Eric Yuan’s dream of connectivity

As shares in video conferencing software Zoom skyrocket, we take a closer look at Eric Yuan, the forward-thinking CEO behind its rapid success

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many of us to adapt to a new way of life. Hand washing is mandatory, social interactions forbidden and visiting your favourite cinema/pub/restaurant is now but a memory.

For many of us, of course, the impact of the global pandemic is incredibly visceral. Loved ones are dying, the UK economy is heading for its worst slump in 300 years and according to mentalhealth.org, 24% of UK adults have reported feelings of loneliness as a result of lockdown measures.

Among the many new facets of life, one of the more trivial trials many of us have had to adapt to is the experience of talking a parent or grandparent through the intricacies of using Zoom, the now ubiquitous video conferencing software that seemingly emerged from nowhere to beat Facetime, Houseparty et al to become 2020’s de rigueur digital catch-up tool.

But there’s more to Zoom than pub quizzes with your old school mates or endless marketing meetings. Since the start of the global coronavirus lockdowns Zoom’s stock has more than doubled, resulting in an estimated market value of $42 billion. Its founder, Eric Yuan, saw his personal fortune jump by 77% to $7.8 billion in just two months. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Yuan now sits among the 200 top richest people in the world. Before 2020, he wasn’t even on the list.

In Zoom is a unique story of how global tragedy and innovation collided to skyrocket a company’s fortunes.

eric yuan

If you hadn’t heard of Zoom until a few months ago, don’t feel bad. Not many people had. In January and February 2020, the rise of coronavirus and subsequent social distancing and lockdown measures saw Zoom seemingly appear from nowhere to draw in 2.2 million new monthly users. As of March, its daily users was up almost 380% from March 2019.

While coronavirus has undeniably impacted the company’s fortunes for the better, such a sharp rise in the company’s use would, of course, have been unforeseeable. In fact, in the early days founder Eric Yuan struggled to find investors, the feedback being that the market place was already over cluttered with video conferencing software, least of all in the form of WebEx, where Yuan worked from 1997 to 2011.

Born and raised in Tai’an, Shandong Province, China in 1970 as the son of mining engineers, the desire to connect has always been a motivating factor for Yuan; as a student studying mathematics at Shandong University in 1987, he would often travel 10 hours by train to visit his girlfriend. Surely, he thought, there must be a simpler way.

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