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Here come the Zoom startups

Original image by Allie Smith.
Here come the Zoom startups

Good morning! This Friday, Zoom-based startups are here, Wi-Fi 6E is coming, and Amazon's antitrust arguments just got more complicated.

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People Are Talking

Coronavirus is basically a worst-case-scenario for a company like Airbnb, Brian Chesky said:

  • "I'm not sure if there's a more difficult thing that a CEO of a travel company could ever do than go through this. You feel like you were T-boned, or like a torpedo has just hit the ship."

Bill Gates has an idea of what the next phase of life will look like:

  • "It is semi-normal. People can go out, but not as often, and not to crowded places. Picture restaurants that only seat people at every other table, and airplanes where every middle seat is empty. Schools are open, but you can't fill a stadium with 70,000 people. People are working some and spending some of their earnings, but not as much as they were before the pandemic."

Bird's high valuation may have been more curse than blessing, a former employee said:

  • "When you put that crown on a company, they owe it to investors and to themselves to grow at all costs … And when you only focus on growth, you stop focusing on people … Once that snowball started rolling down the hill, there was no stopping it."

The Big Story

Zoom spawns its own startup ecosystem

There's a certain level of ubiquity and power that you only attain when other people start building companies based on your product. Think of Amazon sellers, iPhone developers, and Facebook game makers.

The newest member of the category? Zoom. Zoom-based startups are suddenly everywhere:

  • Grain built an app that lets you clip, note and share important moments of your Zoom call. It's been working on the app since 2018, and went public recently. Good timing.
  • Fireflies offers similar features — you can search through a call recording, mark important moments, and transcribe or record meetings.
  • Stream hopes to make it easier for people to host events, particularly paid ones, on Zoom.
  • Otter, a voice-to-text transcription company, just released a new feature that integrates its live transcription directly into Zoom.

Why Zoom? Simple: Zoom is winning. The company announced it's now up to 300 million daily users, and has become the default video tool for people everywhere. "We use Zoom because it's what my 65-year-old aunt is familiar with," Stream co-founder and CEO Lan Paje told me. "It's the tool of the moment."

  • Zoom's also built a powerful, easy-to-use API, Paje said. " I'm surprised a lot of other developers haven't used it yet — you can do a whole bunch of different things that you probably wouldn't think of."
  • Otter CEO Sam Liang agreed: "They've been very helpful, very supportive." Otter actually provides Zoom's existing meeting-transcription feature, which Liang said has been used to transcribe 25 million meetings totaling more than 750 million minutes.

Zoom still has security issues, but they're clearly not dissuading users from jumping on the platform — and they're not dissuading developers, either.

  • Paje told me the only thing he's worried about is Zoombombers: "They don't really have a great solution for preventing it."
  • That's also a problem for event organizers who want to make sure only people with tickets can get into the Zoom room — Zoom just doesn't have a good way to control who's in and who's out.

When coronavirus is over, Zoom seems to want to go back to being a business tool.

  • But it's looking likely that it's going the other way — that Zoom's going to be part of the way people communicate and participate in things going forward.
  • "Every single physical event can also be a virtual event," Paje said. "And people are paying for virtual events now."

Standards

The names are confusing but the Wi-Fi's really fast

For the first time in more than 20 years, Wi-Fi traffic is getting a new lane. The FCC unanimously approved new rules to open up the 6GHz spectrum band yesterday. You'll eventually start seeing "Wi-Fi 6E" approved devices that offer faster, more reliable connections for multiple devices at once.

  • To clarify, Wi-Fi 6E is different from Wi-Fi 6. But they're related. Standards bodies are not good at naming things.

Unfortunately for your lockdown situation, there aren't any 6E devices on the market yet. But they're coming:

  • You'll start to see phones with 6E chips by the end of this year, Phil Solis, research director at IDC, told Protocol's Sofie Kodner. PCs, he predicts, will follow in the first quarter of 2021. Other devices, like TVs, he thinks will pick up in 2022.
  • Companies like Broadcom and Intel have been betting on 6E for about two years. "Broadcom is first out the gate with Wi-Fi 6E chips," Solis said. "They only sell them to Wi-Fi routers and access points and smartphones right now, but they're going to benefit from it." Could that be why Broadcom ordered its engineers back into the office this week?

One key — if small — application of 6E will be for virtual and augmented reality. (This is also what people say about 5G, by the way.)

  • "Right now with VR, we typically use a cord to a PC or something," Solis said. "The cord kind of gets in the way, you could trip on it or it just hits your leg and it takes you out of the suspension of disbelief."
  • He said that 6E will offer a more affordable route to wireless connectivity for VR and AR headsets than what companies have been otherwise looking into.

