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The race to get Georgia’s 23,000 17-year-olds registered to vote

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On November 13, Michael Giusto turned 18 years old. Becoming an adult is always a big moment in any teenager’s life. But Giusto’s landmark birthday comes with added responsibility. Thanks to a quirk in Georgia’s laws that requires at least 50% of the vote to win a US Senate seat, both the state’s Senate races are going to a runoff on January 5, 2021. 

Giusto, a high school senior from Alpharetta, a suburb north of Atlanta, missed voting in the 2020 election by just 10 days. This time he has the opportunity to vote for his state’s senators—so long as he registers by December 7.

“It’s kind of surreal,” he told me the day before his birthday. “I’m coming to the realization that voting is a more powerful and valuable way to participate in the government than anything else I could do, and I will have this responsibility dropped on me in less than 12 hours.”

Giusto is one of about 23,000 17-year-olds who—according to the Civics Center, an  organization devoted to youth civic engagement—were ineligible to vote in the presidential election but will be eligible to vote in the Georgia runoff. 

That number is not enough to close the gap between either Democrat Jon Ossoff and the Republican incumbent, Senator David Perdue, or Democrat Raphael Warnock and his Republican opponent, Senator Kelly Loeffler. But the Gen Z vote, which tends to favor Democrats, could make a serious dent in the Republican lead.

That could have huge implications. The Senate is closely divided, with 50 Republicans to 48 Democrats right now. The remaining two seats will be decided by Georgia’s runoffs, which could lead to two very different scenarios. If the seats go to one Republican and one Democrat or both seats go to Republicans, Republicans will have power in the Senate, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will retain his role as majority leader, creating an obstacle that could severely reduce President-elect Joe Biden’s chances of passing legislation. If, however, both seats go to Democrats, the Senate will be 50-50, and Kamala Harris, in the vice president’s traditional role as president of the Senate, would have the power to break a tie. This would give Democrats the advantage.

No wonder powerful political action committees are devoting hundreds of millions of dollars and plenty of attention to the Georgia Senate runoffs. But grassroots organizations are getting involved too. Often with the help of Twitch live streams, mobile games, and social media, they hope to influence teens about to turn 18 to register to vote.

Georgia’s demographics are rapidly changing, says Niles Francis, a 19-year-old freshman at Georgia State University who was the youngest analyst for Decision Desk HQ. “Cobb County has gotten more younger and diverse,” he says of his home county, which swung for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and went for Joe Biden in 2020. “It’s one of those counties that have become more educated, more affluent, and younger.”

That influx of youth is integral to Georgia’s rapidly changing political landscape. And it means there’s a growing untapped cohort of would-be voters out there.

Unsurprisingly, Instagram has become a focal point for get-out-the-vote campaigns. One Instagram group is Friends Vote Together, which matches phone- and text-banking volunteers to swing counties.

Many of those volunteers were not able to vote in the last election. “There is a misconception that if you are not yet 18, you cannot have an active role and participate in volunteering for campaigns,” says Cate Mayer, the group’s founder. Friends Vote Together currently has more than 40 teenage volunteers phone-banking and text-banking for the upcoming Georgia election, she says.

While phone-banking efforts have focused on youth voters, the fact is that texts and calls are less effective for this generation.

The video-streaming site Twitch, however, has blossomed in recent months as a way to reach out to Gen Z voters, as the live stream of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playing Among Us showed. The Amazon-owned platform has a lot going for it: its audience is young; the platform’s live streams include some of the hottest influencers today, often playing video games; and the chat function is lively and can be moderated. As Ocasio-Cortez’s record-breaking event showed, there’s an audience for live streams that are politically tinged, and voters are open to registering to vote if the chat is sprinkled with reminders from campaigns.

Whether those streams translate to actual registrations and votes, however, is not known. But increasingly, organizations see Twitch as the next frontier for political canvassing.

Nse Ufot, the CEO of the New Georgia Project, one of the largest nonprofits working to register young voters, conducted two successful “Twitch the Vote” events with the help of a sneaker giveaway. The results included getting 9,000 new voters to sign up on National Voter Registration Day in September.

Ufot notes that Twitch streams are still a mystery to many political operatives. “We have to explain to them what Twitch is,” she says. “The idea that people will show up to watch e-sports players watch games and talk about politics—they don’t get it. But we got 500,000 unique visitors on our Twitch the Vote events!”

