Zoom, Zoom, Zoom! The Unique Inside Story Of The New Billionaire Behind Tech’s Hottest IPO – Forbes


Zoom CEO Eric Yuan reduce an unlikely determine as he addressed the cheering throng within the moments earlier than ringing the opening bell at Nasdaq, his bashful grin giving option to a glance of focus as he stated, “A brand new recreation begins as we speak.” Positive, his startup wasn’t as well-known as Lyft and Pinterest, two client firms that additionally simply made their IPO debuts. However to anybody acquainted with Yuan, the shock wasn’t how he obtained there. It’s that he was bodily current in any respect.

Because the founding father of Zoom, which gives video conferencing software program over the web, Yuan practices what he preaches. After Yuan employed lots of of engineers in his native China, he went three years between in-person visits. When he raised cash from high enterprise capital traders, he confirmed up simply as soon as, to verify each investor within the room had downloaded the Zoom app. For his IPO street present, Yuan deigned to make the 50-mile trek from his San Jose headquarters to San Francisco for a single investor lunch—after which bolted again to work. Everybody else, cash supervisor huge or small, met with him nearly, over Zoom. When Yuan flew to New York for the IPO, it was simply his eighth work journey in 5 years. 

“Prospects have at all times stated, ‘Eric, we’ll develop into your crucial buyer, you’ve obtained to go to us,’” says Yuan. “I say, ‘Tremendous, I’m going to go to you, however let’s have a Zoom name first.’” That’s normally sufficient.

It labored with Wall Road, the place demand for Zoom (formally generally known as Zoom Video Communications) prompted the corporate to boost its IPO worth to $36 per share, valuing the corporate at $9.2 billion—and making Yuan a brand new billionaire at age 49.  The inventory’s 72% first-day pop boosted Zoom’s market cap to $15.9 billion and the web price of Yuan, who owns 20%, to $three.2 billion. All for video-conferencing instruments that didn’t reinvent the wheel, simply made it rather a lot much less painful to show. An engineer-turned-founder who as soon as ran engineering for Cisco’s Webex video-conferencing enterprise, Yuan got down to make instruments that work equally effectively in a board room in Manhattan or from a kitchen desk in China. Constructed within the cloud and priced utilizing a “freemium” mannequin that permit anybody host a gathering of 40 minutes or much less totally free, Zoom now posts numbers that had Aaron Levie, CEO of Field (a buyer), tweeting it might begin a second enterprise promoting its “lovely” monetary numbers as a espresso desk e book. 

Zoom founder Eric Yuan likes to make use of his video software’s digital backgrounds to seem in places from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to the seashore in Santa Barbara, the place Zoom maintains a satellite tv for pc workplace.

Ethan Pines for Forbes

With annual income of $331 million, up 118%, Zoom was the ultra-rare tech unicorn to make its IPO debut with a revenue, boasting 50,000 company prospects, together with Samsung, Uber, Walmart and Capital One. Its sudden fame—emanating from its IPO—is a brand new really feel for a corporation that takes its cues from a CEO who not solely shuns the highlight, however is so frugal he insists on reimbursing Zoom when he provides a buddy swag like a Zoom backpack. Beneath the belated buzz: a narrative of perseverance and higher execution, proving that an surprising challenger can sweep the sector, even in a crowded market.

With hypergrowth comes threat, in fact, and Zoom nonetheless should show it could possibly proceed to finest its opponents: large firms, like Google and Microsoft, that scared off most enterprise traders in Zoom’s early days eight years in the past. Cisco, Yuan’s former employer, might privately rue letting him depart, nevertheless it’s not shying away from a battle. And whereas Zoom has the goodwill of a lot of the tech group, with companions like Atlassian, LinkedIn and Slack, its inevitable transfer past video means its checklist of opponents is prone to develop. Ringing the Nasdaq bell checks off one dream for Yuan. There are loads extra to go. “It’s like a marathon,” Yuan says of his ambitions to attach the working world like Fb did with shoppers—which might make Zoom even greater than Cisco. “You’re solely 5 miles forward of me, that’s okay. I’ll run sooner than you, and I’ll nonetheless catch up.” 

