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How My Long-Distance Romance Inspired a Video Communications Company

Eric S. Yuan, CEO and founder of Zoom Video Communications

My role as founder and CEO of Zoom Video Communications began as a recurring daydream I had when I was a freshman at Shandong University of Science and Technology in China. While enduring a more than 10-hour train ride from college to visit my girlfriend (who is now my wife), I would be so exhausted I would fall asleep standing – and be kept upright by the tightly-packed crowd of passengers around me. I detested those rides and would imagine other ways I could visit my girlfriend without traveling. I would eventually create Zoom Video Communications from those daydreams.

The journey I took from the time I first envisioned Zoom to its founding was much longer than the train ride to visit my girlfriend. After graduating, I went on to receive my master's degree. Following that, I founded an HR/payroll software business in Beijing. It was the early 1990's, and at the time, few people in China knew of the internet. However, in the U.S., AOL, Yahoo and Netscape were taking off like crazy.

I thought the internet had real promise and I was anxious to be involved in some of the cutting-edge innovations it would drive, so I applied for a U.S. visa. I was rejected eight times over the course of two years, but I was determined to come to the Silicon Valley, so I continued to apply and finally received my visa on the ninth try.

I arrived in Silicon Valley in 1997 and joined WebEx, which, at the time, was a real-time collaboration company with about a dozen employees. I was really interested in a sales or marketing position, but since I spoke very little English, that wasn't an option, and instead I became one of the company's founding software engineers and ultimately was promoted to VP of Engineering. (The buggy code I wrote then made its mark and is still running in Cisco's WebEx cloud.)

The company grew very quickly and went public within several years of my arrival. Those early years at WebEx taught me many of the lessons I would eventually use to build a successful business from the ground up.

Building a customer-centric solution

In 2007, WebEx was acquired by Cisco and I became Cisco's Corporate VP of engineering, in charge of collaboration software. During that time, collaboration technology changed and improved industry-wide, yet there was no single solution that combined audio, web and video conferencing, conference rooms and Business IM. I often met with customers, and in my conversations with them learned they weren't happy with the current solutions, including WebEx's.

I firmly believed I could develop a platform that would make customers happy, but realized it would be very difficult to do unless I built a product from the ground up. Cisco was unwilling to change its collaboration strategy that centered around its enterprise social networking service, then known as Cisco Quad. So in June of 2011, I decided it was time to make the video conferencing solution I imagined during my college train trips a reality.

When I told my friends and colleagues I was going to start a video conferencing company, many were thrilled and offered to invest, but just as many voiced concerns about the fact that it was a crowded market. Still, I felt confident that if I kept the customers' concerns and happiness front and center, and created a solution they truly loved, I'd have a fighting chance. Despite the naysayers, enough of my colleagues believed in my vision that more than 40 fellow engineers agreed to join me in my new venture.

When we started developing Zoom, I hoped to get a product to customers in one year. In the end, it took us twice that time, because that's what was needed to get it right. I knew that if our product wasn't solid before we brought it to market, we would have to go back and fix problems. As we all know, a bad customer experience out of the gate can be fatal, and word-of-mouth about those experiences could sink a new company. Most importantly, I wanted our customers to be happy. We launched the Zoom platform in 2013, and its subsequent success was validation that it was well worth the wait.

A little more than four years later, Zoom has almost 600 employees worldwide and more than 650,000 businesses use our solution. But those numbers aren't what's most important to me -- my biggest accomplishment has been creating a culture of happiness among our customers and employees at Zoom. That's what I'm most proud of.

About the author: Eric S. Yuan is the founder and CEO of Zoom Video Communications, Inc. Prior to founding Zoom, Eric was Corporate Vice President of Engineering at Cisco. As one of the founding engineers and Vice President of Engineering at WebEx, Eric was the heart and soul of the WebEx product from 1997 to 2011. Eric is a named inventor on 11 issued and 20 pending patents in real time collaboration. Eric is a graduate of the Stanford University Executive Program.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Nicole Fallon.

Image Credit: Zoom Video Communications