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#152 – Temu’s wild allegations, Google Town, & Worldcoin enters e-commerce

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Recent Newsletters

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This week I've got a jam-packed edition that covers: 

  • Temu's wild (but possibly true) allegations against Shein
  • How and Amazon are responding to Temu and Shein's dominance
  • Last minute shipping offers from major retailers
  • Worldcoin entering the e-commerce realm
  • Google and Facebook building cities
  • TikTok's preferential treatment towards Amazon
  • Amazon's second annual “Thank Your Driver” promo
  • And… Circuit City is back???

All this and more in this week's 152nd Edition of Shopifreaks. Thanks for subscribing and sharing.

PS: Don't forget to hit reply and let me know what you'd like to see from Shopifreaks in 2024. 

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1. Temu is suing Shein (again)

Temu is suing its rival Shein again, alleging that the company is pushing dubious copyright infringement notices against it and using “mafia-style intimidation” of suppliers to limit its growth in the U.S.

These accusations are almost identical to the ones Temu made against Shein in July (see story #5), which they subsequently dropped (see story #4) in October in exchange for Shein dropping its lawsuit against them.

Here's a brief recap of what went down: 

  • Last December, Shein accused Temu of paying social media influencers to make “false and deceptive statements” against the company in their promotions of Temu, and tricking customers into downloading the Temu app using “imposter” social media accounts.
  • In July, Temu accused Shein of violating U.S. antitrust laws by abusing its market power and forcing manufacturers to sign loyalty oaths certifying that they will not do business with Temu.
  • In October, lawyers representing the companies filed joint declarations requesting that the two legal cases be dismissed “without prejudice” by their judges.

Now Temu is back on the offensive, accusing Shein in a 100-page complaint of summoning suppliers it believes to be working with Temu to its offices, detaining them for hours, seizing their phones, and threatening to impose penalties for doing business with its rival.

Among other mafia-style tactics, Temu alleges Shein has been:

  • “Falsely imprisoning merchants associated with Temu” by “summoning Temu’s suppliers on false pretenses to Shein’s offices and detaining those suppliers’ representatives in Shein’s office for up to 10 hours.”
  • “Seizing these Temu sellers’ phones” and then searching the phones for “Temu sales, commercial and other financial information without permission,” as well as demanding access to chat histories and Temu log-in credentials.
  • Compelling sellers “to sign documents against their will and threatening them with extensive penalties and termination of their Shein contracts for selling on Temu.”

Holy crap — those are some serious allegations!

At first, I was imagining that Shein was sending strongly worded e-mails from their attorneys, urging suppliers to sign exclusivity agreements and not to work with Temu, but Temu is straight up writing a 1950s Las Vegas-style account of Shein holding suppliers hostage.

A Temu spokesperson shared with Retail TouchPoints that since they dropped their lawsuit against Shein in October, the company has discovered that Shein’s anticompetitive behavior “has not only persisted but intensified” and that Temu has “no choice but to sue them.”

A Shein spokesperson said in a statement, “Your enemies always get strong on what you leave behind.”

Just kidding, they said, “We believe this lawsuit is without merit and we will vigorously defend ourselves.”

Perhaps the real solution is to put an end to the “de minimis” rule nonsense (which allows imports valued at less than $800 to enter duty-free into the U.S.) and give these Chinese companies less subsidized market share to fight over.

The de minimis rule offers way too much of a competitive edge for Chinese retailers. At the current pace of abuse, we're handing U.S. retail to China on a tax-free platter. 

What are your thoughts on de minimis? Should the rule be reformed? And would that help level the playing field for American and Chinese retailers? Hit reply and let me know. 

2. is getting worried

While Shein and Temu are battling it out for market share in the U.S. and gaining ground, their big brother is getting worried. 

Richard Liu, the founder of, recently told staff in a post on the company’s internal discussion board that that it was time for the company to be more proactive.

Highlights from the post include:

  • “We need to change, or there’s no way out for our company.”
  • Employees should not “lie flat,” referring to the Chinese slang of doing the bare minimum to get by.
  • “The current organisation is huge, bloated and inefficient, and it does take time to change it.”

Liu's forum post was in response to a thousand-word complaint from a JD employee, who listed off a number of problems with the company’s operations.

