Talking to Rajan Anandan, President, TiE Delhi-NCR and MD, Sequoia Capital during the India Internet Day 2020 event, Yuan said, “I was 27 and Corporate Vice President of Cisco-WebEx. It was a year before I left the company when in the feedback we came to know that WebEx did not have a single happy customer. So I felt embarrassed. The WebEx Cisco collaboration wasn’t a good service to customers.”
He added that he tried to rebuild the platform, but it was really hard and he wasn’t able to convince his colleagues. He had also pitched in a smartphone-friendly conference video system, but Cisco didn’t take the proposal. This is when he decided to leave the company and start Zoom.
“The goal was simple, a better service bringing happiness back to these customers,” he said.
In 2011, Yuan and his team for Zoom had realised that video communication was emerging tool in the Internet era and were convinced that it will become a mainstream service in the future.
“That’s why when we started; we wanted to make sure our architecture is right. It was the first cloud-based video architecture in the world. We wanted to make sure that we can scale our business to have a customer base of millions, to be able to leverage the public cloud like Amazon, Oracle Cloud,” he said.
The conversation then veered into Zoom’s growing popularity when the pandemic and work from home culture began. During the period, Zoom also faced a bit of backlash for security and privacy concerns. Addressing the challenges regarding security issues, Yuan said, “Zoom was built to cater to the business customers and we’ve brought a lot of security features to address the concerns. This pandemic completely changed our user base dynamics, we had a lot of first time users but we have never served K-12 students before, so we decided to give free services to a lot of schools as part of our corporate social responsibility. We served it to more than 100,000 schools in 25 countries, including India.”
He added, “We had a good intention. As a CEO, the biggest mistake I made was not realising that there were no IT security features in the school packages, most of them did not have to enter any meeting ID or password. I realised that we have to offer not only the package, but has also played a role in IT security. We then enforced a proper meeting ID, passwords to ensure their privacy is protected.”
When asked what were the top three challenges of starting up a business back then, Yuan stated that the first challenge was to maintain your mental balance. “You have to be open minded and trust yourself, sometimes you have got to be a little stubborn. The other reason why I left Cisco WebEx was that I tried to do the next generation business. Many of my friends told me- ‘Eric, don’t do it. If you do anything else, our check is ready for you to start any business, rather than other video conferencing service’,” he said.
He acknowledged that the market was too crowded and was conflicted for a while as to whether he should listen to friends or go with his guts. “So to balance your thoughts is the first challenge. I finally went with my intuition,” he said.
The second challenge he mentioned was the speed of goals and patience. “Sometimes you are in a hurry to show progress to your investors and VC friends. You want to grow as quickly as possible. But here, you forget about long term, your architecture was probably built in a way to scale up further but not with that speed. Therefore, the balance between goals and patience is necessary. Sometimes, when you are going too fast, take a step back. As a foundation, we will struggle, but will also get a second chance,” he said.
The third challenge he talked about was how to maintain and keep the company happy socially. “As a CEO, my priority is to make sure our employees are happy, so that we can make sure our customers are happy,” he said.