The Inspiring Backstory of Eric S. Yuan, Founder and CEO of Zoom
“The first time I applied for a U.S. visa, I was rejected. I continued to apply again and again over the course of two years and finally received my visa on the ninth try.”
I had the great privilege to interview Eric S. Yuan. Eric is the founder and CEO of Zoom. Prior to founding Zoom, he was Corporate Vice President of Engineering at Cisco, where he was responsible for Cisco’s collaboration software development. Eric is a named inventor on 11 issued and 20 pending patents in real time collaboration
Yitzi: Thank you so much for your time, Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I first envisioned Zoom when I was a freshman in college in China and regularly took a ten-hour train ride to visit my girlfriend (who is now my wife). I detested those rides and used to imagine other ways I could visit my girlfriend without traveling — those daydreams eventually became the basis for Zoom.
I decided to come to the U.S. in the mid ’90’s because of the Internet, which I knew was the wave of the future. It was red hot here, but hadn’t yet taken off in China. The first time I applied for a U.S. visa, I was rejected. I continued to apply again and again over the course of two years and finally received my visa on the ninth try.
I arrived in Silicon Valley in 1997 and joined WebEx, which at the time was a real-time collaboration company with about a dozen employees. The company grew very quickly and went public within several years of my arrival.
In 2007 WebEx was acquired by Cisco and I became Cisco’s Corporate VP of engineering, in charge of collaboration software. I often met with customers, and in my conversations with them learned they weren’t happy with the current collaboration solutions, including WebEx. I firmly believed I could develop a platform that would make customers happy, so in June of 2011, I decided it was time to make the video communications solution I imagined during my college train trips a reality.
More than 40 fellow engineers followed me in my new venture. We launched the Zoom platform in 2012. Now, a little more than five years later, we’ve hosted over 20 billion annualized meeting minutes (up from 6.9B last year) and our customer base includes 1/3 of the Fortune 500 and 90 percent of the top 200 U.S. universities
Yitzi: What is the funniest or most interesting story that happened since you started your company?
During the early stages of Zoom, I personally emailed every customer who canceled our service. One customer replied to my note and accused me of sending auto-generated emails “impersonating” the CEO — he said Zoom was a dishonest company! I wrote back that the email was indeed from me, and that it wasn’t generated by one of our marketing tools. He still didn’t believe me, so I wrote back again and offered to meet him on a Zoom call right that minute to prove it was me writing the emails. That call never did take place, but he stopped accusing Zoom of being dishonest!
Yitzi: What does your company do?
Zoom is an enterprise-grade, affordable, all-in-one platform for video conferencing, audio conferencing, web conferencing, and IM/presence. It works on mobile and desktop devices, and in conference rooms. Its affordable, easy to use and is very scalable, so it can support collaboration groups of as few as two and as many as 500 people, all on video (we also have a video webinar platform that supports streaming to unlimited audiences).
Zoom gives organizations and individuals a faster way to communicate relative to audio-only, chat, and email meetings, and it’s not restricted by geography, so employees have more flexibility to work from home. Because it lets people meet face-to-face, and provides support for screen sharing, it’s truly a collaboration catalyst, and helps build teams across geographies. Zoom has a remarkably wide range of uses. In fact, Zoom is being used today by developers to write code together, by physicians to diagnose patients, by educators to conduct classes, lawyers to mediate or interview witnesses, and by actors to conduct virtual rehearsals.
Yitzi: How have you used success to bring goodness to the world?
Zoom’s success as a solution has brought much good to the world. By allowing people to meet face-to-face, it reduces isolation and increases team cohesion. Studies have shown that body language and facial expressions account for as much as 70% of communication, so in that regard, Zoom supports better communications. Zoom is often used to help people. For example, it’s used by Project ECHO to bring healthcare to rural environments around the world, and in education it allows students who couldn’t otherwise make it to class to “be there” via Zoom.
Zoom has also brought goodness to the world as an organization — that’s because our culture centers on happiness and caring. In fact, one of Zoom’s core values is “Care.” We expect our employees to care about the community, the company, their teammates, customers, and themselves. We don’t want our Caring philosophy to be a one-off that is explained in employee training and then never discussed again, so it is posted on the wall of Zoom’s lobby in every location, it is a common refrain in our all-hands meetings, and it is the core of the work at Zoom.
We help ensure that Zoom is made up of caring people starting with the hiring process. At that point, we evaluate candidates on whether we believe they can embrace the value of Care and deliver happiness for others. If they embrace our core value of Care, and want to deliver happiness, then they will be self-motivated and will work harder for their teammates and their customer.
Yitzi: What are your “five things I wish someone told me before I launched my start-up” and why?
1. Although the start-up journey is long and tough, it’s also fun and exciting. Don’t be afraid to start — just go for it!
2. You don’t need to hire the people who are the most qualified on paper; instead you should hire those with self-motivation and a self-learning mentality.
3. Your company’s culture is the #1 most important thing to get right. Everything else flows from there.
4. If your employees are not happy, nothing else at your company will go well.
5. Find the investors who want to invest in you, not only in your business.
Yitzi: Who would you like to have breakfast or lunch with and why?
My father. My beloved father passed away just two months after I told him I was going to start a company. Whenever I make progress in my career, I wish I could share the news with my father.
Yitzi: This was really an inspiring story. Thank you so much for sharing it!