However Liu didn't berate the original poster, or point all the blame on the new executives. He partly blamed his own mismanagement for JD’s crisis.

Liu stepped down as’s CEO in April 2022, handing over the reins to the company’s then-president Xu Lei, who stepped down as CEO after just a year in the job, replaced with then-CFO Sandy Xu Ran.

Liu's memo echoed a similar call to action from Alibaba’s Jack Ma, who called for “change and reform” to the company on its internal forum a few weeks ago, in response to Temu's most recent quarter.

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3. Amazon goes to China

Amazon is also getting worried about Shein and Temu's unprecedented growth in the U.S., and is taking action in China to circumvent their growing dominance. 

Amazon announced at a four-day event in Shenzhen that it's opening an innovation center in the city to help Chinese companies sell abroad.

The center will integrate the Amazon's industrial, expert and supplier sources to help merchants “build brands, promote products and digitalise operations.”

When Amazon began cracking down on fake reviews in 2021, it closed over 3,000 online merchant accounts, which were backed by about 600 Chinese brands.

After the crackdown, Chinese merchants saw their share among Amazon’s top sellers drop from 40% at the beginning of 2021 to 33% by the end of the year.

Since then, those sellers have had to look for other platforms to list their wares, and now Amazon wants them back (alibet without the fake reviews).

To woo Chinese merchants, Amazon said it would allow them to use its supply chain network, including warehousing, distribution and couriers, and upgrade its selling platform to explore the use of AI to facilitate “easy, efficient and legitimate businesses.”

Amazon has had a rocky history in China. The company has abandoned several other businesses in the country, including third-party merchandise on its marketplace, its Kindle e-book service, and a local app store. It's not ready to lose Chinese suppliers to competing marketplaces on its own turf. 

4. Retailers promote last-minute shipping

With Christmas right around the corner, major retailers are making last ditch efforts to get you to shop with promises that your packages will still reach you in time for the holiday. 

  • Amazon added a tag that reads “Arrives before Christmas” on search results and product detail pages.
  • Walmart added last-minute options to find and receive gifts, taking advantage of its network of stores.
  • Target advertised that customers can place curbside and BOPIS orders as late as 6pm on Christmas Eve.
  • Apple advertised that if the “Order By” date has passed for online orders, customers can still shop online for in-stock items with Apple Pickup or 2-hour delivery from your local Apple Store.
  • Best Buy offered same-day delivery and one-hour Store and Curbside Pickup options on its homepage.

Pretty much every major retailer that offers same-day delivery or curbside pickup promoted it on their websites this year to entice last-minute shoppers during the final two weeks before Christmas.

How late is too late?

DigitalCommerce360 reported that the median cut-off date across a panel of 100 online retailers for standard shipping to deliver orders in time for Christmas was Dec 15th, and the deadline for premium shipping was Dec 18th.

USPS lists Dec. 16 as the cutoff for its five-day shipping services, FedEx requires parcels by Dec 15th to deliver by its Ground five-day shipping, and UPS lists Dec 19th as the final day to ship with three-day delivery.

So there's still time? With online ordering and curbside pickup, last-minute gift shopping got a whole lot easier this year. 

5. Worldcoin meets e-commerce

Worldcoin is now offering integrations with Shopify, Mercado Libre, Reddit, Minecraft, and Telegram to authenticate users via their World ID profile.

For example, the new integrations will: 

  • Let Reddit moderators give special permissions to those who use their World ID.
  • Allow Shopify merchants to use World ID verification for fraud prevention or one-time promotions.

The Worldcoin protocol, which was launched to the public just five months ago, was recently updated to World ID 2.0, which, the company says, makes it easier to distinguish between bots and “verified humans” online.

If mass consumers actually adopt it — which might be a tough sell giving the eyeball scanning (more on that below) — then it could serve as a powerful way to authenticate unique humans for e-commerce promotions, voting, giveaways, etc, as opposed to using e-mail addresses, which everyone's got multiple of.

For example, right now if a website offers 15% off your first purchase, you can simply make a second purchase with a new e-mail address and get the 15% off again (and again, and again, and again depending on how many email addresses you have). Whereas with World ID, the store could rest assured that each unique human is only able to receive the promotion one time.

Wait, what is Worldcoin?

