Mar
30
2020
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SMB loans platform Kabbage to furlough a ‘significant’ number of staff, close office in Bangalore

Another tech unicorn is feeling the pinch of doing business during the coronavirus pandemic. Today, Kabbage, the SoftBank-backed lending startup that uses machine learning to evaluate loan applications for small and medium businesses, is furloughing a “significant number” of its U.S. team of 500 employees, according to a memo sent to staff and seen by TechCrunch, in the wake of drastically changed business conditions for the company. It is also completely closing down its office in Bangalore, India, and executive staff is taking a “considerable” pay cut.

The announcement is effective immediately and was made to staff earlier today by way of a video conference call, as the whole company is currently remote working in the current conditions.

Kabbage is not disclosing the full number of staff that are being affected by the news (if you know, you can contact us anonymously). It’s also not putting a time frame on how long the furlough will last, but it’s going to continue providing benefits to affected employees. The intention is to bring them back on when things shift again.

“We realize this is a shock to everyone. No business in the world could have prepared for what has transpired these past few weeks and everyone has been impacted,” co-founder and CEO Rob Frohwein wrote in the memo. “The economic fallout of this virus has rattled the small business community to which Kabbage is directly linked. It’s painful to say goodbye to our friends and colleagues in Bangalore and to furlough a number of U.S. team members. While the duration of the furlough remains uncertain, please bear in mind that the full intention of furloughing is temporary. We simply have no clear idea of how long quarantining or its reverberations in the economy will last.”

Kabbage’s predicament underscores the complicated and stressful calculus faced by tech companies built around providing services to SMBs, or fintech (or both, as in the case of Kabbage).

SMBs are struggling right now in the U.S.: many operate on very short terms when it comes to finances, and closing their businesses (or seeing a drastic reduction in custom) means they will not have the cash to last 10 days without revenue, “and we’re already well past that window,” Frohwein noted in his memo.

In Kabbage’s case, that means not only are SMBs not able to be evaluated and approved for normal loans at the moment, but SMBs that already have loans out are likely facing delinquencies.

The decision to furlough is hard but in relative terms it’s good news: it was made at the eleventh hour after a period when Kabbage was considering layoffs instead.

The company has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in equity and debt, and it was in a healthy state before the coronavirus outbreak. The memo notes that the “board and our top investors are aware of the challenges we are facing and have committed to helping us through this period,” although it doesn’t specify what that means in terms of financial support for the business, and whether that support would have been there for the business as-is.

The shift to furlough from layoffs came in the wake of an announcement yesterday by Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who clarified that “any FDIC bank, any credit union, any fintech lender will be authorized” to make loans to small businesses as a part of the U.S. government’s CARE Act, the giant stimulus package that included nearly $350 billion in loan guarantees for small businesses.

While that provides much-needed relief for these businesses, the implementation of it — the Small Business Administration has already received nearly 1 million claims for disaster-relief loans since the crisis started — has been and is going to be a challenge.

That effectively opens up an opportunity for Kabbage and companies like it to revive and reorient some of its business. (Its USP was always that the AI it uses, which draws on a number of different sources of online data for the business, means a more creative, faster and more accurate assessment of loan applications than what traditional banks typically provide.) Kabbage said it is in “deep discussions” with the Treasury Department, the White House and the Small Business Administration to help expedite applications for aid.

While loans still make up the majority of Kabbage’s business, the company has been making a move to diversify its services, and in recent times it has made acquisitions and launched new services around market intelligence insights and payments services. While there has certainly been a jump in e-commerce, overall the tightening economy will have a chilling effect on the wider market, and it will be worth seeing what happens with other tech companies that focus on loans, as well as adjacent financial services.

Mar
26
2020
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Tech giants should let startups defer cloud payments

Google, Amazon and Microsoft are the landlords. Amidst the coronavirus economic crisis, startups need a break from paying rent. They’re in a cash crunch. Revenue has stopped flowing in, capital markets like venture debt are hesitant and startups and small-to-medium sized businesses are at risk of either having to lay off huge numbers of employees and/or shut down.

