It was a Monday morning in mid-March. Schools in California had just gone remote, and Eric Yuan’s daughter was settling in for the first day of her new routine. Then she turned to him and, like kids were doing with their parents everywhere, asked him for help using Zoom.
“She’d never asked me a question about Zoom!” says Yuan. Nor had he ever expected her to, even though he is the company’s founder and CEO. “When we created Zoom, the goal was to serve enterprise and business customers. I never thought about my kid having to use Zoom.”
That’s when Yuan knew his world was about to change. This tool he built, which was once reserved for corporate communications, was becoming a defining part of everyday life. His task was no longer to just build a great company; it was now to make sure his company rose to this unusual but defining moment. And it wouldn’t be easy.
Few could have predicted Zoom’s star turn— because for much of his career, Yuan was the underdog. He immigrated from China to Silicon Valley in 1997, after being denied a visa eight times. He got a job at Webex, taught himself English, and eventually developed an idea for a simpler, more user-friendly video conference system. Nobody seemed excited; investors told him the market was full. So he created a screensaver on his computer that said YOU ARE WRONG, to inspire himself to keep going. “It’s very small, but it gives you a strong reason,” he says now of that message. “You have to do all you can, and work as hard as you can, to prove other people wrong.”
Eventually he did just that: Zoom went public in 2019, catapulting Yuan to billionaire status. But still, before the pandemic, Zoom peaked at just 10 million daily participants. By April 2020, that number spiked to more than 300 million.
“Every employee at Zoom, myself included, felt very excited,” he says. “Because after many years of hard work, we’re seeing, wow, we really can help people out.” But he knew it would be tough going. The company’s resources would be strained. It would need to hire rapidly, ensure it could keep up with demand, and react to problems it hadn’t considered or faced before.
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