Meet the founder of Zoom
Hi Eric, thank you so much for joining me. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
No problem! It is great to have this opportunity to chat. I’m Eric S. Yuan, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Zoom.
Inspiration is always a great indication of why people launch businesses. Who or what inspired you to get started?
For a long time, I had the idea to build a video conferencing solution that people would love and this has been a long-time passion of mine. This vision was fuelled by my experiences when I was at college in the late 80s in mainland China, where I was born. It took me over 10-hours (each way) by train to visit my girlfriend (who later became my wife). I really wanted an easier way to see her face-to-face without the arduous travel. This became the driver for my long path from student to entrepreneur.
Moving forward a few years, I immigrated to San Jose, CA in 1997. There, I secured a position as one of the founding engineers at a small start-up called WebEx. I spent 14 years with WebEx, and it’s with some pride I can say I grew the team I managed from 10 engineers to more than 800 worldwide, while also contributing to revenue growth from $0 to more than $800M.
However, when speaking with WebEx customers, it became apparent to me that the solution suffered from some fundamental issues due to its older architecture; we often heard customer concerns about the lack of usability, reliability and video quality. In short, it was hard to use and it didn’t work. It was clear to me that Cisco needed to rebuild WebEx from the ground up – and by that I mean from the back-end architecture through to the user interface and the sales model.
Although I shared my concerns with Cisco’s leadership, sadly they didn’t listen. Therefore, I struck out on my own in 2011. Luckily, dozens of WebEx’s most talented and visionary engineers soon joined me. Working together, we spent the next two years building Zoom 1.0, a unified video and web conferencing software solution developed to run seamlessly across mobile, desktop devices and conference room systems. Since then, we’ve developed the product into the best video communications software in the world and built a global team of over 1,000 passionate people.
How do you set yourself apart from other businesses in your industry?
While many companies talk about this, we have a genuine focus on happiness; happiness for our customers, staff and partners. It isn’t some trite mission statement, but something that genuinely underpins our approach to all our stakeholders. Happy employees achieve great things for themselves and their customers. That’s why I’m keen to encourage an open dialogue so that if a customer or employee isn’t happy they have an open and fair platform from which to discuss this; but a platform to discuss an issue is meaningless if there isn’t a sympathetic ear to listen, so our focus on happiness filters through the company from the top. I’ve made it my objective to make sure people – customers, staff and partners - are happy.
How did you fund the launch of your business and what creative strategies did you use to execute a minimal cash flow?
For the first round of funding, I’m immensely grateful that my friends and my family believed in my vision and passion for Zoom and I guess that they believed in me, too. They helped kick start it, and I am indebted to them for the support and loyalty that they showed since those early days. We did run very lean in the early days. We focused on our resources on engineering well before we staffed up on sales and marketing because we knew we had to get the product and the end user experience to be as high quality and easy as possible before we started selling at scale. And even when we did begin to scale, we have been very careful about what teams we grown and when.
Who is your target audience?
In short, we’re looking at companies of all sizes.
How do you believe the evolution of tech will affect your industry over the next 10 years?
I think we will see some profound changes driven by the development of Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality. These technologies are evolving at the same time that the Internet of Things and Machine Learning are becoming ever more sophisticated. To that end, we will see smarter devices and services that will make tech and man-to-machine interfaces more advanced. Accessing and using information, data, services and products, should help make life easier and more productive, both personally and professionally. All in, I think this will be beneficial when it comes to meeting experiences. AR will make virtual meetings more engaging and interactive, and AI can reduce time spent on activities such as note taking and scheduling.
Recharging every so often, especially as a parent and entrepreneur is important. How do you recharge when you’re feeling burnt out?
Because I love what I do, I don’t delineate a clear line between work and life. The idea of recharging from work or finding a work-life balance doesn’t appeal to me because work is an exciting part of my life. That said, when I’m not working, I am focused on my children. In particular, I always make time to watch my oldest son play basketball. In fact, I have made a promise to see him play at every game, so I can be there to see his achievements and share his successes in a sport he loves. To give further time to my family, I promised my wife that I will not travel for work unless is absolutely necessary. I travel only once or twice a year. Ironically, this promise is made easier to honour thanks to our video communications services.
What are your thoughts on networking to build your business?
Don’t underestimate the value of networking. I would encourage people to approach it with the same zeal as they would any new business opportunity. Networking certainly helped me build not just relationships, but also friendships. Today, the network I have built helps me across many aspects of the business. Take hiring – you can’t beat a good referral from someone in your trusted network.
What would be your top marketing tip, to grow a business that is so niche, yet incredibly timeless?
Take care of your current customers, make sure they’re happy, and the rest of your business will fall into place. Listen to your customers, and build an authentic brand around their experience of your product. That’s why “Meet Happy” works, because we make sure our customers are happy. And you can bet that if someone isn’t happy, we’re going to listen and make it right.