Meanwhile, the tech giants are cash rich. Their success this decade means they’re able to weather the storm for a few months. Their customers cannot.

Cloud infrastructure costs area amongst many startups’ top expense besides payroll. The option to pay these cloud bills later could save some from going out of business or axing huge parts of their staff. Both would hurt the tech industry, the economy and the individuals laid off. But most worryingly for the giants, it could destroy their customer base.

The mass layoffs have already begun. Soon we’re sure to start hearing about sizable companies shutting down, upended by COVID-19. But there’s still an opportunity to stop a larger bloodbath from ensuing.

That’s why I have a proposal: cloud relief.

The platform giants should let startups and small businesses defer their cloud infrastructure payments for three to six months until they can pay them back in installments. Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, these companies’ additional infrastructure products, and other platform providers should let customers pause payment until the worst of the first wave of the COVID-19 economic disruption passes. Profitable SaaS providers like Salesforce could give customers an extension too.

There are plenty of altruistic reasons to do this. They have the resources to help businesses in need. We all need to support each other in these tough times. This could protect tons of families. Some of these startups are providing important services to the public and even discounting them, thereby ramping up their bills while decreasing revenue.

Then there are the PR reasons. After years of techlash and anti-trust scrutiny, here’s the chance for the giants to prove their size can be beneficial to the world. Recruiters could use it as a talking point. “We’re the company that helped save Silicon Valley.” There’s an explanation for them squirreling away so much cash: the rainy day has finally arrived.

But the capitalistic truth and the story they could sell to Wall Street is that it’s not good for our business if our customers go out of business. Look at what happened to infrastructure providers in the dot-com crash. When tons of startups vaporized, so did the profits for those selling them hosting and tools. Any government stimulus for businesses would be better spent by them paying employees than paying the cloud companies that aren’t in danger. Saving one future Netflix from shutting down could cover any short-term loss from helping 100 other businesses.

This isn’t a handout. These startups will still owe the money. They’d just be able to pay it a little later, spread out over their monthly bills for a year or so. Once mass shelter-in-place orders subside, businesses can operate at least a little closer to normal, investors can get less cautious and customers will have the cash they need to pay their dues. Plus interest, if necessary.

Meanwhile, they’ll be locked in and loyal customers for the foreseeable future. Cloud vendors could gate the deferment to only customers that have been with them for X amount of months or that have already spent Y amount on the platform. The vendors also could offer the deferment on the condition that customers add a year or more to their existing contracts. Founders will remember who gave them the benefit of the doubt.

cloud ice cream cone imagine

Consider it a marketing expense. Platforms often offer discounts or free trials to new customers. Now it’s existing customers that need a reprieve. Instead of airport ads, the giants could spend the money ensuring they’ll still have plenty of developers building atop them by the end of 2020.

Beyond deferred payment, platforms could just push the due date on all outstanding bills to three or six months from now. Alternatively, they could offer a deep discount such as 50% off for three months if they didn’t want to deal with accruing debt and then servicing it. Customers with multi-year contracts could offered the opportunity to downgrade or renegotiate their contracts without penalties. Any of these might require giving sales quota forgiveness to their account executives.

It would likely be far too complicated and risky to accept equity in lieu of cash, a cut of revenue going forward or to provide loans or credit lines to customers. The clearest and simplest solution is to let startups skip a few payments, then pay more every month later until they clear their debt. When asked for comment or about whether they’re considering payment deferment options, Microsoft declined, and Amazon and Google did not respond.

To be clear, administering payment deferment won’t be simple or free. There are sure to be holes that cloud economists can poke in this proposal, but my goal is to get the conversation started. It could require the giants to change their earnings guidance. Rewriting deals with significantly sized customers will take work on both ends, and there’s a chance of breach of contract disputes. Giants would face the threat of customers recklessly using cloud resources before shutting down or skipping town.

