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Stripe pumps funds into New York fintech outfit Ramp

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The payments giant has returned to back the start-up again in its corporate card and expense management business.

Stripe is continuing its fintech investing streak by backing corporate card start-up Ramp once again, now valuing the company at $1.6bn.

The New York-based start-up has raised $115m with D1 Capital Partners co-leading the round. Stripe was a previous backer.

Ramp builds expense management software for businesses that accompanies its corporate card. It competes with other buzzy fintech start-ups in the corporate card space like Brex.

The start-up was co-founded in 2019 by chief executive Eric Glyman and Gene Lee, who previously worked at Capital One after selling their last start-up, Paribus, to the financial institution.

“Our time at Capital One opened our eyes to the innovation barriers that exist in the corporate card industry and sparked a new idea inspired by our desire to put customers first. With our new startup, we would build software that was aligned with—and protective of—businesses,” he said. Karim Atiyeh is the third co-founder.

According to the company, it helps companies identify wasteful spending and is creating a more transparent system for corporate card payments. It has over 1,000 customers and generates revenue from the interchange fees on it cards that are issued through Visa’s network.

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“We have spent the last two years focused on building the best possible product for our customers and have designed an incredible user experience and capabilities not found in any other corporate card or spend management platform,” he said.

“During our next phase of growth, we plan to expand our efforts to bring the value of Ramp to more businesses in more places and to transform the way more companies do business.”

The start-up raised $150m in debt financing from Goldman Sachs in February.

Stripe funding

The round is the latest investment made by Stripe, the payments giants founded by the Collison brothers that raised $600m itself recently at a $95bn valuation.

It has taken stakes in several start-ups in the fintech space. Earlier this year it invested in companies like Check and Fast, giving it a bird’s eye view of the market segments that young fintech companies are working on. It also has shares in UK neo-bank Monzo.

Last month it stepped outside fintech and invested in workforce management platform Assembled, though it did not lead the round.

Meanwhile it has been on the acquisition trail, buying Nigeria’s Paystack to push into Africa.

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IBM finally finds someone willing to buy Watson • The Register

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In-brief IBM has offloaded healthcare data and analytics assets from its Watson Health business, with private equity firm Francisco Partners hand over around $1bn for the privilege.

The takeover “is a clear next step as IBM becomes even more focused on our platform-based hybrid cloud and AI strategy,” Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president, IBM Software, told newswire Bloomberg. “IBM remains committed to Watson, our broader AI business, and to the clients and partners we support in healthcare IT.”

Launched in 2015, IBM Watson Health hasn’t been able to turn a profit despite the company spending $4bn in acquisitions to grow the business and its capabilities.

IBM has tried to whittle down its Watson Health division for a while, after struggling to sign hospitals as clients.

Algorithms are improving poker players’ skills but are they ruining the game?

Professional poker players are increasingly consulting specialized poker software programs to boost their chances of winning, but some believe it has made the game less fun and encourages cheating online.

PioSOLVER, available for purchase starting from $249, allows players to recreate game scenarios and calculates the optimal strategy that should be played given the cards available. Some professional poker players, described by the New York Times, use the software to replay their games to see if they played their cards correctly, others boot up PioSOLVER to learn and memorize new strategies.

Poker is seen as a mostly-solved problem in computer science. Libratus, an AI model, beat the top players in a no limit heads-up no-limit Texas competition in 2017. At the time, Tuomas Sandholm, one of Libratus’ creators, said it was unlikely people could run the complex software to cheat. But some claim that PioSOLVER is now helping mediocre poker players to rack up wins.

It’s unclear if PioSOLVER relies on similar machine learning techniques as Libratus, as little information is available about the algorithms it employs.

Doug Polk, a notable semi-retired poker player, said: “I feel like it kind of killed the soul of the game.” The game has turned from “who can be the most creative problem-solver to who can memorize the most stuff and apply it.”

PioSOLVER’s creator, Piotrek Lopusiewicz, however, said similar poker-solving programs have been available for a while and that his software is merely the latest advance in the field.

