What VCs miss about SaaS revenue - Protocol

Protocol caught up with Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Nnamdi Iregbulem to talk about revenue concentration in SaaS and why today’s metrics don’t give investors the full picture.
Nnamdi Iregbulem, a partner at Lightspeed Ventures, spends his spare time writing about his theories on data and investing.
Nnamdi Iregbulem is a tech nerd at heart. A self-taught programmer who started building computers as a teenager, his interests in mathematics, economics and statistics eventually took him from investment banking at JPMorgan to Stanford’s graduate school. Now, he’s a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners.
When not investing in enterprise software like GitLab, Alteryx and SurveyMonkey, Iregbulem spends his time writing about his theories on data and investing. In one of those essays, Iregbulem outlined a new metric he created called weighted average contract value (WACV), which he argues provides more meaningful information about SaaS revenues than the traditional average contract value (ACV). In the SaaS industry, where it’s common for a small number of customers to account for the majority of a startup’s revenue, calculating an average doesn’t properly account for the influence of large customers. WACV can tell a startup where most of the revenue is coming from, which customers are most important and where the most risk is.

In a conversation with Protocol, Iregbulem discussed revenue concentration in SaaS and why today’s revenue metrics don’t give investors the full picture.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
I want to dive into a couple of the concepts that you explore. You’ve written about the fat-tailed nature of SaaS revenue. Why is revenue in SaaS so concentrated?
If I had to go to first principles, the reason why SaaS revenue is so concentrated is because the distribution of companies that you sell into as a software company is very concentrated in terms of there being a large number of smaller companies, a moderate number of moderate-scale companies and a very small number of very large companies.
You also did an analysis of the revenue concentration of a subset of public software companies. Did you find anything surprising?
What was the most surprising was the consistency of the concentration. I think people talk about concentration as if there are a couple of companies that have revenue concentration issues, and then the rest are fine. It just turned out that literally every company has pretty high customer concentration, not in the sense that there was one customer that was 10% of revenue, but in the sense that there was a subset of customers that were a pretty meaningful share, something like 20% being 70% of revenue. That was fairly consistent across a bunch of different companies, so it was kind of shocking.
You can work through the theory and why that happens, and you go to the data, and it turns out that’s actually the way it plays out. So I thought that was really interesting. And it’s why I sometimes think it’s just a natural result of success. The fact that you were able to go public as a software company almost implies that you must have pretty high concentration.
You wrote that if you’re paying too much attention to the average customer, that can actually lead you astray. Is it because, as you noted, you’re not getting that opportunity to have that higher revenue and growth?

Taking your own data too seriously can be problematic because there’s sort of this shadow of customers over here that you could be acquiring, and it could vastly change how your economics look, if only you were to do that.
People are shocked at how large software markets tend to be. If you look at Salesforce when they went public, in their S-1 they say, “We’re selling into this market and that market.” It seems so small in retrospect if you look at them today. They totally blew all those expectations out of the water in terms of the markets they have access to and the scale of those markets. And I think it’s in part because of this dynamic of surprising to the upside: You land a larger customer than you’ve ever landed before.
I think it’s actually a very different dynamic on the consumer. This is probably a future blog post I want to write one day, but I think consumer companies tend to surprise to the downside a little bit because they tend to acquire their best, most rabid customers early. And then to keep growing, you have to find that next marginal customer that is a lower lifetime value, less excited about the product and what have you. And so your economics tend to get worse over time in a lot of cases.
What’s interesting on the enterprise side is, if you think about Salesforce, that they continue to grow. And that’s what’s interesting. You would think that they’ve already penetrated this market because they’ve been around forever. How do they continue to grow? Is there some limit that all these big SaaS companies are going to hit at some point?
You’re just picking off all my future blog posts. It’s actually great, because I literally have a draft right now that talks about the Salesforce example that we were both just alluding to. It’s really interesting. Normally, the way that people think about markets is that big markets, in terms of number of users, tend to have very small per-user monetization, and then markets that have very high per-user monetization tend to be more niche in terms of the number of people that you can acquire. So there’s this natural tendency to think that there’s a negative correlation between the size of the average customer and the number of customers.

