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What people in tech are cooking up this holiday season

We've rounded up some of the tech industry's favorite recipes.

What people in tech are cooking up this holiday season

These holiday cookies didn't come from a tech exec's kitchen, but they could have.

Photo: Getty Images

This year, while we search for the joy and light amid all of 2020's doom and gloom, we thought we'd try something a little different for the holidays here at Protocol: We asked tech workers to share stories about the food and drink that bring them happiness over the holidays (plus the recipes, of course). We've collected many of those recipes and stories here, for our first-ever "Tech industry holiday cookbook."

You'll find cookies and cakes and soups and stuffings between these virtual cookbook pages. You'll hear stories about children and grandparents, and others about tradition and memories. Many of these stories are about heritage: where people came from, and where they are going. You'll even find a short tale about what happens when, predictably, tech execs try to optimize for the best possible recipe using AI (I'm rolling my eyes at you, Google Cloud).

From all of us here at Protocol, we wish you a very happy holiday, and we hope you can perhaps create your own traditions and memories using some of these recipes. We've collected all of the recipes here, and if you share photos of your own holiday cooking and baking with me on Twitter, I'll retweet them (and share some of my own).

Hayden Brown, CEO of Upwork

Apple Pie

"From my mom, Marcia Odell, who inspires me and nourishes me in every way. In our family, we eat this pie not just for dessert, but as a great breakfast or lunch food, too; after all, it's mostly apples! We also have a running debate about whether this pie tastes best fresh out of the oven or even better the next day — and a strong faction of folks who think it's best a la mode, versus the purists who would never taint it with even the best vanilla Haagen-Dazs."

Fidji Simo, head of Facebook app

Buche de Noel Cake

"Two of my favorite things about the holidays are getting to be with my family and being able to pass along generation-old traditions to my 5-year-old daughter. Every year on Christmas Eve, my family bakes a yule log cake, which is a French holiday dessert that consists of a sweet spongy cake rolled and frosted with a rich chocolate buttercream made to look like bark — perfect for someone who has a sweet tooth like me! Better known as a bûche de Noël in my home country, this dessert represents the yule log that families used to burn on Christmas Eve to symbolize the coming of a new year and to bring good luck. While the yule log looks complicated, even an amateur baker can master it! I will admit, you can usually find me cheering on my mom and husband as I take my place as the designated dessert taste-tester for any leftover frosting. I love the chestnut one; to me, chestnut tastes exactly like Christmas. Sometimes, my family even goes the extra mile when decorating by adding a few meringue mushrooms or rosemary sprigs and cranberries.

While this year has kept my family physically apart, it has not stopped us from coming together virtually and celebrating our traditions. Since I usually travel to France or my family comes to the States for the holidays, we already set a date with my parents to bake yule logs together in Messenger Rooms on Facebook so we can continue our tradition, even from separate continents."

Brian Huseman, VP of public policy at Amazon

Mom's Hello Dolly Cookies

"I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and a favorite family holiday tradition was for my mom, my brother and I to get together to bake cookies. We particularly liked 'Hello Dolly' cookies (I wasn't sure where the name came from when I was young, but research now tells me it came from the musical). As was appropriate in rural Oklahoma at the time, we used old-fashioned sweetened condensed milk. Christmas season doesn't start in my family until the first batch of Hello Dolly cookies come out of the oven!"

Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, chief diversity officer at Microsoft

Melting Moments Cookies

"Every year, ever since I was a little girl, my mom would pause her busy, working single-mother life to make these cookies. I learned about tradition, the science of baking and the importance of following directions from these cookies. It was a special time for us to have our favorite movies on in the background, sing songs or just catch up. We packaged them with love and gave them to friends and family, much to their delight."

John Howard, director of government affairs at Dell

Peanut Blossoms Cookies

"For me, the holidays are usually all about sweets, thanks to my family's baking skills. Each Christmas, we'd help my mom bake thousands of amazing Christmas cookies of all sorts and hand-deliver them to our friends and neighbors. My most treasured Christmas cookies are peanut blossom cookies, thanks to that delicious combination of peanut butter and chocolate. This recipe makes about three dozen cookies. Hope you enjoy and that this recipe inspires you to start similar traditions with your family this holiday season!"