For Yuan’s first entrepreneurial act, he burned down his neighbor’s cottage. The son of mining engineers in China’s japanese Shandong Province, in fourth grade Yuan began gathering building scraps to recycle their copper for money. When the younger hustler found the power wanted solely the metallic, he tried to burn away the additional materials in a rooster shack behind his neighbor’s home. To his horror, firefighters needed to come put out the blaze. Yuan says with typical understatement: “My mother and father had been actually upset.”

At Shandong College of Science & Expertise, Yuan studied utilized arithmetic and laptop science after which, at age 22, obtained married whereas pursuing his Grasp’s diploma. Already satisfied he’d begin an organization sometime, and fascinated by entrepreneurs like Invoice Gates, he set his sights on the U.S. tech growth. Simpler stated than executed: After U.S. customs requested for an English-language model of his enterprise card, it listed Yuan as a advisor, and he was misunderstood to be a part-time contractor. His visa was denied. For the following yr and a half, the now-skeptical immigration providers would deny him seven extra occasions. However Yuan refused to surrender. “I informed myself, okay, nice. I’ll do all I can till you inform me that I can by no means come right here anymore. In any other case, I’m not going to cease.” 

In the summertime of 1997, Yuan joined two-year-old Webex, primarily based in Milpitas, California. As a younger worker, Yuan would normally code all evening on a Friday, then go play a pickup soccer recreation on no sleep on Saturday afternoon. Driving the exuberance of the dot-com bubble and with video-conferencing instruments profiting from sooner web speeds, Webex went public in July of 2000 and was acquired by Cisco for $three.2 billion in 2007. Not lengthy after, Cisco tapped Yuan to steer Webex’s engineering group. However by 2010, Yuan was sad. The issue, based on Yuan: The service merely wasn’t excellent. Every time customers logged on to a Webex convention, the corporate’s techniques must determine which model of the product (iPhone, Android, PC or Mac) to run, which slowed issues down. Too many individuals on the road would pressure the connection, resulting in uneven audio and video. And the service lacked fashionable options like screen-sharing for cell.

Zoom executives wave to employees via Zoom on Nasdaq's tower on the day of its IPO.

Zoom executives, traders and household wave to staff who joined the Nasdaq IPO ceremony remotely by way of Zoom video on its April 18, 2019 IPO.

Nasdaq, Inc.

“Sometime somebody goes to construct one thing on the cloud, and it’s going to kill me,” Yuan informed Invoice Tai, a enterprise investor who grew to become one of many first backers of Zoom. After a yr of pestering his bosses to let him rebuild Webex, Yuan gave up and determined to go away Cisco in 2011. “Cisco was extra centered on social networking, making an attempt to make an enterprise Fb,” he says. “Cisco made a mistake. Three years after I left, they realized what I stated was proper.”

The largest hurdle: convincing his spouse, who noticed him throwing away a profitable job managing 800 individuals. “I informed her, ‘I do know it’s a protracted journey and really arduous, but when I don’t strive it, I’ll remorse it.’” 

First Yuan requested buddies, together with fellow traders in a client video app known as Tango, to put in writing him $250,000 checks so he might pay 30 engineers (some in China) to work on a brand new thought: create higher expertise for video communications, then work out what app to construct on high. Largely due to their religion in Yuan, the traders, together with former Webex CEO Subrah Iyar, gave him $three million for his startup, which was then known as Saasbee. “Everybody in enterprise capital thought it was a horrible thought,” says Jim Scheinman of Maven Ventures, who as certainly one of Zoom’s first backers got here up with its present identify.