What Salesforce has done that’s really interesting, is that by landing in multiple different markets, you can actually grow both the number of customers you have and the per-customer monetization in all those separate markets. Going back to the fat-tailed stuff, as they expand in each of these markets, their per-user monetization actually gets better over time. And if you do that in enough different places, it’s like you have seeds planted in each individual market, and in each of those markets your unit costs are getting better, almost independently of one another.
You came up with this metric called weighted average contract value that tries to capture a lot of what we’re talking about, which is [that] just looking at the average doesn’t necessarily account for some of these larger customers. Why is the standard ACV metric not as useful in comparing different companies with different customers?
The reason that the standard average calculation for contract value has limited usefulness across different companies is because if the underlying concentration in these different companies is very different, then the average is just not comparable. It’s not telling you the same thing.
In the same way that, again to go back to statistics, taking the average of a normal distribution is telling you something different than when you take the average of a skewed distribution. So people are implicitly assuming when they say, “Oh, this company has an ACV of this and this company has an ACV of that,” that they have very similar revenue concentration. But if they don’t, then you’re actually making a real mistake. But that standard average is so easy to calculate, people default to it.
What kind of insights does looking at the weighted average give a startup that only looking at the average doesn’t?

The most interesting takeaway from it is that it tells you where the revenue in your business is most concentrated. In other words, it shows what kind of customer is most responsible for the majority of your revenue. That is very interesting because it tells you where the risk in the business is, it tells you where the growth in the business likely is, it tells you whose bread needs to be buttered, so to speak, and who you really need to be paying attention to.
The average really does not tell you that. It tells you what the typical customer looks like, but not what the typical dollar revenue looks like. And so I think it’s actually a really useful reframing as one is thinking about, “OK, here’s all our revenue, here’s where it is. Where should we be spending time? Where should we be allocating resources?” It’s actually totally fair to have a more customer-centric view, too. But if you’re only thinking about unit economics, or ROI, that’s where having this revenue-centric view becomes really valuable.
What are some advantages for investors? As an investor, if I could see their weighted average versus their average, how might that inform my understanding of the company?
It’s a very common mistake I find among investors where they’ll meet a company, the company will have X number of customers and the standard ACV will be fairly small because most of their users are either free users or in some kind of lowest-tier version of the product. But they do have a couple of meaningful customers that are spending real revenue or paying the highest tier of a product or what have you. But because there’s so many total customers, their average number ends up being kind of small. And if you as an investor don’t dig into that a little bit more, you can be fooled into thinking, “Oh, these guys aren’t selling to enterprise-style customers, they’re only focused on small, lower-quality revenue.” When it turns out actually, most of the revenue is coming from pretty high-quality customers. Unless you double-click and go a layer deeper, you’ll miss that. So I think investors should be really focused on this as a metric, and should be calculating it if they have the data.

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Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software. Formerly, she was a management consultant for EY. She’s based in Los Angeles and can be reached at acounts@protocol.com.
The app’s algorithm will now promote original content over reposts.
Instagram is tired of seeing the TikTok logo all over its platform.
Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.
Instagram is changing its algorithm to promote original content, platform head Adam Mosseri announced Wednesday. The change is focused on “the idea of originality,” Mosseri said. What Mosseri didn’t say is that the change is also focused on getting people to stop uploading TikToks to Instagram Reels, which must annoy Instagram execs endlessly.
An Instagram spokesperson told TechCrunch that its ranking algorithm will now prioritize original content in places like the Reels and Feed tabs over reposted content. Get ready to see less of the TikTok logo, basically.
“If you create something from scratch, you should get more credit than if you are resharing something that you found from someone else,” Mosseri said. “We’re going to do more to try and value original content more, particularly compared to reposted content.”

The algorithm will also stop resurfacing Reels and posts that have already been shared on the app, according to TechCrunch, so you won’t see the same things over and over. Reposted content is less likely to be recommended to other users, and accounts that repost content are less likely to be recommended as well. Mosseri said in a follow-up tweet that Instagram had already been doing this, but is leaning more into it so as to not “overvalue aggregators.”

