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    People Are Now Spending More Money at Amazon Than at Walmart

    Proof that the online future has arrived: The biggest e-commerce company outside China has unseated the biggest brick-and-mortar seller.SEATTLE — Amazon has eclipsed Walmart to become the world’s largest retail seller outside China, according to corporate and industry data, a milestone in the shift from brick-and-mortar to online shopping that has changed how people buy everything from Teddy Grahams to teddy bears.Propelled in part by surging demand during the pandemic, people spent more than $610 billion on Amazon over the 12 months ending in June, according to Wall Street estimates compiled by the financial research firm FactSet. Walmart on Tuesday posted sales of $566 billion for the 12 months ending in July.Alibaba, the giant online Chinese retailer, is the world’s top seller. Neither Amazon nor Walmart is a dominant player in China.In racing past Walmart, Amazon has dethroned one of the most successful — and feared — companies of recent decades. Walmart perfected a thriving big-box model of retailing that squeezed every possible penny out of its costs, which drove down prices and vanquished competitors.But even with all of that efficiency and power, the quest to dominate today’s retail environment is being won on the internet. And no company has taken better advantage of that than Amazon. Indeed, the company’s delivery (many items land on doorsteps in a day or two) and wide selection first drew customers to online shopping, and it has kept them buying more there ever since. It has also made Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, one of the richest people in the world.An employee sorting items into the robots at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island.Chang W. Lee/The New York Times“It is a historic moment,” said Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of the Marketplace Pulse, a research company. “Walmart has been around for so long, and now Amazon comes around with a different model and replaces them as a No. 1.”Wall Street firms had been expecting this retail baton to change hands in the coming years. But the pandemic accelerated the timeline, as people stuck at home relied on deliveries. Walmart’s sales rose sharply during the pandemic, but it has not matched Amazon, which has added hundreds of new warehouses and hired about 500,000 workers since the start of last year.Walmart’s sales grew $24 billion in the last year, the company said Tuesday. During roughly the same period, the total value of everything people bought on Amazon rose by nearly $200 billion, analysts estimate.While the figures are calculated differently, analysts regularly use them as a rough comparison. Knowing the full value of Walmart’s sales is simple, because they nearly all come from its own inventory and are disclosed publicly each quarter. But analysts must calculate an estimate of the value of Amazon’s overall sales because most of what people buy on its site are products owned and listed by outside merchants. The company publicly reports only the fees it takes from those transactions.With Amazon’s success has come greater scrutiny. And the company has started to receive many of the same complaints — over its treatment of workers and impact on local and national economies — that Walmart faced during its biggest periods of expansion more than a decade ago.“The Big Bad Wolf is Amazon now,” said Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business who has written several books on retailing.Amazon and Walmart declined to comment.Over the last century, very few companies could stake a claim to world’s biggest retailer. The grocery chain A.&P. was such a force that antitrust authorities pursued it in the 1940s. Sears overtook A.&P. as the largest retailer in the early 1960s by targeting middle-class shoppers in the suburbs and expanding the department store model.Then came Walmart.President George H.W. Bush awarded Sam Walton the Medal of Freedom in 1992, with Barbara Bush, at Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.J. Scott Applewhite/Associated PressThe original Walton five-and-dime store on the square in Bentonville.Terra Fondriest for The New York TimesIn 1962, Sam Walton founded the retailer in small-town Arkansas. Mr. Walton had “a true passion — some would say obsession — to win,” he wrote in his autobiography, and he sold a huge variety of products at low prices, including eventually fresh food. But his true innovation was building a vast logistics network that operated with such precision and efficiency that it crushed many competitors that couldn’t compete.By the 1990s, Walmart had surpassed Sears. And then it kept growing, opening thousands of stores and acquiring other retailers across the world.Just as Mr. Walton founded Walmart as Sears was ascendant, Mr. Bezos started Amazon in the early 1990s as Walmart was king.Guru Hariharan, who worked on Amazon’s retail business, said Amazon had eclipsed Walmart by playing a different game. Walmart has hardened its lock on physical stores and the grocery business. But shopping online is growing far faster than in physical stores, even as it accounts for only about a seventh of U.S. retail sales. Amazon captures 41 cents of every dollar spent online in the United States, while Walmart takes just 7 cents, according to eMarketer.Shopping in Walmart in 1996. Getty ImagesFriday night traffic in 1992.Getty Images“They have their own turfs that they are the kings of,” said Mr. Hariharan, who left Amazon and eventually founded CommerceIQ, which advises brands like Colgate and Kimberly-Clark on e-commerce.Amazon has ascended in part because it opened its website to let third-party sellers list their products alongside items that Amazon buys and resells itself. This marketplace greatly increased the assortment of available items. Almost two million sellers offer products on Amazon, and they account for 56 percent of the items sold.The marketplace makes it harder to determine Amazon’s true influence in the retail industry. The company captures and reports only the fees it charges sellers to list, ship and market their goods, not the total money that flows through its business. The model is more profitable, but produces less revenue.“It makes Amazon appear smaller,” Mr. Kaziukenas said. “They are obfuscating their reality.”Jeff Bezos, right, with David Robichaud, center, who became the company’s 10 millionth customer when he ordered golf clubs from Gregory Nixon, left, on Amazon in 1999.Paul Conors/Associated PressThat has led analysts at investment banks like J.P. Morgan, BMO Capital Markets and Cowen to estimate what is known as the “gross merchandise value,” calculating how much customers buy on Amazon, regardless of whether it comes from Amazon’s inventory or from a seller’s. The analysts make the estimates based on data the company releases, such as revenue it collects from sellers and the marketplace’s share of total units sold, and their own research. FactSet compiles and averages the estimates. In the last 12 months, Amazon reported total retail revenue of $390 billion. But total product sales, including third-party transactions, was nearly 60 percent higher, according to the analysts’ estimates.Amazon has not regularly disclosed its gross merchandise value, but in 2019, facing antitrust pressure, Mr. Bezos shared the measure — then $277 billion — for the first time as a way to show that the third-party sellers were growing faster than Amazon’s direct retail business. “Third-party sellers are kicking our first-party butt,” he wrote.When Mr. Bezos testified in Congress last summer, he pointed to Walmart’s size as evidence of a competitive retail industry. “We compete against large, established players, like Target, Costco, Kroger and, of course, Walmart,” he said, “a company more than twice Amazon’s size” — presumably referring to Walmart’s revenue.Walmart is still the largest private employer in the United States, with 1.6 million workers. And it sells more in the United States than Amazon, though J.P. Morgan estimates that Amazon will surpass Walmart in the United States next year.A Walmart worker delivering online orders in Charlottesville, Va.Eze Amos for The New York TimesDuring the pandemic, Walmart honed its ability to use its stores as mini-distribution centers, where shoppers drive to retrieve their purchase “curbside,” a far less costly way to fulfill online orders than delivery. On Tuesday, Walmart said it expected to generate $75 billion in total online sales this year. The company has been expanding its effort to build its own marketplace, but the vast majority of its online sales still come from its own inventory, Mr. Kaziukenas said.Edward Yruma, a retail analyst and managing director at KeyBanc Capital Markets, said Amazon had only started to come to grips with the reality of its size.“Walmart is big, and they know it,” he said. Amazon has long played the role of the upstart, even as it became enormous. Just this summer, when it already employed about 1.3 million people, it added a new leadership principle that acknowledged the responsibility of its scale.“We started in a garage,” the new principle starts, “but we’re not there anymore.” More

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    Red Ventures, the Biggest Digital Media Company You've Never Heard Of

