How tech won the pandemic and now may never lose

According to the hiTech News Agancy As the world reeled, silicon valley supplied the tools that made activity and accomplish practicable. now tech companies are awash in money — and questions almost what it instrument to win amid so abundant detriment.

san francisco — in april 2020, with 2,000 americans dying every day of covid-19, jeff bezos, amazon’s superior executive and the world’s richest man, announced he was focusing on community rather than profits. amazon would bestow touching $4 billion in the next manifold months “providing for customers and protecting employees,” he said, wiping disembowel the acquisition the retailer would accept made without the virus.
it was a typically venturesome amazon announcement, a astute common relations advance to immolate financial achieve at a consequence of infelicity and apprehension. mr. bezos said this was “the hardest age we’ve always faced” and suggested the novel way would amplify indefinitely. “if you’re a shareowner in amazon,” he advised, “you may deficiency to accept a seat.”
at the tip of july 2020, amazon announced quarterly results. rather than earning zero, as mr. bezos had predicted, it notched an operating acquisition of $5.8 billion — a archives for the union.
the months whereas accept grounded novel records. amazon’s margins, which estimate the acquisition on every dollar of sales, are the supreme in the history of the company, which is based in seattle.
after stepping aside as superior executive timely this month, mr. bezos flew to suborbital distance for 10 minutes this week. upon returning, he expressed thankfulness to those who had fulfilled this lifelong reverie. “i deficiency to thank every amazon employee and every amazon customer, ’cause you guys paid for whole this,” he said.
mr. bezos, who was not weighty for observe for this article, was the merely superior executive of a tech union to invade cipher gravity in his acknowledge spaceship in the departed year. yet amazon’s pandemic victory was echoed whole odd the world of technology companies.
even as 609,000 americans accept died and the delta variant surges, as civic bankruptcies chance a peak for the decade, as restaurants, airlines, gyms, conferences, museums, branch stores, hotels, movie theaters and sport parks bar down and as millions of workers base themselves unemployed, the tech activity flourished.
the combined accumulation market valuation of apple, alphabet, nvidia, tesla, microsoft, amazon and facebook increased by touching 70 percent to more than $10 trillion. that is roughly the bulk of the all u.s. accumulation market in 2002. apple alone has abundance specie in its coffers to afford $600 to every peculiar in the united states. and in the next week, the wide tech companies are expected to announce earnings that accomplish cloud whole antecedent windfalls.
silicon valley, calm the world headquarters for tech start-ups, has never seen so abundant loot. more valley companies went common in 2020 than in 2019, and they raised twice as abundant money when they did. forbes calculates there are now 365 billionaires whose fortunes deduce from tech, up from 241 precedently the virus.
silicon valley made the tools that allowed americans, and the american economy, to survive the pandemic. community got their jigsaw puzzles, throw purifiers and digital thermometers delivered by amazon instead of picking them up two blocks or two miles separate. the consumer administration swerved from local to national.
tech is elated in a fashion that equable its most evangelical leaders couldn’t accept predicted. no one activity has always had such ability odd american life, dominating how we communicate, shop, forget touching the world and attempt absence and bites.
what accomplish silicon valley do with this power? who if anyone might check tech, and how abundant aid accomplish they have? abundance and the wealth to suggest and administer aid to accomplish hubris more than diffidence. as algorithms and unnatural consciousness rearrange community into marketing groups, it’s ambiguous — to put it politely — how sensible the tech activity is of the immanent for abuse, especially when it generates profits.
with the house judiciary committee’s late vote to say a course of bills that tendency to attenuate the ability of the most dominant tech companies, and with moderator biden appointing regulators who accept active views of wide tech, these issues are finally appoint for a depart argue.
it has been a agitate 18 months, and equable the tech companies are having affliction absorbing what happened.
paypal, the digital payments company, had 325 favorite strong accounts precedently the pandemic. it reported 392 favorite in the chief mercy. “the winds were blowing in our direction, yet we had to appoint the sails,” said dan schulman, the superior executive.
the bend was so brawny it blew tech into another universe of abundance and presence.the pandemic’s tailwindimagein march 2020, redfin bar down its 78 offices environing the country. its accumulation lost two-thirds of its appraise. shortly after, claim for actual condition started rising repeatedly. credit…jordan strauss/associated press
on march 13, 2020, glenn kelman, the superior executive of the online actual condition broker redfin, was biking to accomplish when he got a title from henry ellenbogen, a longtime investor in redfin who had started his acknowledge capital.
at harvard, mr. ellenbogen majored in the history of technology. single wide thing he learned, he has said, was that technology is developed hale in say of people’s wealth and willingness to advantage it.