If you're out of the loop, Worldcoin is a crypto project co-founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman that launched earlier this year.

The website reads, “Worldcoin is designed to become the world's largest digital identity and financial network, giving ownership to everyone. Worldcoin aims to provide universal access to the global economy no matter your country or background, establishing a place for every human to benefit in the age of AI.”

Users can verify their World ID profile by scanning their eyeballs on an Orb device, which are currently stationed in 110 cities across 11 countries.

The service offers three levels of verification:

  1. The “casual” level involves downloading the Worldcoin app and creating a World ID.
  2. The “standard” level involves getting your irises scanned by one of the company’s Orbs to verify your identity.
  3. The “High” level requires you to also use facial recognition to secure the app in addition to the previous two steps.
  4. The “Super High” level involves smoking a J, listening to The Doors Greatest Hits, and ordering McDonalds delivery on DoorDash. LOL.

What's interesting about the project from a privacy standpoint is that when creating a profile, you don't have to use your real name or identification. You just have to prove that you're unique. 

Worldcoin launched 147 days ago and currently has over 5M registered users, of which 2.6M have scanned their irises with its Orb hardware to verify their identities.

Tiago Sada, head of product for Tools for Humanity and a core contributor to Worldcoin, told TechCrunch, “Five million people is still very far away from the world adopting it,” so 2024 is about “improving things, but also getting to all of the people around the world.”

Would you scan your iris to become a verified Worldcoin user? Hit reply and let me know. 

6. Big Tech is building Big Towns

Did you know that companies including Google, Meta, and Disney are building their own towns to house employees?

“Company Towns” in the U.S. are certainly not a new phenomenon.

During the 19th and 20th century, they were a practical response to the need for housing near factories or lumber mills, which were typically located in rural locations that lacked the kinds of amenities that would keep workers happy.

The Hershey Company town in Pennsylvania, founded around 1909, prioritized community assets like parks, churches, and libraries from the start, while offering affordable homes that workers could rent or own.

Biltmore Village, adjacent to the Biltmore Estate in my hometown of Asheville, NC, was built by George W. Vanderbilt as a company town for his estate workers and offered its own church, hospital, shops, schools, and train station.

At one point, 3% of the U.S. population lived in company towns, according to The Economist.

And as much as you might think times have changed, people still need places to live near where they work. 

And as much as you might imagine companies like Google and Meta building “cities of the future”, they're actually just building regular affordable communities. 

Business Insider shared some examples of recent Big Tech housing projects: 

  • In June, Mountain View's city council approved the master plan for Google's North Bayshore project, a new community of 7,000 homes that will replace a suburban office park in the heart of Silicon Valley.
  • Last year, Menlo Park's city council voted unanimously in favor of the plans for Willow Village, Facebook's 59-acre project that promises more than 1,700 homes, as well as office, hotel, and retail, right next to Meta's headquarters at 1 Hacker Way.
  • Walt Disney World plans to break ground next year on 1,400 affordable housing units across 80 acres a few miles from its theme park in Florida.
  • Nearby, Universal Studios is building 1,000 affordable apartments and 16,000 square feet of retail space.
  • Amazon isn't directly building houses, but instead offering a $2B Housing Equity Fund to support housing developments in the DC area, Nashville, and Seattle.
  • Elon Musk is laying the groundwork for a new town called Snailbrook on thousands of acres near Boring Co., Tesla, and SpaceX.

These new projects won't have corporate logos on every building, and many of the units will be available to the general public, not just employees. However the goal is undoubtedly to create employee housing close to their jobs to keep them around longer.

7. TikTok moderators told to avoid flagging Amazon accounts

TikTok moderators were told they should avoid flagging potential problems on Amazon accounts to protect the video platform’s commercial relationship with the company. 

According to e-mail exchanges seen by the Guardian, moderators who vet TikTok videos to ensure they adhere to content guidelines were advised not to take down the accounts or apply any tags that could lead to an account being taken down or not being shown on the For You Page.

Amazon is TikTok's highest-paying advertising spender, with an outlay of $1.4B in 2022, and the company wants to protect the relationship.

An unofficial list of companies, creators, and accounts was created, which TikTok's 6,000 moderators were effectively told to give preferential treatment. 