    Red Ventures has turned very specific advice into very big business.INDIAN LAND, S.C. — Lindsey Turrentine first heard of Red Ventures last fall, when it bought the venerable tech news site CNET, where she is the senior vice president in charge of content. She sat down at her kitchen table in Berkeley, Calif., and frantically started Googling to find out what it was.Her experience wasn’t uncommon. People working at the tourism guide Lonely Planet, the travel site The Points Guy and the health and medical information site Healthline were similarly blindsided in recent years, when Red Ventures bought up special interest publications in a multibillion-dollar shopping spree.Their Googling and mandatory corporate retreats led them to the company’s South Carolina headquarters, a 180-acre campus with a cluster of modern buildings, a fire pit, a six-lane bowling alley, spin room, pickle ball courts and 264 residences for employees who choose to live where they work.Red Ventures, which started as a digital marketing company, has attracted serious investments from private equity firms. Its location has helped obscure what is perhaps the biggest digital publisher in America, a 4,500-employee juggernaut that says it has roughly $2 billion in annual revenues, a conservative valuation earlier this year of more than $11 billion, and more readers, as measured by Comscore, than any media brand you’ve ever heard of — an average of 751 million visits a month.Here in Indian Land, I felt as if I were back in the Ping-Pong days of Silicon Valley in the early 2000s. Red Ventures has built a culture that blends warm enthusiasm, progressive social values and the ruthless performance metrics of the direct marketing business.The company found itself in the publishing business almost by accident, and is now leading a shift in that industry toward what is sometimes called “intent-based media” — a term for specialist sites that attract people who are already looking to spend money in a particular area (travel, tech, health) and guide them to their purchases, while taking a cut.It’s a step away from the traditional advertising business toward directly selling you stuff. Red Ventures, for instance, plans to steer readers of Healthline to doctors or drugs found on another site it recently acquired, HealthGrades, which rates and refers doctors. Red Ventures will take a healthy commission on each referral.At the center of the company is Ric Elias, the chief executive and co-founder. A 6-foot-5 native of Puerto Rico, he has quietly become one of the most powerful media moguls in the country, a Barry Diller of the South, heading a company roughly the size of Mr. Diller’s IAC. (Mr. Diller, a more typically immodest media figure, said in an email that he finds Mr. Elias “impressive” but that there is only one Barry Diller: “I think of myself as all points on the compass.”)Ric Elias, the company’s chief executive, is known for his TED Talk about being on the US Airways jetliner that made an emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009.Travis Dove for The New York TimesMr. Elias, who spoke with me in the company’s bright and sprawling cafeteria, had played basketball that morning with a former N.B.A. player who lives nearby. He is the largest shareholder in Red Ventures, with more than 20 percent of the company, and so a billionaire on paper — though he hasn’t done the self-promotion required to get on the Forbes list.“I think we’re a 20-year-old company that still is figuring out what we’re going to be,” he said. “And I don’t think we have anything to celebrate or tell.”If you’ve heard of Mr. Elias, it’s probably because you’re one of the eight million people who have watched the video of his TED Talk, “3 Things I learned When My Plane Crashed.” On the top floor of the main building on the Red Ventures campus, he pointed to his own blurred shape in a painting of passengers walking onto the wings of the Charlotte-bound US Airways Flight 1549, the jetliner that made an emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009, the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson.” Mr. Elias’s seat was 1D.He returned from that near-death experience determined to remake his life — and his company. He devoted himself to causes, including a college scholarship program for undocumented immigrants ineligible for state aid, some of whom he has hired. And he started transforming Red Ventures, then a middleweight marketing company, into the kind of business where he would want to spend his career.“This is the perch from where I’m going to live the rest of my life,” he said, describing his thoughts at the time. “We’re not going public, we’re not selling. Red Ventures, as is, will never be a public company as long as I’m running it.”He persuaded key investors — the private equity firms General Atlantic and Silver Lake each own about 20 percent — to back an ambitious expansion. And now Red Ventures is the largest in a group of private equity-backed giants that have been snapping up trusted media brands once left for dead. North Equity bought Popular Science, Domino and Field & Stream, along with the men’s site Mel. J2 Media, a public company, scooped up the old publisher Ziff Davis with its online brands Mashable and IGN. In addition to Lonely Planet, CNET, Healthline and The Points Guy, Red Ventures bought the education advice site BestColleges.These low-profile media companies are riding a shift in technology as both Apple and regulators have eroded the dominance of the creepy advertising technology that allows companies to track you across websites. That has helped push the pendulum back toward the old-fashioned idea of connecting with readers seeking information relevant to their lives, whether it’s a Field & Stream article on the latest fly rods or a Healthline guide to Crohn’s disease treatments.Vaccinated employees have lunch in a dining area on Red Ventures’ 180-acre campus.Travis Dove for The New York TimesThat’s the context in which Red Ventures — a company that backed its way into media after specializing in online marketing — makes sense.Mr. Elias grew up in San Juan hearing stories of his late grandfather, a Lebanese immigrant who, according to family lore, built a huge produce importing business but lost it because he hadn’t paid his taxes. It recently occurred to him, he said, that he has spent his career trying to restore the family name.He arrived at Boston College, in 1986, a semester late because he’d been trying to make a local professional basketball team, the Leones de Ponce, and speaking what he described as broken English. From there, he earned an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School. In 2000, he and a friend, Dan Feldstein, who is now the chief marketing officer of Red Ventures, started a business built on the notion of driving online shoppers to physical stores. It was a “terrible idea,” Mr. Elias said, and they quickly ran out of money. They spent the next few years digging out and repaying their investors, among them their more successful Harvard Business School classmates.Mr. Elias and Mr. Feldstein sold the business to management in 2005 and started again under the name Red Ventures, becoming pioneers in that era’s efforts to link digital data and real world commerce. They entered the business of selling subscriptions for DirecTV and burglar alarms for ADT Security. Along the way, they figured out how to integrate online marketing and old-fashioned telemarketing — and they got very good at search engine optimization.Other tricks were more ingenious. For instance, they purchased more than a million toll-free phone numbers, and each visitor to their marketing website was shown a different one. So when prospective customers called, Red Ventures knew exactly what they had been looking at on the site, which gave the agents what they needed to make personalized sales pitches. This was a pretty high-tech form of digital surveillance in those more innocent times. As the company grew and the market shifted, its founders realized that the technological know-how they had developed had itself become a commodity and that they needed to develop their own brands, not just sell others’.In 2015, Red Ventures raised $250 million, which went toward its $1.4 billion purchase of Bankrate, a personal finance company that helps people comparison shop for financial products (and earns a commission on each sale). That acquisition included The Points Guy, a site devoted to elucidating airline mileage programs and credit card deals. The Points Guy had built a profitable business earning commissions whenever people signed up for credit cards they had read about on the site — often in rave reviews of high-end cards.The marketing of financial products promises far higher profit margins than the online “affiliate” businesses that underlie websites like The New York Times’s Wirecutter. While a publisher recommending a gadget on Amazon might earn a single-digit percentage of a shopper’s purchase, the “bounties” paid to Red Ventures for directing a consumer to a Chase Visa Sapphire Reserve credit card or an American Express Rose Gold card can range from $300 to $900 per card.The arrival of Red Ventures’ executives hasn’t always gone over well among the journalists who find themselves working under Mr. Elias. Journalists, like members of a medieval guild (the guild hall is Twitter), tend to be more connected to the folkways of their profession than to any corporate culture, and some roll their eyes at Red Ventures’ rah-rah retreats, which feature fireworks and song. More troublingly, some reporters at The Points Guy, which also covers the travel industry in general (it has been a comprehensive source for information on where vaccinated Americans can travel), have complained that the new owners have eroded the already rickety wall between the site’s service journalism and the credit card sales that fund it.Red Ventures is “all about profit maximization,” said JT Genter, who left the site more than a year ago. He and other Points Guy writers said they hadn’t been pushed to publish stories they found dubious — indeed, the site has occasionally offered carefully critical coverage of Chase and American Express, its dominant business partners. But he noted that Points Guy journalists are required to attend regular business meetings detailing how much money the site makes from credit card sales, which some take as a tacit suggestion to put their thumbs on the scale.Mr. Elias said Red Ventures has a “nonnegotiable line” concerning the editorial independence of its sites, adding that he has given his cell number to CNET employees and instructed them to call him if they ever face pressure from the business side.“I told them, ‘There’s a red line,’ and they’re like, ‘OK, we’ll see,’” he said.Red Ventures’ roots in marketing, its investment in tech aimed at selling you something and its almost-accidental move into trying to provide readers with trusted, even journalistic, advice have made for an odd amalgam. And the company’s Silicon Valley style extends only so far. Most employees don’t receive equity in the company, and lunch isn’t free, just subsidized.The company does offer a maxim-happy workplace, though, with inspirational slogans printed on the walls of its atrium in cheery fonts. The one I heard executives refer to most was “Everything Is Written in Pencil,” a motto that makes sense for a company that has changed almost entirely from its marketing origins to become a leading purveyor of service journalism. And its executives seem to have absorbed the idea that they are selling trust, even if they don’t put it in the language of journalism professors.“Brand and trust are at the core of everything that we do,” said Courtney Jeffus, the president of the company’s financial services division, which includes Bankrate. “If you lose brand trust, then you don’t have a business.”There’s quite a bit of good news in the rescue of old media brands by Red Ventures and similar companies — CNET plans to hire 150 new employees this year, for instance. A deeper concern may be what it will mean to transform the internet’s independent arbiters into nothing more than the gaping maw of the sales funnel.Less gloomy, I think, is something else that Red Ventures represents: a challenge to the oligopolistic dominance of Amazon over the internet, and a model for independent media companies that have spent a generation either losing their core businesses to cheerfully ruthless tech giants or, at best, living on their scraps. For sites like Wirecutter, internet commerce often means, in practice, serving as an Amazon storefront, with revenue trickling in from modest commissions. But Red Ventures has succeeded by building a tech and media company that is independent of that particular Goliath, if not of another one — Google.“We’re going to have a chance to be an alternative to the big walled gardens,” Mr. Elias said of his company. “This is a plane that just got some altitude.”The talk of planes prompted me to ask Mr. Elias how he got back to the Carolinas after the Hudson River landing. He said he’d told a surprised agent he wanted the next flight out.“The lady looked at me like I was crazy,” he recalled, but he’d figured that “if I don’t get on a flight right away, I may never fly again — and if the next flight goes down, it was me God was coming to see.” More