It’s become increasingly apparent that gaming can fold in politics and entertainment, and that it can become a platform for political power. Ufot says she’s had mobile gaming trucks at key polling locations to get the word out and has found that these trucks—where anyone can come in and play games while talking about political issues—are an excellent way to reach underserved voters, like many in the Black community.

Georgia has historically been a major target for Black voter suppression via practices like arbitrarily applying rules requiring signatures and specific marking on ballots, or creating hostile environments at polling stations, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. Amid battles over such issues, however, the state has gone from predictably Republican to a tossup. One of the biggest groups addressing voter suppression is Fair Fight Action, founded on the night former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams lost her bid in 2018.

Ufot’s New Georgia Project works closely with Fair Fight Action and says the group has built its own technology to make sure Black voters, no matter their age, feel safe voting. For example, the group’s app includes an SOS button where a voter can record threats of violence. GPS coordinates are then sent to the New Georgia Project, which can trace which polling station is problematic. 

The project is now focused on reaching Georgia’s valuable 18-year-olds: “We’re dropping in on Zoom high school government classes. We’re doing more Twitch the Vote events. We’re going to graduations at the end of the semester.” And is it working? “Yesterday, we came in at just under 1,000 new voters,” she says.

The timing of the runoffs is also fortuitous. Because of the pandemic and the holiday break, many college students from Georgia will be at home when the vote happens.

Edward Aguilar just turned 17, which means he was ineligible to vote on November 3 and can’t participate in the upcoming runoffs either. But for the presidential election he co-developed an open-source algorithm, now a Google Doc, to help college students figure out where their vote counted more: in the district where they went to school or the one they called home. Now he’s passionate about getting his friends and their friends to vote. 

“We started realizing there is a unique situation where students have this voting power, and that power can help motivate them,” Aguilar says. “Their vote has a say.” 

One of those friends is Giusto, who helped his mom place Warnock and Biden-Harris signs around polling stations in his hometown of Alpharetta. Now, as a newly eligible voter, he’s reaching out to the next cohort. “We’re going to hundreds of youth-run political clubs in high schools across Georgia to find people who will now be able to vote,” Giusto says. “From there, we start real, in-depth conversations about the upsides and downsides of voting for one candidate versus another.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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What to make of Stripe’s possible $100B valuation

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This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

Welcome to a special Thanksgiving edition of The Exchange. Today we will be brief. But not silent, as there is much to talk about.

Up top, The Exchange noodled on the Slack-Salesforce deal here, so please catch up if you missed that while eating pie for breakfast yesterday. And, sadly, I have no idea why Palantir is seeing its value skyrocket. Normally we’d discuss it, asking ourselves what its gains could mean for the lower tiers of private SaaS companies. But as its public market movement appears to be an artificial bump in value, we’ll just wait.

Here’s what I want to talk about this fine Saturday: Bloomberg reporting that Stripe is in the market for more money, at a price that could value the company at “more than $70 billion or significantly higher, at as much as $100 billion.”

Hot damn. Stripe would become the first or second most valuable startup in the world at those prices, depending on how you count. Startup is a weird word to use for a company worth that much, but as Stripe is still clinging to the private markets like some sort of liferaft, keeps raising external funds, and is presumably more focused on growth than profitability, it retains the hallmark qualities of a tech startup, so, sure, we can call it one.

Which is odd, because Stripe is a huge concern that could be worth twelve-figures, provided that gets that $100 billion price tag. It’s hard to come up with a good reason for why it’s still private, other than the fact that it can get away with it.

Anyhoo, are those reported, possible prices bonkers? Maybe. But there is some logic to them. Recall that Square and PayPal earnings pointed to strong payments volume in recent quarters, which bodes well for Stripe’s own recent growth. Also note that 14 months ago or so, Stripe was already processing “hundreds of billions of dollars of transactions a year.”

You can do fun math at this juncture. Let’s say Stripe’s processing volume was $200 billion last September, and $400 billion today, thinking of the number as an annualized metric. Stripe charges 2.9% plus $0.30 for a transaction, so let’s call it 3% for the sake of simplicity and being conservative. That math shakes out to a run rate of $12 billion.

Now, the company’s actual numbers could be closer to $100 billion, $150 billion and $4.5 billion, right? And Stripe won’t have the same gross margins as Slack .