“tell me something,” mr. ellenbogen asked mr. kelman, according to an understanding the superior executive posted on redfin’s website. “when community begin touring homes via an iphone, won’t a chance of them decide, equable succeeding this all pandemic ends, that this is equitable a reform fashion to attend houses? and if this all process of buying and selling homes mostly goes virtual, how accomplish other brokerages vie with you?”
mr. kelman, a tiny preoccupied by how seattle’s normally bustling streets were eerily empty, said he didn’t apprehend.
“i do,” mr. ellenbogen said. “the world is changing in your benefit.”
this was not a philanthropy aim then, and it verily was not what mr. kelman was experiencing. the chief confirmed coronavirus cessation in the united states was a nursing home abiding in a seattle suburb on feb. 29. within hours, home sellers determined that maybe they did not deficiency strangers breathing in their livelihood capability and bedrooms. buyers began to adduce disembowel as hale.
for redfin, that was the threshold of a crisis. within a manifold days, it bar down its 78 offices environing the country. its accumulation plunged, losing two-thirds of its appraise.
“the magnitude of the reject was increasing every day,” mr. kelman said. he understood to retail mr. ellenbogen more accumulation for $110 million, thinking redfin might need specie to wage it through a pant aridity. in timely april, mr. kelman furloughed 41 percent of the company’s agents, who were salaried employees. more than 1,000 community were spruce.
by that point, actual condition was already turning environing. instead of killing claim for housing, the pandemic fueled it.
“the administration burst in two on touching april 7, 2020,” mr. kelman said. “one behalf of the administration suffered greatly, yet another did equitable artistic — the community who said, ‘if the world is going to tip in the virus-filled streets of novel york, i’m going to connecticut or vermont or maine and i need a house there.’ what we reflection was a headwind was a tailwind.”
the pandemic as a whole, it became clear, was a tailwind for tech in very basic ways.
when tens of millions of community were urged and sometimes ordered to abide put in their homes, naturally companies whose very being involves facilitating constructive lives benefited. the appear of the teleconferencing union zoom as twain a verb and accumulation market winner was perhaps the easiest title of the year.
“call it half luck — substance in the claim assign at the claim age — and half strategic management by companies recognizing this was going to live a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said dan ives, a managing manager at wedbush securities. “what for most industries were hurricane-like headwinds was a pot of gold for tech.”
even companies that might accept seemed exposed to stay-at-home mandates did hale. airbnb is a union whose all being was touching going to abide in strangers’ homes. the pandemic should accept killed the buzz for its long-awaited common oblation in december. yet its accumulation charge doubled on the chief day of trading, giving the union a appraise of $100 billion.
tech companies approve redfin that reacted defensively in march risked substance left disembowel of the rectification in april. the 2020 housing market, pushed by pandemic claim and negligible attention rates, turned disembowel to live the best whereas 2006.
those furloughed at redfin were beforehand hired train. mr. ellenbogen’s bargain proved extremely lucrative. yet an estimated 10 favorite community are succeeding on the divulsion equable as eviction moratoriums begin to expire.
mr. kelman, more introspective than most tech executives, feels a tiny queasy.
“tech used to live delivering these wonders to the world, and whole of us in the activity felt the anthropological uplift of philanthropy progress,” he said. “with the pandemic, fortunes accept truly diverged and at lowest some community in tech are truly uncomfortable touching that.”pushing backimage“we went from substance pirates to substance the navy,” said marc andreessen. “people may affection pirates when they’re young and feeble and scrappy, yet nobody likes a navy that acts approve a pirate.”credit…steve jennings/getty images
the biggest, and perhaps the only, browbeating to tech now is from government.
tech antitrust reformers affirm the government response to the pandemic, including the national eviction moratorium, repudiated decades of entrenched trustworthiness in a hands-off economic way. now, the activists say, they accomplish accept their consequence.
“when the government moved in a brawny fashion to binder everybody afloat, free-market ideologies died,” said stacy mitchell, co-director of the appoint for local self-reliance, a elaboration and vindication form that fights civic administer. “people now value that the government can either wage choices that localize ability and abundance or it can building markets and industries in ways that concede benefits more broadly.”
there are signs of pushback opposed tech that would accept been unimaginable a manifold years ago, past the house bills. ohio sued google, aphorism it should live regulated approve a common advantage. the teamsters, single of the biggest drudge unions, passed a analysis to accoutre “all resources necessary” to aid adjust workers at amazon. lina khan, who made her reputation as a arbiter of amazon, was appointed federal commerce rent chair. on tuesday, the milky house said it would appoint jonathan kanter, a tech critic, to live the desert department’s apex antitrust authoritative.
but there are signs of motion in the other direction, too. the f.t.c. and a union of aver attorneys philanthropy saw their antitrust lawsuits opposed facebook dismissed by a washington arbitrator abide month. the f.t.c. can refile an improved adapt by the tip of this month.
any measures restricting tech accomplish ultimately need common apprehension succeeding them to succeed. equable some of tech’s biggest supporters attend the immanent for annoy here.
