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AI app EPIK hits No. 1 on the App Store for its viral yearbook photo feature

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Another week, another AI app going viral. This time around, the AI app that has surged to the top of the App Store is EPIK, an photo editing app that lets users generate nostalgic, 90s-inspired “yearbook” photos of themselves as one of its many templates. Similar to other recently popular AI apps, EPIK works by having users first upload a series of selfies which EPIK then uses to generate the throwback yearbook photos featuring the user in different poses, with different looks and hairstyles.

The app hails from South Korea-based Snow Corporation, a Naver subsidiary, which also makes the AI profile app Snow. In recent weeks, EPIK has gained traction on the App Store as influencers from around the world began sharing their AI-generated photos across social media.

On the U.S. App Store, EPIK is now No. 1, though it’s not quite as popular on Google Play at No. 37.

Image Credits: EPIK

According to data from market intelligence firm Apptopia, EPIK has seen a total of 92.3 million lifetime installs since its August 2021 debut, including 4.7 million downloads in the U.S. However, the app started to gain traction on September 19th and then popped even more 10 days later, the firm says.

Currently, EPIK’s largest market is India, by downloads, and the U.S. is number 6.

Another firm, data.ai, sees slightly lower lifetime downloads at 82 million and notes the app has generated close to $7 million in consumer spending. This is the first time it’s ever ranked in Top Overall apps in the U.S., data.ai also notes.

Snow Corp. did not return a request for comment to verify these figures.

Scrolling the #epik hashtag on Instagram reveals a number of larger accounts have been joining in the trend of posting their AI yearbook photos, including beauty influencers like Samantha Batallanos (254K followers) and Bretman Rock (18.8M followers), actor and rapper Tim Chantarangsu (1.5M followers), fashion model Eva Mikulski (481K followers) video creators like Denyzee (526K followers), Missou (507K followers), Romy (1.5M followers), Liz Rangel (1.5M follower) and Hila Klein (1M followers), Twitch streamer Pokimane (6M followers), and many others — including influencers from the app’s home country and elsewhere in the world.

Image Credits: Pokimane on Instagram

To use EPIK’s Yearbook feature, users upload 8-12 selfie images which are then used to create the AI photos.

The app warns users that EPIK’s AI is constantly learning to improve its results and not all the AI results will be “satisfactory.” If you continue, it says, “you will be deemed to have agreed to the outcome,” the message states.

The app also suggests that users submit clear photos with a diverse range of expressions, angles, and backgrounds. After the app processes the photos it outputs 60 different images. While the app itself is a free download, users do have to pay for the AI output. They can also choose to pay to have the images generated more quickly — standard delivery ($3.99) has wait times of up to 24 hours, while express delivery ($5.99) offers photos in under two hours.

Image Credits: EPIK

Unfortunatley for EPIK, the app has become so popular it can’t keep up with demand. If you try to use the Yearbook feature now, the app may say it’s being delayed “as we are experiencing a rapid increase in users using the service. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again later.” Even if you get through the selfie upload process, the app may inform you the delivery options are “sold out” and to try again later.

Image Credits: EPIK

EPIK is not the first AI photo app to go viral for a clever feature that generates outsized attention. It follows other viral hits like Lensa, which offered AI-generated “magic avatars” and Remini, which hit the top of the App Store this summer for its professional-looking AI headshots. But many of the AI photo apps aren’t able to maintain traction after their 15 minutes of fame wears off. A report from Apptopia released earlier this year found that the initial group of AI photo editors that began taking off last winter, had already lost consumer interest.

For EPIK, that means its recent high status may ultimately be another flash in the pan as users move on to the next AI trend.

 





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Zūm Rails takes in first capital to launch new banking-as-a-service, FedNow offerings

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The adoption of open banking and instant payments is moving slowly in the United States compared to other markets around the world, for example, Brazil. That said, the new program FedNow went live in July 2023, and data-sharing regulations are forthcoming, so more potential is on the horizon.

Until then, the co-founders of Zūm Rails say the experiences consumers have with payments continues to be fragmented, meaning companies have to create a tech stack to provide a wide range of services to their customers. The Montreal-based company is taking the approach of providing an all-in-one payments gateway that merges open banking with instant payments.