How will this work? Mosseri said the company “can’t know for sure.” The app builds “classifiers” to predict how likely content is to be original, looking at factors like who is in the video and if they’ve seen it before, “but that’s not knowing,” he said.
The news comes on the heels of Instagram testing out removing the “recent” tab from the hashtag page, which the company said is to help users connect with “more interesting and relevant content.” Users involved in the test now will see just two tabs: Top, where the most popular content will be displayed, and Reels, where you’ll see videos.
Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.
The last two years have seen more change than the prior 20, but change will keep coming, quickly. In this third of three articles, we look at how to keep on top of the changing work world.
Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of “YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars.” His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.
This is part three of a three-part series exploring the experience of frontline workers and new workplace tools being deployed to support them.
Changes born out of a crisis have upended every single workplace in the last two years. The old rulebook has been torn up, and new rules were written about how to communicate with and keep employees happy. Investing in effective communications technology has become core to that new world of work.
Three in four frontline workers believe good technology that keeps them in touch with their higher-ups is a must-have for any good business. And in turn, managers are recognizing the need for change. 94% feel they have to prioritize upgrading and changing their frontline technology to stay up to speed with the rapidly changing workplace.
“Are you offering them the ability to provide their feedback, and their input, and be a part of the products or solutions that you’re building? Will you recognize them?”

It’s a concern that’s well-known to many. Workplace, a business communication tool from Meta, recently commissioned research to try to understand the changing relationship between frontline staff and their back-office bosses. “What we’ve found is that there’s a critical gap in communications [that] frontline workers, and particularly frontline managers, waste on average 387 hours a year,” said Abby Guthkelch, Head of Global Executive Solutions at Workplace. “That’s equivalent to 9.3 working weeks on this disconnect, this lack of ability to get in touch with and connected with head office.”
Workplace Tech – The Future of the Frontline youtu.be
Tackling that gap is something organizations need to do now to stay competitive and not fall behind.
Four in five managers feel frontline employees’ experiences are shaped by how good their interaction with technology is. And that number is likely to increase as tech is woven further into the workplace, keeping us all connected. Half of U.S. workers would leave their job if the frustration of getting their workplace technology to work got too difficult, according to Workfront. One-third of workers already have.
That’s bad news for some businesses, but good news for those that are preparing to future-proof themselves, and offering the technology and support that frontline workers crave so much after the last two years of stresses and strains in their place of work. “It’s a really poignant question right now: how to attract talent,” said Christine Trodella, head of Workplace from Meta. “It’s one of the biggest challenges that all companies and all industries are facing. We’ve seen a real dramatic shift in the values of the employee population as those demographics change.”
That means clear lines of communication, enabled by the clever use of technology. It also means deploying tech at certain moments to improve performance at work — a survey by Meta found that 53% of frontline workers believed technology that could monitor things like sales goals and that customer service ratings could help improve their performance at work, making them more productive and enabling them to feel better about the difference they’re making to their business.

It’s all brokered by technology, which is why investing in and bringing to bear the best use of such tech is a crucial component of building the business of the future. “Are you offering the flexibility that they’re looking for?” asked Trodella. “Are you offering them the ability to provide their feedback, and their input, and be a part of the products or solutions that you’re building? Will you recognize them? Will they be able to have access to leadership in a way that is constructive and productive?” All are key questions that current employees will be asking their bosses in the workplace of the future, and are ones that prospective employees will ask potential employers before signing on the dotted line.
Such changes shouldn’t occur in a vacuum, however — and just because an executive in the C-suite thinks it should happen doesn’t mean it should. Before investing large amounts of money overhauling your business practices to make them more future-focused and integrating smart new technology to help open up lines of connection between the front line and the C-suite, make sure to talk to those for whom any change will be felt the most.
“Talk to your people,” said Guthkelch. “It’s as straightforward as that. Don’t try to second-guess what they want, unless you are actually doing the job yourself. Ask them what they want. Ask them what’s going to make their work better. What’s going to enable them to feel more connected to the organization, which is going to enable them to do their job most effectively.”
There will likely be a long list of complaints and concerns, and niggling issues that ought to be tackled. Developing a future-proofed workplace isn’t easy, after all. But thinking calmly and clearly about which issues to tackle — and in what order — can reap benefits. “Look at your processes, look at your technology stacks and understand where you have gaps,” advised Guthkelch. “Then from that, look at where you can make some quick wins that will be most impactful for not only you as leadership, but more specifically for your people that is going to really enable them to turn up, to work and to thrive in the role that they’re doing.”

