The pomp, the pageantry — and, of course, the glamour.
Roughly 40 million people tuned in last night to the 90th run-through of the Academy Awards to find out which films, performances, scripts and costumes carried the day in 2017.
On the upside, this year’s Best Picture presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, managed to make the most of their second chance and got the winner’s name right the first time around. However, there was that extra-long supercut of every movie ever made, which had a purpose, we’re sure — we just don’t know what it was.
Even though all the little gold statues were given out in Hollywood, there’s no reason to dispense with the awarding of titles in our little corner of the world.
So, for this week’s Data Dive, we thought we would hand out some “trophies” of our own — metaphorically speaking, of course.
And the winners are…
Best Picture — Payments Innovation
Big news out of Mobile World Congress this week — the race was on, and the next generation of great ideas in payments and commerce were making their introductions to the world at large.
The program will offer SMBs in Africa and Asia an easy and inexpensive on-ramp for accepting mobile payments via Facebook Messenger going forward — payments that will be powered by Mastercard via its newly released Masterpass QR platform.
The new experience will get its first road test in Nigeria, with Ecobank and Zenith Bank as local partners.
The pilot in Nigeria is the beginning of a larger plan to bring more businesses into the digital economy worldwide. Nigeria was chosen as a jumping-off point due to its massive potential: $301 billion in funds flow annually from Nigerian consumers to businesses — but 98 percent of those payments are done in cash, according to data from the Fletcher School and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. The goal, quite simply, is to begin flipping all those cash payments into digital payments.
“Every business owner is looking for ways to increase sales and draw new customers into their stores. By offering QR-based digital payments, smaller retailers can achieve these goals and create greater customer stickiness with little to no investment beyond the phone they already have,” said Jorn Lambert, EVP, Digital Channels and Regions, Mastercard. “Masterpass QR opens up new commerce channels for these merchants and enables them to create auditable transaction records. These advances open doors to other financial tools and products, such as loans to drive added business growth.”
Meanwhile, Visa announced the latest launch of the Visa’s Everywhere Initiative — it’s worldwide push to find and advance the best and the brightest in startups around the world.
Participants pitch to a panel of Visa representatives — and a few large client representatives — in what Visa’s SVP of Digital and Marketing Transformation Shiv Singh described as a “Shark Tank”-like format. From early-stage to late-stage startups, all participants are unified by a common thread: They’re willing to take a crack at solving a major issue that Visa — or its partners — faces in that region.
“What can happen on the local level per country can vary quite dramatically,” Singh told Webster, which is why Visa’s Everywhere Initiative doesn’t focus broadly on “everywhere,” but instead on the unique needs of specific somewheres all over the world.
It explains why, Singh said, the program is growing so quickly: It’s rooted in solving real business problems.
Which means, he noted, that startups in different regions are given specific business challenges to address as starting points for channeling their creative juices.
In spring 2018, participating U.S. firms will be challenged to think about using connected devices to facilitate simpler, more seamless and powerful commerce experiences for consumers. Visa’s Singh noted the program will kick off the year by opening up in the United States and Russia — meaning that soon, Visa will begin taking submissions in both regions. Kick-off means launching a series of educational initiatives over an eight-week period to draw in as many interesting and interested players as possible, including networking with venture capitalists who might offer recommendations from their own portfolios.
Once submissions have been received and evaluated — a process that typically takes two to three weeks — the finalists are chosen, usually 10 to 15. From there, the finalists are invited to their “Shark Tank” presentation, and the top three winners are picked by a mixed panel. The fourth winner, in most places, is a People’s Choice winner selected by Visa employees.
In Europe, on the other hand, the focus is on using mobile devices to transform the experience of inter-city travel, while in Thailand the challenge will be to solve for digital payments experiences in the growing tourism industry.
But no matter where one looks, it seems payments innovation is the big winner.
Best Round of Fundraising — DoorDash
DoorDash had a good week, snagging $535 million in a Series D funding round.
While an injection of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash is, generally speaking, good news, DoorDash joins the winner’s circle this week because that latest round seemingly knocks the food delivery firm into the elusive “unicorn club” for startups valued at over $1 billion. DoorDash may be worth $1.4 billion in a post-money valuation, according to estimates. However, the firm has offered no official confirmation of its new valuation.
What does seem clear is that — at least for the time being — DoorDash intends to remain a private concern, with no plans for an initial public offering in the offing.
“It doesn’t really change anything for us. Instead, we’re saying it adds more flexibility, giving us the optionality in terms of where we want to invest and how we want to think about financing for the company. This new round of capital will help us further our mission of connecting communities around the world through last-mile delivery,” CEO Tony Xu said.