Rent a robot for less than the cost of human labour

There’s a robot that presses metal to make things like hinges or locks, and it’s cheaper to hire than human workers.

Built a company named Formic, the machine is pretty much one long mechanical arm. Its job is to pick up bits of metal and put them into a press for shaping. It can work without any breaks for its employer, Polar Hardware Manufacturing, and costs about $8 per hour – less than the minimum wage of $15 in Chicago, Wired first reported.

Companies like Formic help industrial factories recruit robot workers without having to pay for the whole machine. Customers can, instead, rent the company’s metal arms to perform simple, repetitive tasks whenever they want. Its cheaper, and they don’t have to faff around with things like software or maintenance.

“Anything that can help reduce labor count or the need for labor is obviously a plus at this particular time,” said Steve Chmura, chief operating officer at Georgia Nut, a confectionery company in Illinois that also rents robots from Formic. Chmura has been able to staff up with robot workers during the pandemic; these machines can take over if human employees quit or get sick. ®

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How to be a better UX designer in 7 steps

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Want to become a great UX designer? These tips will help you grow in your career and help you stand out in future job interviews.

User experience, or UX, design is becoming more important all the time. From the start of the pandemic, online activity soared and many businesses that had never had a strong digital presence had to fully pivot. This meant that the professionals who design user-friendly apps, websites and digital services became crucial.

UX design is a growing space in Ireland and in 2021 UX design companies such as Each&Other and Lucky Beard said they were expanding in the country and looking to hire design talent.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

But outside of the technical skills required for a role in this area, what do you need to know to go from a good UX designer to a great one? How can you present yourself in the best possible way and stand out from the crowd?

Here are seven tips.

Set personal learning goals

As with all careers, one of the most important parts of being successful is continuous learning. As a UX designer, you will always be working towards the goals of your client or your employer. But in order to push yourself, it’s important to set your own personal goals to help you upskill.

Outside of your required work, make sure you’re flexing your creative muscles by challenging yourself to do something completely different.

Find your specialty

While it’s good to be more of a generalist early on in your UX career, it’s also a good idea to focus on a specific area of expertise to set yourself apart from others.

Find a particular strength or passion and work towards being an expert in that area, be it in voice user interfaces, mobile design, UX writing or motion design.

Focus on inclusivity

One of the most important parts of UX design is that it is user-friendly to all. Inclusive design is extremely important and accessibility should be baked into product and app design from the beginning. Lucky Beard’s Elaine Devereux recently told SiliconRepublic.com that her company is looking to hire designers with a “strong sensibility around ethics” and who “understand the importance of designing for good”.

In order to stand out as a UX designer, make sure you’re knowledgeable on all elements of accessible, ethical and inclusive design, and make sure you can demonstrate that in your portfolio.

Know your ‘why’

Design can often be subjective. Sure, there are some objectively good and bad UX decisions. But for everything else, there will always be a certain number of differing opinions.

This is why it’s always important to know why you made a particular design choice and to be able to explain that why with confidence. When it comes to job interviews, being able to explain your ‘whys’ when going through your portfolio will not only showcase how you work as UX designer, but it will highlight your communication and problem-solving skills.

Become a storyteller

While UX design should look attractive, it’s important not to lose sight of the UX part of your job. Your role is to take the user on a journey. After all, if your beautiful piece of work does not effectively communicate what it’s supposed to, then you haven’t done your job.

Before you launch into your visual ideas, become familiar with the message or story a certain brand or client is trying to convey. Then, map that out on storyboards to ensure the message stays threaded throughout.

Let go of perfectionism

For many UX designers, perfectionism is in their nature and it can be extremely hard to let go of that mindset. You might think that striving for perfection will make you a better UX designer.

But a 90pc perfect job in your eyes is better than a 100pc perfect job that may never get done – because perfection is so rarely achievable. It is a much stronger trait to be able to know when to put something to bed and deliver a quality project on time.