Most taxing would be determining and enforcing the criteria of who’s eligible. The vendors would need to lay out which customers are too big so they don’t accidentally give a cloud-intensive but healthy media company a deferment they don’t need. Businesses that get questionably excluded could make a stink in public. Executing on the plan will require staff when giants are stretched thin trying to handle logistics disruptions, misinformation and accelerating work-from-home usage.

Still, this is the moment when the fortunate need to lend a hand to the vulnerable. Not a hand out, but a hand up. Companies with billions in cash in their coffers could save those struggling to pay salaries. All the fundraisers and info centers and hackathons are great, but this is how the tech giants can live up to their lofty mission statements.

We all live in the cloud now. Don’t evict us. #CloudRelief

Thanks to Falon Fatemi, Corey Quinn, Ilya Fushman, Jason Kim, Ilya Sukhar and Michael Campbell for their ideas and feedback on this proposal.

Mar
26
2020
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Salesforce’s Benioff pledges no ‘significant’ layoffs for 90 days

In a Twitter thread on Tuesday, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff outlined an eight-step plan to keep people safe and find treatments and a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, all while working to find a way to get people back to work safely. He also asked that all CEOs take a 90-day “no lay off” pledge to help everyone get through the crisis.

The same day, he posted another tweet pledging to not make any “significant” layoffs for 90 days. When TechCrunch asked Salesforce to comment on the difference between the two tweets, the company chose not to comment any further on the matter and let the tweets stand on their own.

It sounds like Benioff’s second tweet, which also asked employees to consider paying their own hourly workers like housekeepers and dog walkers throughout the layoff period, whether they were working or not, was designed to give the CEO some wiggle room for at least some layoffs.

Salesforce has almost 50,000 employees worldwide. Even if the company were to lay off just 1% of employees it would equal 500 people without jobs, though it’s not clear if that would count as “significant.” Perhaps more likely, the company might make some cuts to staff for performance or HR-related reasons, but not broad cuts, and thus make both of its CEO’s claims essentially true.

Salesforce is a wildly successful company. It celebrated its 20th anniversary last fall and has grown from a pesky startup to a software behemoth with a projected revenue of over $20 billion for FY2021. It currently has almost $8 billion in cash and equivalents on hand. Certainly companies that use Salesforce’s products will continue to need them, even with the workforce at home.

While it could have an impact on that projection for FY2021 and its ability to land new customers this quarter, it seems like it has the money and revenue to ride out the situation for the short term without making any moves to reduce headcount at this critical time.

Mar
25
2020
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TripActions lays off hundreds amid COVID-19 travel freeze

The coronavirus demand crunch has taken another bite: Palo Alto-based corporate travel-focused unicorn TripActions has confirmed laying off hundreds of staff.

Per this post on Blind — written by someone with a verified TripActions email address — the company laid off 350 people. Business Insider reported the same figure yesterday, and the Wall Street Journal said the layoffs amount to between one-quarter to one-fifth of the startup’s total staff, citing a person familiar with the situation.

Update: A spokesman for TripActions told us the number of impacted employees impacted is “less than 300” — although he qualified the remark by saying the figure includes 25 people who were offered other roles within the company.

In an earlier email to Crunchbase News TripActions confirmed axing jobs in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis — saying it had “cut back on all non-essential spend.” It did not confirm exactly how many employees it had fired at that point.

“[We] made the very difficult decision to reduce our global workforce in line with the current climate,” TripActions wrote in the statement. “We look forward to when the strength of the global economy and business travel inevitably return and we can hire back our colleagues to rejoin us in our mission to make business travel effortless for our customers and users.”