Inside months, Yuan realized he wished to focus on the video conferencing enterprise once more. The VCs had motive to be skeptical. With Microsoft proudly owning Skype, Google out there by way of Hangouts and Cisco nonetheless main in market share, video conferencing had entrenched incumbents; there have been additionally a number of startups, together with the well-funded BlueJeans Community. “It will require flawless execution to win,” says one investor who handed on Zoom. Even at Qualcomm Ventures, which led Zoom’s $6 million Collection A funding in 2013 alongside Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang, there was “plenty of inner debate,” says accomplice Quinn Li.

From rundown workplaces in Santa Clara, with an oft-broken elevator and a mission-crucial video digital camera perched atop an affordable fridge, Yuan and the U.S. members of his group quietly labored on their product for practically two years. When Zoom launched, it had a number of key variations from the group. Its light-weight Net shopper might work out virtually immediately what sort of machine you had been utilizing, which means Zoom didn’t want totally different variations for Mac or PC. It additionally supplied a software program layer that shielded any bugs that is likely to be launched when a browser like Chrome, Firefox or Safari pushed an replace. Zoom might function even at 40% knowledge loss, so it might nonetheless work on a spotty or sluggish web connection. And at $9.99 per host monthly ($14.99 as we speak), it undercut its rivals. Zoom customer support chief Jim Mercer was then working at competitor GoToMeeting when a colleague opened a Zoom account to see what the hype was about. “One click on, we had been in, and there have been 25 feeds of members on the similar time,” he says. “We had been like, ‘What is that this voodoo? How are they doing it?’ ”

After elevating one other $6.5 million from Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures, Zoom raised a $30 million spherical from Emergence Capital in 2015 (Li, Hong Kong’s richest particular person, stays a frequent person of the software, a rep says). Quickly after, Zoom started to focus on bigger company shoppers. Yuan surprised companions at Emergence when he confirmed up for his pitch assembly and promptly insisted each investor obtain the Zoom app and be a part of him for a reside video convention of the presentation, accomplice Santi Subotovsky says. Yuan shocked them once more when, approached by massive companies that yr, he warned these potential prospects Zoom’s options won’t be prepared for his or her enterprise. However after scooping up most of the fast-growing firms in its yard in Silicon Valley, like Field, Slack and Uber, Zoom broke out of tech in 2016, and now manages accounts comparable to Hole Inc. and Williams-Sonoma. 

At Phoenix Kids’s Hospital, workers attend conferences, host surgical case conferences and work with sufferers over Zoom. Aggravated with a extra difficult predecessor, Phoenix Kids’s examined Zoom for practically 4 years and now has 464 staffers registered on it. For teenagers who’re dealing with lengthy stays, the hospital has supplied them Zoom accounts and iPads to fulfill with one another in digital help teams and assist them attend faculty with out immunological threat. “Being out of faculty for too lengthy, it could possibly result in them not graduating,” says Rachel Dunagan, an A/V tech on the hospital. “With Zoom, they are often reside within the room, interacting with the lesson and their class. It retains them in a position to take part. It’s been implausible to date.”

By the point Sequoia backed Zoom in a $115 million Collection D spherical in early 2017, valuing the corporate at $1 billion, the famed enterprise agency had been preventing to get a chunk of it for greater than two years. “We had been going by all of the due diligence, and I keep in mind saying there should be a thousand Eric Yuans on the earth, as a result of everybody we spoke to, they knew Eric, huge or small,” says Sequoia accomplice Carl Eschenbach. 

Yuan’s secret for being in all places: Zoom, in fact. His behavior of taking a very powerful conferences nearly began due to basketball. A diehard NBA fan since transferring to the U.S., first of the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant for his work ethic after which of his native Golden State Warriors, Yuan made a degree of attending each certainly one of his three children’ basketball video games and gymnastics meets. One distinctive Zoom function is a digital background the person can change to point out a brand or picture, disguising the place they are surely. Final summer time, his eldest son, now a graduating highschool senior who set the native league file for three-point pictures, had a match in Los Angeles. “I set the background because the Santa Barbara seashore, and so they all thought I’m there. After the assembly, I swipe,” revealing a sweaty high-school gymnasium. “They usually all say, ‘What?’ ”

Golden State Warriors athlete Andre Iguodala invested in Zoom after meeting Eric Yuan.