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    Even Your Allergist Is Now Investing in Start-Ups

    The once-clubby world of start-up deal making known as “angel investing” has had an influx of new participants. It’s part of a wider boom in ever-riskier investments.SAN FRANCISCO — On a recent Wednesday evening, 60 people gathered in a virtual conference room to discuss start-up investments. Among them were a professional poker player from Arizona, an allergist in California and a kombucha maker from Tennessee. All were members of Angel Squad, a six-month $2,500 program that aims to help people break into the clubby world of venture capital as individual investors, known as “angels.”The group listened as Eric Bahn, the instructor, rattled off anecdotes and advice from the front lines of start-up investing. “The most important question when you are an early stage investor is: What happens if things go right?” he said, stepping back from his desk and raising his hands for emphasis.Caroline Howard, 29, one of the founders of Walker Brothers Beverage, a kombucha company in Nashville, said the class taught her how to evaluate deals. “I think it’s so fun to see companies when they’re so young and have a germ of an idea and back them,” she said.Founded in January, Angel Squad is one of several ways that people from outside Silicon Valley’s investing elite are now joining the ranks of angel investors. The influx — which includes art curators, dentists, influencers and retirees — is transforming the way that start-ups raise money, upending the pecking order in venture capital and pushing a niche corner of the investing world toward mass adoption.“It is absolutely going mainstream,” said Kingsley Advani, founder of Allocations, a tech platform for angel investors. “It’s accelerating and it’s getting faster and faster.” He said even his mother, a retired schoolteacher in Australia, has invested in 41 start-ups over the last few years.More than 3,000 new angel investors are projected to make their first deal this year, up from 2,725 last year, according to the research firm PitchBook. And the amount of money that angels are pouring into start-ups has swelled, reaching $2.1 billion in the first six months of this year, compared with $2.6 billion for all of 2020, according to the National Venture Capital Association and PitchBook.Until recently, such investing was off-limits to most people. Securities rules restricted it to the wealthy because of the level of risk involved, since most start-ups fail. Even those who qualified often lacked the connections to find deals. And start-ups preferred to raise big slugs of cash from a handful of investors, rather than deal with the costs and headaches of processing dozens of tiny checks.But over the last year, many of those roadblocks have dissipated. Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission loosened restrictions and began allowing people to become accredited investors — those allowed to back private start-ups — after passing a test. New tech tools are making the process of raising funds from many small investors cheaper and faster. And start-ups have become eager to add potentially helpful angels to their rosters of backers.The boom is part of a rush into ever-riskier forms of investment, driven by low interest rates, stimulus money and a little bit of “why not?” chutzpah. Nowhere is that sentiment stronger than in the tech industry, where start-ups are flush with cash, initial public stock offerings have been plentiful and Big Tech is delivering blockbuster profits.“Overnight, the entire world just woke up and went, ‘Oh, wow, we want to go invest in technology,’” said Avlok Kohli, chief executive of AngelList Venture, a company that provides tools for start-up fund-raising.Many new angel investors have some connection to the tech industry but are not the V.I.P.s who are normally invited into deals. Some are complete outsiders. Many are broadcasting their activity on social media and turning the investing into a branding opportunity, a hobby, a networking play, a social status or a way to give back.Karin Dillie, 33, an executive at an e-commerce company in New York, said she hadn’t realized that she could be an angel investor. But in June, when a business school classmate emailed asking her to help fund a calendar app called Arrange, Ms. Dillie decided to go for it. She invested $5,000.“I probably needed someone to give me permission to play the game because investing always seemed so elusive,” she said.Karin Dillie, 33, an executive at an e-commerce company in New York, said she hadn’t realized that she could be an angel investor.Elianel Clinton for The New York TimesMs. Dillie has since joined several informal investing groups, listened to podcasts and set up news alerts for terms like “preseed funding” (the earliest money a start-up usually raises from outside investors). She said she was motivated to support female founders, who raise less than 2 percent of all venture funding.In London, Ivy Mukherjee, 28, a product designer, and Shashwat Shukla, 30, a private equity investor, also started putting money into start-ups together this year to learn new skills and network with others in the industry. They said they were proceeding cautiously, with checks of $2,000 to $5,000, knowing they could lose it all.“If we happen to make our money back, that’s good enough for us,” Mr. Shukla said.The new angels have the potential to transform a venture capital industry that has been stubbornly clubby. They could also put pressure on bad actors in the industry who get away with things ranging from rudeness to sexual harassment, said Elizabeth Yin, a general partner at Hustle Fund, a venture capital firm. The firm also created Angel Squad and shares deals with its members.“More competition brings about better behavior,” Ms. Yin said. (In addition to investing in start-ups, Hustle Fund sells mugs that say “Be Nice, Make Billions.”)The angel boom has, in turn, created a miniboom of companies that aim to streamline the investing process. Allocations, the start-up run by Mr. Advani, offers group deal making. Assure, another start-up, helps with the administrative work. Others, including Party Round and Sign and Wire, help angels with money transfers or work with start-ups to raise money from large groups of investors.AngelList, which has enabled such deals for over a decade, has steadily expanded its menu of options, including rolling funds (for people to subscribe to an angel investor’s deals) and roll-up vehicles (for start-ups to consolidate lots of small checks). Mr. Kohli said his company runs a “fund factory” that compresses a month of legal paperwork and wire transfers into the push of a button.Still, getting access to the next hot tech start-up as a total outsider takes time.Ashley Flucas, 35, a real estate lawyer in Palm Beach County, Fla., began investing in start-ups three years ago. She said it was a chance to create generational wealth, something underrepresented people did not typically get access to.“It’s the same people doing deals with each other and sharing in the wealth, and I’m thinking, how do I break into that?” said Ms. Flucas, who is Black.But it took cold emails, research, building her reputation on AngelList and participating in three angel investing fellowships to get access to deals and construct a portfolio of more than 200 companies, she said. Things especially took off this spring after she invested in several companies that had just graduated from Y Combinator, the start-up accelerator. Some of her investments have appreciated enough on paper to return more than she has put in.Now, Ms. Flucas said, she is getting asked to join venture firms or raise her own fund. “The seeds I planted at the beginning of the journey are bearing fruit,” she said.“It’s the same people doing deals with each other and sharing in the wealth, and I’m thinking, how do I break into that?” Ms. Flucas said.Ysa Pérez for The New York TimesSome longtime angels have cautionary words for those just beginning their start-up investments. Aaron Houghton, 40, an entrepreneur, said he lost $50,000 that he had invested in a friend’s start-up in 2014, along with a $10,000 deal that went belly-up. He sarcastically called the losses a “really nice, somewhat inexpensive wake-up call” that showed he needed to spend more than a few hours researching companies before investing.But that isn’t always an option in today’s frenzied market. Mr. Houghton said he had recently been given little more than a pitch presentation, a high price tag and a few hours to decide whether he was in or out of an investment.“It’s all so hot right now,” he said.In the recent Angel Squad class, one participant asked if investors should be concerned about valuations. Mr. Bahn said it was up to each investor, but he added that there was an upside to the skyrocketing prices. Some tech companies were becoming huge, worth $10 billion or more on paper, creating bigger returns for investors who got in early. That was the exciting thing about investing in young start-ups, he said.“The alpha,” he said, referring to an investor’s ability to beat the broader market, “just continues to grow.” More

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    QR Codes Are Here to Stay. So Is the Tracking They Allow.