Among other accounts, the list includes: 

  • Amazon’s Prime Video (@primevideo), which has 418.2M likes and regularly posts clips from films, interviews with celebrities, and movie trailers.
  • Amazon Music (@amazonmusic), which has almost 20M followers and posts a lot of celebrity musician content (which oddly gets very little engagement in comparison to the Prime Video account). 
  • Twitch (@Twitch), which shares video game content to its 794k followers. 
  • Audible (@audible), which features authors from its audio book platform.

The list has caused some moderators to become wary of tagging other major advertiser accounts, in fear of not following unofficial internal guidance.

A TikTok spokesperson said: “These allegations about TikTok’s policies are wrong or based on misunderstandings, while the Guardian has not given us enough information about their other claims to investigate. Our community guidelines apply equally to all content on TikTok.”

8. Thank your Amazon driver

Amazon brought back its “Thank My Driver” feature, which allows customers to give their drivers a $5 thank-you at no cost to themselves.

The first 2 million customers in the U.S. to send their Amazon driver a thank-you through the app or Alexa would be tipping them $5 courtesy of the company.

The 2 million cap was reached in only two days, however the company is continuing to offer additional incentives between now and the end of the year including:

  • $100 each for the 1,000 most-thanked drivers each day through the rest of December.
  • $10,000 for the five top-thanked drivers each week until the end of December (once, from December 18-24 and again from December 25-31).
  • $25,000 plus an additional $25,000, paid by Amazon, to the charity of choice for the top-five thanked drivers across the full promotional period from December 12-31.

The “Thank My Driver” feature / promo (however you want to describe it) first launched last year (see story #2) during the holiday season. In 2022, they only offered 1 million thank yous and this year they upped the ante to 2 million.

As nice as this is for select drivers, this feels like Amazon slowly creeping tips into the delivery equation (that the company eventually won't cover themselves), and I don't like where this is headed.

The last thing I want to receive is an e-mail from Amazon after a delivery that reads, “Would you like to add a tip for your driver?”

Or God forbid, an Amazon driver delivers a package to your door and flips their tablet around to reveal three Add A Tip buttons that display: 15%, 20%, 25%.

Just pay drivers more and stop putting the responsibility on consumers to take action. That'd be the real thank you to drivers. 

9. Other e-commerce news of interest

Beginning in 2024, Affirm will be available as a payment option for Android users on select merchant apps and websites that offer Google Pay at checkout. Google Pay joins Amazon Pay and Shop Pay as major digital wallets that are integrated with Affirm’s BNPL payment options.

Bold Commerce launched a new dynamic payment featured called Payments Booster, which delivers personalized payment experiences based on the shopper's profile and device they are using. For example, a shopper making a purchase on social media may be more likely to pay with a digital wallet versus someone on their desktop. The feature is designed to help brands find the middle ground between payment flexibility and an excess of options.

Etsy is laying off 225 employees, or around 11% of its staff, in an attempt to cut costs as it deals with “very challenging” economic headwinds. Staff were notified in a livestream on Wednesday by CEO Josh Silverman, who blamed the fact that gross merchandise sales on Etsy had remained “essentially flat” for two years, and not the fact that the company devolved from its core offering of selling unique handmade goods to a marketplace filled with AI-generated print-on-demand apparel and mass produced junk. 

Meta rolled out AI features to its second-generation Ray-Ban glasses, which can now see what you're seeing via the glasses' cameras and answer questions about what's in front of you. Mark Zuckerberg shared a video on Instagram demoing the multimodal AI in action recognizing a striped t-shirt and recommending pants that would complement the shirt. 

The Saudi Central Bank introduced a set of rules aimed at regulating BNPL services, as part of the bank's efforts to enhance the overall financial sector, with a specific focus on empowering the fintech industry. The new rules regulate the licensing process for BNPL companies, setting forth minimum standards and procedures that companies must adhere to in order to offer BNPL services.

Google, Meta, Qualcomm, and seven other tech companies teamed up to push for open digital ecosystems in response to new EU tech rules. Calling itself the Coalition for Open Digital Ecosystems (CODE), the group said it wants to promote more open platforms and systems to boost growth and innovation in Europe by working with academics, policymakers, and companies on digital openness and how it can be achieved in Europe. It's funny how Big Tech comes together to do the right thing just as someone's about to make them.

