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April 19, 2021

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The bloom is off the zoom, Zoom Video Communications Inc., that is. After rocketing from a stock price of $68 at the end of 2019 to a high of $568 in October, the company whose very name became synonymous with pandemic video meetings has slumped to $330. Talk about your Zoom gloom! But even at that price, Zoom is worth almost $100 billion, or 88 times its expected earnings this year.


How to regain the momentum? Try and create some staying power the Silicon Valley way and become more than just one app: become a “platform” where users can do many more things.


Zoom CEO Eric Yuan and his team had a few ideas on that score. They announced last fall a marketplace for selling tickets to virtual events and services taking place via Zoom. They are also starting to allow developers to build apps that run alongside the core video app. Some early “Zapps” include Thrive Reset, offering 60-second meditations to help users de-stress between meetings, LoomieLive, which lets people appear as 3-D cartoon avatars, and Rev, which uses A.I. to create real-time captioning. Zoom also attracted some bigger names to write apps and integrate their services, including Salesforce, Dropbox, and Slack. The app program is still in beta testing but the company’s directory of apps lists three dozen offerings.


Today, Zoom has another idea to attract more developers, announcing a $100 million venture capital investment vehicle dubbed the Zoom App Fund. The plan is to follow the VC playbook and invest amounts of $250,000 to $2.5 million in return for small equity stakes to help Zoom app developers get their projects off the ground. “You really want to make sure that early stage developers have much needed access to capital,” Zoom CFO Kelly Steckelberg told me last week. “Also, what they’ll get by participating in this program is accessing support from Zoom.” Beyond the initial small stakes, the fund will also be authorized to make follow-on investments, she says.


The aim is to broaden the categories of apps available to Zoom users. Almost all of the current apps are related to general workplace productivity, but Zoom would like to see more apps targeted at specialized industries like healthcare or finance. And they’re not averse to backing some crazy new ideas for apps, either. The fund could also back “a solution to a problem that we haven’t thought of yet, even if it’s something hard, or something that no one else has thought about or attempted yet,” she says. “It’s about pushing out the edges a little bit from what’s being developed today.”


The end goal, as I mentioned, is to become a platform, but Steckelberg explained it more concretely. “Really the goal is that Zoom becomes the platform where you spend your day,” she says. “We are striving to serve as a hub for our enterprise users work streams.”


A hub could be more valuable than just the most popular video meeting service. Zoom’s shareholders certainly hope so.


Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com


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NEWSWORTHY


One giant leap for drone kind. "Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet." Those were the words earlier today of chief pilot Havard Grip at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The initial images from the 40-second flight are pretty choppy but you can clearly see the drone hovering above the surface of Mars as its rotor blades spin. "We've been talking so long about our Wright brothers moment on Mars and here it is," Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung declared.


All we ever hear from you is blah blah blah. The race to recreate talk radio online continues to heat up. Scrappy early leader Clubhouse raised an undisclosed amount of fresh venture capital at a valuation of $4 billion. "Fundraising is only important because it allows us to keep focusing on the product and the community," the company said in a blog post that also makes the implicit point that details of the deal are not that important. Meanwhile Facebook is planning to unveil its audio plans later today, including something along the lines of Clubhouse's stage and audience chat rooms but also podcast listings and voicemail messaging.


Crypto drop a drop on you. Lead digital coinage Bitcoin was closing in on $65,000 a few days ago, but "crashed" over the weekend to around $57,000. Our Bull Sheet newsletter had this pre-world war analogy from UBS Chief Economist Paul Donovan: "If cryptos were currencies, this would constitute a hyperinflation to rival Weimar Germany. The volatility is just a reminder that cryptos are not currencies."


Floc off. Amid quite a bit of Sturm und Drang in the digital ad markets, some players are not taking kindly to Google's attempt to replace tracking cookies with a tech it's calling Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC. WordPress is considering updating its popular blog hosting software to block the FLoC by default. Most browser makers have also said they will not add FLoC capabilities, though Google's Chrome, with its two-thirds market share, obviously will.


Liquid lunch. Those crazy chip heads at the Tom's Hardware web site are benchmarking the very latest silicon from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel. A system with two $8,000 AMD Epyc Milan 7763 CPUs crushed a system with two $8,000 Intel Xeon Platinum 8380 CPUs running the rendering program Cinebench. Perhaps more interestingly, the Intel dual CPU system was also crushed by a single AMD Threadripper 3990X chip, which costs just $4,000, though one that was being cooled with liquid nitrogen. Yes, liquid nitrogen. At -320 degrees Fahrenheit, that even beats Intel's hidden aquarium water cooler trick of a few years ago.


The deadly EVs. By the statistics, about 200 people died in automobile accidents in the United States over the weekend. Most will never be covered by the news. That isn't case for Tesla, where crashes related to its Autopilot driver aid feature make headlines around the world every time. It happened again.


FOOD FOR THOUGHT


Another big beneficiary of the pandemic lockdown was kid-oriented gaming platform Roblox, which went public the other day. But not all is well in Blox-land. Wall Street Journal reporter Julie Jargon found that young kids get mixed up with some inappropriately adult content. Roblox says it's working on a content rating system.


Some parents I spoke to have seen role-playing that involved rampant talk of sex and avatars bumping up against each other. I’ve seen it myself, and it made me wonder how much exploration is safe for young kids. Is this the 21st-century equivalent of “playing doctor”?


The difference here, online safety experts say, is that kids might not know with whom they’re engaging in such role-playing; it could be another curious 10-year-old or it could be a teen or an adult.


“It’s considered normal curiosity if they’re similar ages. But when the age disparity is more than two years, it’s questionable,” said Kristen Jenson, founder and chief executive officer of Protect Young Minds, a company that seeks to educate parents about the dangers of pornography and child exploitation.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT


How one Silicon Valley company addressed its diversity problem—and got results By Alyssa Newcomb


Why Facebook and LinkedIn’s data scraping fiascos are a huge security problem for their users By Jonathan Vanian


Why a million and one startups all seem to do the same thing now By Lucinda Shen


Grab’s SPAC deal ensures founder Anthony Tan can outvote any outside investors By Gregor Stuart Hunter


One year into the pandemic, video game sales aren’t slowing down By Chris Morris


How Western Union went digital during the pandemic By Sheryl Estrada


The pros and cons of working remotely By Bill George


(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)



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BEFORE YOU GO


The Oscars are coming up and the Pressman family is woefully behind on seeing the top nominees. This weekend we caught up with Nomadland, the harrowing movie with a tech-adjacent theme about people who wander the country and work odd jobs such as filling in at Amazon warehouses in the busy holiday season. Frances McDormand gives an achingly stunning performance, one of her all-time best, but the stars of movie may be all the people who played parts but actually live that lifestyle in real life. Writer and director Chloe Zhao emphasized the personal aspects over the anti-corporate take of her source material, journalist Jessica Bruder's even more depressing book of the same name. A real must-see.


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