Eric Yuan, Zoom’s founder, has a bad-ass backstory. On a long train ride to see his girlfriend he had the “why isn’t there a tech solution for this” daydream we’ve all heard of. Fortunately for Yuan (and for the rest of us), he’s also a very talented engineer. After moving to the US from China, he worked at WebEx and then Cisco, and never forgot his train-riding question. We know now just how big his idea turned out to be, but it took quite the journey to bring Zoom’s caliber of video conferencing into existence. Beyond the business itself, there’s one special detail about Yuan’s journey I really want to highlight.
Yuan joined WebEx in 1997 when it was a collaboration tool being worked on by about 12 employees. He experienced massive growth – in revenue, headcount, and culture – first hand. In 2007 WebEx was acquired by Cisco and he was made VP of engineering and placed in charge of Cisco’s collaboration software. By 2011 he was seriously annoyed. Clients were frustrated with the collaboration tools, including WebEx (some things never change?), and he just wanted to make them happy. He realized that to do so, he’d have to leave and start a new product. One like what he was thinking about on those train rides all of those years ago. And that’s how Zoom was founded.
And here’s the best part of the story. Because Yuan spent so much time and effort on product and experience, people around him saw his passion. He built community, trust, and loyalty everywhere he went. A startup is hard enough as is, but to do it alone and take on the likes of Fortune 500 companies is a major obstacle. When Yuan left Cisco, 40 of the company’s 800 engineers followed him to join Zoom. 40 employees left the safety of a tech behemoth to join a startup. Think about that for a minute.
Ideas matter. Communication matters. Community matters. Eric Yuan will be celebrated for all of the money Zoom has made investors, but we shouldn’t overlook his accomplishments in investing in people and the products and services customers actually wanted. It is a very powerful statement to command that level of commitment and loyalty from one’s peers.
Eric Yuan, nicely done.
h/t Yitzi Weiner, see “The Inspiring Backstory of Eric S. Yuan, Founder and CEO of Zoom”