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The great rebundling is here

Switzerland

Good morning! Hope you're all doing OK, especially those dealing with cold weather and loss of power. This Wednesday: why so many apps want to be "Switzerland for X," what Visa's doing in fintech now that the Plaid deal is off, and why the North Dakota app store bill failed.

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The Big Story

The Switzerland invasion

Forget Uber for X, Airbnb for X or Stripe for X. The hot new thing to be in tech is "Switzerland for X."

We're in a phase of rebundling across the tech industry. After decades of splitting apart and reinventing everything from banks to HR systems, the idea that there are too many apps is starting to outweigh the upsides of best-in-class everything.

Rather than go back to the days of dominant all-in-one platforms, we're instead getting a new kind of company: The Switzerlands. These companies and products exist to bring other platforms together, to use APIs and integrations to make things work with one another. They avoid having a dog in the fight, instead opting to help everyone else play nicely. At least at first.

  • Trello announced a big redesign yesterday that turns it into Switzerland for work apps, bringing all your documents and tasks and files into one organizational tool.
  • "There's a battle for eyeballs, and we're the Switzerland," is how Anjali Sud described Vimeo's job to me recently. "For the creators we are neutral, we want to help you put your content everywhere."
  • "Being neutral is very important to us," Reelgood's David Sanderson told me last year. He actually turned down investment from one big streaming service to avoid seeming compromised.
  • The list of powerful Switzerlands is a mile long already: Rippling for HR, Dropbox and Monday for work, Hootsuite for social, Fast for payments, and on and on. Everywhere there are too many apps, there's a power player putting them all together.

But the problem with tech Switzerlands is they can decide to build an army at any time. (This is a metaphor stretch, but go with me.)

  • Roku is a great example: It deliberately didn't make content or sell ads for years, which made it a non-threatening partner to companies like Apple and Amazon when those companies refused to work with each other. Then, once Roku was sufficiently big and powerful, it started selling ads. Now it's getting into making original content, Protocol's Janko Roettgers reported. Being the friendly middle ground gave Roku a lot of power, and it seized it.
  • The playbook is as old as time: Amazon went from selling books and T-shirts to publishing and manufacturing them; Kayak has long since let you buy plane tickets straight from Kayak; Google didn't plan to make Android phones until it decided to make Android phones.
  • It's even a potential threat in hardware, too: All sorts of tech companies are worried that Nvidia's acquisition of Arm will threaten the latter's position as the Switzerland of semiconductors.

This round of re-bundling does feel slightly different, or at least more necessary, than what's been before. I don't think anyone's mad at the idea of having fewer streaming services to scroll through. But at the end of this rebundling, will we have the best of all worlds … or just a bunch of new ways to do all the same stuff?

Fintech

Visa's post-Plaid rebound

Have you signed up for Protocol | Fintech yet? If not, you're missing out.

Here's a story to start with: Protocol's Ben Pimentel digs into Visa's plans after the DOJ got in the way of its Plaid acquisition. Acquiring Plaid was an important part of Visa's plan for a digital future — hence the $5.3 billion price tag — but now that it's over, the company can't waste time lamenting what could have been. You always want to win the breakup, you know?

  • The company launched Visa Cloud Connect a few weeks ago, which should allow fintechs to connect to the international payment infrastructure without having to set up local data centers. (Sounds a bit like a proto-Plaid, if you ask me.)
  • Future acquisitions are still in the cards, too. "I don't think we have any plans to alter our strategy around M&A," Terry Angelos, Visa's first-ever global head of fintech, told Ben. He also refused to talk further about what went wrong with Plaid.
  • While the DOJ has voiced concerns that companies like Visa and Mastercard might crush fintechs by trying to acquire them, Angelos said that fintechs are "expanding the pie" and that companies like Visa are partners, not competitors.
  • Visa seems to be looking at Stripe as a model in its fintech future. "We want to be the default network for fintechs who are thinking of issuing a Visa credential, moving money, pushing payments to a card," Angelos said, just as startups see Stripe as the obvious payment platform.

For more from the first week of Protocol | Fintech, you should read about IBM's moonshot to build a new banking cloud, why Current decided to build its own fintech stack, and the truly bonkers PR strategies on display at Robinhood. And if you sign up you'll get the fintech newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday.

Apps

How not to change your business model

LastPass told users yesterday that starting March 16, they'll have to pay in order to get their passwords on multiple devices. Which is, like, the whole point of a password manager. And so people are mad.

