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No one can really predict what will happen to our collective behavior and economy if and when we beat the latest wave of coronavirus infections. But I find it helpful to look for clues as to how companies that have been changed by the virus are spending their money.
For example, Zoom Video, whose video conferencing service has become a verb for the past 18 months, said on Sunday that it would spend about $15 billion to buy a company called Five9 that specializes in video production. software for the customer service centers of enterprises. As my DealBook newsletter colleagues said, Zoom is betting $15 billion on phone calls.
There are two explanations for Zoom’s dispersion. The first is that the company is operating from a strength. More than a year of people’s interest in Zoom (or Microsoft Team’ing, or Google Meet’ing) has given the company the financial strength to bet on a new area of growth. This reading is essentially that Zoom doesn’t need to hold back and plan for a situation where people stop relying entirely on online video to get to work, school, doctor visits, and family meetings.
Another explanation is that Zoom believes the behavioral changes in our Covid era are fleeting and the company needs to be on the defensive. If Zoom is worried that people will be drawn away from screens, it needs to protect its bets by expanding into different areas like customer service.
(A silly thing aside: Writing this newsletter prompted me to listen to Aretha Franklin’s 1980s song “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” This isn’t Aretha’s best song. Sorry.)
In fact, both readings about this acquisition could be true. Zoom believes some of our online video habits are enduring, but we also won’t be glued to our devices as we were in 2020. If we stopped to hug friends and bend over, in front of a computer at a desk — and as Zoom’s competition heats up — the company needs to branch out into different services to keep growing.
I also don’t want to read too much about a corporate acquisition. But I don’t want to overlook its deeper meaning. Yes, Zoom is just an app, but the company’s decisions reflect our moods and beliefs about what can happen to all of us.
For months, people interested in corporate finance have been stressing about how the habits and attitudes we adopt during the pandemic can survive. They’re trying to predict profit margins and stock prices for companies like Zoom, Uber, and Amazon, but it’s more than that.
Assessing what might happen to those companies is really trying to gauge how we’ve changed because of the pandemic and the pervasive effects of even small behavioral changes back home. home, schools, where we choose to live, traffic planning, the role of women. in our families and relationships.
Corporations like Zoom operate like canaries in what post-Covid life might look like. It’s possible that the chief executive of salad company Sweetgreen can’t really tell how many downtown offices will return to pre-Covid levels, but how the company spends its money is a bet. Office life will more or less go back to the way it was. in 2019.
We have been profoundly changed by the coronavirus in a million ways big and small. But we still don’t know exactly what that means. All that companies like Zoom and the rest of us can do is make educated predictions about the future and be prepared to be proven at least a little bit wrong.
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Before we go…
White House vs Facebook: President Biden and other US officials have spent the past few days blaming Facebook for amplifying disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines, my colleague Cecilia Kang reported. Facebook says it is being treated as a scapegoat. Renée DiResta, who studies misinformation, wrote a Shades of Twitter Themes about the role social media companies, large followings and all of us play in spreading bogus vaccine disinformation.
What does China want from its corporations? Li Yuan, columnist for the Times wrote. “China is moving faster than authorities in the United States or Europe in cracking down on abuses by tech giants, but” effectiveness comes at the expense of laws and process, she wrote. legal “.
Governments keep an eye on critics’ every move: Governments have used smartphone surveillance software aimed at fighting crime and terrorism to spy on journalists, human rights activists, political figures and others, according to a federal report. international news agencies. My colleagues have previously reported on this software from Israel’s NSO Corporation, which tracks every detail of a person’s mobile life and has been used by governments to target their critics. .
These are cats watching the musical “Cats”. Great. (I discovered this video in a recent issue of The Brass Ring newsletter.)
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