    Fueled by a desire for touchless transactions, QR codes popped up everywhere in the pandemic. Businesses don’t want to give them up.SAN FRANCISCO — When people enter Teeth, a bar in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, the bouncer gives them options. They can order food and drinks at the bar, he says, or they can order via a QR code.Each table at Teeth has a card emblazoned with the code, a pixelated black-and-white square. Customers simply scan it with their phone camera to open a website for the online menu. Then they can input their credit card information to pay, all without touching a paper menu or interacting with a server.A scene like this was a rarity 18 months ago, but not anymore. “In 13 years of bar ownership in San Francisco, I’ve never seen a sea change like this that brought the majority of customers into a new behavior so quickly,” said Ben Bleiman, Teeth’s owner.QR codes — essentially a kind of bar code that allows transactions to be touchless — have emerged as a permanent tech fixture from the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants have adopted them en masse, retailers including CVS and Foot Locker have added them to checkout registers, and marketers have splashed them all over retail packaging, direct mail, billboards and TV advertisements.But the spread of the codes has also let businesses integrate more tools for tracking, targeting and analytics, raising red flags for privacy experts. That’s because QR codes can store digital information such as when, where and how often a scan occurs. They can also open an app or a website that then tracks people’s personal information or requires them to input it.As a result, QR codes have allowed some restaurants to build a database of their customers’ order histories and contact information. At retail chains, people may soon be confronted by personalized offers and incentives marketed within QR code payment systems.“People don’t understand that when you use a QR code, it inserts the entire apparatus of online tracking between you and your meal,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Suddenly your offline activity of sitting down for a meal has become part of the online advertising empire.”“I’ve never seen a sea change like this that brought the majority of customers into a new behavior so quickly,” Ben Bleiman, Teeth’s owner, said of QR codes.Ulysses Ortega for The New York TimesQR codes may be new to many American shoppers, but they have been popular internationally for years. Invented in 1994 to streamline car manufacturing at a Japanese company, QR codes became widely used in China in recent years after being integrated into the AliPay and WeChat Pay digital payment apps.In the United States, the technology was hampered by clumsy marketing, a lack of consumer understanding and the hassle of needing a special app to scan the codes, said Scott Stratten, who wrote the 2013 business book “QR Codes Kill Kittens” with his wife, Alison Stratten.That has changed for two reasons, Mr. Stratten said. In 2017, he said, Apple made it possible for the cameras in iPhones to recognize QR codes, spreading the technology more widely. Then came the “pandemic, and it’s amazing what a pandemic can make us do,” he said.Half of all full-service restaurant operators in the United States have added QR code menus since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association. In May 2020, PayPal introduced QR code payments and has since added them at CVS, Nike, Foot Locker and around one million small businesses. Square, another digital payments firm, rolled out a QR code ordering system for restaurants and retailers in September.Businesses don’t want to give up the benefits that QR codes have brought to their bottom line, said Sharat Potharaju, the chief executive of the digital marketing company MobStac. Deals and special offers can be bundled with QR code systems and are easy to get in front of people when they look at their phones, he said. Businesses also can gather data on consumer spending patterns through QR codes..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-1rh1sk1{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-1rh1sk1 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-1rh1sk1 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1rh1sk1 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;}.css-1rh1sk1 a:visited{color:#333;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccc;text-decoration-color:#ccc;}.css-1rh1sk1 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}“With traditional media, like a billboard or TV, you can estimate how many people may have seen it, but you don’t know how people actually interacted with it,” said Sarah Cucchiara, a senior vice president at BrandMuscle, a marketing firm that introduced a QR code menu product last year. “With QR codes, we can get reporting on those scans.”Tom Sharon, right, and Jamie Sunderland, founders of Cheqout. Mr. Sharon said restaurants that used QR code menus could save 30 percent to 50 percent on labor costs.Ulysses Ortega for The New York TimesCheqout and Mr. Yum, two start-ups that sell technology for creating QR code menus at restaurants, also said the codes had brought advantages to businesses.Restaurants that use QR code menus can save 30 percent to 50 percent on labor costs by reducing or eliminating the need for servers to take orders and collect payments, said Tom Sharon, a co-founder of Cheqout.Digital menus also make it easier to persuade people to spend more with offers to add fries or substitute more expensive spirits in a cocktail, with photographs of menu items to make them more appealing, said Kim Teo, a Mr. Yum co-founder. Orders placed through the QR code menu also let Mr. Yum inform restaurants what items are selling, so they can add a menu section with the most popular items or highlight dishes they want to sell.These increased digital abilities are what worry privacy experts. Mr. Yum, for instance, uses cookies in the digital menu to track a customer’s purchase history and gives restaurants access to that information, tied to the customer’s phone number and credit cards. It is piloting software in Australia so restaurants can offer people a “recommended to you” section based on their previous orders, Ms. Teo said.QR codes “are an important first step toward making your experience in physical space outside of your home feel just like being tracked by Google on your screen,” said Lucy Bernholz, the director of Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab.Ms. Teo said that each restaurant’s customer data was available only to that establishment and that Mr. Yum did not use the information to reach out to customers. It also does not sell the data to any third-party brokers, she said.Cheqout collects only customers’ names, phone numbers and protected payment information, which it does not sell to third parties, Mr. Sharon said.At Teeth, customers can order food and drinks at the counter or via QR code menus. Ulysses Ortega for The New York TimesOn a recent blustery evening at Teeth, customers shared mixed reviews of the QR code ordering system from Cheqout, which the bar had installed in August. Some said it was convenient, but added that they would prefer a traditional menu at a fine dining establishment.“If you’re on a date and you’re whipping your phone out, it’s a distraction,” Daniela Sernich, 29, said.Jonathan Brooner-Contreras, 26, said that QR code ordering was convenient but that he feared the technology would put him out of his job as a bartender at a different bar in the neighborhood.“It’s like if a factory replaced all of its workers with robots,” he said. “People depend on those 40 hours.”Regardless of customers’ feelings, Mr. Bleiman said Cheqout’s data showed that about half of Teeth’s orders — and as much as 65 percent during televised sports games — were coming through the QR code system.“They may not like it,” he said in a text message. “But they’re doing it!” More

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    Silicon Valley’s Best Pandemic Ever