The European Union has opened a formal investigation into whether X violated the Digital Services Act in areas linked to risk management, content moderation, dark patterns, advertising transparency and data access for researchers, marking the commission's first formal investigation under the DSA. The investigation could result in fines of up to 6% of global revenue.

TikTok and Meta are trying their best to block search terms related to “nudify” apps, which use AI to undress clothed people, but X is lagging behind. The apps have soared in popularity on social media in recent weeks, and now social networks are attempting to shut the promotions down for going against their community guidelines, except for X, which hasn't taken action or made comment about it. 

An ex-Amazon security engineer pleaded guilty to hacking two cryptocurrency exchanges and stealing $20.4M $6.7M $12.3M worth of cryptocurrency. Shakeeb Ahmed will face up to five years in prison and will have to forfeit the cryptocurrency he stole. One of the exchanges actually offered him a $600k bug bounty to return the money, but Ahmed insisted on $1.4M, which eventually led to law enforcement getting involved. Should've taken the $600k buddy!

Speaking of digital thieves, Facebook's former diversity program manager pleaded guilty to stealing more than $4M from the company through fake business deals in exchange for kickbacks, which she used to fund a luxurious lifestyle. Barbara Furlow-Smiles committed the fraud by linking PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App accounts to credit cards given to her by Facebook and used those accounts to pay friends and relatives for goods and services that were never provided to the company. Who at Facebook gave this woman a $4M credit line?? 

Klarna joined forces with CarTrawler and Airbnb to offer its BNPL payment options for U.K. customers booking car rentals, flights, and accomodations. The latter launch is part of a phased global roll-out which will see Klarna and Airbnb offering BNPL across three continents by early 2024. And for those of you who don't know — “trawler” is a fishing boat used for “trawling”, which is the practice of fishing with a trawl net.  Trawl-righty. 

X secured its thirteenth money transmitter license in the U.S., this time for Pennsylvania, as the company moves forward with his plans to turn X into an “everything app” that includes its own payments system. Last week I reported that X was granted three additional money transmitter licenses in South Dakota, Kansas, and Wyoming, which means Elon is moving and shaking in this area. 

Airwallex partnered with Woo to become an official payment extension of the platform to assist with global selling. The integration enables Woo merchants to accept cross-border payments by leveraging global cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and 60+ local payment methods at checkout.

Qatari billionaire Wissam Al Mana emerged victorious in a three year legal battle against Meta over the unauthorized use of his image in cryptocurrency scam advertisements on Facebook. Mana alleged that the ads caused reputation harm, distress, and embarrassment, to which Meta apologized and committed to providing him with additional protection. 

Peloton named Lauren Weinberg as its new CMO, who will report directly to CEO Barry McCarthy and oversee brand and product marketing, growth marketing, creative, consumer insights, membership and global communications. Weinberg brings two decades of experience as an insights-driven marketing leader, most recently at Insuit where she served as SVP, Chief Marketing and Revenue Office for Quickbooks. 

AT&T is teaming up with Rivian to switch its commercial fleets to EVs, including Rivian's commercial van and R1 platform trucks. AT&T is Rivian's first customer since the company ended its exclusivity with Amazon last month.

Amazon won't have to pay €250M in back taxes after European Union judges ruled in favor of the company on Thursday, dealing a defeat to the 27-nation bloc in its efforts to tackle corporate tax avoidance. The Court of Justice backed a 2021 decision by judges in a lower court who sided with Amazon, saying the European Commission had not proved its case that Amazon received illegal state support.

Both Amazon and Apple used The Beatles music for the soundtracks to their 2023 holiday season ads this year. Amazon's Joy Ride, which stars three older women reliving their youthful joy at a sledding hill and miraculously not breaking a bone, is set to a cover of The Beatles' In My Life. Apple's Fuzzy Feelings, which tells the story of a young woman with a misunderstood grumpy boss who's secretly got a heart of gold, is set to George Harrison's Isn't It a Pity.

Jumia, a pan-African e-commerce platform, is discontinuing its food delivery service, Jumia Food, which the company says is not aligned with the current operational landscape and macroeconomic conditions in its markets. The company is instead redirecting its focus toward the core physical goods business and maintaining its JumiaPay operations across all eleven markets. 