Golden State Warriors athlete Andre Iguodala invested in Zoom after assembly Eric Yuan at a Forbes Cloud 100 occasion.

Bessemer Enterprise Companions

Yuan’s love of basketball led him to make room for a star investor from his beloved Warriors final yr, nevertheless it was veteran function participant Andre Iguodala, not a flashier star like Steph Curry or Kevin Durant. “We had an important dialog on how my recreation pertains to his enterprise, doing the little issues proper,” Iguodala says. The sensation, each say, is mutual: respect for an expert who wins by placing group earlier than ego.

Two months earlier than the IPO, Yuan walks by the gross sales and engineering departments of Zoom’s newer San Jose headquarters. The elevators lastly work on this one, nevertheless it’s nonetheless considerably dingy, the results of Yuan’s resolution to prioritize an area near the Caltrain and lease it pre-furnished to save lots of on prices. It’s the Chinese language New Yr, and Yuan fingers out little purple envelopes to any worker who appears to be like up, calling out most by identify. “Don’t open this,” he tells one group with the smirk of a dad teasing his children. “After we depart, then you definitely open them. It’s some huge cash!” For Zoom’s 1,700 staffers as we speak, a lot of whom grew to become multimillionaires in Zoom’s IPO, the payoff is a gag: one crisp, “fortunate” $2 invoice.

Yuan’s public-facing thriftiness serves a secondary message: What issues at Zoom is the product, not the perks. He shares his workplace together with his product chief and previous buddy Oded Gal, a fellow Webex veteran he employed away from BlueJeans Community three years in the past. However you’ll seldom discover Yuan there. A number of occasions a yr, the CEO takes a brief desk with a group he desires to give attention to by sitting side-by-side, marking his selection with two small household portraits and a stack of books to provide out. Yuan’s been with the engineers since Zoom introduced a voice product in October, now known as Zoom Cellphone. It’s certainly one of a number of main product traces Zoom has touted in current months, alongside an replace to its convention room bundle known as Zoom Rooms. Although an rising variety of Zoom’s customers log in by way of smartphone–one out of six as we speak, Yuan says–many huge corporations nonetheless rely on hardwired convention rooms. Zoom gives the software program; companions like Dell, Logitech and Polycom provide the TVs, cameras and audio system. It’s a transfer Yuan thinks is strategic to successful over large-size prospects whose CEOs spend plenty of time in digital conferences.

A mentor as soon as informed Yuan the IPO can be like graduating from highschool. “You go rejoice at some point, and that’s it,” Yuan says. “You don’t need highschool to be the height of your efficiency, proper?”

Although Zoom isn’t making hardware, its bundle smacks of the stuff offered by Yuan’s ex-employer, Cisco. There’s some irony to that, as final yr Cisco shook up its Webex unit—it now appears to be like extra like Zoom. It reorganized below a brand new chief, Microsoft veteran Sri Srinivasan. His mission: revitalize Cisco’s collaboration merchandise, with video conferences certainly one of a number of elements. And he’s completely satisfied to throw some shade. “Zoom is apples and oranges,” Srinivasan says, and provides “fledgling” options past its core desktop-to-desktop video instruments. “They’ve executed a fairly good job in their very own proper, with a bunch of borrowed sources from Webex.”

A revitalized Cisco—in addition to Google, Microsoft and even doubtlessly Apple and Amazon—threatens Zoom simply because it did in its early days. Whereas Zoom has claimed to work with at the very least 90 of the Cloud 100—Forbes’ unique rating of the highest non-public cloud firms—some companies like Sony have resisted the transfer to Zoom as too difficult to arrange at massive scale. At some companies like GM and Verizon, groups use a number of options that don’t embody Zoom in any respect. Others like Ford use Zoom, however just for a handful of individuals. Even at Qualcomm, which owns a chunk of the corporate, you’ll discover Cisco and Microsoft. “Individuals simply have an answer they already pay for,” Qualcomm Ventures’ Li says.