Leave room for creative thinking

Outside of your work and your own design projects, make sure you allow yourself the time and space to think, brainstorm and be creative.

This doesn’t mean trying to think of even more creative design projects. In fact, you should take yourself away from your work altogether. Go for a walk, doodle, browse the internet. The key is to leave space for your brain to be free to get inspired.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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How my husband finally cracked and got a mobile phone | Smartphones

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In her new memoir, I Came All This Way to Meet You, the American novelist Jami Attenberg describes meeting a man who is not on any social media at all, and who therefore has no idea what it’s like to receive a like or retweet. Attenberg considers this state wildly unusual, not to say bizarre; she’s all over Instagram and the rest. But her amazement is tempered with what sounds like envy. “You goddam beautiful unicorn,” she writes of him. “What’s that like, being entirely self-validating? What’s it like to wake up every day and not worry what anyone else thinks?”

As it happens, I’ve spent the past 18 years of my life with just such a unicorn, though the man I’m talking about is – or was – an even rarer beast than hers. So, a guy isn’t on social media. So what? Lots of people aren’t. Facebook is for dinosaurs. The more important fact by far when it comes to my mythical creature is that, until three weeks ago, he did not, in a Britain in which around 87% of adults own a smartphone, even have a mobile. Not only had he never used social media, he had never sent, let alone received, a text. The exquisite torture that comes of WhatsApp and its blue ticks was entirely unknown to him, a man whose body is very far indeed from being hard-wired to respond to alerts. Nothing pinged in his pocket as he strolled along. When he was lost, he had to ask a stranger, not Google Maps. When he was out late, he had to rely on his legs, not an Uber. Calls? You’d be surprised. The last time he needed urgently to contact me while out and about, he walked into a hotel bar and, drawing on all of his great David Niven-like urbanity, casually asked a waiter if he might “use your telephone for a moment”.

Unsurprisingly, friends and strangers alike professed themselves astonished by this refusal to get with the programme (I mean the programme that involves being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week), their manner hovering between amusement and exasperation. Do you, people would ask sarcastically, still recite your number when you answer your landline? But I always found irritation the more interesting response, suggestive as it was of feelings of exclusion and hurt (“Don’t you want me to call you?”). Sometimes, it bordered on anger, a low-level rage that might possibly – I’m only guessing – have been connected to a sense of unfairness. While T had escaped the constant hassle, the stress and the surveillance, they had not, and never would. (Not that they would ever admit to this. Far too much – their entire existence! – was, is, at stake for that.)

What about me, though? At some point, eyes would inevitably glide in my direction. Wasn’t I the long-suffering one! How did I cope? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t sometimes annoying. A couple of months ago, I left a party before him only to find that I didn’t have my keys with me; I had to wait on the doorstep for an hour. I used to roll my eyes if he asked to use my phone, not least because I would then have to explain how to use it. “Useful, aren’t they?” I’d say, jaw clenched. But, like Attenberg, I was admiring, too. Such a refusal spoke of confidence and ease; in his stubbornness, he reminded me usefully of a past in which we all survived perfectly well without being contactable at any moment. His phone-less state also, I think, helped to maintain the privacy that is vital for peaceable coupledom. Even if I wanted to check up on him, I couldn’t, and he, in turn, had no interest in my phone because, well, phones were not something he cared about. I watched others being pestered by – or pestering – those closest to them and found that I was relieved to have been exempted from this regime, however unwillingly at first.

Illustration by Eyon Jones.
Illustration by Eyon Jones.

But the biggest benefit of all was undoubtedly to him – and this is where envy sets in. All that extra time! When people asked how he managed to write so much – in the first lockdown, while I stared at my tiny screen, he began, and finished, his recent memoir – the answer was blindingly obvious. Unlike the rest of the world, he never wasted a single moment wondering why someone hadn’t answered his last message; nor did he indulge in doom or any other kind of scrolling. For his time to be his own, he required so little discipline. His in-between times were calm and quiet, to be used for good things like reading or listening to music. Mine were – they still are – punctuated by incoming fire I’m seemingly forbidden to ignore (“Didn’t you see my email?”). My phone has the capacity to make me deeply unhappy.

