The way the world communicates has been permanently altered because of COVID-19. While the pandemic will leave deep scars on the global economy, it has also allowed some companies to shine. Remote work and digital communications are helping businesses simplify their operations, helping employees take back some time by avoiding needless commutes and in-person work meetings, and expanding consumer access to services.
1. Teladoc Health: Reshaping visits to the doctor
The idea of "going to the doctor" was totally turned on its head last year. With COVID-19 spreading quickly, anywhere with crowds was rendered unsafe -- including doctors' offices. Fortunately, video conferencing provided a solution for patients in need of non-emergency consultation. Millions of households around the globe were introduced to remote care for the first time, and it turns out that many of those households like the service.
I've been a believer in Teladoc for a few years now, and the future looks better than ever for this leader in telemedicine and digitally enhanced healthcare services. A slew of new competition trying to cash in on medical video and teleconferencing has surfaced, but Teladoc is still the clear leader in this nascent industry and has already established a global presence. If basic teleconferencing does get commoditized by all of the competitors vying for a slice of the pie, Teladoc has already differentiated itself with a broad set of 450 medical specialties and subspecialties available.
The acquisition of Livongo Health in late October also broadens Teladoc's scope to encompass continuous medical monitoring using digital data. Livongo's personalized programs got off to a fast start helping patients living with diabetes, but it has been scaled up to also provide connected care and coaching for hypertension and mental health. The possibilities to address other chronic conditions abound. I think this is a great fit with Teladoc's early lead in telemedicine and will help improve patient access to healthcare professionals.
Not all investors are convinced, though, and many have expressed particular concern that Teladoc's recent growth (revenue increased 79% through the first nine months of 2020) isn't sustainable in 2021. I agree a slowdown is likely, but that doesn't mean this stock should be passed up. Teledoc is on track to reach $1 billion in annual revenue for the first time and is trading for 20 times trailing-12-month sales, but it's only just beginning to scratch the surface of a global healthcare industry worth trillions a year in spending. This digital communication specialist has plenty of room to make further headway.
2. Bandwidth: An enabler of video conferencing you've never heard of
Zoom Video Communications (ZM -0.71%) became a household name in 2020, and shares skyrocketed nearly 400% higher. But Bandwidth, which counts Zoom and other video conferencing and digital communications services among its customers, remains a mostly unknown business.
That's not to say this company did poorly. On the contrary, Bandwidth stock put up a more than respectable 140% increase in 2020. Revenue grew 35% year over year to $230 million through the first nine months of 2020, and the company is nearing profitability as it reaches greater scale. Turning the corner from being an unprofitable business to a profitable one can lead to dramatic upside for a small company like Bandwidth, and investors were optimistic that corner is in sight.
But why does this company remain in obscurity while other video conferencing services command the limelight? Primarily, Bandwidth operates a portfolio of software that can be embedded into an application to enable voice, messaging, and 911 calls. Thus, while you may have never heard of Bandwidth, there's a good chance you've made use of its technology.
As more organizations find themselves in need of some digital age updates, I think Bandwidth will find new outlets for its subscription-based software. And even after the big run-up in share price last year, this stock remains a reasonable value given its potential growth at just under 13 times trailing-12-month sales. Forget Zoom and other video conferencing stocks, I think Bandwidth is the better buy in this space in 2021.
3. Asana: A newcomer in work collaboration
Remote work has created new challenges for workforces. While many workers have said the added flexibility in work scheduling has been nice, collaborating with teammates hasn't been so easy. Collaboration platforms that combine chat, video, and document sharing like Microsoft Teams and Slack have been hot commodities as a result. Because of this future-of-work dynamic, Slack is being acquired by cloud computing pioneer salesforce.com (CRM -2.08%).
Entering the fray is workplace collaboration specialist Asana, which debuted as a public company back in September. The software company has been doing well since the IPO, with shares up 18% since it started publicly trading. Asana was built for project management and task coordination. Basic functions are free to use and the platform integrates with other digital communication tools to create a central hub for remote teams to stay in touch with each other during the workday. Given the remote workplace is on the rise, suffice to say this has quickly become a popular communications tool.
The company reports having over 89,000 paying customers and millions more that use Asana for free. This could provide a solid base from which to expand in the years ahead. Case in point: In its first quarterly update as a public concern, Asana said customers spending more than $50,000 a year had more than doubled from a year ago to 318, and total revenue increased 55% from a year ago to $58.9 million. This is a small company, but a fast-growing one. It also received some validation of its long-term potential from Salesforce's big purchase of Slack.
However, at 32 times trailing-12-month sales, this is the priciest stock on this list. Asana is also operating at a loss right now as it prioritizes maximizing growth over profitability. It has flexibility to do so, though, with $424 million in cash and equivalents on the books as of the end of October 2020. That's a few years' worth of liquidity at the current rate Asana is spending down its cash horde. While a loss-making business aggressively promoting use of its collaboration software may not sit well with all investors, remote work collaboration is sure to be part of the new normal. I think Asana is thus worth a serious look for investors willing to be patient with this cloud-based communications stock for at least a few years.