2021.

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