6E carves out Wi-Fi's future next to 5G. And as we ponder a more remote-friendly work, school, and health care environment in the post-coronavirus world, a Wi-Fi equivalent to 5G for the indoors can only be a good thing.

A MESSAGE FROM EXCELLA

Excella

If you can't see how AI makes its decisions, how can you trust the results?

The answer lies in Explainable AI or XAI.

Explainable models provide transparency — so you can stay accountable to customers, build trust, and make decisions with confidence.

Learn more about Explainable AI (XAI)

Shopping

Amazon watched its best sellers — and took notes

Amazon sells a lot of products. Amazon also makes a lot of products, through its private-label brands like Amazon Basics and Goodthreads and Happy Belly. Amazon has always maintained those two facts are not linked: That it doesn't use data it gathers as a store to inform how it operates as a manufacturer.

But that's not true, according to a big new investigation from The Wall Street Journal:

  • The WSJ said that Amazon employees accessed data on popular products to understand how they were selling, how their prices changed, what they cost to make and ship, and more — and then allegedly used that information to copy and defeat them.
  • "We knew we shouldn't," a former employee told the WSJ. "But at the same time, we are making Amazon branded products, and we want them to sell."

House antitrust guru David Cicilline said that the WSJ report could change things for Amazon in ongoing competition investigations.

  • Nate Sutton, Amazon's general counsel, "may have lied to Congress" when he said last summer that Amazon didn't use seller data in creating its own products, Cicilline said.

Making Moves

Instacart tells us it has already hired the 300,000 shoppers it announced a few weeks ago, and is now planning to hire 250,000 more. It's also offering better leave, and health and safety kits – but those kits may not always be much use.

Megan Imbres, Quibi's head of brand marketing, is leaving the company. No word yet on where she's going, or why she's leaving so few quibis into the company's life.

Tesla added Hiro Mizuno to its board as an independent director. He's a longtime finance executive, most recently running Japan's government pension fund.

In Other News

  • Today in coronavirus: 4.4 million people filed for unemployment this week. Slack isn't planning to fully re-open offices until at least September 1. Instacart is trying to shut down a website that automatically placed orders and helped users snag delivery slots. Most people talking about coronavirus on Twitter aren't people — they're bots. The first version of Apple and Google's contact-tracing API is coming next week. One town is deploying "pandemic drones" to enforce social distancing. And in Italy, a traffic light system is telling factory workers when it's safe to go to the bathroom.
  • Want to know how powerful TikTok is? Record labels are changing the names of songs to make them easier to find for people who have only heard snippets in the app.
  • Facebook disallowed advertising against "pseudoscience," a term it had previously allowed advertisers to target, after The Markup published a story about the practice.
  • Apple may be prepping to switch MacBooks from Intel chips to its own in-house processors similar to those planned for the next iPhone. This is bad news for Intel, which has already seen Windows manufacturers start to experiment with ARM chips.
  • From Protocol: Startups are worried about a Federal Reserve rule that only gives midsize companies stimulus money if they're profitable. If the rule doesn't change, tech companies across the country could be left out.
  • Stripe made its API for creating digital and physical cards open to all businesses. The program, called Issuing, already works with Zipcar, Postmates and others.
  • Expedia's actually raising $3.2 billion, even more than we thought yesterday, as the travel giant continues to try to survive coronavirus.
  • Takeaway.com's massive acquisition of Just Eat was approved by the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority, which means the combined delivery giant can keep operating — and that the company name "Just Eat Takeaway.com" is somehow going to be a thing.
  • Google is beginning to require all advertisers to submit verification before buying ads on Google properties. The company said it'll take "a few years" to complete the transition.
  • Google is also dramatically slowing down its own marketing. The company is cutting budgets by about half for the second half of this year, and freezing hiring on many teams.

One More Thing

Taking in-home workouts to the next level

Since you can't go to the gym, maybe you've taken up running or YouTube yoga classes. Boring. Can I interest you in a VR workout where you basically play full-body Dance Dance Revolution on top of a mountain? That's what Within's new Supernatural app offers. It also looks a little like you're training for some futuristic war with aliens, so that's useful. When you're done, keep on the VR headset, slide into the bathtub, and change your surroundings to a Japanese hot spring. In both cases, just make sure you keep the headset done up tight.

A MESSAGE FROM EXCELLA

Excella

If you can't see how AI makes its decisions, how can you trust the results?

The answer lies in Explainable AI or XAI.

Explainable models provide transparency — so you can stay accountable to customers, build trust, and make decisions with confidence.

Learn more about Explainable AI (XAI)

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend, see you Monday.

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