But you can start to see why Stripe’s new rumored prices aren’t 100% wild. You can make the multiples work if you are a believer in the company’s growth story. And helping the argument are its public comps. Square’s stock has more than tripled this year. PayPal’s value has more than doubled. Adyen’s shares have almost doubled. That’s the sort of public market pull that can really help a super-late-stage startup looking to raise new capital and secure an aggressive price.

To wrap, Stripe’s possible new valuation could make some sense. The fact that it is still a private company does not.

Market Notes

Various and Sundry

And speaking of edtech, Equity’s Natasha Mascarenhas and our intrepid producer Chris Gates put together a special ep on the education technology market. You can listen to it here. It’s good.

Hugs and let’s both go do some cardio,

Alex

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How Ryan Reynolds and Mint Mobile worked without becoming the joke

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In the past decade, celebrity interest and investment in tech companies has significantly increased. But not all celebrity investments are created equally. Some investors, like Ashton Kutcher, have prioritized the VC pursuits. Some have invested casually without getting overly involved. Others have used their considerable platforms to market their portfolio to varying degrees of success.

It’s been a little over a year since Ryan Reynolds bought a majority stake in Mint Mobile, a deal that has already had a dramatic impact on the the MVNO (mobile virtual network operator).

The four-year-old company has seen a tremendous amount of growth, boosting revenue nearly 50,000% in the past three years. However, the D2C wireless carrier has seen its highest traffic days on the backs of Reynolds’ marketing initiatives and announcements.

There is a long history of celebrities getting involved with brands, either as brand ambassadors or ‘Creative Directors’ without much value other than the initial press wave.

Lenovo famously hired Ashton Kutcher as a product engineer to help develop the Yoga 2 tablet, on which I assume you are all reading this post. Alicia Keys was brought on as BlackBerry’s Global Creative Director, which felt even more convoluted a partnership than Lady Gaga’s stint as Polaroid’s Creative Director. That’s not to say that these publicity stunts necessarily hurt the brands or the products (most of the time), but they probably didn’t help much, and likely cost a fortune.

And then there are the actual financial investments, in areas where celebrities fundamentally understand the industry, that still didn’t get to ‘alpha.’

Even Jay-Z has struggled to make a music streaming service successful. Justin Bieber never really got a selfie app off the ground. Heck, not even Justin Timberlake could breathe life back into MySpace. Reynolds seemingly has an even heavier lift here. It’s hard to imagine a string of words in the English language less sexy than, “mobile virtual network operator.”

Reynolds tells TechCrunch that he viewed celebrity investments as a kind of “handicapping,” prior to the Mint acquisition.

“I’ve just sort of seen how most celebrities are doing very, very well,” he explains. “We’re generally hocking or getting behind or investing in luxury and aspirational items and projects. Then George and I had a conversation about a year-and-a-half ago, maybe longer, about what if we swerved the other way? What if he kind of got into something that was hyper practical and just forget about the sexy aspirational stuff.”

Mint isn’t Reynolds’ first entrepreneurial venture. He bought a majority stake in Portland-based Aviation Gin in 2018, which recently sold for $610 million. He also cofounded marketing agency Maximum Effort alongside George Dewey, which has made its own impact over the past several years.

Maximum Effort was founded to help promote the actor’s first Deadpool film. Reynolds and Dewey had come up with several low-budget spots to get people excited about an R-rated comic book movie. The bid appears to have worked. The film raked in $783.1 million at the box office — a record for an R-rated film that held until the 2019 release of Joker.

Maximum Effort (and Reynolds) was also behind the viral Aviation Gin spot, which poked fun at the manipulative Peloton ad that aired last year around the holidays. The same actress who portrayed a woman seemingly tortured by her holiday gift of a Peloton sits at a bar with her friends, shell-shocked, sipping a Martini.

The original ad on YouTube, not counting recirculation by the media, has more than 7 million hits. Reynolds calls it ‘fast-vertising’.

“We get to react,” he told TechCrunch. “We get to acknowledge and play with the cultural landscape in real time and react to it in real time. There isn’t any red tape to come through, because it’s just a matter of signing off on the approval. So in a way, it’s unfair, in that sense, because most big corporations, they take weeks and weeks or months to get something approved. Our budgets are down and dirty, fast and cheap.”

