In the past decade, celebrity interest and investment in tech companies has significantly increased. But not all celebrity investments are created equally. Some investors, like Ashton Kutcher, have prioritized the VC pursuits. Some have invested casually without getting overly involved. Others have used their considerable platforms to market their portfolio to varying degrees of success.
The four-year-old company has seen a tremendous amount of growth, boosting revenue nearly 50,000% in the past three years. However, the D2C wireless carrier has seen its highest traffic days on the backs of Reynolds’ marketing initiatives and announcements.
There is a long history of celebrities getting involved with brands, either as brand ambassadors or ‘Creative Directors’ without much value other than the initial press wave.
Lenovo famously hired Ashton Kutcher as a product engineer to help develop the Yoga 2 tablet, on which I assume you are all reading this post. Alicia Keys was brought on as BlackBerry’s Global Creative Director, which felt even more convoluted a partnership than Lady Gaga’s stint as Polaroid’s Creative Director. That’s not to say that these publicity stunts necessarily hurt the brands or the products (most of the time), but they probably didn’t help much, and likely cost a fortune.
And then there are the actual financial investments, in areas where celebrities fundamentally understand the industry, that still didn’t get to ‘alpha.’
Even Jay-Z has struggled to make a music streaming service successful. Justin Bieber never really got a selfie app off the ground. Heck, not even Justin Timberlake could breathe life back into MySpace. Reynolds seemingly has an even heavier lift here. It’s hard to imagine a string of words in the English language less sexy than, “mobile virtual network operator.”
Reynolds tells TechCrunch that he viewed celebrity investments as a kind of “handicapping,” prior to the Mint acquisition.
“I’ve just sort of seen how most celebrities are doing very, very well,” he explains. “We’re generally hocking or getting behind or investing in luxury and aspirational items and projects. Then George and I had a conversation about a year-and-a-half ago, maybe longer, about what if we swerved the other way? What if he kind of got into something that was hyper practical and just forget about the sexy aspirational stuff.”
Mint isn’t Reynolds’ first entrepreneurial venture. He bought a majority stake in Portland-based Aviation Gin in 2018, which recently sold for $ 610 million. He also cofounded marketing agency Maximum Effort alongside George Dewey, which has made its own impact over the past several years.
Maximum Effort was founded to help promote the actor’s first Deadpool film. Reynolds and Dewey had come up with several low-budget spots to get people excited about an R-rated comic book movie. The bid appears to have worked. The film raked in $ 783.1 million at the box office — a record for an R-rated film that held until the 2019 release of Joker.
Maximum Effort (and Reynolds) was also behind the viral Aviation Gin spot, which poked fun at the manipulative Peloton ad that aired last year around the holidays. The same actress who portrayed a woman seemingly tortured by her holiday gift of a Peloton sits at a bar with her friends, shell-shocked, sipping a Martini.
The original ad on YouTube, not counting recirculation by the media, has more than 7 million hits. Reynolds calls it ‘fast-vertising’.
“We get to react,” he told TechCrunch. “We get to acknowledge and play with the cultural landscape in real time and react to it in real time. There isn’t any red tape to come through, because it’s just a matter of signing off on the approval. So in a way, it’s unfair, in that sense, because most big corporations, they take weeks and weeks or months to get something approved. Our budgets are down and dirty, fast and cheap.”
He explained that this type of real-time marketing is only possible because he’s the owner of Maximum Effort (and in some cases of the client businesses, as well), but because there is no red tape to cut through when a great idea presents itself.
Reynolds has brought this marketing acumen to Mint Mobile in a big way. Last year during the Super Bowl, Reynolds took out a full page ad in The New York Times, explaining that the decision to spend $ 125,000 on a print ad instead of $ 5 million+ on a Super Bowl commercial would enable the prepaid carrier to pass the savings on to consumers.
In October, Reynolds spun Mint’s 5G launch into another light-hearted spot. He brought on the head of mobile technology to explain what 5G actually is, and after hearing the technical explanation, happily said “We may never know, so we’ll just give it away for free.”
Mint also released a holiday ad just a couple of weeks ago warning of wireless promo season, wherein large wireless carriers may try to lure customers into expensive contracts using new devices. Standing over a bear trap, Reynolds dryly states: “At Mint Mobile, we don’t hate you.”
Reynolds enjoys nearly 17 million Twitter followers and more than 36 million Instagram followers. He uses both platforms to promote his various brands without alienating his followers. Moreover, he doesn’t exclusively promote his brands on social media, but weaves in his own funny personal commentary or gives followers a peek into his marriage with Blake Lively, which we can all agree is #relationshipgoals.
Mint Mobile partners exclusively with T-Mobile to provide service, and unlike some other MVNOs, it uses a direct-to-consumer model, foregoing any physical footprint. Plans start at $ 15/month and top out at $ 30/month. CMO Aron North says that Reynolds’ ownership and involvement with Mint Mobile is “absolutely critical.”
“Ryan is an A plus plus celebrity, and he’s very funny and entertaining and engaging,” said North. “His reach has given us a much bigger platform to speak on. I would say he is absolutely critical in our success and our growth.”
We asked Reynolds if he has any specific plans for further tech investment, or if there are any trends he’s keeping an eye on. He explained that his motivations are not purely capitalistic.
“I’m really focused on community and bringing people together,” said Reynolds. “We think it’s super cool to bring people together, particularly in a world that is very divisive. Even in our marketing, we try to find ways to have huge cultural moments without polarizing people without dividing people without saying one thing is wrong.”
