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The Technology 202: Meet Vintro, the company where people pay for advice from CEOs and Sean Spicer

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with Aaron Schaffer

Entrepreneurs go to extreme lengths to secure meetings and phone calls with potential investors. 

But with the new platform Vintro, they can instead pay a fee to get guaranteed time to pitch their ideas and seek advice from top business leaders. 

The majority of sessions range from $25 to $200, but for a premium, entrepreneurs can secure time with Square co-founder Jim McKelvey, “Shark Tank” judge and investor Barbara Corcoran and chess champion Garry Kasparov. 

There's a wide range of people hawking their time on the platform: Former Trump administration officials are now flocking to it. Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary, is offering sessions for $3,300, while former Goldman Sachs president and Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn will provide mentorship and investment sessions for $3,350. 

And now Vintro is raising new funding for itself, with industry heavyweights including Microsoft Chairman John Thompson, former Mastercard chairman Rick Haythornthwaite and World Wide Web Foundation co-founders Rosemary Leith and Tim Berners Lee.

The company’s rise signifies the massive changes underway in start-up building in 2021. 

Many events such as conferences where entrepreneurs had a shot at meeting industry leaders are tabled so Vintro provides a new venue for them to make such connections, often at the fraction of the price they would have paid for a conference pass or booth. 

Noor Sugrue, Vintro's founder, began building the company before the pandemic, but the widespread shutdowns related to the virus created greater urgency. 

“It made people look at us in a different light, and say this is not only something that could be helpful to my business but something that must be incorporated into my business,” Sugrue said. “There really are no alternatives.”

Vintro is growing as there's pressure on the industry to democratize access to top business leaders and investors, after years of venture capital operating as a largely insular world open only to people who attended certain schools or worked at certain companies and already had connections. 

“There's a pent up demand, a demand for mentoring channels, funding, encouragement,” said Haythornthwaite, a Vintro investor, in an interview with The Technology 202. “There's a greater awareness than ever that privilege has played a part in this whole set up in the past, and if you had the connections you went somewhere, and if you didn't, you didn't. I think there's a real appetite today for a platform that does allow democratized access.” 

Vintro was founded by a University of Chicago student. 

Sugrue said the company began by thinking about the question of how people with good ideas connect with people who can make them happen. Though initially focused on helping tech entrepreneurs, Sugrue said the leaders on the platform – such as the former Trump administration officials – have expanded to all different fields. 

“We have the depth and the breadth in all different industries because good ideas are being born in all different sectors,” Sugrue said. 

Some companies have already raised funding or brokered business partnerships through Vintro. 

Hamzah Malik, the founder of Drench, built a mobile app allowing small businesses and restaurants to send promotions and discounts to people near their storefronts. But the U.K.-based business faced serious challenges as lockdowns related to the pandemic limited foot traffic to stores. But through Vintro, Malik said he was able to connect with investors and leaders who gave helpful criticism and feedback. Malik was able to connect with a strategic investor that has opened up opportunities for the app to expand to shopping malls in Egypt and potentially Saudi Arabia. 

“That door wouldn't even be there without Vintro,” Malik said.  

Malik said the company pivoted slightly to keep operating in the United Kingdom. But Egypt and Saudi Arabia have not been as hard hit by the pandemic so he sees greater business opportunity there. 

Sugrue said with the new funding, Vintro will focus on expanding. 

Vintro has recently added new features, and it formed a corporate partnership with Dun & Bradstreet, a company that provides commercial data and analytics. 

“It's about keep finding new and innovative ways to level the playing field,” Sugrue said. 

Our top tabs

Facebook agreed to follow nearly two-thirds of its oversight board’s recommendations.

The company says it is committing to taking action on 11 of its oversight board’s first batch of 17 optional policy recommendations, Facebook executive Nick Clegg wrote. But the company is still reviewing several recommendations that could have an impact on the platform’s users.