    As the world reeled, tech titans supplied the tools that made life and work possible. Now the companies are awash in money — and questions about what it means to win amid so much loss.SAN FRANCISCO — In April 2020, with 2,000 Americans dying every day of Covid-19, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and the world’s richest man, announced he was focusing on people rather than profits. Amazon would spend about $4 billion in the next few months “providing for customers and protecting employees,” he said, wiping out the profit the retailer would have made without the virus.It was a typically bold Amazon announcement, a shrewd public relations move to sacrifice financial gain at a moment of misery and fear. Mr. Bezos said this was “the hardest time we’ve ever faced” and suggested the new approach would extend indefinitely. “If you’re a shareowner in Amazon,” he advised, “you may want to take a seat.”At the end of July 2020, Amazon announced quarterly results. Rather than earning zero, as Mr. Bezos had predicted, it notched an operating profit of $5.8 billion — a record for the company.The months since have established new records. Amazon’s margins, which measure the profit on every dollar of sales, are the highest in the history of the company, which is based in Seattle.After stepping aside as chief executive early this month, Mr. Bezos flew to suborbital space for 10 minutes this week. Upon returning, he expressed gratitude to those who had fulfilled this lifelong dream. “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, ’cause you guys paid for all this,” he said.Mr. Bezos, who was not available for comment for this article, was the only chief executive of a tech company to enter zero gravity in his own spaceship in the past year. But Amazon’s pandemic triumph was echoed all over the world of technology companies.Even as 609,000 Americans have died and the Delta variant surges, as corporate bankruptcies hit a peak for the decade, as restaurants, airlines, gyms, conferences, museums, department stores, hotels, movie theaters and amusement parks shut down and as millions of workers found themselves unemployed, the tech industry flourished.The combined stock market valuation of Apple, Alphabet, Nvidia, Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook increased by about 70 percent to more than $10 trillion. That is roughly the size of the entire U.S. stock market in 2002. Apple alone has enough cash in its coffers to give $600 to every person in the United States. And in the next week, the big tech companies are expected to report earnings that will eclipse all previous windfalls.Silicon Valley, still the world headquarters for tech start-ups, has never seen so much loot. More Valley companies went public in 2020 than in 2019, and they raised twice as much money when they did. Forbes calculates there are now 365 billionaires whose fortunes derive from tech, up from 241 before the virus.Silicon Valley made the tools that allowed Americans, and the American economy, to survive the pandemic. People got their jigsaw puzzles, air purifiers and digital thermometers delivered by Amazon instead of picking them up two blocks or two miles away. The consumer economy swerved from local to national.Tech is triumphant in a way that even its most evangelical leaders couldn’t have predicted. No single industry has ever had such power over American life, dominating how we communicate, shop, learn about the world and seek distraction and joy.What will Silicon Valley do with this power? Who if anyone might restrain tech, and how much support will they have? Wealth and the ability to command and control tend to produce hubris more than modesty. As algorithms and artificial intelligence rearrange people into marketing groups, it’s uncertain — to put it politely — how aware the tech industry is of the potential for abuse, especially when it generates profits.With the House Judiciary Committee’s recent vote to advance a series of bills that aim to reduce the power of the most dominant tech companies, and with President Biden appointing regulators who have sharp views of Big Tech, these issues are finally set for a wider debate.It has been a tumultuous 18 months, and even the tech companies are having trouble absorbing what happened.PayPal, the digital payments company, had 325 million active accounts before the pandemic. It reported 392 million in the first quarter. “The winds were blowing in our direction, but we had to set the sails,” said Dan Schulman, the chief executive.The wind was so strong it blew tech into another universe of wealth and influence.The Pandemic’s TailwindIn March 2020, Redfin shut down its 78 offices around the country. Its stock lost two-thirds of its value. Shortly after, demand for real estate started rising again. Jordan Strauss/Associated PressOn March 13, 2020, Glenn Kelman, the chief executive of the online real estate broker Redfin, was biking to work when he got a call from Henry Ellenbogen, a longtime investor in Redfin who had started his own fund.At Harvard, Mr. Ellenbogen majored in the history of technology. One big thing he learned, he has said, was that technology is developed well in advance of people’s ability and willingness to use it.“Tell me something,” Mr. Ellenbogen asked Mr. Kelman, according to an account the chief executive posted on Redfin’s website. “When people start touring homes via an iPhone, won’t a lot of them decide, even after this whole pandemic ends, that this is just a better way to see houses? And if this whole process of buying and selling homes mostly goes virtual, how will other brokerages compete with you?”Mr. Kelman, a little preoccupied by how Seattle’s normally bustling streets were eerily empty, said he didn’t know.“I do,” Mr. Ellenbogen said. “The world is changing in your favor.”This was not a general view then, and it certainly was not what Mr. Kelman was experiencing. The first confirmed coronavirus death in the United States was a nursing home resident in a Seattle suburb on Feb. 29. Within hours, home sellers decided that maybe they did not want strangers breathing in their living room and bedrooms. Buyers began to pull out as well.For Redfin, that was the beginning of a crisis. Within a few days, it shut down its 78 offices around the country. Its stock plunged, losing two-thirds of its value.“The magnitude of the decline was increasing every day,” Mr. Kelman said. He agreed to sell Mr. Ellenbogen more stock for $110 million, thinking Redfin might need cash to make it through a long drought. In early April, Mr. Kelman furloughed 41 percent of the company’s agents, who were salaried employees. More than 1,000 people were affected.By that point, real estate was already turning around. Instead of killing demand for housing, the pandemic fueled it.“The economy split in two on about April 7, 2020,” Mr. Kelman said. “One part of the economy suffered greatly, but another did just fine — the people who said, ‘If the world is going to end in the virus-filled streets of New York, I’m going to Connecticut or Vermont or Maine and I need a house there.’ What we thought 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 people were urged and sometimes ordered to stay put in their homes, naturally companies whose very existence involves facilitating virtual lives benefited. The rise of the teleconferencing company Zoom as both a verb and stock market winner was perhaps the easiest call of the year.“Call it half luck — being in the right place at the right time — and half strategic tactics by companies recognizing this was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Dan Ives, a managing director at Wedbush Securities. “What for most industries were hurricane-like headwinds was a pot of gold for tech.”Even companies that might have seemed vulnerable to stay-at-home mandates did well. Airbnb is a company whose whole existence was about going to stay in strangers’ homes. The pandemic should have killed the buzz for its long-awaited public offering in December. But its stock price doubled on the first day of trading, giving the company a value of $100 billion.Tech companies like Redfin that reacted defensively in March risked being left out of the recovery in April. The 2020 housing market, pushed by pandemic demand and negligible interest rates, turned out to be the best since 2006.Those furloughed at Redfin were soon hired back. Mr. Ellenbogen’s deal proved extremely lucrative. But an estimated 10 million people are behind on the rent even as eviction moratoriums start to expire.Mr. Kelman, more introspective than most tech executives, feels a little queasy.“Tech used to be delivering these wonders to the world, and all of us in the industry felt the human uplift of general progress,” he said. “With the pandemic, fortunes have really diverged and at least some people in tech are really uncomfortable about that.”Pushing Back“We went from being pirates to being the Navy,” said Marc Andreessen. “People may love pirates when they’re young and small and scrappy, but nobody likes a Navy that acts like a pirate.”Steve Jennings/Getty ImagesThe biggest, and perhaps the only, threat to tech now is from government.Tech antitrust reformers say the government response to the pandemic, including the national eviction moratorium, repudiated decades of entrenched belief in a hands-off economic approach. Now, the activists say, they will have their moment.“When the government moved in a robust way to keep everybody afloat, free-market ideologies died,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research and advocacy organization that fights corporate control. “People now appreciate that the government can either make choices that centralize power and wealth or it can structure markets and industries in way that deliver benefits more broadly.”There are signs of pushback against tech that would have been unimaginable a few years ago, beyond the House bills. Ohio sued Google, saying it should be regulated like a public utility. The Teamsters, one of the biggest labor unions, passed a resolution to supply “all resources necessary” to help organize workers at Amazon. Lina Khan, who made her reputation as a critic of Amazon, was appointed Federal Trade Commission chair. On Tuesday, the White House said it would nominate Jonathan Kanter, a tech critic, to be the Justice Department’s top antitrust official.But there are signs of movement in the other direction, too. The F.T.C. and a coalition of state attorneys general saw their antitrust lawsuits against Facebook dismissed by a Washington judge last month. The F.T.C. can refile an improved suit by the end of this month.Any measures restricting tech will ultimately need public sentiment behind them to succeed. Even some of tech’s biggest supporters see the potential for worry here.“We went from being pirates to being the Navy,” Marc Andreessen, a central figure in Silicon Valley for a quarter-century, told the Substack writer Noah Smith in a recent interview. “People may love pirates when they’re young and small and scrappy, but nobody likes a Navy that acts like a pirate. And today’s technology industry can come across a lot like a Navy that acts like a pirate.”Beyond the threat of misuse of tech lurks an even darker possibility: a misplaced confidence in the ability of one loosely regulated sector to run so much of the world.Weeks before the pandemic, the RAND Corporation published a study on systemic risk and how a problem with one company can imperil others in its network. Systemic risk was a big issue in the 2008 financial collapse, when the government propped up some companies because their downfall might imperil the whole system. They were too big to fail.The research group investigated whether tech companies had supplanted financial firms as a key node in the economy, and if the economy was growing too dependent on them. Amazon, whose AWS cloud division has millions of customers, was highlighted.In December, RAND’s point was made when SolarWinds, which makes software that allows other companies to manage their networks, was revealed to have been infiltrated by Russian hackers. Since SolarWinds had so many clients, including Fortune 500 companies and federal agencies, the breach became one of the worst on record.Tech’s dominance means the risks are more concentrated than ever. There were problems at the security firm Cloudflare in July 2020, at Amazon in November, at the cloud provider Fastly last month and at the content distribution network Akamai on Thursday, all of which took down other sites at least briefly.These outages caused little concern.That’s typical of systemic issues, said Jonathan Welburn, a lead author on the RAND study. “Before 2008, when house prices kept rising and rising, no one wanted to hear how they were being artificially propped up and why that could be a problem,” he said.Pushing Forward“When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory is going to be,” IBM’s chief executive, Arvind Krishna, recently told the BBC.Brian Ach/Getty ImagesThe pandemic gave tech companies the power and the cash to make aggressive bets on their individual destinies. Buying another company was one way to do this. Global deal values in tech soared 47.3 percent in 2020 from a year ago.Zillow, a digital real estate company in Seattle, spent $500 million in February to buy ShowingTime, a scheduling platform for home showings. A few weeks later, Zillow said it would hire 2,000 people, increasing its work force by 40 percent.But its biggest bet will take longer to play out. Before the pandemic, Zillow discouraged working from home, like most companies. Then last summer, it said 90 percent of its employees could work remotely forever if they chose.At the time, Zillow was in the vanguard of a movement. Now the idea of the non-virtual office is re-exerting its pull with managers.Amazon says its plan “is to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.” Google asserted the same thing, although it backed off after workers rebelled. IBM says 80 percent of its employees will be in the office at least three days a week.“When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory is going to be,” IBM’s chief executive, Arvind Krishna, told the BBC.Zillow is something of an outlier. Even after a year of working from home, 59 percent of its employees told the company they planned to go into the office once a month or less.This may be the pandemic’s ultimate tailwind: not just the future coming much faster to your company, but actively pushing your company faster into the future. It is a risk that might be easier to undertake if your market value has suddenly tripled the way Zillow’s did.If Zillow is wrong about the future and employees are less bound to an office they visit only virtually, the company will stumble. If it is right, it will increase its workers’ loyalty and outdistance earthbound competitors.“The pandemic forced change on all of us,” said Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow’s chief operating officer. “We didn’t wish for it but now we’re learning from it.”More than a third of Zillow employees moved in the year that began in March 2020. Many moves were from one part of Seattle’s metro area to another, indicating a general reluctance not to get so far away from the office you could not drive there. But other employees dispersed to New Mexico, Mississippi and Alabama. Nine moved to Hawaii.“They liked their job but wanted to go somewhere else. That used to be a problem. Now it’s not,” said Viet Shelton, a Zillow spokesman who, as it happens, just moved to Manhattan from Seattle because he always wanted to live in New York.Now that employees no longer have to live where Zillow has an office, interest has swelled. More than 55,000 applied to work at Zillow in the first quarter, up 51 percent from the prepandemic level and about 10 applicants for every person employed there. Zillow has hired more recruiters to deal with the onslaught.Over at Redfin, the stock is up 400 percent from its pandemic bottom. Redfin paid $608 million in February to acquire a publisher of rental listings, its biggest deal ever. But while the company seems so rich, so successful, so lucky from the outside, it feels different within. Managing growth is almost as hard as managing a downturn.“Customers are clamoring for service and we can’t hire fast enough,” said Mr. Kelman. “Redfin never had a moment when it was absolutely and totally killing it, but I always imagined when we did that it would be more fun than this.” More