He explained that this type of real-time marketing is only possible because he’s the owner of Maximum Effort (and in some cases of the client businesses, as well), but because there is no red tape to cut through when a great idea presents itself.

Reynolds has brought this marketing acumen to Mint Mobile in a big way. Last year during the Super Bowl, Reynolds took out a full page ad in The New York Times, explaining that the decision to spend $125,000 on a print ad instead of $5 million+ on a Super Bowl commercial would enable the prepaid carrier to pass the savings on to consumers.

In October, Reynolds spun Mint’s 5G launch into another light-hearted spot. He brought on the head of mobile technology to explain what 5G actually is, and after hearing the technical explanation, happily said “We may never know, so we’ll just give it away for free.”

Mint also released a holiday ad just a couple of weeks ago warning of wireless promo season, wherein large wireless carriers may try to lure customers into expensive contracts using new devices. Standing over a bear trap, Reynolds dryly states: “At Mint Mobile, we don’t hate you.”

Reynolds enjoys nearly 17 million Twitter followers and more than 36 million Instagram followers. He uses both platforms to promote his various brands without alienating his followers. Moreover, he doesn’t exclusively promote his brands on social media, but weaves in his own funny personal commentary or gives followers a peek into his marriage with Blake Lively, which we can all agree is #relationshipgoals.

Mint Mobile partners exclusively with T-Mobile to provide service, and unlike some other MVNOs, it uses a direct-to-consumer model, foregoing any physical footprint. Plans start at $15/month and top out at $30/month. CMO Aron North says that Reynolds’ ownership and involvement with Mint Mobile is “absolutely critical.”

“Ryan is an A plus plus celebrity, and he’s very funny and entertaining and engaging,” said North. “His reach has given us a much bigger platform to speak on. I would say he is absolutely critical in our success and our growth.”

We asked Reynolds if he has any specific plans for further tech investment, or if there are any trends he’s keeping an eye on. He explained that his motivations are not purely capitalistic.

“I’m really focused on community and bringing people together,” said Reynolds. “We think it’s super cool to bring people together, particularly in a world that is very divisive. Even in our marketing, we try to find ways to have huge cultural moments without polarizing people without dividing people without saying one thing is wrong.”

In one of the company’s more notable recent spots, Reynolds enlisted the help of iconic comedian, Rick Moranis. It was an impressive coup, given the actor’s seeming retreat from the public eye, turning down two separate Ghostbusters film reboots.

“It’s funny what happens when you just ask,” says Reynolds. “I explained that people genuinely miss him and his performances and his energy. And he, for whatever reason, said yes, and the next thing I know, six days later, we were out of there in 15, 20 minutes and we shot our spot.”

Of course, it didn’t escape the internet’s notice that two well-known Canadian actors were standing in a field, selling a U.S.-only wireless service.

“I would love to see [Mint] in Canada,” Reynolds says. “There’s a Big Three here that’s challenging to crack. I don’t pretend to know the telecom business well enough to say why, how or what the path forward would be there. I see basically a tsunami of feedback from Canada, asking ‘why can’t we have this here?’ I think it’s sexy. It’s pragmatic and sexy. That’s why I got involved with it.”

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Original Content podcast: Just don’t watch Netflix’s ‘Holidate’ with your parents

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You might think that a new Netflix film called “Holidate” offers holiday-themed romance that’s perfect for a family watch party. You’d be wrong.

The film stars Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey as a pair of strangers who agree (in classic romantic comedy style) to keep each other company on holidays.

And while the movie can’t be completely pigeonholed as a raunchy comedy — it also includes a dash of metatextual commentary, with a healthy dose of undiluted romantic schmaltz — “Holidate” is certainly filled with sexually frank dialogue, and a couple of its biggest set pieces go all-in on gross-out humor. So, and as one of the hosts of the Original Content podcast discovered, watching it with your family can be extremely uncomfortable.

But, assuming you avoid that awkwardness, is it actually funny? Sometimes! A word that comes up repeatedly in our review is “adequate” — Darrell embraced the film’s surprisingly dirty humor, while Anthony and Jordan were at least mildly entertained.

In addition to reviewing “Holidate,” we also discussed the implications of Netflix’s decision to remove “Chappelle’s Show” at Dave Chappelle’s request.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:11 Dave Chappelle discussion
13:50 “Holidate” review
37:39 “Holidate” spoiler discussion

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