Contrary to the board’s recommendation, Facebook says it won’t tamp down its efforts to remove posts by users promoting unproved coronavirus treatments. It’s the only recommendation that Facebook disagreed with. 

“In consultation with global health authorities, we continue to believe our approach of removing covid-19 misinformation that might lead to imminent harm is the correct one during a global pandemic,” Clegg wrote.

Facebook is reviewing the feasibility of five of the board’s recommendations. The board is expected to rule in its highest-profile case, the suspension of former president Donald Trump, in mid-April.

ByteDance says it will pay $92 million to settle a TikTok class-action lawsuit.

The company agreed to settle the lawsuit, which claimed it unlawfully collected teenage users’ data for its recommendation engine, the Wall Street Journal’s David Uberti reports. The move could put to rest some criticism over the company’s teenage data harvesting, but the settlement still has to be approved by a judge.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs said the company used biometric data to improve in-app advertising and content recommendations. The company and its lawyers have denied that the app collects biometric information such as face scans. 

“While we disagree with the assertions, rather than go through lengthy litigation we’d like to focus our efforts on building a safe and joyful experience for the TikTok community,” a TikTok representative said.

Facebook is considering adding facial recognition technology to its smart glasses.

Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of augmented and virtual reality, told employees at a companywide meeting that Facebook is looking into whether adding the technology would be legal, BuzzFeed News’s Ryan Mac reports. It comes as facial recognition technology faces intensifying opposition, including a call by liberal advocacy groups for the Biden administration to outlaw law enforcement's use of the technology, which critics say disproportionately affects people of color.

“Face recognition might be the thorniest issue, where the benefits are so clear, and the risks are so clear, and we don’t know where to balance those things,” Bosworth said at the meeting in response to a question from a Facebook employee about the ability to make faces unsearchable amid potential abuse.

“We’ve been open about our efforts to build [augmented reality] glasses and are still in the early stages,” Bosworth later wrote on Twitter. “Face recognition is a hugely controversial topic and for good reason and I was speaking about was how we are going to have to have a very public discussion about the pros and cons.”

Inside the industry

Twitter is exploring a new feature aimed at monetizing tweets.

It says it’s looking into a “super follow” feature that would allow users to charge subscription fees and accept tips, the Financial Times’s Hannah Murphy reports. The investor day announcement came as Twitter said it wants to “at least double” its revenue from $3.7 billion in 2020 to at least $7.5 billion in 2023.

“Wethink that an audience-funded model, where subscribers can directly find the content that they value most, is a durable incentive model that aligns the interests of creators and consumers,” said Dantley Davis, Twitter’s chief design officer.

The company also announced a feature for joining groups called “communities.” It is rolling out an audio chat room feature called “Spaces” amid a Silicon Valley audio craze spurred by Clubhouse. It recently acquired newsletter company Revue, reviving rumors about the company’s plans to monetize content.

Verily’s coronavirus testing partnership with California is over (Rachel Lerman)

Rant and rave

Paying for tweets? Maybe there's a new career path:

Workforce report

Amazon-owned Twitch bans Amazon’s union-busting ads (Motherboard)

Trending

It looks like the Batmobile, works on solar energy, and could be the future of cars (Sarah Kaplan and Aaron Steckelberg)

Are disposables the future of photo sharing? (The New York Times)

Mentions

  • Jeff Blackburn, a top Amazon executive who this week announced his departure from the company, is joining Bessemer Venture Partners as a partner.

Daybook

  • Former acting assistant attorney general for national security Mary McCord speaks at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event on fighting right-wing extremism online on March 2 at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Banking Committee holds a hearing on President Biden's nominees to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gary Gensler and Rohit Chopra, on March 2 at 10 a.m.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event on quantum computing on March 3 at 1 p.m.
  • The Brookings Institution hosts an event on the government’s role in reducing bias in algorithms on March 12 at 9 a.m.

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