Rarely has the nature of our interactions changed so profoundly and so quickly. Suddenly, nearly all of our personal and professional relationships are being built and nurtured online—predominantly through video. Following the pandemic, our new normal will look vastly different as many of the new routines we’ve adopted solidify into long-term behaviors that far outlast the coronavirus crisis.
Video is providing a lifeline to companies, schools, and health institutions, as well as their employees, customers, students, and patients. After getting over the initial shock of sheltering in place, many employees have found that they love working from home and are more productive than ever thanks to workplace collaboration tools like Zoom and Slack. (My firm, Emergence Capital, is a Zoom investor and customer.)
Employers, too, are realizing that remote work keeps productivity high and provides an opportunity to reach talented professionals wherever they live. Meanwhile, small and midsize businesses (SMB) that used to deliver services in person are now operating over video.
No longer geographically constrained, these SMBs can scale whatever service they provide, be it tutoring, painting night, or yoga classes. Universities and K-12 schools, too, are being pushed headfirst into online education. Meanwhile, telemedicine, long dangled before us as a perk of the future, is finally coming to fruition.
In short, we’ve entered a video-first economy.
As investors, we’ve seen this kind of seismic shift before when legacy on-premise systems migrated to the cloud. In fact, that shift actually inspired the creation of our firm 18 years ago, and ever since we have witnessed how the cloud has democratized software and services for SMBs. It created a renaissance of innovation that has improved countless lives and has led to the creation of numerous iconic companies.
However, the difference between now and then is that Salesforce led the shift to the cloud to empower salespeople. (Emergence was an early investor in Salesforce.) In contrast, videoconferencing providers like Zoom have led this shift to video to empower the world. And, as before, with transformational change comes enormous opportunity.
Iconic companies are going to be built in the emerging video-first economy. As with any market shift, the first movers will gain the advantage. Here are areas we think are particularly ripe for innovation in a video-first economy:
Companies can’t conduct all of their business on video alone. They need functional support with marketing, contact management, and payments, among other services, in order to create seamless customer experiences.
In order to nurture the next big developer ecosystem, this past May we cohosted the Zoom Marketplace App Competition. As part of the competition, we heard pitches from many innovative startups imagining new ways for companies to integrate into the Zoom ecosystem for better business efficiency. One intriguing company, for instance, streamlines the video-based delivery of services for SMBs like yoga studios by offering listing, booking, and payment services. This is just one example of the type of business poised to benefit from the new focus on video-first infrastructure platforms.
The pandemic has shown us that despite the investment in it to date, online learning is far from ready for prime time. Opportunities abound at the K-12, higher education, vocational, and corporate training levels to make online learning more seamless, engaging, and customized to instructor and student needs.
Today most educators are forced to cobble together multiple systems for live and prerecorded instruction that allow them to take surveys, assign and collect classwork, record student feedback, and communicate with outside stakeholders like parents and administrators. It’s no wonder that so many educators—and parents—are exhausted by the sudden transition to online learning! And with the new school year arriving, there is a very immediate need for better solutions.
After decades of discussion, telemedicine has finally become mainstream, as both consumers and health care providers are suddenly prioritizing the ability to manage health remotely. Even after the pandemic, many of us will want to stick with telemedicine for nonemergency needs because of its convenience and cost savings. In addition, telemedicine will continue to be invaluable for people who live far away from high-quality or specialized care or who are limited by mobility issues.
Remote work productivity tools
The sudden shift to working from home has forced professionals to rely on consumer devices, applications, and services for enterprise use. And this shift is here to stay. Facebook, Twitter, Square, Shopify, and Nationwide are only a few of the companies that have announced their intent to make work from home an acceptable long-term norm.
Meanwhile, playing from home is here to stay as well, as streaming usage skyrockets for games, movies, and TV. As households compete among themselves for broadband access, we’re all getting a glimpse of the opportunity to create new tools and infrastructure that support the home as the central hub for work and entertainment.
An opportune moment
Despite, and perhaps because of, the unpleasantness unfolding around us, it’s an ideal time for innovative teams to build technologies that help us not only make the most of our new normal but even thrive throughout it. These video-first innovations will far outlive the pandemic and will help shape the decade to come.
Santi Subotovsky is a partner at Emergence Capital.