Read the series:
Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of “YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars.” His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.
Salesforce announced it will launch a pre-intership program called Futureforce Launchpad to recruit more diverse tech workers earlier in their careers.
The program kicks off with its first cohort of 25 pre-interns in June.
Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.
Salesforce announced in a blog post today that it will launch its first ever “pre-internship” program called Futureforce Tech Launchpad. The program is designed to recruit rising college juniors from underrepresented backgrounds in partnership with CodePath, a non-profit focused on increasing diversity in the tech industry.
The program, which kicks off with its first cohort of 25 pre-interns in June, comes at a time when many tech companies are seeking to find new solutions to diversify the talent pipeline. While some companies have put additional resources into upskilling and apprenticeship programs, Salesforce’s Futureforce Launchpad program takes more of a preemptive approach — upskilling employees for technical roles two years before they even receive their bachelor degrees.
The pre-internship program functions much like a boot camp or apprenticeship, providing hands-on technical training and capstone projects, as well as mentorship from Salesforce employees. And unlike many tech internships over the past two years which have been remote due to the pandemic, the 10-week pre-internship will take place in person at the company’s San Francisco Salesforce Tower.

In partnership with CodePath, Salesforce will be able to connect with its over 70 university partners, which include a number of HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). CodePath will do the work of helping to identify computer science and engineering students to participate in the Futureforce Tech Launchpad.
HBCUs, HSIs and community colleges have all proven to be major sources for diverse tech talent, and tech companies have taken note. Recent data from the Kapor Center found that 10% of all Black computer science majors with conferred degrees in 2020 graduated from an HBCU, and 35% came from community colleges.
Nathalie Scardino, Salesforce’s global head of Recruiting, spoke with Protocol about why the organization has chosen to launch the program now, and how the nature of tech internships has changed over the past several years.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Why launch a pre-internship program now and where did the idea come from?
The last two years in the recruiting space we’ve been faced with a completely new reality. You think about the acceleration of digital transformation and really integrating all of the digital technology into every area of our business, and so how we deliver value to our customers has fundamentally shifted. And as a result, we have this need for digital skills which are in short demand. Our candidates and our job seekers are reevaluating what’s important to them and they also have choices in this very hot market. And so as a recruiting team, we’ve completely had to shift our mindset and where we source talent from … [and] a big part of what we’re talking about today is creating those new pathways and equal access, which is at the heart of this work as well.
We’re investing in talent solutions and programs like our Futureforce University recruiting program. And over the next couple of years we’re really focused on cultivating the next generation of leaders at Salesforce, which also happens to be some of our most diverse and global employees of the company coming from the Futureforce program today. Currently, 80% of eligible interns in our program are actually converted to full time. We also increased our direct hiring of new grads into full-time opportunities by over 60% year over year, again, really speaking to the demand of increasing those digital skills.

Was Salesforce accepting rising juniors prior to this year or is this their first opportunity to get in this early?
This is their first opportunity to get in this early. We’ve talked about it for a while, but it’s never fully been programatized. And our focus has just been on different parts of the journey and the experience. But yes, this is why it’s so important to us because it’s so new for our engineering students.
A pre-internship is a concept that I think people are really going to grab on to as an idea. How does a pre-internship differ from a traditional internship? Walk me through the major differences between the two programs that you have.
I think for us it’s meeting people where they are at any given time in their early stage career, and that means that there are multiple tracks. The way that the industry has worked so far is leading graduates into internships. But for us, it’s about the pipeline, it’s about creating access early on. It is curriculum building for newer students to understand Salesforce and our value proposition as well. For us, the key thing here is that we really do want our pre-interns to become interns and ultimately full-time employees at Salesforce. So it’s almost like an accelerator into an internship with that hands-on experience.
I think at the macro level, what is a little bit different is that initially they will be more [like] generalists. You will work on specific projects as a team, and then they will go into some more specific teams to get into more hands-on experience related to certain products or technology or software. But it’s a little bit more general than the full intern experience that we have today.

