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The man who zoomed into corona billions

By Wainaina Wambu | December 23rd 2020

Eric Yuan (pictured), the founder of Zoom, didn’t reinvent the wheel. He somehow perfected it and became a billionaire while at it.

In just under a year, his firm is now worth over $120 billion, beating decades-old tech titans such as IBM.

Tired from taking day-long trips to see his future wife, Yuan envisioned a video conferencing software that has emerged as one of the biggest winners of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its success has been propelled by remote-working and distance-learning, which have now become part of everyday life.

How did Yuan overthrow established giants like Microsoft which now owns Skype, Google and Cisco? How can you create a “Zoom” moment for your business.

1. He created a simple, user-friendly product or service

When Eric Yuan founded Zoom, his goal was to serve enterprise and business customers.

One would think that such a product would be sophisticated with an interface best understood by corporate clients and techies. Well, if you have used Zoom, you know that it is easy to set up, engage in and navigate.

It has now become the go-to even for learning institutions, business meetings, long distance calls and even yoga classes.

“When we created Zoom, the goal was to serve enterprise and business customers. I never thought about my kid having to use Zoom,” said Yuan in a media interview.

2. Persistence paid off

Persistence is the classic ingredient for any business success. Eric Yuan is no different.

Born in China, he had dreams of going to US’s Silicon Valley, the home of tech companies. This was in the 1990s after he heard Bill Gates speak about the internet.

However, he faced so many obstacles to get to the US and was denied a visa to the country nine times.

Prospective investors Yuan approached were skeptical of his idea. And they had reason to as the field had entrenched competitors such as Microsoft’s Skype and Teams, Google Hangouts and Cisco. But this did not deter him and he stuck to his guns.

Last year, after its Initial Public Offering (IPO), Zoom became the most valuable tech company to be listed at the New York Stock Exchange in 2019.

3. Don’t be afraid of change

Confident of the power of his vision. In 2011, Eric Yuan quit Cisco where he’d risen to be vice president of engineering. But he quit to follow his passion.

So convincing was his vision of a video conferencing software that over 40 engineers from Cisco followed him to the new start up.

A few years down the line, the company has almost 2,000 employees with its revenue this year expected to hit $2.5 billion.  

According to global media reports, Zoom revised its full-year financial forecast for a third time. 

4. Do what makes you happy

This might sound cliché but worth repetition – follow your heart. As a top executive at Cisco, Eric Yuan was making “very high six figures” but was largely unhappy.

“Every day, when I woke up, I was not very happy. I even did not want to go to the office to work,” Yuan told American broadcaster CNBC. To make matters worse, Yuan noticed that the video conferencing app he’d built for the firm was also not making customers happy.

So in 2011, it hit Yuan that if he wanted to make a product that changed user experience he’d had to leave the comfort of his well-paying job.

So he left, Zoom was born and the rest is history.

5. Take on the big boys

Same year that Zoom was formed in 2011, Bill Gate’s Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion. Skype was the go-to for all internet calls, and it was controlling one of the biggest market shares.

With the pandemic, Skype was bound to be the winner having been around for almost two decades.

But Zoom, less than half its age has rendered Skype almost obsolete.

Zoom simplified video conferencing and in turn has wrestled the crown from titans.

This goes to show that customers are always in search of alternatives and the market sometimes is never too crowded.  

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