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    Job-Hunters, Have You Posted Your Résumé on TikTok?

    “Calling all recruiters!” Makena Yee, 21, a college student in Seattle, shouted into her camera in a recent TikTok video. “These are the reasons why you should hire me!”Ms. Yee went on to outline her qualifications. “I’m driven with confidence, I love keeping organized, I’m adaptive and I’m a team player,” she said, as images of companies she had worked for flashed up on a green screen behind her.The 60-second video quickly racked up over 182,000 views and hundreds of comments. Users tagged potential employers. “Someone hire herrrr!” one commenter implored. Ms. Yee said she had received more than 15 job leads, which she plans to pursue after a summer internship.In modern job searches, tidy one-page résumés are increasingly going the way of the fax machine. That may be accelerated by an app known for viral lip-syncing and dance videos, which is popularizing the TikTok résumé.

    Here are the reasons why YOU should hire me! Don’t be shy, let’s get in touch. #tiktokresumes #tiktokpartner ♬ original sound – MAKENA As more college students and recent graduates use TikTok to network and find work, the company has introduced a program allowing people to apply directly for jobs. And employers, many facing labor shortages, are interested. Chipotle, Target, Alo Yoga, Sweetgreen and more than three dozen other companies have started hiring people via the app.The TikTok résumé is central to these efforts. Job applicants submit videos with the hashtag #TikTokResumes and through to show off their skills, something like a personal essay of old. They include their contact information and, if they want, their LinkedIn profile. Employers review the videos, which must be set to public, and schedule interviews with the applicants they find the most compelling.The résumés are an effort to help young people “get the bag” and get paid, Kayla Dixon, a marketing manager at TikTok who developed the program, said in a statement.They are also an outgrowth of a part of TikTok called careertok, where people share job-hunting advice, résumé tips and job opportunities. Videos with the hashtag #edutokcareer have amassed over 1.2 billion views since TikTok was introduced in the United States in 2018.But the video résumés have also raised concerns. The format strips away a level of anonymity, allowing employers to potentially dismiss candidates based on how someone looks or acts. Much of the networking on TikTok also depends on amassing views, which can be hard for those who aren’t adept at creating content or who have struggled to get equal distribution in the app’s feed.TikTok is not the first social platform that companies have sought to leverage for recruiting. LinkedIn, the professional networking site owned by Microsoft, is heavily used by both job seekers and recruiters. In 2015, Taco Bell advertised internship opportunities on Snapchat, and in 2017, McDonald’s let people apply for jobs through a Snapchat tool known as “Snaplications.” That same year, Facebook began allowing companies to post job openings to their pages and to communicate with applicants through Facebook Messenger.TikTok is now taking it further with video applications, rather than a swipe up to a more traditional application page. Though TikTok résumés are open to people of all ages, top videos submitted through the hashtag are from Gen Z users, most of whom are in college. The app said over 800 applicants had submitted TikTok résumés in the past week.“Hiring people or sourcing candidates through video just feels like a natural evolution of where we are in a society,” said Karyn Spencer, global chief marketing officer of Whalar, an influencer company that recently hired an employee off TikTok. “We’re all communicating more and more through video and photos, yet so many résumés our hiring team receives feel like 1985.”