But as you’ll have noticed, this piece is written in the past tense. At Christmas, T asked me to give him a phone and this I duly did, sneaking it into his stocking so as not to make too big a deal of it. What had penetrated his defences? I had told him a hundred times – usually as I printed out yet another boarding pass – that he was in danger of becoming disenfranchised in a world where the phone is the key to everything, and yet still he would not crack. In the end, there were two things. First, his beloved iPod was obsolete; he wanted to be able to use Spotify while he was running. Second, there was Covid, which requires so much paperwork, all of which is best kept on a mobile phone.

Outwardly, I was triumphant. “It’s for the best,” I said, in the level voice I reserve for these situations. But inwardly, something else was going on. My goddam beautiful unicorn was about to disappear. When the Christmas post went to pot, and not one but two sim cards went missing, and the shiny new phone could not be used, there was no ignoring it: relief rose inside me. A stay of execution for us both. Soon after this, the sim having finally arrived, there came a moment when I found him in an armchair, AirPods in his ears, utterly absorbed in the black rectangle in his hand. For how much longer would he remain a free man? Never such innocence again, I thought, mournfully.

But there is hope. Having spent all of his adult life phone-less, some rules have been set; some habits are hard to break. T is not your typical phone user, and perhaps he never will be. Only me and his sister have his number, and I’m forbidden to give it out to anyone else. The other night, a friend begged for it – the phone is the talk of our circle; everyone wants to be the first to break the long silence/ruin his life – and thumb screws having been applied, I relented. The friend sent a text, but there came no answer – not then, or for the rest of the evening. “It’s probably switched off,” I said. “What?” said the friend. “No one switches their phone off.”

Hmm. When I got home, I inquired after the text that had been sent. Had T received it? He proffered his phone, showing me his reply, sent the following morning. “Automated message,” it read. “This number is no longer available.” It was very convincing; he’d added dashes to the words “automated message”, and somehow this made it look official. “I feel a bit guilty,” he said, shoving it in his pocket. But his face, which wore a smile, told a different story – of a phone that is not quite a phone. Or not yet.


Anthony Quinn: ‘A bus ride is now a bedlam of performative monologuists’

Anthony Quinn’s first selfie
Anthony Quinn’s first selfie.

People were often incredulous that I’d never had a mobile. They talked to me about it as if I were missing a limb or afflicted with a serious illness. But it truly wasn’t that difficult to live without one. Thirty years ago nearly everybody did, and life was fine.

Why, though? I suppose because I never wanted one. From the outside, looking in, I noticed the way mobiles changed everyday behaviour. Insidiously, the sleek pocket devil became what a pack of cigarettes was to a previous generation: something to occupy your hand, hugely antisocial, bad for your health.

At some point it became acceptable to interrupt a conversation by raising a finger and saying, “I just need to take this”; to place your phone on a dinner table and check your incoming, surreptitiously or not; to stalk along a pavement, head down, eyes absorbed by your screen (so I have to step out of the way for you?). I travel mostly by bus, which used to be a good place to daydream, to mooch, to worry about the next chapter of my book. Solitary mooching must be a cornerstone of any civilised society. Alas, the upstairs deck is now a bedlam of jabberers, droners, performative monologuists.

The dream was over after the pandemic. It no longer felt viable – or fair to Rachel – to have someone nannying me with NHS apps and Covid passes on a phone that wasn’t mine. It’s not all bad. No more trouble over entry at galleries, theatres, football stadiums. And I have Spotify when I go for a run – genius. For the rest, though, I’m hoping to maintain a low block on access. I don’t intend to give out my number. Email is the saviour. Honestly, I love my friends! I just don’t want them to call me – ever.

Anthony Quinn’s most recent book is Klopp: My Liverpool Romance (Faber); his novel London, Burning is out in paperback next month (Abacus)

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