“This global health crisis is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes, and our hearts go out to everyone impacted around the world, including our own customers, partners, suppliers and employees,” it added. “The coronavirus has had [a] wide-reaching effect on the global economy. Every business has been impacted including TripActions. While we were fortunate to have recently raised funding and secured debt financing, we are taking appropriate steps in our business to ensure we are here for our customers and their travelers long into the future.”

Per the post on Blind, TripActions is providing one week of severance to sacked staff and medical cover until end of month. “With [the coronavirus pandemic] going on you think they would do better,” the OP wrote. The layoffs were made by Zoom call, they also said.

However TripActions’ spokesman disputed the details about severance and medical cover, saying it is offering severance packages for U.S. employees that include two months of company-paid COBRA health insurance coverage, extending health benefits through the end of June, along with a minimum of 3 weeks salary.

He added that U.S. employees who were given notice yesterday were told their last day would be April 1, 2020 — meaning their health benefits continue through the end of April.

Travel startups are facing an unprecedented nuclear winter as demand has fallen off a cliff globally — with little prospect of a substantial change to the freeze on most business travel in the coming months as rates of COVID-19 infections continue to grow exponentially outside China.

However, TripActions is one of the highest valued and best financed of such startups, securing a $500 million credit facility for a new corporate product only last month. At the time, Crunchbase recorded $480 million in tracked equity funding for the company, including a $250M Series D TripActions raised in June from investors including a16z, Group 11, Lightspeed and Zeev Ventures.

Before the layoffs, the company had already paused all hiring, per one former technical sourcer for the company writing on LinkedIn.

This post was updated with additional comment from TripActions

Mar
20
2020
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AWS, IBM launch programs to encourage developers solving COVID-19 problems

As society comes to grips with the growing worldwide crisis related to the COVID-19 virus, many companies are stepping up in different ways. Today, two major tech companies — Amazon and IBM — each announced programs to encourage developers to find solutions to a variety of problems related to the pandemic.

For starters, AWS, Amazon’s cloud arm, announced the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative. It has set aside $20 million, which it will distribute in the form of AWS credits and technical support. The program is designed to assist and encourage teams working on COVID-19 diagnostic issues with the goal of developing better diagnostic tooling.

“In our Amazon Web Services (AWS) business, one area where we have heard an urgent need is in the research and development of diagnostics, which consist of rapid, accurate detection and testing of COVID-19. Better diagnostics will help accelerate treatment and containment, and in time, shorten the course of this epidemic,” Teresa Carlson wrote in the company’s Day One blog today.

The program aims to help customers who are working on building diagnostics solutions to bring products to market more quickly, and also encourage teams working on related problems to work together.

The company also announced it was forming an advisory group made up of scientists and health policy experts to assist companies involved with initiative.

Meanwhile, IBM is refocusing its 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge developer contest on not only solving problems related to global climate change, which was this year’s original charter, but also solving issues around the growing virus crisis by building open-source tooling.

“In a very short period of time, COVID-19 has revealed the limits of the systems we take for granted. The 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge will arm you with resources […] to build open source technology solutions that address three main COVID-19 areas: crisis communication during an emergency, ways to improve remote learning, and how to inspire cooperative local communities,” the company wrote in a blog post.

All of these areas are being taxed as more people are forced to stay indoors as we to try to contain the virus. The company hopes to incentivize developers working on these issues to help solve some of these problems.

During a time of extreme social and economic upheaval when all aspects of society are being affected, businesses, academia and governments need to work together to solve the myriad problems related to the virus. These are just a couple of examples of that.

Mar
20
2020
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Google cancels I/O developer conference in light of COVID-19 crisis

Google announced on Twitter today that it was cancelling its annual I/O developer conference out of concern for the health and safety of all involved. It will not be holding any online conference in its place either.

“Out of concern for the health and safety of our developers, employees, and local communities — and in line with recent ‘shelter in place’ orders by the local Bay Area counties — we sadly will not be holding I/O in any capacity this year,” the company tweeted.