Amazon, Walmart, and Target have agreed to stop selling potentially deadly water beads marketed to kids, as concerns grow about the safety of the toy, and lawmakers call for a national ban. Water beads are super-absorbent spheres that grow to several times their original size when exposed to water (including the water inside your stomach), and can be used to water plants, but they’re also marketed as delicious candy-looking toys.

A new study by OC&C Strategy Consultants revealed that online marketplaces now represent over 60% of global e-commerce spend, representing $4.1T in annual GMV in 2022, growing by $1.7T since 2019. Specialist marketplaces have overtaken generalists in growth, growing faster by a factor of 1.6x and taking market share from dominant generalists like Amazon and eBay.

10. Seed rounds, IPOs, & acquisitions

Shopify disclosed that it owns 44.36% of the outstanding Series A shares in Klaviyo, according to a regulatory filing on Monday. Klaviyo had in August, as part of its paperwork for an IPO, disclosed that Shopify had a 11.2% stake in the company.

Qogita, a U.K.-based e-commerce wholesale marketplace aimed at health and beauty retailers, raised €80M in a Series B round led by Dawn Capital, bringing its total amount raised to €119. The company plans to use the funds to expand into more categories, and maybe change its name to something people know how to pronounce when they read it. 

Lolli, a platform that rewards users with bitcoin or cashback when they shop online or in person at over 25,000 restaurants and stores, raised $8M in a Series B round led by BITKRAFT Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to $28M. The funds will be used to roll out Lolli's rewards program to enterprise partners like exchanges, neobanks, traditional banks, payment companies, and browsers.

Maka, an African fashion and beauty e-commerce platform that leverages creator- and user-made videos to build product trust, raised $2.65M in a pre-seed round led by 4DX Ventures and Janngo Capital. The company will use the funds to expand its team, enhance its technology, and deepen its presence in Ghana and Nigeria. 

Circuit City filed paperwork with the SEC indicating that it intends to raise $25M as it readies for a comeback. The company has been owned by Ronny Schmoel since 2016, who plans to form “strategic alliances” with national companies to launch a “Powered by Circuit City” co-branding campaign (ie: mini-stores within department stores that sell electronics). As long as Tai Lopez doesn't buy Circuit City and turn it into a cryptocurrency exchange, I think they have a shot. The brand is still very well-known by older consumers and holds a lot of nostalgic value. 

Copia Global, a Kenya-based e-commerce and fintech platform that serves the mass consumer market, raised $20M in a Series C extension round led by Enza Capital, bringing its total amount raised to $120M. The company also appointed John Lazar, the former CEO of Metaswitch, to its board.

TUNL, a South African parcel shipping platform that helps e-commerce merchants save on international shipping costs, raised $1M in a pre-seed funding round led by Founders Factory Africa and others. The funds will help fuel its expansion in South Africa and lay the groundwork for its launch in other key African and emerging markets.

CommerceHub, a platform that provides retailers and product manufacturers with software to manage their e-commerce operations, acquired Cadeera, a U.K.-based provider of machine learning software for furniture and interior design retailers. The two companies will rebrand as Rithum Holdings Inc and incorporate AI into its system to automate processes across the e-commerce lifecycle. 

Udaan, an India-based B2B e-commerce firm that serves small and medium businesses throughout the country, raised $340M in a Series E round led by M&G Plc. The company will use the funds to bolster its supply chain and enhance partnerships with vendors, as it prepares for an IPO in 2025.

SellersFi, a startup that provides working capital and cash management tools exclusively to e-commerce companies, secured a $300M credit facility from Citi Bank and Fasanara Capital. Citi also made an undisclosed equity investment in SellersFi, bringing its total amount raised to $65M in equity financing.

Tamara, a Saudi Arabia-based fintech platform to shop, pay, and bank in the country, raised $340M in a Series C round co-led by SNB Capital and Sanabil Investments, becoming the Kingdom’s first homegrown fintech unicorn to reach a $1B valuation. The company, which was established in 2020, boasts more than 10M users, over 30k merchant partners, and reported six times annual run rate revenue growth in less than two years. 

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See you next Monday,


Paul E. Drecksler
[email protected]
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PS: I woke up suddenly terrified that I was late for work. However, to my relief, I was already at work.