June 17, 2021
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Good morning! This Thursday: don't get rid of your webcam yet, Amazon is spending millions on affordable housing, Facebook is bringing ads to Oculus (duh), and say goodbye to those midnight Slacks from your boss.
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The Big Story
Think video's dead? Think again.
Phil Libin had braced for the video market to be at a low right now. The CEO of video presentation startup mmhmm thought that the vaccines would come out around summertime and people would be so anxious to get back into the real world that the industry would cool off.
He'd already taken advantage of investors throwing cash at any kind of virtual or video-first startup last year when his company raised more than $35 million. Libin figured his startup could use the extra cash to survive waning investor interest as the world returned to (the new) normal.
"We got that wrong," Libin told Protocol. "The hype is bigger than ever. We're getting tons of inbound interest from investors."
Events and work are starting to resume IRL, but video isn't dead yet. Companies like Loom, Engageli and Hopin are still cashing in on investor interest.
- According to PitchBook, investment in virtual events and video-related startups like mmhmm shot up from $43 million invested in the space in 2019 to over $580 million in 2020. It's only halfway through 2021, but already $535 million has been invested into the space.
- There's still more money in the banana stand, too, after the launch of video-specific funds, like Zoom's $100 million fund to invest in new apps.
The return to "normal" means people will have to start making choices about when they want to be on video versus a video-default world. That may mean a dip in growth for the video startups that saw a pandemic bump, but it won't kill the sector. "I think it'll slow down relative to how fast it was growing before, but there's no reason to think that the portcullis is about to drop, and they'll all be locked in the castle," said Bloomberg Beta's Roy Bahat, who invests in the future of work.
- "There was a period at the beginning of the pandemic where everyone had their Zoom fixer startup, like 'Zoom is great but…,'" Bahat said. He's seen a slowdown in new companies in that sector, but there's been a lot more pickup in the other part of the sector: video-enabled communication tools.
- Before the pandemic, getting a video reply to an email would've been super strange. Now, startups like Loom and CloudApp are making it seem much more normal.
- In the venture capital world, the new standard for making deals is "Loom-Zoom-room," or a video reply to a pitch, a video chat to meet the founders, then the signing of a deal in person.
The push to distributed work will also mean people can't shake video yet, said Maven Ventures's Jim Scheinman, one of the earliest investors in Zoom. "In general, I'm more bullish than ever," he said. "One thing that's very clear is that WFH is here to stay, and while videoconferencing was a nice-to-have in the past, it's now the essential office and social tool, and that will continue even as we return to normal."
As the world reopens and meetings and weddings and classes all go back to in person, people are excited to finally log off. Mmhmm's Libin is excited, too.
In fact, Libin said he's "delighted" by the idea of people not having to use video. He wants people to be using his product because they want to. And all of the other video startups that saw the pandemic bump in the last year are about to face the same test of finding the people who are excited to use their product now they don't have to use it.
"We just went through a year and a half of being forced to do something, and whenever you're forced to do something you don't have agency, it's always going to suck," Libin told Protocol. "We invented a bunch of stuff to make the best of a bad situation, but it's never going to be a good situation when you're forced to do it."
A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON
In 2018, Amazon increased their starting wage to at least $15 an hour for all employees across the U.S. The positive impact on employee morale and retention—and the surge in job applicants—was immediate.
People Are Talking
On Protocol | Fintech: There's a lot of heat in digital payments but not a lot of interesting stuff happening, Shopify's Carl Rivera said:
- "I continue to be surprised just how little innovation there's been in this space. And so we don't compare ourselves to any payment provider or any wallet in particular. But we find that we stand out quite a bit just by thinking about this space a little bit differently."
Google opening a retail store is an opportunity to change how you feel about Google, the company's Ivy Ross said:
- "The public didn't have a sense of how Google as an entity feels or [what it] stands for. What we want Google to convey to you is that we're human; and it makes sense for us to give you an embodied experience with the brand through the store."