    @kallijroberts @tiktokplease accept this as my formal elle woods-style video application to be one of your interns! #fyp #internship #legallyblonde ♬ motive x promiscuous – elfixsounds Kalli Roberts, 23, a student at Brigham Young University in Utah, said the 2001 movie “Legally Blonde” had inspired her TikTok résumé. She recreated the famous application video that the main character, Elle Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon, submitted in a bid to attend Harvard Law School.“Please accept this as my formal Elle Woods style video application,” Ms. Roberts wrote in the caption. Her TikTok went viral, and she is now interning in TikTok’s global business department.“I didn’t feel like my personality or who I actually am was captured in my paper résumé,” Ms. Roberts said. TikTok let her showcase skills, like video editing and public speaking, that might have been line items on a written application, she said, adding, “I had 10 other companies outside of TikTok say, ‘If they don’t want you, we do.’”Many recruiters are looking beyond standardized applications online or through networking sites like LinkedIn, said Sherveen Mashayekhi, co-founder and chief executive of Free Agency, a start-up focused on hiring in the tech industry.“Cover letters aren’t being read and résumés aren’t predictive, so alternative formats are necessary,” he said. “Over the next five to 10 years, it won’t just be video. There will be these other assessments like games for the early stage of the hiring process.”TikTok’s headquarters in Culver City, Calif. The company said it had recruited several employees through videos submitted on the platform.Rozette Rago for The New York TimesSome companies said TikTok résumés were a useful way to evaluate candidates for public-facing roles. Chipotle has posted over 100 open positions to the app so far to hire restaurant team members, said Tressie Lieberman, the chain’s vice president for digital marketing.“We do real cooking in our restaurants,” she said. “We’re excited to see people’s cooking skills, whether it’s putting chicken on the grill, knife skills or people making guacamole at home and bringing those capabilities into the restaurant.”World Wrestling Entertainment is also using TikTok to recruit, said Paul Levesque, the WWE executive vice president for global talent strategy and development, who is better known as the wrestler Triple H. He said video résumés offered a better sense of an applicant’s personality, which is something the company values.“For us, it’s slightly different than a regular office position where you’re looking at someone’s background,” he said. “We’re really looking for charisma.”Shopify, an e-commerce platform, said it had started turning to TikTok to find engineers.“There are smart entrepreneurial technical people everywhere,” said Farhan Thawar, Shopify’s vice president for engineering. “We have this thing where if you can’t explain a technical topic to a 5-year-old, then you probably don’t understand the topic. So having a medium like TikTok is perfect.”Other employers raised questions about relying on virality to determine a candidate’s worthiness. Adore Me, a lingerie company, began experimenting with recruiting through TikTok in January. Chloé Chanudet, Adore Me’s chief marketing officer, said she worried about who got the most distribution in the feed.“Plus size or women of color are much more likely to not have their videos published or be under review for several days,” she said. “We have the same worry that their TikTok résumés may be biased from the algorithm.”TikTok said it “does not moderate content on the basis of shape, size or ability.”

    Tiktok do your thing! Check out ➡️ #TikTokResumes #TikTokPartner #productmanagment#jobsearch #graduated
    ♬ original sound – Christian �� Some Gen Z job hunters said they weren’t deterred. Christian Medina, 24, an aspiring product manager who graduated from college last year, said he had gotten six job leads since posting a TikTok video last month seeking a product management role.“Finding a job for a recent grad is almost impossible, and LinkedIn was not the most helpful for me,” he said. “I will definitely continue to use TikTok résumés.” More

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    Tech Workers Who Swore Off the Bay Area Are Coming Back

    SAN FRANCISCO — Last year, Greg Osuri decided he’d had enough of the Bay Area. Between smoke-choked air from nearby wildfires and the coronavirus lockdown, it felt as if the walls of his apartment in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks neighborhood were closing in on him.“It was just a hellhole living here,” said Mr. Osuri, 38, the founder and chief executive of a cloud-computing company called Akash Network. He decamped for his sister’s roomy townhouse in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, joining an exodus of technology workers from the crowded Bay Area.But by March, Mr. Osuri was itching to return. He missed the serendipity of city life: meeting new people, running into acquaintances on the street and getting drinks with colleagues. “The city is full of that — opportunities that you may never have expected would come your way,” Mr. Osuri said. He moved back to San Francisco in April.The pandemic was supposed to lead to a great tech diaspora. Freed of their offices and after-work klatches, the Bay Area’s tech workers were said to be roaming America, searching for a better life in cities like Miami and Austin, Texas — where the weather is warmer, the homes are cheaper and state income taxes don’t exist.But dire warnings over the past year that tech was done with the Bay Area because of a high cost of living, homelessness, crowding and crime are looking overheated. Mr. Osuri is one of a growing number of industry workers already trickling back as a healthy local rate of coronavirus vaccinations makes fall return-to-office dates for many companies look likely.“I think people were pretty noisy about quitting the Bay Area,” said Eric Bahn, a co-founder of an early-stage Palo Alto, Calif., investment firm, Hustle Fund. “But they’ve been very quiet in admitting they want to move back.”Bumper-to-bumper traffic has returned to the region’s bridges and freeways. Tech commuter buses are reappearing on the roads. Rents are spiking, especially in San Francisco neighborhoods where tech employees often live.Twitter reopened its headquarters in San Francisco on Monday. The company plans to open more offices in the Bay Area.Cayce Clifford for The New York TimesAnd on Monday, Twitter reopened its office, becoming one of the first big tech companies to welcome more than skeleton crews of employees back to the workplace. Twitter employees wearing backpacks and puffy jackets on a cold San Francisco summer morning greeted old friends and explored a space redesigned to accommodate social-distancing measures.London Breed, San Francisco’s mayor, said she welcomed the return of tech workers, though she acknowledged that it also brought challenges. “Yes, we need to do the work to build more housing and address the many challenges that big cities face, but San Francisco is successful when we have a growing economy, and that includes tech,” she said in a statement.No one is quite ready to declare that things have returned to normal. Ridership on Bay Area Rapid Transit remains low, and nearly half of San Francisco’s small businesses are still closed. Office vacancy rates are high. The city’s downtown is still largely empty on weekdays.But recent data supports the notion that tech workers are coming back. In an area near San Francisco’s Financial District, where tech workers tend to cluster, average apartment rental prices dropped more than 20 percent in 2020, according to census and Zillow data compiled by the city. That area saw the biggest price jumps in the city in the first five months of 2021.In the bayside ZIP code surrounding the San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park, where nearly 15 percent of residents worked in tech, average monthly rental prices dropped from $3,956 in February 2020 to about $3,000 a year later. They rose to $3,312 in May, according to Zillow data.“This could mean that tech workers are coming back, although it could also mean that other people, who also value those areas, are taking advantage of the lower rents to move in,” said Ted Egan, San Francisco’s chief economist.Median San Francisco home prices, which bottomed out at a still-jarring $1.58 million for a single-family home in December, recently hit $1.9 million, according to the California Association of Realtors. That’s higher than before the pandemic.Traffic this month on a highway leading toward downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge.Cayce Clifford for The New York TimesNearly 1.4 million cars drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco in May, the most since February 2020, and afternoon freeway speeds have dropped to about 30 miles per hour, which was the prepandemic norm, according to city data. Some types of crime are close to prepandemic levels.Rizal Wong, a junior associate at the tech and business communications firm Sard Verbinnen and Company, left the Bay Area in December, trading a studio apartment in Oakland for a cheaper one-bedroom in his hometown, Sacramento, close to his family. But after getting vaccinated, he moved to San Francisco in April.“I felt like I was getting back to my life,” said Mr. Wong, 22. “Meeting up with co-workers who were also vaccinated and getting drinks after work, it definitely makes it feel more normal.”Mr. Wong, like many who left the Bay Area, didn’t go very far. Of the more than 170,000 people who moved from the vicinity of San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland in 2020, the vast majority relocated elsewhere in California, according to United States Postal Service change-of-address data analyzed by CBRE, a real estate company.About 20,000 moved to the San Jose area, for example. A further 16,000 went to Los Angeles, nearly 15,000 to Sacramento and 8,000 to Stockton, in California’s Central Valley. The more than 77,000 people who left the San Jose metro area, a proxy for Silicon Valley, went to similar places: San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. In February, The San Francisco Chronicle reported similar numbers using Postal Service data.The net migration out of the San Francisco and San Jose regions — that takes into account people who moved in — was about 116,000 last year, up from about 64,000 in 2019, according to the analysis of the Postal Service data.Nearly every year for several decades, thousands more residents have left Silicon Valley and San Francisco than moved in, according to state data. Often, this movement is offset by an influx of immigrants from other countries — which was limited during the pandemic.Greg Osuri, center, and his employees meeting in their co-working space, Shack15.Cayce Clifford for The New York TimesThe majority of those who left the Bay last year, the real-estate firm’s analysis found, were young, affluent and highly educated — a demography that describes many tech workers. It’s a group that wants urban amenities like bars, restaurants and retail shopping, said Eric Willett, CBRE’s director of research.“That’s the group that left urban centers in large numbers,” he said. It is also the group “that we are increasingly seeing move back.”.css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}There were some prominent industry defections from the Bay Area over the last 18 months. Oracle and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise moved their headquarters to Texas. The software maker Palantir moved its headquarters from Palo Alto to Colorado. Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, said he was moving to Austin.“CA has the winning-for-too-long problem,” Mr. Musk wrote on Twitter in October. “Like a sports team with many championships, it is increasingly difficult to avoid complacency & a sense of entitlement.”Miami’s mayor, Francis X. Suarez, campaigned to lure tech workers to his city, and he was joined by some high-profile investors who said they had found a better life in South Florida. But the analysis of Postal Service data found that Austin was the 13th-most-popular destination for people leaving San Francisco. Miami was 22nd.Also not as well noticed in the exodus headlines: Oracle and HPE told most Bay Area employees that they would not need to leave.Now some companies are expanding their Bay Area footprints. Google said in March that it would spend $1 billion on California developments this year, including two office complexes in Mountain View. The company is also building a massive, mixed-use development that includes a 7.3-million-square-foot office space in San Jose. In September, Google will reopen its doors to employees. Most will come in three days a week.Twitter is also opening a 30,000-square-foot office in San Jose’s Santana Row this fall and an Oakland building next year, said Jennifer Christie, the company’s chief human resources officer.The share of Twitter’s work force in San Francisco declined to 35 percent last month, from 45 percent a year earlier, as the company grew quickly elsewhere, Ms. Christie said. But the total number of Bay Area employees is similar: about 2,200, compared with 2,300 last year.About 45 percent of employees at Twitter said they wanted to return to the office at least part time, Ms. Christie said, but she expects that number to grow. “I do think there’s a good number of people who still want to be in the San Francisco area,” she said.At Cisco Systems, a tech gear maker that is one of San Jose’s biggest employers, just 23 percent of employees want to return to the office three or more days each week. But many who prefer to work remotely will do so from nearby, said Fran Katsoudas, the company’s chief people officer. People have expressed a desire for work flexibility “more than a desire to have a different location,” she said.San Francisco’s Embarcadero, along the waterfront.Cayce Clifford for The New York TimesSome tech workers have found compromises — or at least a way to avoid long commutes. Annette Nguyen, 23, who works for Google’s ad marketing team, appreciated the outdoor space and lack of a commute when she moved from San Francisco last year to live with her parents in Irvine, Calif. She plans to return to the Bay Area in August, but will live near her office in Silicon Valley.“I couldn’t imagine spending three hours a day commuting anymore like I used to,” she said.Of course, some of the people who moved away are gone for good. Others are still in the process of leaving.Steve Wozniak, who founded Apple with Steve Jobs, said he and his wife had recently bought a house in a Denver suburb, Castle Pines, and would likely live there at least part time. He was eager, he said, to fulfill a lifelong dream of living close to the Colorado snow and away from the California crowds.“I don’t think people want to go back full time when they have the sort of job that can work well from home,” Mr. Wozniak, who currently lives in Los Gatos, Calif., said in an interview. “We’ve learned something that you really can’t take back.” More