John Howard's peanut blossoms cookies. | Photo: John Howard

Susan Kimberlin, venture partner at Backstage Capital

Double Chocolate Almond Toffee

"Every year for the holidays I make toffee as a gift for friends and family, and for me, it's the signal that the holiday season has really begun. I started making it as a kid — my cookbook with the original recipe is inscribed as a Christmas gift from my parents, from 1986 — and since then I've branched out from the original recipe, which is for toffee layered on toasted almonds and coated with dark chocolate.

This week, I made both that original version and a new version that I decided should just be called 'Kitchen Sink': a mixture of toasted almonds, 'Butter Snap' pretzels, and white chocolate-coated pretzels in a brown sugar and coffee-flavored toffee and mixed white and bittersweet chocolate coating, dusted with sea salt … and rainbow sprinkles. I make it as my gift for my a cappella group's white elephant gift swap every year, and there's always a lot of maneuvering to try and guess which package is the one from me, with its mother lode of crunchy-sweet-saltiness."

Susan Kimberlin's toffee. | Photo: Susan Kimberlin

Mike Wystrach, CEO of Freshly

Cranberry Nut Bread

"I grew up in a small ranching town in southern Arizona. My mom has been there since 1947, so our family knows everyone there. Every Christmas, or the few weeks leading up to Christmas, my mom would bake hundreds of cranberry cakes (two options: nuts or no nuts!) and give them as gifts to our neighbors. They would come wrapped in tinfoil with a red string wrapped around them like a gift. To this day, they remain extremely popular in my hometown. For me, just the smell of the bread reminds me of Christmas. After all, we pretty much ran a small bakery for four weeks leading up to the holiday. While hunting down the recipe, I discovered it was actually a recipe from Ocean Spray!"

Google Cloud’s new holiday tradition

'Breakie' Bread/Cookie

"Amid their pandemic baking, Google Cloud's Dale Markowitz and Sara Robinson wondered if they could train AI/ML models to predict new baking recipes. So they collected a dataset of roughly 600 baking recipes for cookies, cakes and bread, identified 16 core ingredients and built a classification model using AutoML Tables. The result of their research was a bread and cookie creation dubbed the "breakie" — and it actually tastes good."

Kristi Hummel, SVP of talent and culture at Dell

Turkey Sausage Casserole

"The holidays are such a special time for my family. It's a time where we break from the routine of everyday life and remind ourselves what we're thankful for. I'm sharing my family's yummy make-ahead dish for the holiday season. Because you prepare things ahead of time, this dish is perfect for those mornings where the kids are hungry and you'd like to sit back and spend time with them while the dish bakes away! You can spruce up the dish by serving it with fresh fruit and a warm blueberry muffin. It's a favorite at our home, and I hope it makes your family smile this holiday season."

Deb Liu, VP and founder of Facebook Marketplace

Hot Pot Family Dinner

"My family makes a hot pot every year for the holidays, both for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We do one night of Chinese hot pot usually on Christmas Eve and then on the actual Christmas holiday we make an American meal. It is our way of continuing a tradition that my parents and in-laws had of celebrating their Chinese heritage and combining it with our American upbringing. Our kids pitch in and help with the chopping and prepping, and they love being able to select and cook their own food."

Deb Liu's hot pot. | Photo: Deb Liu

Renato Profico, CEO of Doodle

Eggplant Parmesan

Profico's favorite holiday recipe, eggplant parmesan, originates from Puglia, in Southern Italy, where he's originally from.

Mary McDowell, CEO of Mitel

Cornbread Stuffing

"I'm from the Midwest where the dish that accompanies the turkey is called stuffing, made with white bread, cranberries and the like. I married a Louisianan for whom Thanksgiving was incomplete without spicy cornbread dressing. For years I tried various compromises: spicy white bread or bland cornbread concoctions. Whereas I once pleased half of the family, now I was getting no votes. I finally realized sometimes you have to adapt the lessons of the Book of Ruth: ' … whither thou goest, I will go … thy people's Thanksgiving dressing shall be my Thanksgiving dressing.' I have happily served Paul Prudhomme's recipe for years now, resulting in a happy husband and newly appreciative Midwestern fans!"

David Berkowitz, founder of Serial Marketer

Momma Berkowitz's Potato Latkes

"My mom makes these latkes (potato pancakes) every year, and she taught me how to grate the potatoes by hand. Now I cheat, using the KitchenAid mixer's peeler and grater attachments while saving myself a few Band-Aids. There's nothing like the taste of this served fresh, and now I've taught my own school-aged daughter how to cook them and continue the family tradition, adding to the brightness of Hanukkah."

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.

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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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