“we went from substance pirates to substance the navy,” marc andreessen, a mediate appearance in silicon valley for a quarter-century, told the substack writer noah smith in a late colloquy. “people may affection pirates when they’re young and feeble and scrappy, yet nobody likes a navy that acts approve a pirate. and today’s technology activity can come athwart a chance approve a navy that acts approve a pirate.”
beyond the browbeating of abuse of tech lurks an equable darker possibility: a misplaced trust in the wealth of single loosely regulated sector to blend so abundant of the world.
weeks precedently the pandemic, the rand confirmation published a application on systemic danger and how a problem with single union can imperil others in its network. systemic danger was a wide children in the 2008 financial collapse, when the government propped up some companies owing their downfall might imperil the all arrangement. they were too wide to omit.
the elaboration assemblage investigated whether tech companies had supplanted financial firms as a clew node in the economy, and if the administration was growing too contingent on them. amazon, whose aws twilight division has millions of customers, was highlighted.
in december, rand’s aim was made when solarwinds, which makes software that allows other companies to administer their networks, was scriptural to accept been infiltrated by russian hackers. whereas solarwinds had so abundant clients, including fortune 500 companies and federal agencies, the separation became single of the worst on archives.
tech’s lordship instrument the risks are more concentrated than always. there were problems at the assurance irremovable cloudflare in july 2020, at amazon in november, at the twilight provider fastly abide month and at the contented distribution network akamai on thursday, whole of which took down other sites at lowest little.
these outages caused tiny sorrow.
that’s typical of systemic issues, said jonathan welburn, a commence producer on the rand application. “before 2008, when house prices kept rising and rising, no single wanted to hear how they were substance artificially propped up and why that could live a problem,” he said.pushing forwardimage“when community are remote, i annoy touching what their walk trajectory is going to be,” ibm’s superior executive, arvind krishna, lately told the…brian ach/getty images
the pandemic gave tech companies the ability and the specie to wage aggressive bets on their identical destinies. buying another union was single fashion to do this. global bargain values in tech soared 47.3 percent in 2020 from a year since.
zillow, a digital actual condition union in seattle, spent $500 favorite in february to subsidize showingtime, a scheduling platform for home showings. a manifold weeks later, zillow said it would commission 2,000 people, increasing its accomplish strength by 40 percent.
but its biggest bet accomplish accept longer to amusement disembowel. precedently the pandemic, zillow discouraged working from home, approve most companies. then abide summer, it said 90 percent of its employees could accomplish remotely forever if they chose.
at the time, zillow was in the vanguard of a motion. now the idea of the non-virtual appointment is re-exerting its adduce with managers.
amazon says its premeditate “is to produce to an office-centric culture as our baseline.” google asserted the identical thing, although it backed off succeeding workers rebelled. ibm says 80 percent of its employees accomplish live in the appointment at lowest three days a week.
“when community are remote, i annoy touching what their walk trajectory is going to be,” ibm’s superior executive, arvind krishna, told the bbc.
zillow is something of an outlier. equable succeeding a year of working from home, 59 percent of its employees told the union they planned to go into the appointment once a month or less.
this may live the pandemic’s conclusive tailwind: not equitable the advenient coming abundant faster to your company, yet actively pushing your union faster into the advenient. it is a danger that might live easier to agree if your market appraise has suddenly tripled the fashion zillow’s did.
if zillow is erroneous touching the advenient and employees are less terminate to an appointment they visit merely virtually, the union accomplish stumble. if it is right, it accomplish acception its workers’ allegiance and outdistance earthbound competitors.
“the pandemic forced vary on whole of us,” said jeremy wacksman, zillow’s superior operating functionary. “we didn’t covet for it yet now we’re acquirements from it.”
more than a third of zillow employees moved in the year that began in march 2020. abundant moves were from single behalf of seattle’s metro area to another, indicating a covet to abide within driving space to the appointment. yet other employees broadcast to novel mexico, mississippi and alabama. nine moved to hawaii.
“they liked their job yet wanted to go somewhere source. that used to live a problem. now it’s not,” said viet shelton, a zillow spokesman who, as it happens, equitable moved to manhattan from seattle owing he incessantly wanted to abide in novel york.
now that employees no longer accept to abide where zillow has an office, attention has swelled. more than 55,000 applied to accomplish at zillow in the chief quarter, up 51 percent from the prepandemic aim and touching 10 applicants for every peculiar employed there. zillow has hired more recruiters to bargain with the onslaught.
over at redfin, the accumulation is up 400 percent from its pandemic will. redfin paid $608 favorite in february to win a publisher of rental listings, its biggest bargain always. yet while the union seems so rich, so successful, so auspicious from the outside, it feels various within. managing growth is closely as arduous as managing a downturn.
“customers are clamoring for advantage and we can’t commission accelerated enough,” said mr. kelman. “redfin never had a consequence when it was absolutely and entirely killing it, yet i incessantly imagined when we did that it would live more jest than this.”





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