You have been at Salesforce for 10 years and you’ve probably seen internship programs change and shift over that time as well. From your perspective, what’s something you’d like to see more of as it relates to these tech- and skill-focused internships, and what’s something that you’d like to see less of?
From my perspective in my role I think there has been a strong pivot to an apprentice hands-on experience that is very relevant to doing the job. And that is a shift. That is different. Also, I feel like the amount of innovation that comes from students that make its way into some of our core product design and engineering capabilities is incredible, and I don’t know that that’s always been open to interns. So not only is there an expectation that the student is coming in and will learn, it shifts now that the tech company is equally going to learn from the students and our Gen Z community. So I think the learning dynamics have changed a little bit and it feels more fair and equitable in today’s approach. I think that is a big shift in internships for sure.
What are you hearing or seeing that Gen Z interns want out of an internship that differs from prior generations?
Well, I think it goes back to flexibility. They want to work on things that our customers care about. Innovation is such a big part of the Gen Z workforce. They want to work on things that are mission led that will make an impact in the world, and that is a criteria and the way that we’re being assessed. They ask us about our values around equality, around sustainability, the future use of AI as it relates to product roadmap. They’re so much more clued up than I ever was. And, again, they want to really work with a company that has relevant products for the world that we’re operating in not just today, but [in] the future.
It sounds like prospective interns in general are moving with more purpose and intention. Is that right?

Absolutely. They provide just a different perspective and it couldn’t be more relevant now to be an intern in tech because really they are the people that are defining what a great future leader looks like … I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be an intern in the tech space because you have a more prominent voice than ever before.
The pre-internship seems like a way to avoid having to upskill more people later. Is that part of your thinking here — train now so you don’t have to train later? Can you share how you’re thinking about how this relates to upskilling?
I think that’s absolutely right. Again, going back to the beginning of the shortage for digital skills with the acceleration of technology. We’re providing the students with a curriculum so that they’re going to leave after 10 weeks, but be better prepared to come back to the Futureforce internship the next summer. We’re trying to accelerate their path at the same time.
Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.
Raj Dhamodharan’s job is to find ways for the payments giant to offer access to crypto.
Raj Dhamodharan, Mastercard’s global head of crypto and blockchain, is quick to dismiss warnings about crypto as a threat.
Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.
Raj Dhamodharan started working at Mastercard in 2010 when bitcoin and crypto were seen as fringe technologies.
Fast forward a decade: Dhamodharan is now Mastercard’s point man for crypto, in charge of the payments giant’s game plan for a fast-moving trend upending financial services.
It’s a challenging role given the view that crypto poses a serious threat to Mastercard and archrival Visa. Investor Chamath Palihapitiya predicted in December that the two companies would be the “biggest business loser for 2022,” calling them a “completely contrived duopoly that doesn’t need to exist.”
The prediction is based on the “theoretical ability” of blockchain technology to “replace centralized intermediaries,” Alex Johnson, author of the Fintech Takes newsletter, told Protocol. “But Visa and Mastercard didn’t get to where they are today by taking competitive threats to their hegemony — no matter how theoretical — lightly.”
Mastercard has embraced an aggressive strategy to take on crypto. It acquired the blockchain intelligence company CipherTrace late last year. Last week, it announced that a crypto rewards credit card it developed with Gemini is now available in all 50 states. Mastercard also unveiled a partnership with Nexo on a payment card based on a crypto-backed credit line.

Dhamodharan, who is Mastercard’s global head of crypto and blockchain, is quick to dismiss warnings about crypto as a threat.
“We don’t think about it that way at all,” he told Protocol. Instead, Mastercard sees opportunities to make crypto accessible to the payment network’s massive user base. Mastercard said its financial-institution customers had issued about 3 billion cards worldwide as of December 2021.
“What we’re always looking for, for our customer base and partners, is providing choice in a safe and simple manner,” he added.
Dhamodharan dug deep into Mastercard’s crypto strategy in an interview with Protocol. He also talked about how the company is adapting to new trends in crypto led by the rise of NFTs and to the growing push for crypto regulation.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
What’s your current role in Mastercard’s crypto strategy?
I’m originally an engineer, a recovering one if you will. My Mastercard career started in Asia in mobile and ecommerce products and working with regions all the way from Australia to India. I learned quite a bit about how to get digital products out to the market in a scalable way.
In the last couple of years, I’ve led this group that focuses on crypto, talking about how our current network can actually facilitate crypto for millions and billions of consumers to experience safely.
It’s a very interesting role. I’m privileged to be in this space at this time because we are going through many cycles of evolution of various technologies.
Crypto is actually a package of multiple technologies. Crypto as an investment asset is probably the most mature one. Our job is really looking at a range of technologies and value propositions available in crypto, to make sure that can be experienced in a safe and secure way. Our ecosystem has billions of consumers, millions of merchants and businesses. How can they experience crypto safely?