Big Tech screwups make for startup gold mines, Union Square Ventures's Brad Burnham said:
- "One of the funny things about DuckDuckGo is that the single best marketing we've ever had has been the gaffes that Google and Facebook have made over the years … There is an increasing awareness of how this business model works and what it means — not just in terms of the loss of privacy and agency over our own data, but also what it means for the vibrance and success of an open marketplace."
Tim Cook said the EU's DMA law would be bad for users:
- "The current DMA language that is being discussed would force sideloading on the iPhone. And so this would be an alternate way of getting apps onto the iPhone, as we look at that, that would destroy the security of the iPhone."
- He also hinted that more AR products are coming: "We've been working with AR first with our phones, and iPads, and later we'll see where that goes in terms of products."
Satya Nadella is now chairman of Microsoft's board. He's replacing former Symantec CEO John Thompson, who joined the board in 2012 and took over Bill Gates's chair seat in 2014.
Congress voted to make Juneteenth a national holiday. And it's on Saturday! Happy almost Juneteenth!
Waymo raised another $2.5 billion from a number of investors, after raising $3.2 billion last year. Winning the self-driving future is expensive, friends.
Wise is going public via a direct listing. The fintech formerly known as TransferWise is reportedly aiming for at least a $6 billion valuation.
Some exec moves at DataRobot: Elise Leung Cole is its new chief people officer, Michael Schmidt its CTO and Nick King its CMO.
Amazon is spending $300 million on affordable housing. The units will be built near public transit in some of the cities where Amazon has offices, primarily in Washington, D.C.
In Other News
- President Biden and Vladimir Putin talked cybersecurity. In their meeting yesterday, Biden said he told Putin that there will be huge consequences if Russia launches cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure.
- Spotify launched Greenroom, its take on Clubhouse-style social audio. It's the result of Spotify's acquisition of Betty Labs and the Locker Room app.
- You can now make political donations with bitcoin. The National Republican Congressional Committee is the first party to allow crypto donations, though they'll be turned into dollars before they hit the NRCC. This is going to be a fascinating test of campaign finance rules.
- Amazon cut its app store commission to 20%, and also plans to give developers free AWS credit. Apple's "everyone's doing it!" case for charging 30% is getting harder to defend.
- Facebook is bringing ads to Oculus. (Shocker.) For now, users will only see ads inside one game — Blaston — but it sounds like there's more to come soon.
- On Protocol: Facebook also announced a suite of new tools for group admins, designed to slow down heated conversations and root out spam and troublesome members.
- On Protocol | Enterprise: Confluent raised its IPO expectations, aiming to get to an $8 billion valuation when it goes public. It's hoping to raise $759 million in the listing.
- DiDi is being investigated by China's antitrust regulator, Reuters reported. The SAMR probe comes just as DiDi prepares for a huge IPO.
- Six Silicon Valley residents were charged with insider trading, a group allegedly led by Nathaniel Brown, a revenue officer at Infinera. Brown apparently told his friends about Infinera's earnings before they dropped, helping them make a bundle.
- On Protocol | China: The Chinese government is laying the groundwork to lean on private companies to share their data. All of their data.
- On Protocol: Google and Alexa may soon play nicely. At a hearing this week, Sonos's Eddie Lazarus made the case that Google needs to be more open to interoperability … and Google's Wilson White at least seemed open to the idea.
One More Thing
That midnight Slack can wait
Tim Grieve, Protocol's executive editor, likes to send the (not so) occasional late-night Slack message. In his defense, it's always accompanied with a note like "Don't read this until tomorrow!" But, too late, notifications exist.
So this one's for you, Tim, and for employees everywhere: Slack is rolling out a new scheduled-send feature that lets you write a message but deliver it at a time of your choosing up to 120 days in the future. This is one feature of email we're glad to see replicated. Here's hoping "Send tomorrow at 9 a.m." becomes a common selection of bosses everywhere.
A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON
A recent study from the University of California-Berkeley and Brandeis University found that when Amazon raised their starting wage to $15/hr, the average hourly wage in the surrounding area rose by 4.7% as other employers followed their lead.
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