This is not a small deal, as Google uses this, and the Google Cloud Next conference, which it has also canceled, to let developers, customers, partners and other interested parties know about what new features, products and services they will be introducing in the coming year.

Without a major venue to announce these new tools, it will be harder for the company to get the word out about them or gain the power of human networking that these conferences provide. All of that is taking a backseat this year over concerns about the virus.

The company made clear that it does not intend to reschedule these events in person or in a virtual capacity at all this year, and will look for other ways to inform the community of changes, updates and new services in the coming months.

“Right now, the most important thing all of us can do is focus our attention on helping people with the new challenges we all face. Please know that we remain committed to finding other ways to share platform updates with you through our developer blogs and community forums,” the company wrote.

Mar
19
2020
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Even in the age of COVID-19, you need to stay focused on the customer

It’s easy to think, as we find ourselves in the midst of a truly unprecedented situation, that the rules of building a successful business have suddenly changed. While the world may be topsy-turvy at the moment, keeping your customer at the center of your business strategy is more important than ever.

That means finding creative ways to engage with your customers and thinking deeply about what they need as the world changes before our eyes.

As a small example on a local level, Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, Mass. has started offering same-day delivery to neighborhoods in the Boston area for a $5 fee and a $20 minimum purchase.

This is taking a difficult situation and finding a way to stay connected with customers, while keeping the business going through difficult times. It’s something that your most loyal customers will certainly remember when we return to some semblance of normalcy — and it’s just a great community service.

When you hear from leaders of the world’s most successful technology companies, whether it’s Jeff Bezos at Amazon or Marc Benioff at Salesforce, these two executives are constantly pushing their organizations to put the customer first.

At Amazon, that manifests itself in the company motto that it’s always Day 1. That motto means they never can become complacent and always place the customer first. In his 2016 Letter to Shareholders, Bezos described what he meant:

There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

Benioff runs his company with a similar world view, and it’s no coincidence that both companies are so wildly successful. In his recent book, Trailblazer, Benioff wrote about the importance of relentless customer focus:

Nothing a company does is more essential than how it engages with customers. In a world where online portals are replacing customer service centers and algorithms are replacing humans on the front lines, companies like ours continually need to show that the personal connections our customers craved were still — and always would be — there.

In our current crisis, that focus becomes ever more important and universal. In his last interview before his death in January, Clayton Christensen, author of the seminal book Innovator’s Dilemma, told MIT Sloan Management Review that while these organizations had other things going for them, customer centricity was certainly a big factor in their success:

They have all built organizations that have put the customers, and their Job to Be Done, at the center. They also have demonstrated the ability to manage emergent strategy well. However, they also have been in the fortunate circumstance where their core businesses have been growing at phenomenal rates, and they have had the presence of the founder to help, to personally get involved in key strategic decisions.

While you don’t want to appear like you are taking advantage of a bad situation, there are ways you can help your customers by thinking of new ways engage and help them in a difficult time. Many companies are offering services for free for the next several months to help customers get through the financial uncertainty we are facing in the near term. Others are posting free content and access to other resources on websites.

While it’s understood that some customers simply won’t have money to spend in the coming months, those that do will have different needs than they did before and you have to be ready to address them, whatever that means to your business.

This virus is going to force us to rethink about a lot of the ways we run our businesses, our society and our lives, but if you keep your customer at the center of all your decisions, even in the midst of such a crisis, you will be setting the foundation for a successful business whenever we return to normal.

Mar
12
2020
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Yext aims to deliver more coronavirus-related answers by making its site search free

Yext says that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s making its Yext Answers site search product free for 90 days.

You might not see an obvious connection between site search and a worldwide pandemic. You might even think this sounds like a marketing gimmick. But Yext CEO Howard Lerman said that for the past 10 days, the company has seen a spike in coronavirus-related searches across sites that use Yext Answers.

