Manila-based financial tech startup PayMongo has raised $2.7 million in seed funding to give merchants in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian markets simple ways to set up online payments. Investors included Founders Fund, Peter Thiel and Stripe, with participation from Y Combinator (PayMongo is the first Philippine fintech company it has funded), Global Founders Capital, Soma Capital, Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and other angel investors.
PayMongo was launched in June by a founding team that includes CEO Francis Plaza, COO Edwin Lacierda, CTO Jamie Hing and chief growth officer Luis Sia. Since then, more than 1,000 businesses have started using its platform and the startup says its total transaction value processed is growing at an average of 117% week over week. PayMongo’s seed round will be used for hiring, product development, business acquisitions and strategic partnerships.
The startup will focus on the Philippines first, where the country’s central bank has set a target of increasing the rate of cashless payments to 20%. Plaza says PayMongo’s goal is to become the largest payment service provider in the country before expanding to other markets in Southeast Asia.
Prior to launching PayMongo, its team spent several years working on other projects. During that time, they realized payments were the hardest feature to integrate into products and services. Even though the Philippines’ Internet economy is growing quickly (a report from Google expects it to increase from $5 billion in 2018 to $21 billion by 2025) and more people are using e-commerce, online payments have lagged behind the rest of the world, Plaza says.
“When you want to launch something online for a payment gateway, you have to deal with banks and many different financial institutions. It takes months, we tried it ourselves, from negotiating rates to submitting paperwork. It takes a long time, and then in the end you are charged high fees,” he tells TechCrunch.
Even after businesses finish dealing with banks, they need to figure out payment gateways that are often difficult for people with little tech experience to start using.
PayMongo has already partnered with several financial institutions and its technology, including a payments API that Plaza says can be set up in minutes, is designed to be user friendly. Since many online merchants in the Philippines sell through social media platforms and messaging apps, like Facebook, Instagram, Viber and WhatsApp, PayMongo also provides customizable payment links that they can send to customers.
The credit card penetration rate in the Philippines is only about 6%, Plaza says, so PayMongo also supports e-wallets like GCash and PayMaya and services that allow people to pay for online purchases in cash at convenience stores. PayMongo’s products for micro-entrepreneurs, like freelancers and people who sell items through social media, help it differentiate from competitors like Paynamics, Dragonpay and PesoPay that typically focus on serving larger businesses (though Plaza says PayMongo has also been adopted by large retail chains).
In a statement, Y Combinator partner Kevin Hale said “At YC, we love companies who build services that empower startups. We believe PayMongo will provide the infrastructure that is needed for more Filipinos to become founders who are in charge of their own destiny.”
Omate O6L Pro smartwatch for kids packs software SIM and 4G LTE
Omate is back with another Nanoblocks smartwatch for kids, this one featuring 4G LTE connectivity and a software SIM. The new O6L Pro model is visually similar to the 3G version of the Omate x Nanoblocks smartwatch the company introduced back in 2018, but with updated tech that powers a number of features, including video calls, messaging, and more.
The Omate O6L Pro smartwatch features a 1.3-inch capacitive touch display, as well as a speaker, physical SOS button for emergencies, a built-in noise cancellation microphone, and a 2-megapixel camera for capturing selfies and participating in video calls.
The key feature included with the O6L Pro is the software SIM, making it the first kids’ smartwatch to offer this feature. Buyers get free unlimited 4G LTE services with the watch during its first three years, as well as free unlimited location services that power the SOS and tracking features.
As you’d expect from a wearable made for kids, the device has an IP67 rating. The O6L Pro is available in purple and black colors, plus there’s a limited edition version that features a nanoblocks band. With that latter offering, kids can place tiny plastic bricks on the watch’s band for a fun look.
Multiple purchasing options are available; the O6L Pro Black and Purple are both priced at $239 USD. Alternatively, you can get a ‘twin’ pack with two watches for $429 USD. The nanoblocks version of the watches are $10 more expensive at $249 USD each.
Twitter Super Follow borrows OnlyFans strategy to charge for tweets
Twitter is preparing to launch paid tweets, with a new Super Follow system which will work a little like Patreon or OnlyFans. Announced during the company’s investors presentation, Super Follow will offer a new way for those with followings on Twitter to monetize that audience, with everything from exclusive content to special badging.
Twitter has long talked about – and, according to rumors and leaks, been working on internally – a way to squeeze more profit out of its service than through advertising alone. One of the most common expectations has been a monthly or annual subscription, which would remove ads from users’ timelines, among other potential perks.