The lesson here isn't that people hate paying for stuff. The lesson here is that people hate feeling like they're getting bait-and-switched:

  • LastPass' free offering has been roughly the same since 2016, when then-CEO Joe Siegrist excitedly announced that "starting today, you can use LastPass on any device, anywhere, for free." It had long been a paid feature, and LastPass made it free — which made a lot of people pick LastPass.
  • The blog post announcing that feature now redirects to LastPass's newest blog post, which effectively un-announces it. Which is not a good look for LastPass.
  • LastPass offered no explanation for why it's making the change, though the goal is obviously to juice Premium subscriptions. (Which, again, is fine!) It's also only giving users a month to figure out what to do.

Lots of users seem to be switching to apps like Bitwarden, which offers multi-device sync for free. But generally speaking, many LastPass users are at the very least going to have to ask, "Should I keep using LastPass?" What if it raises prices with no warning? What if it restricts things even further? Whether you're a password manager or any other kind of app, you never want your users asking those questions.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

Amazon

At Amazon, we pay at least $15 an hour—more than double the current federal minimum wage. We believe that's the minimum anyone in the U.S. should earn for an hour of labor. That's why we're calling on Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act.

People Are Talking

The North Dakota app store bill failed in the State Senate, but Sen. Kyle Davison always expected that:

  • "Sometimes it takes multiple times to get something like this moving and through the process … but I think it raises an awareness that this is a real issue."

Fred Wilson said we're in a bubble, and it will burst, but it's hard to know exactly when:

  • "I believe it ends when the COVID-19 pandemic is over and the global economy recovers. Those two things won't necessarily happen at the same time."

SkySilk CEO Kevin Matossian used a now-common line to explain why he helped bring Parler back online:

  • "Let me be clear, SkySilk does not advocate nor condone hate, rather, it advocates the right to private judgment and rejects the rule of being the judge, jury and executioner."

Triller CEO Mike Lu didn't deny claims that the company is inflating monthly active user numbers:

  • "There is no legal definition of MAU/DAU."

Number of the Day

80

That's the percentage of healthcare apps that the U.K.'s Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps found didn't meet basic standards. ORCHA reviewed nearly 5,000 apps, the BBC said, and found failings that included "poor information, lack of security updates and insufficient awareness of regulatory requirements."

In Other News

  • New York attorney general Letitia James sued Amazon, saying the company provided inadequate safety protection for workers in Staten Island and Queens, and "took swift retaliatory action" against workers who complained.
  • Epic filed an EU antitrust complaint against Apple. It said Apple has "completely eliminated competition in app distribution," and accused it of illegal anti-competitive behavior.
  • Google looks like it's caving in Australia. It announced content deals with two of the country's largest media groups, having previously threatened to remove search from Australia.
  • European consumer watchdogs filed complaints against TikTok. They said its privacy practices are "misleading," and accused it of failing to adequately protect children.
  • Vlad Tenev's been living in a hotel after receiving death threats, Bloomberg reported. He'll testify before Congress on Thursday.
  • Marqeta confidentially filed for an IPO, Reuters reported. It's said to be aiming to go public at a $10 billion valuation as soon as April.
  • China found that Xi Jinping's rivals might have benefited from Ant's IPO, The Wall Street Journal reported. That may have played a role in why the government blocked the listing.
  • Amazon bought Selz, a small Australian Shopify competitor.
  • Tata is reportedly acquiring 68% of BigBasket, for around $1.3 billion. The deal will increase competition in India's fast-growing ecommerce market.
  • Samsung temporarily shut its Austin plant because of the winter storms. Analysts said the disruption could exacerbate the global chip shortage.
  • SpaceX reportedly raised $850 million at a $74 billion valuation. It raised at $419.99 per share, because of course it did.
  • Microsoft board member Arne Sorenson died. The Marriott CEO was 62.

One More Thing

Syringe emoji

A new :syringe:

A true sign of the times: Apple is updating the syringe emoji to remove the blood both in the syringe itself and dripping from the needle. Emojipedia explains: "This makes the emoji more versatile when used to describe COVID-19 vaccination." Here's looking forward to 2022, when we get to go back to using :syringe: to somehow threaten our friends.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

Amazon

At Amazon, we pay at least $15 an hour—more than double the current federal minimum wage. We believe that's the minimum anyone in the U.S. should earn for an hour of labor. That's why we're calling on Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act.

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 day, see you tomorrow.

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