Bitcoin is not just about the currency. It’s also about the chain. It’s also about the cryptology behind it and the decentralization and all that.
How did you react to bitcoin and crypto when it was just getting started and people were dismissing it as a passing fad?
I don’t think anyone could have predicted how bitcoin rose over the years as an asset, as a store of value and so forth. No one could have predicted that. But it is very clear that a few technologies got packaged in quite an innovative way even at that time.
This is about cryptocurrency and digital currency and mechanisms to prevent double spend. It’s also a blockchain technology that allows people to have a distributed consensus mechanism.
All of this was invented pretty much at the same time. The evolution of that [led to] multiple currencies, multiple consensus mechanisms, different chains. Now, we live in a multicurrency, multichain world.
There are those who believe that the blockchains pose a threat to what’s been described as a duopoly, the dominance of Visa and Mastercard in payments.
We don’t think about it that way at all. I go back to the maturity cycles of various technologies in crypto. Potentially, the most mature one is crypto as an investment asset class. NFTs is the next one. And there are a few other technologies like on the identity side and the DeFi side coming up in different levels of maturity and cycles.
What we’re always looking for, for our customer base and partners, is providing choice in a safe and simple manner. Safety and simplicity is everything. We have run multiple networks today. Moving value and providing consumers and merchants different ways of moving value is not new to us. We are always looking for that.
When it became clear that we can provide a safe way to open up our network to provide a mechanism for people to buy cards using cards they have today for bitcoin or ether because they want to buy that as an investment, we opened it up.

That is one of the growing flows on our network at the moment, buying crypto using our cards via crypto-to-fiat conversion. Now once they bought it, they wanted a way to access those holdings in a safe and secure manner.
Not everyone wants to spend their crypto. We said: “Okay, what are the various ways that we can provide access?” There are four different types of crypto cards that we have in the market today.
The first one is a card that connects directly to your crypto holdings. We don’t move the crypto. It’s the issuer of the card that provides the fiat necessary and settles with us.
The type-two card is that a consumer is asked explicitly to sell their assets and get to fiat. Then you have U.S. dollar holdings that you spend just like you would spend a prepaid card or something like that.
The third type is the Gemini card which is, “I have crypto, but I want to use it as investment holdings and I’m not necessarily interested in spending it. I’m interested in earning more crypto.” Gemini said they have 500,000 people waiting to get that card. They’re working through that pipeline. I myself am on the waiting list. I don’t want to jump the line. I’ll wait with other consumers. It’s a popular card because people earn crypto and then it sits in your Gemini wallet whether you want bitcoin or ether.
So it’s a regular credit card that uses fiat, but the rewards are in bitcoin?
Bitcoin or any crypto that they support. The beauty of that is that you’re interested in crypto investments, but you’re not interested in spending [crypto], you’re interested in earning. Think of it as the new points card or new cash-back card. Instead of the cash back, you get crypto back.
The Nexo thing is quite unique. You have, let’s say, a couple of bitcoins that you bought a while ago and you want to borrow against it … This allows you to go to a company like Nexo and say you have bitcoin holdings and I’m going to borrow against it.