Marc Milewski and Miles Schwartz started the company in 2019. Milewski’s background is in treasury payments and he was an early employee at accounts receivable automation software company Versapay. While there, he worked on what ultimately became Canada’s first webhook-enabled EFT gateway.

“You learn about all the problems everyone has moving money,” Milewski told TechCrunch. “Open banking was discussed, but I thought it was more about payments. Miles and I talked about building a whole new gateway that unified these experiences. Companies don’t want to be payment experts — that’s our job.”

They started building software to simplify the complexity of moving money via different payment rails so companies can use whichever approach makes sense for their business. Their technology leverages “omni rails” for payments, whether it is traditional credit, debit or electronic funds transfer options. It also provides for real-time options through partners, including Visa Direct, Mastercard, MX and Canada’s Interac network.

Zūm Rails manages the flow of money, including the reduction of fraud and failed transactions, by verifying a customer’s identity, linking directly with bank accounts and facilitating payments via the method of the customer’s choosing.

The company now processes more than $1 billion in payments through its platform each month for over 500 companies, including Questrade, Coinsquare and Desjardins, which is a large federation of credit unions in North America. In the past year, the company grew over 200% and launched in the U.S. at the end of 2023.

Milewski and Schwartz bootstrapped Zūm Rails, building it up to a team of 30 people. Last year, the pair decided to raise venture capital.

“We reached the point where we realize that bootstrapping is no longer healthy for our business,” Schwartz told TechCrunch. “We have some big initiatives we want to work on and grow on. Now it makes sense to do it all at once, and it’s healthy for the business to now go all-in and use the fuel.”

Zūm Rails, open banking, instant payments

Zūm Rails’ technology leverages “omni rails” for payments, whether it is traditional credit, debit or electronic funds transfer options. Image Credits: Zūm Rails

They closed on a $10.5 million Series A funding round, led by Arthur Ventures, and intend to invest in growing in the U.S. and expanding its payments offerings that will include the introduction of new banking-as-a-service features for merchants. In addition, Zūm Rails is working on a FedNow offering in the U.S. that will enable businesses to send and receive FDIC-insured payments within seconds.

Zūm Rails’ performance to date “is really impressive,” Jake Olson, vice president at Arthur Ventures, told TechCrunch. He called the company “a great fit” for its investment thesis, which is high-growth and capital-efficient B2B software companies.

“Achieving profitability without any outside capital is impressive,” Olson said. “Their product positioning is also really compelling. Rather than weaving together different systems, Zūm Rails can provide organizations with a comprehensive solution that powers the entire transaction journey and enables them to have a seamless experience for their end users. Any organization that views the streamline digital financial interaction coupled with the instant payments capability as a competitive advantage will be a great fit for Zūm Rails.”



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Grifin’s new model can automatically invest your money as you shop

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Investing app Grifin today officially launched its anticipated investing model called “Adaptive Investing,” which enables you to automatically invest in your favorite brands that you frequently shop from.

Grifin was founded in 2017 with the hope of making investing less intimidating and normalizing it for people who aren’t that financially savvy. To date, Grifin has raised more than $11 million from a notable list of investors, including TTV Capital, Rise of the Rest, Gaingels, NevCaut Ventures, Mana Ventures, Sidecut Ventures, Miami Angels and Playtap Media Ventures, along with Witz Ventures co-founder Austin Hankwitz and GGV Capital managing partner Hans Tung. The company says it sees about 20,000 unique new app installs per month.

Grifin’s new patent-pending technology is an evolution of its original model, which follows the premise of “Stock Where You Shop,” giving you a chance to explore the intimidating world of investing by aligning your shopping habits with stock choices.

“Investing, and even having a healthy positive relationship with money, is an incredibly difficult thing to do and achieve,” co-founder Aaron Froug tells TechCrunch. “The current system simply isn’t geared towards the individual, even with mobile access and 0% commission apps claiming to ‘open up’ investing to all. It still requires a lot of emotional energy, confidence and an understanding of how investing works. Most people still don’t feel like they have enough money to get started and even the most financially adept people I know don’t know what is inside most ETFs [exchange traded funds]. All of it is cloudy and complicated. None of it is centered around the individual.”