After all, Lerman said Yext has a lot of customers in the healthcare industry, such as the IHA medical group. But even beyond that, companies are getting related questions, whether it’s a hotel getting asked about their cleaning procedures, or an airline being asked whether it’s safe to fly or a vodka company getting asked about whether vodka can be used as hand sanitizer.

Businesses could try to answer those questions on a single web page or blog post, but that’s probably not going to be comprehensive. Yext Answers offers a way to present and save this information in a much more structured way, so that a visitor can jump to the exact answer that interests them. In addition, it provides data on what visitors are searching for, so companies can answer the questions that people are actually asking.

Yext Answers

Yext is also offering a free plugin that includes frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, with answers sourced directly form the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have a product that could be pretty useful right now,” Lerman said. “We don’t want people to be getting wrong answers in the time of a global pandemic.”

He added that the company would normally charge around $100,000 for three months of Yext Answers. However, the free offering will be limited to 1,000 entities (which can be FAQs, locations or anything else), and Lerman said most paying customers are already using more than that.

While the product is free, the company will still schedule an initial setup call with a Yext administrator and provide ongoing email support. You can read more on Yext’s new website.

Mar
09
2020
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Box is now letting all staff work from home to reduce coronavirus risk

Box has joined a number of tech companies supporting employees to work remotely from home in response  the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

It’s applying the policy to all staff, regardless of location.

Late yesterday Box co-founder Aaron Levie tweeted a statement detailing the cloud computing company’s response to COVID-19, the name of the disease caused by the coronavirus — to, as he put it, “ensure the availability of our service and safety of our employees”.

In recent days Twitter has similarly encouraged all staff members to work from home. While companies including Amazon, Google, LinkedIn and Microsoft have also advised some staff to work remotely to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

In its response statement Box writes that it’s enacted its business continuity plans “to ensure core business functions and technology are operational in the event of any potential disruption”.

“We have long recognized the potential risks associated with service interruptions due to adverse events, such as an earthquake, power outage or a public health crisis like COVID-19, affecting our strategic, operational, stakeholder and customer obligations. This is why we have had a Business Continuity program in place to provide the policies and plans necessary for protecting Box’s operations and critical business functions,” the company writes.

In a section on “workforce resilience and business continuity” it notes that work from home practices are a normal part of its business operations but says it’s now extending the option to all its staff, regardless of the office or location they normally work out of — saying it’s doing so “out of an abundance of caution during COVID-19”.

Other measures the company says it’s taken to further reduce risk include suspending all international travel and limiting non-essential domestic travel; reducing large customer events and gatherings; and emphasizing health and hygiene across all office locations — “by maintaining sanitation supplies and encouraging an ‘if you are sick, stay home’ mindset”.

It also says it’s conducting all new hire orientation and candidate interviews virtually.

Box names a number of tools it says it routinely uses to support mobility and remote working, including its own service for secure content collaboration; Zoom’s video communication tool; the Slack messaging app; Okta for secure ID; plus additional unnamed “critical cloud tools” for ensuring “uninterrupted remote work for all employees”.

Clearly spying the opportunity to onboard new users, as more companies switch on remote working as a result of COVID-19 concerns, Box’s post also links to free training resources for its own cloud computing tools.

This report was updated with a correction to clarify that COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus; rather than another name for the virus

Mar
08
2020
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China Roundup: Enterprise tech gets a lasting boost from coronavirus outbreak

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. This week, a post from Sequoia Capital sounding the alarm of the coronavirus’s impact on businesses is reaching far corners of tech communities around the world, including China.

Many echo Sequoia’s observation that the companies that are the “most adaptable” are the likeliest to survive. Others cling to the hope of “[turning] a challenging situation into an opportunity to set yourself up for enduring success.”

Two weeks ago I wrote about how the private sector and the government in China are working together to contain the epidemic, bringing a temporary boost to the technology industry. This week I asked a number of investors and founders which of these changes will stand to last, and why.