The idea behind this is: No matter where you fall, you have a lot of crypto you want to spend, or you have a lot of crypto that you want to borrow against, we provide those opportunities.
There are many from crypto and DeFi that are distrustful of centralized, traditional financial institutions like Mastercard. What were some of the hurdles that you had to overcome in this connection?
I wouldn’t say hurdle but more: How do you curate the space in a way that you can bring a simple consumer experience to the consumers?
I’m gonna give a real tangible example. The next thing to come out after these asset classes in the space is NFT. NFT is a great invention and it is being applied to art at the moment. For creators, it opens up opportunities for them to sell their creations in unprecedented ways. But until recently, if you are not crypto native [and you want] to buy an NFT, you need to go buy crypto, and you have to host that in a self-custodied wallet, go connect to a website and spend that crypto. The experience is very clunky.
Contrast that with what we opened up with Coinbase and many other NFT marketplaces. You go there, you browse various offerings from different creators, you click, you enter your card. At the end of it, in your wallet is your NFT.
There are millions of new creators with a lot of innovations. On the buying side, they’re limited to a few people on the crypto-native side who could navigate that clunky experience. Now we’ve opened up to 3.4 billion cards.
What has been the most difficult conversation as you were trying to figure out “How do we get into it?”
We never think about it as, “Oh, how do we get into it?” It is more about, “Which one of these technologies is ready for mass use for a massive consumer base that we have? Which one can be brought to the network so that everyone can experience it?”

It’s not challenges. It is a journey. How do we bring more safety, more security to this? How do we provide more clarity to what’s happening in the public blockchain so that we can find which one of those spaces we can interact with?
Safety and security is top of mind. It is, I think, an ongoing challenge collectively for the industry.
The second thing I think we are collectively navigating as an industry and as an ecosystem is the regulatory climate in different jurisdictions.
We’re not trying to push this in one way or the other. But it is working with the policymakers. How do we encourage clarity in regulation so that more people can get in with confidence? I think the intentions are in the right place and we will iterate through it.
You saw the [Biden] executive order which puts out a framework for different federal agencies to get involved. I’m also encouraged by the European Parliament’s effort to make a regulation. All of that helps. When rules are written up in an explicit way it makes it easy for everyone to follow.
But some crypto companies are worried about the EU vote on stricter KYC for crypto. Some of them actually protested, including Gemini. How do you react to that?
There are always people who are going to find a few things that they like and things they may not like from their perspective and I respect that. What I, and we in general as a company, welcome is more clarity. The rules of the road are clear. People can engage with a lot more certainty.
But there are those in the crypto industry who say there is no clarity, that it is confusing.
I think these two examples that I gave are where people are trying to provide clarity. I think we could use more clarity in various jurisdictions. We only talked about two jurisdictions and there are a lot more.
We will obviously engage and provide our perspectives. We are in many of the working groups or consultation groups with many of these government bodies where we provide our opinion about how we can actually provide safe and secure access to millions of people.

The SEC has raised questions on crypto as a lending product and recently penalized BlockFi for its lending product. How do you view these questions related to how crypto is being used for lending?
Our general view is that every market needs to follow the law of the land which is very important. Compliance is very, very important for us.
You recently filed for trademarks in the metaverse. How does the metaverse fit into your crypto game plan?
It’s another experience that consumers can get into. There are many iterations of the metaverse. I don’t think anyone has settled, “Oh, ‘metaverse’ means this.” It means many things to different people. But for us, we would approach this like we approach any other innovation. For example, NFTs are actually available in some metaverses as a shopping mall for you to go experience and purchase. That’s one experience that’s tangible.
I think this will continue to evolve. You will see us continually experimenting with this to see what is useful for consumers, what’s innovative and what is a simple and safe consumer experience.
What are ways in which blockchain and crypto are evolving that worry you?
I am worried about the number of security issues that are happening in the public blockchain world. The level of innovation and the potential for this technology is immense. I think as a community, and I include all of us in this, focusing on that and leaning into that and fixing it and providing a safe experience will actually bring the benefits of it to even more people. That’s a collective kind of worry for all of us in the crypto community.
So is that what you’re most worried about?
It is making the space safe.
Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.
Creators who work in corporate roles said their TikToks have allowed them to highlight issues that otherwise wouldn’t be discussed.
Several creators have emerged on TikTok over the past couple of years to show the realities of the working world, from anxiety as a young employee to awkward interactions over Zoom.
Sarah Roach is a news writer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) and contributes to Source Code. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school’s independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.
You remember two years ago, right? For a while it seemed that everyone working from home was gliding through their workday while either baking bread, meditating or baking bread while meditating. But Corporate Natalie knew this was never the reality for most.
So Natalie decided to show TikTok her day working from home: She rolls out of bed, throws on a sweater, eats a slice of cheese for breakfast, then brushes her teeth just before her first meeting begins. “During this time I’ll pretend to be engaged with people on Zoom, respond to emails saying ‘please fix,’ and contemplate my overall purpose in life,” she said in the video.
The video is a slight exaggeration of what it’s like to work from home, but it resonated with her followers. It was one of the first to go viral on Natalie’s platform, which over 370,000 people now follow. She’s not necessarily catering to a more niche audience of HR professionals and new workers, and she’s not creating for everyone like Charli D’Amelio, but her sizable following makes her what the influencer biz calls a “macro-influencer.”