Zoom's virtual backgrounds are a key feature to its video conferencing tools.

Zoom’s digital backgrounds conceal messy workplaces — permitting customers to select the place they appear to seem, from the golf course to the Las Vegas Strip.


As Zoom provides options and bigger accounts, with some firms concurrently internet hosting hundreds of individuals throughout a number of chats, the corporate will must be cautious to not reduce corners and harm the product. In January, Zoom suffered a high-profile service outage, which it blamed on Amazon Net Companies, however all individuals noticed was that Zoom’s app didn’t work.

“It’s like a restaurant,” Yuan says a couple of related glitch with a third-party vendor. “When a buyer walks right into a restaurant, till they depart, the complete expertise must be nice. You’ll be able to’t blame something on anybody else.”

However, in fact, it could possibly reduce each methods. When Fb went down in March, the New Zealand Home of Representatives streamed its committee conferences over Zoom as a substitute of Fb Reside. And per its regulatory submitting with the SEC earlier than going public, Zoom famous greater than half of the 500 largest firms in America had at the very least one paid seat on Zoom, however few had signed massive contracts, suggesting an avenue for vital gross sales down the street. 

Then there’s the worldwide market, the place Zoom did simply 18% of its enterprise in its final fiscal yr. Enlargement into markets with essentially the most demand for Zoom—the UK, Japan, France, Germany and Australia—presents a pure future angle of assault. Zoom is furthest alongside in Canada and is learning it for its subsequent part of progress. And after Yuan, ever thrifty, spurned the possibility to purchase the Zoom.com tackle within the firm’s early days, choosing the cheaper Zoom.us, Zoom quietly acquired it final yr for $2 million, a site that would show useful in disassociating the corporate from the U.S. in sensitive abroad markets.

China stays a wild card. Zoom has greater than 500 engineers there, uncommon for a U.S. firm. However China is an unproven marketplace for the enterprise enterprise, Yuan says. Nonetheless, Zoom’s worker foothold within the nation and Yuan’s private connections would recommend that if any firm could make the bounce, it might be Zoom—potential privateness considerations apart.

If Zoom hopes to develop into as huge as Cisco sometime—the San Jose-based firm booked $49 billion in gross sales final fiscal yr, and its inventory is buying and selling close to a 20-year excessive, producing a market capitalization of about $250 billion—it’s going to doubtless want to supply way over video within the years to return. Voice-only calling was doubtless simply the primary in a spread of options Zoom might add in additional in communications, comparable to standalone messaging and file sharing merchandise. One doubtless space for a much bigger push: knowledge. Zoom already connects prospects to different providers to file and transcribe its convention calls and assist gross sales reps flag phrases or patterns of interplay that may recommend a deal is shut, from a perfect time to talk or the period of a name. Related instruments might assist entrepreneurs, product builders and customer support reps study from their Zoom conferences sooner or later, too. And Zoom has highly effective buddies for that push, as long as it doesn’t compete an excessive amount of. Enterprise software program leaders Atlassian and Salesforce each have invested instantly and others, like LinkedIn, have made it a most well-liked accomplice.

Within the meantime, don’t count on Yuan to let his newfound billionaire standing go to his head. He might drive a Tesla, however solely as a result of he sees the corporate as rather a lot like Zoom—it’s designed in a different way and it’s sooner below the hood (plus Tesla is a buyer, too). Again in his cubicle the Monday after the IPO, he’ll preserve trawling the Zoom Twitter account for buyer testimonials to retweet. And he’ll count on staff, who turned out all over the world for the IPO ceremony to wave to their boss over a reside feed in Occasions Sq. utilizing—what else?—Zoom to observe his lead. A mentor as soon as informed Yuan the IPO can be like graduating from highschool. “You go rejoice at some point, and that’s it,” Yuan says. “You don’t need highschool to be the height of your efficiency, proper?”

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