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    Work at Home or the Office? Either Way, There’s a Start-Up for That.

    As more Americans return to an office a few days a week, start-ups providing tools for hybrid work are trying to cash in.SAN FRANCISCO — Before the pandemic, Envoy, a start-up in San Francisco, sold visitor registration software for the office. Its system signed in guests and tracked who was coming into the building.When Covid-19 hit and forced people to work from home, Envoy adapted. It began tracking employees instead of just visitors, with a screening system that asked workers about potential Covid symptoms and exposures.Now as companies begin reopening offices and promoting more flexibility for employees, Envoy is changing its strategy again. Its newest product, Envoy Desks, lets employees book desks for when they go into their company’s workplace, in a bet that assigned cubicles and five days a week in the office are a thing of the past.Envoy is part of a wave of start-ups trying to capitalize on America’s shift toward hybrid work. Companies are selling more flexible office layouts, new video-calling software and tools for digital connectivity within teams — and trying to make the case that their offerings will bridge the gaps between an in-person and remote work force.The start-ups are jockeying for position as more companies announce plans for hybrid work, where employees are required to come in for only part of the week and can work at home the rest of the time. In May, a survey of 100 companies conducted by McKinsey found that nine out of 10 organizations planned to combine remote and on-site working even after it was safe to return to the office.Providing tools for remote work is potentially lucrative. Companies spent $317 billion last year on information technology for remote work, according to the research company Gartner. Gartner estimated that spending would increase to $333 billion this year.An Envoy employee demonstrating how to use the software to book a desk.Lauren Segal for The New York TimesHybrid and remote work have the potential to benefit workers for whom office environments were never a good fit, said Kate Lister, president of the consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics. This includes women, racial minorities, people with caregiving responsibilities and those with disabilities, along with introverts and people who simply prefer to work at odd hours or in solitude.But she and others also warned that the move to hybrid work could make remote workers “second-class citizens.” Workers who miss out on the camaraderie of in-person meetings or the spontaneity of hallway chats may end up being passed over for raises and promotions, they said.That, start-up founders argue, is where their products come in.Rajiv Ayyangar, the chief executive and co-founder of Tandem, leads one of several software start-ups that have created desktop apps that help teams better collaborate with one another and that recreate the feeling of being in an office. He said Tandem’s product was trying to help with “presence” — the ability to know what one’s teammates are doing in real time, even if the worker is not with their colleagues in the office.Tandem’s desktop program, which costs $10 a month for each user, shows what teammates are working on so colleagues know if they are available for a spontaneous video call within the app. The list of user statuses automatically updates to let people know if their co-workers are on a call, writing in Google Docs or doing some other task.Pragli and Tribe, two software start-ups that have been around since 2019, also offer similar products. People can use Pragli’s product to create standing audio or video calls that others can join. It is free, though the company plans to introduce a paid product. Tribe’s software uses busy and available statuses to facilitate in-platform video calls; it is currently only accessible with an invitation.Owl Labs, a start-up founded in 2017, is also trying to tackle “presence.” It makes a 360-degree video camera, microphone and speaker that sits in the middle of a conference table and automatically zooms in on the person who is speaking.Owl’s 360-degree camera, microphone and speaker system is intended to remote workers to attend meetings seamlessly.Owl LabsThe company, which said its customers quadrupled to more than 75,000 organizations over the pandemic, said the $999 camera was a way for remote workers to participate in office meetings by being able to see everyone who is speaking, rather than the limited view enabled by a single laptop camera.Other start-ups, such as Kumospace and Mmhmm, said they were working on improving video communications for hybrid work. Kumospace, a video-calling start-up, structures calls so that users enter a virtual room. They then navigate the room using arrow keys and can talk to people when they are close to them.The design is meant to replicate in-person socializing, where people can mill around and have multiple conversations in the same room. That contrasts with a service like Zoom, where everyone is by default in the same conversation as soon as they enter the video call.Mmhmm, which was created by the founder of the note-taking and productivity app Evernote, Phil Libin, offers a variety of interactive video backgrounds, tools for sharing slideshows and other features for live conversations and asynchronous presentations. It has a free version and a premium version, which costs $8.33 per employee a month.Some companies said their products can help businesses understand their space usage as fewer workers come in needing desks. Density, a start-up in San Francisco, makes a product that uses custom depth sensors to measure how many people are entering an area or use an open space. Companies can then analyze that data to understand how much of their office space they are actually using, and downsize as necessary.Density also plans to offer other tools for hybrid work. Last month, it acquired a software start-up that provides a system for desk and space reservation.Envoy said its new Desks product had attracted 400 companies, including the clothing retailer Patagonia and the film company Lionsgate.Larry Gadea, chief executive of Envoy, at the company’s headquarters.Lauren Segal for The New York Times“The companies that use us get much more accurate data that’s standardized across all their offices globally,” said Larry Gadea, Envoy’s chief executive. “And then it’s around using that data to inform space planning things. Do we need more floors? Do we need more meeting rooms? Do we need more desks? Do we need more desks for this one team?”Lionsgate said it had used Envoy’s products since before the pandemic. When the coronavirus arrived, it turned to Envoy’s employee-screening software to provide health checks to those entering the office.Now, as more employees return to in-person work, the company is using Envoy to manage where everyone sits, as well as to track who is coming in. Lionsgate said the information can help determine how often teams will need to be in the office.“We’ll be able to know really how much space we need,” said Heather Somaini, Lionsgate’s chief administrative officer. “So I think it’ll be really useful.” More