Natalie, who doesn’t reveal her last name or the company she works for on social media, told Protocol “I think that was a very realistic depiction of, ‘We’re all going through this really terrifying cycle — and then we do it all over again,” she said.
Corporate Natalie is one of several creators who have emerged on TikTok over the past couple of years to show the realities of the working world, from anxiety as a young employee to awkward interactions over Zoom. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, creators said the videos gave people content to bond over. But they’ve since evolved as a way to explain how the workplace has changed since the onset of remote work and bring up workplace topics seldom discussed at work, like microaggressions and mental health.
“I was in a super traditional work setting before my current job,” Natalie said. “And I’m trying to hold on to elements of that. I think what really plays is the super uptight coworker who was utterly unprepared when thrown into this new work-from-home world.”
Ekow Sanni-Thomas runs the TikTok account for the company he founded, inside voices, an online platform that helps job seekers understand how companies treat people of color. Sanni-Thomas started the account a few months ago to make people aware of inside voices, but it’s grown into a platform where he can help workers of color understand that their experiences with discrimination or bias at work aren’t uncommon. Sanni-Thomas said users also take to the comment sections of his videos to educate themselves on racism at work.

“It’s really common for professionals of color to stray away from discussing anything to do with race,” he told Protocol. “Sensitive issues are pretty hard to bring up in the workplace as it is — race is obviously a really difficult one — and when it comes to microaggressions, I think people are often surprised to see some of the things in my videos that speak so closely to their experience.”

Sanni-Thomas said TikTok lends itself to these conversations in a way platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter can’t because users can use comical trends to speak to nuanced topics. He pointed to one video about his reaction to companies hiring a white head of diversity. He mouthed the viral sound, “That’ll do it. You don’t have to worry about me, you do not have to worry about me.” Sanni-Thomas picked up his briefcase and walked away from his desk in the TikTok.

“That was a very on-the-nose way to describe my reaction to that without having to go into the multilayered explanation of why I feel that way,” he said. “If I were to tweet randomly, if the company announced the white head of diversity, it would feel like an attack. But in the form of this comical trend, it’s palatable and it’s acceptable.”
Creator Jazmyn W. agreed that TikTok is a more comfortable medium to express frustrations in the workplace around racism. While her platform is not solely based on workplace issues, she creates videos around her previous experience as a Black woman working in HR. She’s created a whole series around “things white women say that just don’t make sense,” which has prompted conversations in the comment section of those videos.
“Black women are like, ‘Yes, I’ve had this said to me.’ Then women of color are like ‘Absolutely,’” she said. “Then white women who follow me are like, ‘I’ve said this, I didn’t even know I shouldn’t say this.’ And then the rest of the white women are like, ‘I didn’t even know I shouldn’t say that.’”
Jazmyn, who does not share her last name anywhere on social media, added that companies like Google have reached out in response to her videos to talk about her experiences while working a corporate job. “I talk about my experience and I do it in a funny way,” she said. “And then employees ask questions about my experience.”
DeAndre Brown, who refers to himself as “The Corporate Baddie” on TikTok, taps into Gen Z humor to explain what it’s like to work in a corporate job through his TikTok account. Over 240,000 people now follow Brown’s account, which includes a mix of advice and humor about the working world.

Brown said his videos are a slight exaggeration of what it’s like to work as a member of Gen Z. Younger workers aren’t necessarily emailing HR in an instant when a co-worker breaks a boundary, and they’re not always asking for more money the minute someone asks them to take on a new project. But Brown said younger workers are starting to discuss setting boundaries and ensuring they’re paid fairly, and his videos are a reflection of that.
“It’s a joke, but honestly, it’s also serious,” Brown said.
Sarah Roach is a news writer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) and contributes to Source Code. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school’s independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.
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