Coronavirus lockdown: Meet Eric Yuan, the man behind Zoom

ST STAFF
Thursday, 2 April 2020

Zoom has existed for some time. But now we find it an integral part of our lives. The video conferencing application is now the most downloaded Android App in India, dethroning the popular likes of WhatsApp, Instagram and even TikTok.

In the 1990s, Eric Yuan, still in his teens, would make ten-hour long trips to meet his girlfriend, who later became his wife. He would see her twice a year and hoped what if he could just click and button to see and talk to her. The idea of video-conferencing occurred to him back then. It’s often the ideas stemming out of personal experiences that make the difference. 

Decades later, Yuan is a billionaire and doing a great service to the pandemic-hit world with the video-conferencing application, Zoom. 

Zoom has existed for some time. But now we find it an integral part of our lives. The video conferencing application is now the most downloaded Android App in India, dethroning the popular likes of WhatsApp, Instagram and even TikTok. Yes, even TikTok whose popularity has only skyrocketed in recent times. 

Zoom’s growth can be largely attributed to the coronavirus lockdown that has given a sharp rise in work from home. The application has made conferencing easy as it’s the only app that allows more than ten people to join a conference. It’s a vital work tool for teams large or small to continue their daily workflows with marginal disturbance.

During these times of social-distancing, the Zoom users have also moved beyond business. From a child’s playdate to online parties, Zoom is catering to a lot of wish-lists. 

Yuan wouldn’t have made it to the United States in the first place. His visa application was rejected eight times before he was allowed to move to California. The country is now reaping benefits from his prowess and of course, taxes. He lives in a wealthy Silicon Valley suburb with his wife and their three kids.

CISCO DAYS
During his tenure as the VP at Cisco, he had worked on WebEx that was acquired by the telecom equipment company in 2007. He had realised by then that people weren’t satisfied with the video-conferencing services. His idea was to develop a podium that would make customers happy. 

In 2011, Yuan pitched the company of a smarter video-conferencing system that was smartphone-friendly. His bosses were more focused on creating another Facebook. He left Cisco and Zoom came into its shape. 

He founded Zoom with 40 other engineers from the same organisation. The big hurdle was convincing his wife. Not only was it a lucrative job, but Yuan was also managing 800 people. He was prepared for the tough road and told his wife that he didn’t want to regret things by not trying it. 

An engineer par excellence, Yuan’s marketing skills are underrated. Till three years after Zoom’s launch, the application didn’t have a great response due to marketing failure. Yuan himself dedicated his days for customer service process. He replied to every user of the app who had queries regarding the service. Yuan has been nothing short if not consistent in his confidence in the control of video communications in the business globe.

Yuan practises what he preaches. Even while raising money from venture capitalists, he would visit them just once to ensure if they had Zoom in their systems. Rest of the time, it was meeting him virtually, over Zoom. Yuan’ New York trip for the IPO was his eighth work trip in five years!

He told Forbes, “Customers have always said, ‘Eric, we’ll become your very important customer, you’ve got to visit us,’ I say, ‘Fine, I’m going to visit you, but let’s have a Zoom call first.’ That’s usually enough.” 

Yuan had become a billionaire after Zoom’s initial public offering in April 2019. However, the net worth of 49-year-old skyrocketed 112% to US$ 7.57 billion in the past three months. While Zoom and Yuan’s worth keeps scaling, it has also ballooned his work hours with a severe rise in usage. 

Yuan was always an entrepreneur at heart. Born in Shandong, China, his first entrepreneurial act led to burning down his neighbour’s cottage. 

Yuan was in the fourth grade when he started collecting construction scraps to recycle their copper for cash. An article in Forbes describes the incident: “The son of mining engineers in China’s eastern Shandong Province, in fourth grade Yuan started collecting construction scraps to recycle their copper for cash. When the young hustler discovered the facility needed only the metal, he tried to burn away the extra material in a chicken shack behind his neighbour’s house. To his horror, firefighters had to come put out the blaze.” 

Quite understandably, his parents, who were mining engineers, were upset. 

Every technology has a shelf-life and Zoom is making every effort in its bid to better the overall experience. These are still initial days for an enhanced experience with augmented reality, but Yuan isn’t resting at one milestone. He believes every success milestone is graduating one step ahead. He once famously told, "You don’t want high school to be the peak of your performance, right?”

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