SoftBank Group led the round, along with participation from GIC, Wellcome Trust and Sequoia Capital. The deal also means several representatives from the investors are joining DoorDash’s board, such as Jeffrey Housenbold from SoftBank and Jeremy Kranz from GIC.
“DoorDash’s technology advantages, exceptional management team and relentless merchant focus are reflected in their stunning growth and impressive unit economics,” Housenbold said in an announcement. “Food delivery is just the first chapter. Tony and team have a bold vision to create the world’s best logistics company, and we’re thrilled to partner with them to help accelerate their progress.”
That latest round follows a 2016 Series C funding round led by Sequoia Capital — which included Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures. DoorDash raised $127 million then to maintain its lead as more competitors tried to beat it to new regions and cities around the world.
According to The Wall Street Journal at the time, that $127 million round was almost the beginning of DoorDash’s life as a unicorn — Sequoia had originally submitted a valuation of $1 billion to investors, but a contrarian movement that pushed back against a unicorn-esque valuation saw the investment group eventually drop that figure to $700 million.
According to Xu, finally getting over the unicorn line is a good sign, as it indicates the delivery service is “growing fast, while building a scalable business that is built to last.”
Best Taking a Stand — DICK’S, Bank of America, Kroger, BlackRock, Delta, United (etc)
This week saw three very big names in retail and payments weigh in on the debate over gun control in an attempt to push the market toward regulating itself with or without government intervention.
DICK’S Sporting Goods got the ball rolling early in the week with a public announcement that it would no longer be selling AR-15 assault rifle in its stores. Additionally, the company is putting stricter limitations on who can buy guns, noting it will raise the minimum age to 21 for all sales, regardless of local statutes.
DICK’S CEO Edward Stack said the firm is aware they’ll likely antagonize gun enthusiasts and perhaps take a hit on sales.
“The hunt business is an important part of the business, no doubt about it. And we know there will be some backlash,” he said.
But in some cases, backlash, Stack said, is worth it — and in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, DICK’S management team said they’re ready to withstand it.
“As we sat and talked about it with our management team, it was — to a person — that this is what we need to do,” he said. “These kids talk about enough is enough. We concluded if these kids are brave enough to organize and do what they’re doing, we should be brave enough to take this stand.”
The issue has been personal for the team at DICK’S, the CEO noted, as Nikolas Cruz purchased a gun (although not the AR-15 rifle used in the school shooting two weeks ago) at a DICK’S Sporting Goods location. Although that store, Stack noted, followed local laws, it was not enough to stop Cruz from going on a rampage that left 17 students dead and scores injured.
“We had a pit in our stomach,” Stack told CNN. “We don’t want to be a part of this story any longer.”
And DICK’S wasn’t the only big brand looking to change its role in this story.
Bank of America announced this week it would be taking a closer look at clients who manufacture guns and gun products to get an idea on how they can be part of a meaningful solution to the problem.
“We are joining other companies in our industry to examine what we can do to help end the tragedy of mass shootings, and an immediate step we’re taking is to engage the limited number of clients we have that manufacture assault weapons for non-military use to understand what they can contribute to this shared responsibility,” a Bank of America spokesperson said in a statement to Axios on Saturday.
Investment firm BlackRock, which holds a significant stake in several gun companies, made a somewhat similar announcement.
“Even if we disagree with management, we focus on engaging with the company and understanding how they are responding to society’s expectations of them,” BlackRock spokesperson Ed Sweeney said in a statement, according to CNN.
On top of that, many firms have announced they plan to rethink — or simply cancel — their relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, MetLife and six car rental brands have pulled discount deals they used to offer to NRA members. Symantec, Teladoc, SimpliSafe and Starkey Hearing Technologies have also announced they have severed ties with the NRA. Additionally, the First National Bank of Omaha announced it will stop issuing an NRA-branded Visa card.
“Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA,” said bank spokesman Kevin Langin.
And for an award within an award, Kroger has announced plans to stop selling guns to customers under the age of 21 — which wins the most surprising sub-award, since the near-universal reaction to this news on social media was some variation of the following phrase: “Kroger sells guns? Really?”
And as it turns out, the answer is yes, on a very limited basis: Kroger sells guns at 43 of its 133 Fred Meyer locations in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington -—now only to people over the age of 21.
So, what did we learn this week?
First, someone should help Frances McDormand dress herself before award shows.
Second, winning isn’t everything — but it sure is attention-grabbing, if for no other reason that all of our metaphorical trophy winners managed to win big this week by drawing the ecosystem’s attention and changing the direction of the conversation.
What will win this week? We have no idea, but you’ll know as soon as we do.
Have a good week.