In one of the company’s more notable recent spots, Reynolds enlisted the help of iconic comedian, Rick Moranis. It was an impressive coup, given the actor’s seeming retreat from the public eye, turning down two separate Ghostbusters film reboots.
“It’s funny what happens when you just ask,” says Reynolds. “I explained that people genuinely miss him and his performances and his energy. And he, for whatever reason, said yes, and the next thing I know, six days later, we were out of there in 15, 20 minutes and we shot our spot.”
Of course, it didn’t escape the internet’s notice that two well-known Canadian actors were standing in a field, selling a U.S.-only wireless service.
“I would love to see [Mint] in Canada,” Reynolds says. “There’s a Big Three here that’s challenging to crack. I don’t pretend to know the telecom business well enough to say why, how or what the path forward would be there. I see basically a tsunami of feedback from Canada, asking ‘why can’t we have this here?’ I think it’s sexy. It’s pragmatic and sexy. That’s why I got involved with it.”
In a recent post on its official blog, Israel-based behavioral biometrics company BioCatch puts its spotlight on the growing popularity of remote access scams in today’s cybercrime landscape, and highlights ways of guarding against them.
Read more here.
The post [BioCatch in Mobile ID World] Behavioral Biometrics Can Prevent Remote Access Scams: BioCatch appeared first on OurCrowd Blog.
U.S. challenger bank Current, which has doubled its member base in less than six months, announced this morning it raised $ 131 million in Series C funding, led by Tiger Global Management. The additional financing brings Current to over $ 180 million in total funding to date, and gives the company a valuation of $ 750 million.
The round also brought in new investors Sapphire Ventures and Avenir. Existing investors returned for the Series C, as well, including Foundation Capital, Wellington Management Company and QED.
Current began as a teen debit card controlled by parents, but expanded to offer personal checking accounts last year, using the same underlying banking technology. The service today competes with a range of mobile banking apps, offering features like free overdrafts, no minimum balance requirements, faster direct deposits, instant spending notifications, banking insights, check deposits using your phone’s camera and other now-standard baseline features for challenger banks.
When Current raised its Series B last fall, it had over 500,000 accounts on its service. Today, it touts over 2 million members. Revenue has also grown, increasing by 500% year-over-year, the company noted today.
“We have seen a demonstrated need for access to affordable banking with a best-in-class mobile solution that Current is uniquely suited to provide,” said Current founder and CEO Stuart Sopp, in a statement about the fundraise. “We are committed to building products specifically to improve the financial outcomes of the millions of hard-working Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, and whose needs are not being properly served by traditional banks. With this new round of funding we will continue to expand on our mission, growth and innovation to find more ways to get members their money faster, help them spend it smarter and help close the financial inequality gap,” he added.
The additional funds will be used to further develop and expand Current’s mobile banking offerings, the company says.
Banco Pichincha Peru incorporates the Appdome Mobile Security Suite into its app to provide comprehensive, robust protection of its mobile business.
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You might not have heard of Sergei Toshin, but you should know his work.
Toshin is a 23-year-old security researcher in Moscow who focuses largely on mobile app security. With his knowledge of what different mobile security flaws looked like, Toshin built a custom Android mobile app vulnerability scanner to quickly and automatically find vulnerabilities in an app’s code, he told TechCrunch.
The scanner works by decompiling the Android app and running through the source code line-by-line — just as a human would — and detecting possible flaws in code where a vulnerability could be triggered. It takes a set of rules, which effectively describes different kinds of vulnerabilities, and searches for vulnerable code that meets those conditions, Toshin said.
Once the scanner finishes, it spits out a report describing where the vulnerabilities are in the code.
It was using this scanner, which he developed over the course of the last two years, that he was able to speed up the process of finding bugs.
“To participate in a bug bounty, I would just download the app and copy the vulnerabilities identified in the vulnerability report,” he said.
In August, he revealed details of an Android vulnerability that allowed malicious apps to steal sensitive user data from other apps on the same device. Two weeks later, he dropped details of a bug in TikTok’s Android app that could have led to hijacking of user accounts.
These are just two out of hundreds of security bugs he has reported to companies through their bug bounty programs, a way for researchers to warn companies of potential issues while getting paid for their findings.
“It occurred to me to launch a startup and begin helping other companies find vulnerabilities in their mobile apps,” Toshin told TechCrunch.
And that’s how Oversecured was founded. But how Toshin funded his startup was somewhat unconventional.
What’s unusual about Oversecured is not that it’s self-funded, but it launched out of a product that effectively paid for itself. Toshin netted more than $ 1 million in bug bounties in a year using his scanner, in large part thanks to Google’s security rewards program, which pays security researchers far more for security bugs found in Android apps with over 100 million installs.
Oversecured is not yet profitable, but Toshin has also not taken any venture-backed funding to date. The company now has about five developers, as well as designers and translators as all efforts focus on building and improving the scanner.
The startup so far only supports scanning Android apps. Toshin said the scanner is open to bug hunters and security researchers, who can pay to scan each app — with five scans tossed in for free.
But Toshin is betting big on allowing enterprise customers to buy access to the scanner and integrate it with their development tools. Oversecured launched its B2B offering last week, allowing app makers to integrate the scanner directly into their existing app development processes to find bugs during coding.
Toshin said that enterprise customers will soon get support for scanning Swift source code for iOS apps.
Oversecured joins a number of other established app security companies in the space. But Toshin is confident that his technology stands among the crowd.
“It’s important to find everything,” he said.
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