Business

How Eric Yuan Became A Billionaire That Insane Year And Managed To Meet An Unexpected Demand

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This article has been translated from our English edition.


How Eric Yuan Became A Billionaire That Insane Year And Managed To Meet An Unexpected Demand
How Eric Yuan Became A Billionaire That Insane Year And Managed To Meet An Unexpected Demand

It was Monday morning in mid-March. The California schools were remote and the daughter of Eric Yuan She had settled in for the first day of her new routine. Then she turned to him and asked him, like children with parents everywhere, for help using Zoom.

“She never asked me a question Zoom! “says Yuan. I wasn’t expecting it either, even though he’s the company’s founder and CEO.” When we started Zoom, the goal was to serve corporate and commercial customers. I never thought my daughter would have to use Zoom “.

At that point, Yuan knew that his world was going to change. This tool, which he had built and which was once reserved for corporate communications, became a defining part of everyday life. His job was no longer just building a big company. The next step was to ensure that his company was doing justice to this unusual but crucial moment. And it wouldn’t be easy.

Few could have predicted Zoom’s stellar turnaround, as Yuan was the underdog for much of his career. He emigrated from China to Silicon Valley 1997 after eight visa refusals. He got a job at Webex, taught himself English, and eventually came up with an idea for a simpler, more user-friendly video conferencing system. Nobody seemed excited; Investors told him the market was full. So he created a screensaver on his computer that said, “You’re wrong” to inspire himself and keep going. “It’s very small, but it gives you a compelling reason,” he says of this news now. “You have to do all you can and work as hard as you can to prove otherwise.”

Finally, he did just that: Zoom went public in 2019 and catapulted Yuan into a billionaire. Even before the pandemic, Zoom peaked with just 10 million participants per day. In April that number rose to over 300 million.

“Everyone at Zoom, including myself, is very excited,” he says. “Because after many years of hard work we see, wow, we can really help people.” But he knew it would be difficult. The company’s resources would be exhausted. You’d need to hire quickly, make sure you can meet the demand, and respond to issues you hadn’t previously considered or faced.

Image: Grace Rivera

Yuan says he was confident, and not just because of the decisions he made todaybut because of the preparatory work he had set up many years earlier. When he started the company, he said, “I was wondering what kind of company I would like to work for in the next 10, 15 or 20 years.” His answer was simple: he wanted a company that would make him happy. Then adjusted accordingly. “One thing we always tell our staff is,“ Every morning when you wake up, the first thing you should ask yourself is, ‘Am I happy or not? ”He says. If you’re happy, get to the office quickly. If you are not feeling happy, you can stay at home. “

Happiness has become the guiding principle of corporate culture, he says. More than 100 employees work as volunteers in the “Glücksteam”, which organizes events for team members. The company is also looking at ways Zoom can spread happiness, for example by providing free service to more than 100,000 elementary schools around the world.

“I don’t have to put pressure on my team,” he says. “You know what to do. We’re taking this opportunity to transform our business. “

As the pandemic and user growth skyrocketed, Yuan took a moment to consider what he had. Here were the benefits: he trusted his team and his product architecture was robust and scalable. But problems arose. The increased subscriber growth quickly exceeded the Zoom servers. So he held daily meetings to focus on capacity and kept adding new data centers. (Zoom now uses 19.) Newbies in the hundreds of millions weren’t always sure how to use the product. So Zoom quickly expanded its customer service team to answer any questions.

In April, security concerns threatened to define the company. Zoom had many bugs, including one that allowed hackers to eavesdrop on conversations or even appear in other people’s chats, known as “Zoom Blitz”. As a result, many large corporations and government agencies stopped using Zoom, and a wave of negative news followed. But inside the company, Yuan says, he had a simple plan of action: react quickly and not hide anything. Vulnerabilities could be overcome, but a secret response from the company could be fatal.

“Users are pretty smart,” he says. “If you keep everything open and transparent, you will quickly see that Zoom is a company I can trust.”

From April 1 to July 1, Yuan asked his team to focus solely on security and privacy functions. They fixed the bugs and hired them quickly – they hired a new CIO in June, as well as many new safety engineers and outside experts to test the bugs. Zoom has also launched weekly webinars where users can ask questions. And he posted regular updates on his blog. By May, the New York Schools Department and many others had returned to Zoom, and user growth continued. Yuan’s strategy had worked.

From there, the Zoom team improved their product more generally. Any business can learn from its users, but Zoom had an unusual feedback channel: besides listening directly to consumers, it also heard about the mainstream culture where Saturday Night Live’s jokes were centered on, for example, people You Didn’t Know they turned off the microphone while zooming. “When Tom Hanks appeared on Zoom, my hero, I was like, ‘Wow, this is great,'” says Yuan. But he also took it seriously. “We cannot take every comment for granted.”

Image: Grace Rivera

Even if the number of daily Zoom participants increased, Yuan said the company didn’t need to change the way comments were collected. There was already a system in place to record and review user inquiries and a team trained to further analyze their complaints. “People tend to tell us what to do, they tell us the solution,” he says. “We want to take a step back and understand the pain point.” Sometimes a consumer’s suggestion may not be correct, but that doesn’t mean their problem is unsolvable.

This process led to numerous adjustments over the course of the year. For example, in August Zoom released new filters, lighting, and improved noise reduction. In September, it was announced that users could pin multiple videos and educators were given new tools like a virtual seating map. And in October, at Zoom’s annual (and now virtual) Zoomtopia event, he announced improved integration with apps like Asana and Slack, a marketplace for selling events online through Zoom, end-to-end encryption for free and mobile users. Payment and more.

As Yuan looks to the future of his business as well as virtual communication, he sees great improvements. He hopes that at some point artificial intelligence will translate the voice in real time so that people who speak different languages ​​can have live conversations over Zoom. And he says Zoom could end up creating a perfect, concise summary of each meeting after it happened. “With technology, we can remove the physical barriers, but also the cultural, linguistic and emotional barriers,” he says.

“Two people, no matter where they live, can build trust and understand each other with one click.”

And how does Zoom get there? Just like how he survived this 2020, he says. When a company has a strong culture, product architecture, and the ability to respond to consumer needs, it can adapt to any challenge.

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