B2B on the rise

The business-to-business (B2B) space was rarely a hot topic in China until online consumer businesses became relatively saturated in recent times. And now, the COVID-19 epidemic has unexpectedly breathed life into the once-boring field, which stretches from virtual meetings, online education, digital healthcare, cybersecurity, telecommunications, logistics to smart cities, analysis from investment firm Yunqi Partners shows.

For one, there is an obvious opportunity for remote collaboration tools as people work from home. Downloads of indigenous work apps like Dingtalk, WeChat Work, TikTok’s sister Lark as well as America’s Zoom jumped exponentially amid the health crisis. While some argue that the boom is overblown and will dissipate as soon as businesses are back to normal, others suggest that the shift in behavior will endure.

Like other work collaboration services, Zoom soared in China amid the coronavirus outbreak, jumping from No. 180 in late January to No. 28 as of late February in overall app installs. Data: App Annie 

“People are reluctant to change once they form a new habit,” suggests Joe Chan, partner at Hong Kong-based Mindworks Ventures. The virus outbreak, he believes, has educated the Chinese masses to work remotely.

“Meeting in person and through Zoom both have their own merits, depending on the social norm. Some people are used to thinking that relationships need to be established through face-to-face encounters, but those who don’t hold that view will have fewer meetings. [The epidemic] presents a chance for a paradigm shift.”

But changes are slow

Growth in enterprise businesses might be less visible than what China witnessed over the SARS epidemic that fueled internet consumer verticals such as ecommerce. That’s because software-as-a-services (SaaS), cloud computing, health tech, logistics and other enterprise-facing services are intangible for most consumers.

“Compared to changes in consumer behavior, the adoption of new technologies by enterprises happen at a slower pace, so the impact of coronavirus on new-generation innovations [B2B] won’t come as rapidly and thoroughly as what happened during SARS,” contended Jake Xie, vice president of investment at China Growth Capital.

Xie further suggested that the opportunities presented by the outbreak are reserved for companies that have been steadily investing in the field, in part because enterprise services have a longer life cycle and require more capital-intensive infrastructure. “Opportunists don’t stand a chance,” he concluded.

As for changing consumer behavior, such as the uptick in grocery delivery usage by seniors trapped indoors, the impact might be short-lived. “The only benefit that the epidemic brings to these apps is getting more people to try their services. But how many of them will stay? The argument that people will keep using these apps over concerns of getting sick in offline markets is unsubstantiated. The strength of a business lies in its ability to solve user problems in the long term, for example, providing affordability and convenience,” suggested Derek Shen, chairman of Danke Apartment, the Chinese co-living startup slated to list on NYSE.

Summoned by Beijing

The adjacent sector of enterprise services — at-scale technologies tailored to energizing government functions — has also seen traction over the course of the epidemic. Private firms in China have teamed up with regional authorities to better track people’s movements, ramp up facial recognition capacities aimed at a mask-wearing public, develop contact-free consumer experience, among other measures.

Tech firms touting services to the government are no stranger to criticisms concerning the lack of transparency in how user data is used. But the appeal to private firms is huge, not only because state contracts tend to provide a steady stream of long-term revenue, but also that certain public-facing projects can be billed as a fulfillment of corporate social responsibilities. Following the virus outbreak, Chinese tech companies of all sizes hastened to offer contributions, with efforts ranging from making monetary donations to building tools that keep the public informed.

On the flip side, the government also needs private help in emergency management. As prominent Chinese historian Luo Xin poignantly pointed out in podcast SurplusValue’s recent episode [1:00:00], some of the most efficient and effective responses to the public health crisis came not from the government but the private sector, whether it is online retailer JD.com or logistics firm SF Express delivering relief supplies to the epicenter of the outbreak.

That said, Luo argued there are signs that some local authorities’ tendency to centralize control is getting in the way of private efforts. For example, some government offices have stumbled in their attempts to develop crisis management systems from scratch, overlooking a pool of readily available and proven infrastructure powered by the country’s tech giants.

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