“If you have a virtual team, you still need to collaborate to get the work done, so you have got to have good communication tools”, said Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom. “When it comes to communication tools, I would say only four [are essential]. One is email, another one is chat, a third one is a voice call, the fourth one is video.”
The year was 2011, and the business world was beginning to digitalise. People started looking to software to fulfil their needs, and just like any free market, solutions arrived one after another. An application for video conferencing, another for sharing your desktop and PowerPoint, another for cloud-based phone calls, and another after another emerged.
Problem was, while people used one platform after another out of necessity, the users were not happy. The experience was not enjoyable nor user-friendly. Worse still, the players in the industry had no way to improve on their current offerings, as their products were not meant to perform the way the future of work was to be imagined.
Yuan recalled, “I did not see a single happy customer who would tell me, ‘Hey, we’re really enjoying your solution.’ So meaning all the solutions back then, I would say, were terrible, no matter which solution. Because most of them were built for other purposes. None of them was built to embrace cloud-based video collaboration. So that’s where I saw the opportunity.”
This inspired the birth of Zoom.
After being inspired by a 1994 speech by Bill Gates, Yuan realised that with just an app, or an application browser, the possibilities were infinite. It was then he embarked on his journey to capture the wave of the internet that had yet to take off, and joined WebEx to write code.
Over the next 14 years, the self-driven developer continued to immerse himself in the culture and grew in the industry through open communication - a skill he picked up from his mentors.
“You have got to make sure you have open, transparent communication,” said Eric. “But quite often people say. ‘Oh, there is a language barrier’, but I think that this is a bad excuse. Instead, you need to figure out the root cause. I think Silicon Valley is a pretty open culture. If you work hard, you achieve a lot of things and when you communicate with others, you will be promoted.”
Having spent more than a decade in the company, Yuan loved his product but felt it was lacking. People were not happy, and he knew that if he wished to play a part in the future of the internet, to create a future for people working digitally, he had to create his own solution.
The Birth of a Game-changing Tool
Zoom, in its initial years, ran the risk of being drowned out in an oversaturated video conferencing market. But its saving grace was its impressive usability - it worked, and well. It did away with the bells and whistles: it needed no login, no installation and no additional software. With all its focus directed at providing a technology that worked in low and unreliable networks, the tool was simply godsent for the future of work.
Looking back on the thought process, Eric had this to say: “Between video and audio, audio is still more important than video. Even if I can see you, but if your audio is choppy, nobody is going to use that. So essentially, we prioritise audio traffic over video traffic.”
His rationale was to ensure that Zoom worked, even in areas with poor internet connection which affected video streaming. “Even at a data loss rate of 45 or 55 per cent, we still can recover, we still can make sure your audio stream works.”
From walking to running, and eventually, “Zoom”ing
Adoption of the technology in its starting days was slow yet steady. The first customers were from the education sector, a strategic move on the company’s part, as the user-base began entering the workforce as the company and its users grew.
Gradually as companies started to adopt digital workflows and become cloud-based, the demand for Zoom grew. Eventually, it began to play a crucial part in businesses and enterprises. With a rising trend of video collaboration, real-time communication becomes imperative. For instance, during a software demonstration with clients and customers, you need real-time video collaboration. This is where Zoom came in.
“Looking at today’s workplace, there will be more conference rooms, fewer offices,” Eric noted. “That is why, when you have more and more conferences, you need to have a solution. You have to have a cloud-enabled video collaboration solution to keep it sustainable. That’s why I think video is going to play a very big role to enable the modern workplace.”
While the consumer market has been small to date, Yuan continues to be adamant that the future of Zoom remains ad-free, and essentially geared towards providing an enjoyable product to users. Basically, you can take comfort in knowing that you will not be assaulted with advertising while on an important business meeting.
Looking at today’s workplace, there will be more conference rooms, fewer offices. That is why, when you have more and more conferences, you need to have a solution. You have to have a cloud-enabled video collaboration solution to keep it sustainable.
— Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom
A balance between catering their product to enterprises and SMBs has to be struck, and Zoom seems to have found a sweet spot. With security features, enterprise elements and more, the tool is more than anyone bargained for - and at the end of the day, its success lies in making a product that just works. And that’s the core of it all.