Image Credits: Grifin

The Adaptive Investing model aims to give users more flexibility by integrating new functionality into the app, including the ability to pause automatic payments, increase/decrease how much you want to spend and manually invest more money in a company. It also introduces a “Secret Cash” function, allowing for non-public purchases and putting more money away as cash for their future.

“This patent-pending technology builds on the original premise by integrating new functionality to allow for a more intuitive and adaptive approach to investing, centered not just around people’s daily spending habits, but how much they want to invest,” Froug adds.

By default, Grifin automatically invests $1 per transaction. For instance, when you buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, the app withdraws $1 from your bank account, and you get $1 of SBUX stock. You can also manually increase the investment amount to a maximum of $99.

Image Credits: Grifin

However, just because you enjoy a certain brand, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a smart investment. Grifin now added a new “Disable Company” feature, allowing you to stop or avoid investing in certain companies. There’s also an option to pause your investments for a week.

“We are also keenly aware that just because a person spends at a specific place, they might not want to invest there… By investing in small amounts, as low as $1 at a time, the aim is to help people to learn to navigate the world of investing without incurring too many negative consequences if they don’t get it right,” Froug says.

Plus, Froug argues that Adaptive Investing reduces the impact of single-stock exposure since it encourages a diverse profile as consumers usually spend money across a wide range of companies — phone/internet bills, gas, monthly subscription services and so forth.

“I’ve been personally using our app for a little over two years and I’ve invested in 115 unique companies,” he notes.

Additionally, Grifin is planning a redesign of its app, which will include a premium version as well as an AI chatbot to help people learn how to invest.



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Google Pay takes its QR soundbox to small merchants in India after trial run

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Google said Thursday it plans to roll out the SoundPod, its portable speaker designed to instantly validate and announce successful payments, to small merchants across India over the coming months. The Google Pay expansion in India, where the company is among the mobile payment market leaders, comes even as the firm winds down some of its payments apps in the U.S.

The company, which began a limited trial of SoundPod last year, received positive feedback during the testing and helped merchants reduce the checkout time, Ambarish Kenghe, VP of Products for Google Pay, wrote in a blog post.

The miniature jukeboxes, colloquially dubbed “soundboxes” domestically, have witnessed wide adoption in India, enabling merchants to find respite upon receipt of remuneration and contest any illegitimate claims.

Financial services firm Paytm currently leads the soundbox market and PhonePe is also increasingly expanding its device. More than 20 million merchants in the country already use one of these boxes, which industry insiders estimate costs about $18 to $20 to make. (Incidentally, Paytm is currently “fighting for its survival” as it navigates regulatory clampdown.)

The soundbox was invented to serve small Indian merchants unable to afford regular point-of-sale devices but accepting of UPI payments. (UPI, a payments network built by a coalition of retail banks in India, has become the most popular way for Indians to transact.) Now more popular than Visa, Mastercard and Amex combined, the devices last year prompted the payment giants to look at ways to take advantage of their reach.

It has also evolved into a lucrative subscription model over time as various players impose subscription charges on merchants. The real allure of the soundbox, according to one industry insider, extends beyond its auditory alerts — it provides invaluable insights into merchant behaviors, facilitating the offering of loans based on this data.

Google Pay is offering the SoundPod at a minimal cost — levying a one-time fee of $18 for one year, or a one-time fee of $6.06 per day for 25 days in a month. The company said merchants who use SoundPod to process 400 payments in a month will get $1.5 in cash back.

“To be able to play a role in India’s digital payments story is a matter of deep pride for us, providing invaluable lessons on how digital transformation happens in tech-forward societies, and we continue to stay deeply invested in this journey for the long term,” added Google’s Kenghe.

Reliance, India’s largest firm by market cap, also began testing a similar device at its campus last year, TechCrunch earlier reported. The company confirmed the device in a subsequent earnings call and said it plans to soon launch it to the market.



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