This Twitter Super Follow system, however, takes a different approach. In effect, it would allow users of the service to individually monetize their own shared content, much in the way that services like Patreon and OnlyFans do today. Exactly what could be offered seems to be down to the individual user’s preferences.
In an example shared by Twitter, for instance, that could be anything from a badge showing that you’re a supporter of a certain tweeter, or subscriber-only newsletters. It might include exclusive content that wouldn’t be available to non-Super Followers, or deals & discounts for certain products and services.
Individual tweets shared with Super Followers would only support viewing and replying by those subscribers, according to screenshots posted by The Verge.
Finally, there’s also “Community access,” a reference to another new feature that was revealed today. Twitter Communities are effectively closed groups, built around individual topics: that could be gardening, exercise, or even hashtags such as #SocialJustice, Twitter suggested. Communities could seemingly be open to any Twitter user wanting to join, or closed and require invitation – potentially after signing up as a Super Follower first – to take part.
Twitter is presumably envisaging following the strategy of other sites, and taking a cut of Super Follow fees. Exactly how much it’ll cost will seemingly depending on the individual creator: Twitter’s example is $4.99 per month with the ability to cancel at any time. However it’s likely that users would be able to set their own amount based on what they believe their community will pay.
There’s no indication as to when the new features will launch.
Framework Laptop promises easy upgrades and modular ports
A new laptop startup aims to make a DIY, upgrade-friendly notebook, with Framework hoping to build a market from those frustrated by today’s breed of sealed-up computers. Combining readily-accessed internal components with modular, interchangeable expansion cards, the Framework Laptop may look like a regular 13.5-inch notebook but it’s very different inside and out.
“At Framework, we believe the time has come for consumer electronics products that are designed to last,” Nirav Patel, company founder, says of the startup. “Founded in San Francisco in 2019, our mission is to empower you with great products you can easily customize, upgrade, and repair, increasing longevity and reducing e-waste in the process.”
The company’s first product marks a return to some of the traditional approaches to notebooks, blended with some newer ideas. The Framework Laptop has a 13.5-inch 3:2 aspect screen running at 2256 x 1502 resolution, a milled aluminum housing that’s 15.85mm thick and 2.87 pounds, and runs 11th Gen Intel Core processors.
It’ll support up to 64GB of DDR memory and 4TB+ of Gen4 NVMe solid-state storage. There’s also a 1080p/60fps webcam with a hardware privacy switch, a 55 Wh battery, and a keyboard with 1.5mm travel. However it’s how those components are pieced together that stands out.
The storage, WiFi card, and two of the memory slots are socketed, so that they can be upgraded by an individual user. The mainboard itself is designed to be swapped out too, as processors improve. The battery, screen, keyboard, and even the magnetically-attached bezel are designed to be readily replaced. Framework will even have QR codes on each component which, when scanned, will link to replacement guides and product listings.
Meanwhile, for connectivity there’ll be four swappable bays for Framework’s Expansion Card system. It’ll have a choice of USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, and MicroSD port modules that can be slotted in, as well as less common options like extra storage or even a high-end headphone amp. The company plans to open up the design for that, too, so that other companies can make compatible modules.
It’s fair to say that Framework faces an uphill battle. Modular devices haven’t exactly had an easy go of things in the past, with even big names in the tech world giving up on their plans. Google’s Ara modular phone, for example, was meant to be as easily-upgraded as a set of LEGO bricks: instead, Google canned the project.
Intel, meanwhile, had plans for a modular laptop design. Its Compute Card would effectively condense the key components into a single block, which could be slotted into a notebook casing. It shelved that idea back in 2019.
The fact that the computing segment has been so aggressively commercialized explains part of the challenge. Low-price notebooks have relied on manufacturer scale to squeeze supplier costs down to the bare minimum; meanwhile, sleeker ultraportables and performance laptops demand custom designs in order to satisfy user requirements for both power and portability. That has led to little to no support for user-upgradable parts like memory or storage, since RAM chips and flash drives are soldered in place to save on thickness.
Framework’s approach differs dramatically from that. In fact, as well as prebuilt models running Windows 10 Home or Pro, it’ll also have a Framework Laptop DIY Edition. That will come as the individual components, and the choice to load either Windows or Linux if you’d prefer.
The Framework Laptop itself uses 50-percent post consumer recycled (PCR) aluminum, and an average of 30-percent PCR plastic.
What we don’t know – and what a lot of this will hinge upon – is pricing. Exact specifications, costs, and preorder details will follow closer to Framework’s summer 2021 estimate for the laptop shipping, the company promises. It’s difficult to imagine that there won’t be some premium to pay for this degree of flexibility, never mind the fact that smaller laptop-makers typically end up paying more for components than their industry heavyweight rivals.
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