"I'm very tired of so many Zoom meetings, to be honest with you, and that is why I come here so that I can shake hands and give Jay a hug," said Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom to Zscaler CEO Jay Chaudhry last week. This comment was made at the historic Hayes Mansion in Silicon Valley, as the CEOs spoke before a captivated audience of CXOs.
Such an acknowledgment by the father of his creation speaks to a couple of truths. One is that you can have too much of a good thing. Two, we all experience Zoom fatigue and take for granted how the household name video conferencing tool continues to power the commute-free, remote work lifestyle for millions after office closures sent employees home to stop the spread of COVID-19.
How did Zoom become the champion of its category? How did it break away from the pack of alternatives to scale quickly and become one of Chaudhry's favorite tech success stories? And what is it doing to help those returning to the office only to re-experience the clunkiness of overlapping tools and disjointed mics, cameras, and screens, and keeping external participants engaged?
In the CEO keynote, Yuan fielded these questions and more posed by Jay and executives who attended the inaugural installment of CXO Summit - Live in San Jose on September 15th. What follows are highlights from the exclusive event.
After hockey stick growth in 2021, Zoom now averages 300 million users with annual revenues north of $4 billion. Yet, just over ten years ago, Yuan faced venture capitalists who believed in him but were skeptical of yet another entrant to a crowded space. “I was very stubborn. So I did not listen to them. Because I look at everything from a customer and end-user perspective,” he said.
Chaudhry added to this point and brought up parallels with Zscaler architecture and customer obsession. In the case of Zoom, the architecture is fundamentally different from incumbents that engineered for screen-sharing, added audio, and bolted on video. Jay quipped that firewall vendors similarly bolt-on features in the world of cybersecurity.
Building new technology from the ground up lets you finetune your stack and algorithms to deliver, in the case of Zoom, superior audio and video quality for nonreliable environments. From there, you have a foundation for providing performance and ease of use, the keys to customer satisfaction and wallet share.
Making customers happy, according to Yuan, was possible because, in the early days, he did not have multiple leaders and layers of product managers and engineers. He was getting to the crux of what business users need. “I spent 60% of my time talking to the customers, trying to understand their pain point…why do you like this feature? Why do you not like that feature?...and ultimately, when customers tell us, ‘Hey, I do not need to learn your product. I know how to use that.’ Then we realized, that's okay.”
Intuitive interfaces and functionality go a long way in adoption and satisfaction. Scalability is another benefit of modern cloud architectures that helped Zoom survive in the early days of the pandemic. Yuan explained that when traffic exploded by 30- to 40x, it would have been too late to write a code to cope. While it's impossible to scale quickly without any issues, Zoom was able to persevere and thrive. This was due to its exemplary architecture, employees going above and beyond to meet the surge in demand, and building trust with customers and partners by being open and transparent.
Chaudhry shared how Zscaler customers shared similar gratitude for the accelerated effort to get employees secured remotely. “The feedback from IT leaders was, ‘My team delivered so much so well, so fast that the CEO who had never come to thank us came to say it. You did a great job.’ And the other thing I heard was they said the CEOs and CFOs appreciated how important a role it is playing, which is wonderful…if you focus your team, charge them, give them a mission, they end up delivering far, far more results.”
The exchange between the CEOs naturally veered into what is next for Zoom and the mainstreaming of hybrid collaboration. Yuan envisions a hybrid operating system that offers more flexibility and is more aware of and integrated with the other apps we use, like email.
The interoperability of multiple vendor video systems is another challenge that an executive in the audience raised. Yuan indicated progress on this front, with other conferencing vendors in agreement to come up with a solution. The company’s Zoomtopia conference in November could reveal what’s in store on all of these fronts.
According to Yuan, in the future, Zoom will deliver an even better experience than an in-person meeting. “In 15 years with the metaverse and AR technology, I can give a hug remotely; you can feel my intimacy. You get a cup of tea, and I can enjoy the smell remotely as well.”
Chaudhry closed the keynote with commentary about the larger context driving agility and innovation, mainly digital transformation and the accelerated pace of change. CXOs can do a lot to thrive in this milieu. Most potent was the biggest lesson he learned in his life journey: “Look at what we could do better in a significant way and not by hanging on to the way things have been done, but looking at what could we eliminate.”
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