People

Workspace is Google’s all-in-one, do-everything productivity tool

Google's bringing messaging, work and more into a single place — and a single strategy.

Google Workspace apps

Google Workspace is a new name, a bunch of new logos, and a lot of apps in one place.

Image: Google

Google's work-software products always almost made sense. Docs, Slides, Sheets and Drive were integrated in smart but incomplete ways, Gmail and Hangouts and Duo and countless other messaging products never felt like they co-existed very well, and Calendar, Keep and Tasks seemed perpetually one big update from being great.

Now, Google is trying to turn its sprawling ecosystem into a coherent whole. It's called Google Workspace, and it turns many disparate apps into one Productivity Voltron. Javier Soltero, who ran G Suite and now runs Workspace, called it a "complete reimagining of the G Suite business and our vision for the future of communication and collaboration."

Workspace seems to have been the plan ever since Soltero joined Google after a stint leading Office and Outlook at Microsoft. "No part of this was a response to COVID," he said. He said in April that when he looked at the many facets of G Suite — the content creation, the messaging, the collaboration — that the question was, "How do you make it seamless? Nobody needs to experience the organizational chart of a company as they move from one product to another." Workspace's solution to that problem is to do more in every app and browser tab: Users can run a Meet call picture-in-picture on top of their presentation or document, or preview a Doc that's linked inside another Doc.

The underlying infrastructure is all about communication. Inside Workspace, it'll be easy to create a spreadsheet from within Google Chat, which will be automatically shared with everyone in a channel or group. Users will be able to work on documents and spreadsheets from within their Gmail inbox, too. For years, Google seemed satisfied by using links to make sharing and accessing things easy, but now it's pulling all the content into every place users are.

Soltero said that Google isn't just focused on helping companies talk amongst themselves, though. He said Workspace is also designed for frontline, retail and remote workers who are spread all over the place "and need to remain connected to their organizations, need to be able to have the right kind of solutions that fit their skill sets, their device profile, their situation." He also mentioned banks, customer-service centers and other customer interactions where people want to work with the products they already understand.

Workspace puts Google in direct competition with practically the entire universe of workplace productivity software. Microsoft Teams and Slack both beat Google to the realization that chat, not documents, is the center of the digital workspace, and those products have poured resources into integrating with as many work tools as possible. But Google has an advantage: Gmail is the world's dominant email provider, and Docs and Sheets and Slides are integral parts of most modern companies already. Google now has more than 2.6 billion users across these apps.

Meanwhile, Monday and Asana and so many others are competing to be the home for people's projects, documents and work. Now that can be Google, integrated seamlessly into users' inboxes. The only other company that could even attempt to combine both sides in such a way is Microsoft, and while that's clearly the plan for Microsoft 365, Google is well ahead.

Fundamentally, though, it boils down to simple math. Google wants to turn three bills — for G Suite, Slack and Zoom — into a single subscription to Workspace. That will put it squarely in Slack's crosshairs: It has accused Microsoft of growing Teams in a similar way, competing by bundling rather than actually building a better product. In one view, that's exactly what Google is doing now.

One other challenge for Google in pulling off Workspace will be one that Soltero is well aware of, because he saw it first hand at Microsoft. When you shove a lot of apps into a single place, things tend to get bloated, slow and crowded. (You could call this "Outlook Syndrome.") Sanaz Ahari, a product director on the Workspace team, said that Google's design principles centered on "simplicity, flexibility and helpfulness," but Google Calendar users spent the summer annoyed at the ever-increasing size of the Google Meet button in the app, telling them to make video calls when all they wanted to do was add an event. Then they got mad all over again in July, when Soltero announced that Chat and Rooms were coming to Gmail screens. (In fairness, it's not just Google: Yahoo recently added a tab for watching NFL games to its Mail app.) Google's tools became popular initially in part as a response to the heavy, overbearing state of Microsoft Office. Now it risks becoming the same.

Much of software development seems to exist in a perpetual cycle of bundling apps together into a more powerful whole, and then breaking them apart when all those features get too big to coexist. Work apps are deep in a bundling phase right now, and Google has more to bundle than most. That's a big opportunity, and a big challenge.

Image: Yuanxin

Yuanxin Technology doesn't hide its ambition. In the first line of its prospectus, the company says its mission is to be the "first choice for patients' healthcare and medication needs in China." But the road to winning the crowded China health tech race is a long one for this Tencent- and Sequoia-backed startup, even with a recent valuation of $4 billion, according to Chinese publication Lieyunwang. Here's everything you need to know about Yuanxin Technology's forthcoming IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

What does Yuanxin do?

