If you work in the tech industry, chances are you have used Zoom video conferencing before. My first encounter with Zoom was when Grace, a high school friend who works at Uber requested me to use the software for a video conference call. As with all users, I was initially reluctant as I wanted to stick to using Skype or Google Hangout. However, the video call experience with Zoom was seamless, and beyond my expectations. I was able to easily screen-share, invite my teammates, and after a few weeks in of being a passionate users of Zoom, I realized I was a laggard in the buzz around the now dominant video conferencing tool in Silicon Valley - all my friends at tech companies were already using Zoom. Today, Zoom is valued at over a billion dollar, having recently received venture capital funding of $100 million led by Sequoia Capital (total funding of $145 million).
Earlier on this year, I got the opportunity to sit down with Eric Yuan, co-founder and CEO of Zoom for an interview. In 1997, Yuan immigrated from China to the United States, where he was one of the founding engineer for WebEx, the video conferencing tool for enterprises which was acquired by Cisco for $3.2 billion in 2007. When Yuan first arrived in the United States, he could not speak a word of English. However, through sheer grit and determination, he worked hard to be one of the top engineers of WebEx, and was promoted to Vice President of Engineering. However, post the acquisition of WebEx by Cisco, he was getting increasingly frustrated by the direction of the company which had diverted from its original mission - to create the perfect video conferencing tool.
Therefore, Eric Yuan decided to leave WebEx to start his own company, Zoom. His mission for the company when he started Zoom, which remains true to today, was “Delivering Happiness” to users, employees and stakeholders. When Yuan left WebEx, he had 45 engineers from his previous team join him. As he clarified to me in our meeting, he did not try to poach any engineers but many of his former colleagues knew that he was venturing out to start a new video conferencing company and reached out to him. Raising a seed round of funding from angel investors, friends and WebEx senior executives, Yuan started Zoom.
In 2011, when Yuan first came out to work on Zoom, many people discouraged him from doing so, as they shared that the market was “too crowded”. However, Yuan had spent a lot of time talking to customers and knew that no customer was happy about existing video conferencing solutions. Customers had complained about the video conferencing experience repeatedly but no company was satisfying that need. In the first two years of Zoom, Yuan focused exclusively on hiring engineers and getting the product right. He personally led product development and worked closely with his team to talk to customers and design the product.
In 2013, Yuan finally launched Zoom. The product was quickly adopted by tech companies in Silicon Valley and beyond who was eager for a better video conferencing tool for work. Today, the San Jose, CA-based company (just down the street from Cisco) has over 500 employees, and over 200% Y-O-Y revenue growth in 2016, servicing over 18 billion annual minutes, with 50% of the Fortune 500 and 90% of the top 200 Universities as customers. Yuan believes in leading by example and often points to Andy Grove’s statement “Only the paranoid can survive” as his motto in business.
Eric Yuan had moved from the China to Silicon Valley 20 years ago to pursue his dream of starting a successful technology business. He recalled to me, “I read in the news about technology leaders like Jerry Yang from Yahoo and Jeff Bezos from Amazon.” Yuan felt that if they could do it, so could he. He immigrated to the United States to pursue the American dream in 1997 and through sheer determination and drive, he has been not only able to build a successful technology company, but also reinvent video conferencing.
Author’s note: This is a series of articles featuring 1st generation and 2nd generation entrepreneurs in America to showcase their immigrant story and how they worked hard to start their businesses. The author himself is an immigrant entrepreneur who moved to the United States from Singapore.