Corporate Innovation

Innovator Series: Top 5 Insights from Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom

Alexis Clarfield-Henry
Jun 30, 2020
min read

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The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work overnight. Companies across the globe, small and large, were forced to shut their doors and continue business remotely for the foreseeable future. After a few weeks time, many were pleasantly surprised by their increase in productivity.

As a result, companies that would never have considered remote work an option prior to the pandemic are now open to more flexible working options, and many tech companies have announced a move to 100% remote, distributed teams.

The success we’ve seen with remote work so far has been, in large part, due to Zoom’s video conferencing solution. People all over the world have turned to Zoom for work meetings, making the technology the talk of the town. New phrases like “Zoom fatigue” and “Zoom exhaustion” have even been popularized due to the hours people are spending on the platform.

And the numbers show it. In the first week of June, Zoom had what might be the biggest beat-and-raise in the history of Wall Street – 169% growth YoY, $328M in Q1 revenue.

While a lot of that growth was driven by this abrupt transition to remote work, it is also due to the adoption of Zoom for many areas outside of work, from school to telemedicine to play dates, birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, working out, and nightclubs. Even the Queen is using Zoom now!

However, since Zoom was never intended for life outside of the office, this unforeseen overnight shift in use cases brought the company into the spotlight. They faced some pretty hefty challenges when it came to their security, which wasn’t ready for this new user base.

We spoke with Eric Yuan, Founder and CEO of Zoom, about this momentous shift for the company. We dug into the lessons Eric learned through COVID as well as during his nine years leading Zoom, and what the future of work, and Zoom, could look like. Here are the top 5 insights we uncovered:


1. Company culture is extremely important for crisis

Company culture and values are extremely important to get through challenging times and Eric believes that founders should define that from day one. “Zoom started with mostly engineers, so I wanted to make sure our company values were simple and memorable,” Eric recounted. “So, our company value is just one word: Care. That means that every single day we care about the community, our customer, our company, our teammates, and our service.”

Eric told us that this culture of care is what got them through the recent security crisis. “If you have built a good culture, then you can thrive through a crisis. At Zoom, everyone worked super hard through it. I did not get a single complaint from any employee. They told me: Eric, we are all behind you.”

In a nutshell, set values from day one, and keep them simple. This will help you thrive through a crisis, which every startup will have to go through at some point in their journey.


2. When your user base changes, so must your product

Zoom was originally built to support Enterprise customers and the product was tested, secured, and adopted to this audience. However, the user base quickly expanded to everyday life outside of the office — social gatherings, special occasions, fitness classes, educational courses, and more –– and the technology wasn’t ready for this.

“Overnight the user base changed, but our practices and processes remained the same,” Eric explained. Security features, for example, were put in place for the Enterprise use case. That part of the product wasn’t right for the new influx of use cases and the company came under intense scrutiny, forcing the team to refocus all efforts into updating privacy and security.

Eric advises that when a user base changes, the company needs to immediately look at their processes, product, and practices and make any necessary changes. “You cannot assume that what you have in place will work for the new user base.”

Going forward, the plan for Zoom will be to pivot to become a platform company, and give third party developers and startup companies a way to build applications on top of the platform, solving for the many new video conferencing use cases that require different features and functionality. There will be a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurs here!


3. Leaders need to balance hands on with strategic work

In every founder’s journey there comes a time when they need to step back, delegate work to others, trust they’ll do a good job, and focus on the bigger picture. Eric talks about this shift as one of his personal challenges and lessons during the growth of Zoom.

“I’ve learned a lot over the past 9 years and it’s been a struggle to balance hands on work with broader strategic work,” Eric explained. “During my first years at Zoom, I was extremely hands on — maybe too hands on. Later, some of my mentors told me that it’s time to shift my focus to look at the bigger picture, our next steps, our growth strategy and risk factors. It was really hard for me – I knew I needed to change, I just didn’t know when to make that change”. It took him until recently to finally let go.

Eric gives advice to entrepreneurs to “think about one thing at the start of every year: is this the right time for me to transition from a very hands on CEO to more strategic?”

4. Balance potential leaders with overqualified leaders

One of the key ways for founders to make that transition from hands on to strategic is who they hire to hand over those responsibilities to.

As Zoom grew, Eric built a team of leaders, but he tended to air on the side of leaders with potential rather than those that had done it before time and again. He talked about how this was a big lesson he learned:

“In the early days I always wanted to hire leaders with great potential and then to stretch them and groom them. My mentors told me I should be hiring more overqualified leaders as well.”


5. Remote work could pose mental health issues

With so many companies pivoting to a fully distributed workforce, we asked Eric if he thought working from home would become permanent. Eric explained that from a productivity perspective, working remotely works. However, he believes that there could be a negative effect on mental health, and believes we’ll see an increase in anxiety, depression, and loneliness if we don’t balance it with in-person work.

“Mental resilience is so critical, and if we continue to all work from home that will be a real issue,” Eric told us. “The new workplace will hopefully be a hybrid, where some people work from home, some from the office, and some people both.

While it is Zoom’s vision to create a better-than-in person experience, Eric thinks that we need to be careful. He firmly believes in current and new apps that help with these issues.

It’s suffice to say that Zoom is helping to shape the future of work, a new normal that is partly remote, digital-first, and asynchronous. And with that future comes opportunity and challenges. Overall, Eric believes that the future is bright and is going to allow us to have a better, more diverse, more global workforce. And there will only be more opportunities for future entrepreneurs given the big changes happening!


To see a full transcript of this conversation, click here.



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