There are many ways startups can crack open the health care market in China, and Yuanxin has focused on one: prescription drugs. According to its prospectus, sales of prescription drugs outside hospitals account for only 23% of the total healthcare market in China, whereas that number is 70.2% in the United States.

Yuanxin started with physical stores. Since 2015, it has opened 217 pharmacies immediately outside Chinese hospitals. "A pharmacy has to be on the main road where a patient exits the hospital. It needs to be highly accessible," Yuanxin founder He Tao told Chinese media in August. Then, patients are encouraged to refill their prescriptions on Yuanxin's online platforms and to follow up with telehealth services instead of returning to a hospital.

From there, Yuanxin has built a large product portfolio that offers online doctor visits, pharmacies and private insurance plans. It also works with enterprise clients, designing office automation and prescription management systems for hospitals and selling digital ads for big pharma.

Yuanxin's Financials

Yuanxin's annual revenues have been steadily growing from $127 million in 2018 to $365 million in 2019 and $561 million in 2020. In each of those three years, over 97% of revenue came from "out-of-hospital comprehensive patient services," which include the company's physical pharmacies and telehealth services. More specifically, approximately 83% of its retail sales derived from prescription drugs.

But the company hasn't made a profit. Yuanxin's annual losses grew from $17 million in 2018 to $26 million in 2019 and $48 million in 2020. The losses are moderate considering the ever-growing revenues, but cast doubt on whether the company can become profitable any time soon. Apart from the cost of drug supplies, the biggest spend is marketing and sales.

What's next for Yuanxin

There are still abundant opportunities in the prescription drug market. In 2020, China's National Medical Products Administration started to explore lifting the ban on selling prescription drugs online. Although it's unclear when the change will take place, it looks like more purely-online platforms will be able to write prescriptions in the future. With its established market presence, Yuanxin is likely one of the players that can benefit greatly from such a policy change.

The enterprise and health insurance businesses of Yuanxin are still fairly small (accounting for less than 3% of annual revenue), but this is where the company sees an opportunity for future growth. Yuanxin is particularly hoping to power its growth with data and artificial intelligence. It boasts a database of 14 million prescriptions accumulated over years, and the company says the data can be used in many ways: designing private insurance plans, training doctors and offering chronic disease management services. The company says it currently employs 509 people on its R&D team, including 437 software engineers and 22 data engineers and scientists.

What Could Go Wrong?

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped sell the story of digital health care, but Yuanxin isn't the only company benefiting from this opportunity. 2020 has seen a slew of Chinese health tech companies rise. They either completed their IPO process before Yuanxin (like JD, Alibaba and Ping An's healthcare subsidiaries) or are close to it (WeDoctor and DXY). In this crowded sector, Yuanxin faces competition from both companies with Big Tech parent companies behind them and startups that have their own specialized advantages.

Like each of its competitors, Yuanxin needs to be careful with how it processes patient data — some of the most sensitive personal data online. Recent Chinese legislation around personal data has made it clear that it will be increasingly difficult to monetize user data. In the prospectus, Yuanxin elaborately explained how it anonymizes data and prevents data from being leaked or hacked, but it also admitted that it cannot foresee what future policies will be introduced.

Who Gets Rich

  • Yuanxin's founder and CEO He Tao and SVP He Weizhuang own 29.82% of the company's shares through a jointly controlled company. (It's unclear whether He Tao and He Weizhuang are related.)
  • Tencent owns 19.55% of the shares.
  • Sequoia owns 16.21% of the shares.
  • Other major investors include Qiming, Starquest Capital and Kunling, which respectively own 7.12%, 6.51% and 5.32% of the shares.

What People Are Saying

  • "The demands of patients, hospitals, insurance companies, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies are all different. How to meet each individual demand and find a core profit model is the key to Yuanxin Technology's future growth." — Xu Yuchen, insurance industry analyst and member of China Association of Actuaries, in Chinese publication Lanjinger.
  • "The window of opportunity caused by the pandemic, as well as the high valuations of those companies that have gone public, brings hope to other medical services companies…[But] the window of opportunity is closing and the potential of Internet healthcare is yet to be explored with new ideas. Therefore, traditional, asset-heavy healthcare companies need to take this opportunity and go public as soon as possible." —Wang Hang, founder and CEO of online healthcare platform Haodf, in state media China.com.

Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

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