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What Makes Zoom’s Eric Yuan the Top CEO of 2020?

When Eric Yuan founded Zoom nearly a decade ago, he set out to create a ‘frictionless’ video conferencing app to be used by businesses. The going was good, as gradually the video boom was catching up. And then a global pandemic hit in 2020 and everything changed.
Zoom became the lifeline of the pandemic era. From corporate team meetings, to classroom instruction, happy hours, birthdays, workout sessions and weddings –  Zoom has today become a way of life for millions of people around the world.
Despite Zoom’s meteoric rise during COVID-19, calling the company and its founder Eric Yuan an accidental beneficiary of the pandemic would also be incorrect.

The reason Zoom beat much bigger rivals was that it has a better user experience, with more dependable network connectivity, which worked, according to experts. And though Zoom was was already enmeshed in controversy and faced scrutiny and challenges (remember Zoombombing!) Yuan responded to them with transparency, accepting full responsibility and committing to clear action.

It is small wonder then that in a recent Comparably survey, Eric Yuan received an A+ grade or 4.9 out of 5 and a score of 98/100 from anonymous employees. HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai secured 2nd and 3rd rank respectively. In other well-known CEOs, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple’s Tim Cook achieved 40th and 8th rank respectively.

Eric’s inspiring yet humble leadership style—reportedly admired by 98% of his employees—has ensured Zoom would not only survive this year but flourish, winning the hearts of his employees, customers and other others along the way. In fact, Eric Yuan is also known as one of the most transformative CEOs in Silicon Valley today.

For the Zoom CEO, this skyrocketing demand has meant logging longer hours to meet consumer needs, he said in an interview with Business Insider. He also has more meetings — up to 19 in one day. And despite the longer hours, he still keeps a few daily rituals: “When I wake up, I always think about, ‘Hey, what can I do differently today?’” Yuan said. And “in the evening I also have 15 minutes — I call that ‘thinking meditation,’ I carve out 15 minutes in my calendar — when I think about, ‘If I could start over today, what would I do differently?’”

These moments of reflection, he believes, are crucial for him to focus on how to continually become a better leader and build a better product. Maintaining the company mission of “delivering happiness” begins with ensuring his employees are happy and proud of the work they’re doing.

His other areas of focus include getting new hires and maintaining company culture during a time of massive growth and that keeps him up at night. Zoom began the year with around 2,400 employees and scaled up to roughly 3,400 today, Business Insider reports.

According to its latest earnings report, Zoom’s total revenue for the third quarter was $777.2 million, up 367% year-over-year, and puts Yuan’s stake in the company at $17.9 billion, according to Forbes.

These days, Zoom says it regularly sees 300 million daily meeting participants, compared with about 10 million daily users a year ago. With new sets of customers and use cases, Yuan said the company has had to learn the unique needs of everyday users rather than how a business uses the platform.

Here are some interesting and lesser known facts on Eric Yuan.

– Yuan was born in China’s Shandong Province at the Tai’An City. He has a master’s degree in engineering. His parents were mining engineers, according to Forbes. At age 22, Eric got married to his long time girlfriend while he was still completing his masters.

– Yuan decided to settle in the US, when he was 27 years old. His visa applications were denied 8 times in a row, according to Forbes. On his 9th attempt, he was successful and got the visa.

– Yuan wasn’t fluent in English when he landed in the US. “For the first several years, I was just writing code and I was extremely busy,” Yuan told CNBC in an interview. Asked if he never took formal English training, he said, “I just learned it from my teammates.”

– In 1997, Yuan was hired as a software engineer at a small video conferencing company called WebEx. In 2007, the firm WebEx was acquired by Cisco Systems for $3.2 billion. Yuan rose to the rank of Vice President before he left Cisco in June 2011.

– Yuan’s wife initially raised doubt about leaving Cisco and starting something of his own. “I told her, ‘I know it’s a long journey and very hard, but if I don’t try it, I’ll regret it,’” Yuan told in an interview with Forbes.

– Yuan is unconventional and slightly different from other Silicon Valley CEOs. He started Zoom when he was 41. While that’s not too late to start a company, it’s not your typical age to start a tech start-up in Silicon Valley, considering many others started their ventures at the university dorm (think Mark Zuckerberg) or right after their graduation.

– Yuan rarely travels for work and instead attends all his meetings on Zoom. He has said on several occasions that he only travels for business twice a year in order to spend time with family.

Yuan’s advice to young entrepreneurs who are passionate about starting a company is to establish a culture in the firm from Day One. “Company culture is my number one priority. It’s more important than the team, the product, the business model, or the investors. All of those things can be fixed and made better over time. But culture has to be established on Day One. Once you have a culture problem, it’s very hard to fix,” he said.

Despite the massive success he’s seen this year, Yuan contends that his general outlook on leadership remains the same. In a recent article on CNBC, Yuan explained his work philosophy: “For me, as the CEO at Zoom, my No. 1 priority is to think about how to make sure every employee is happy. Together we make our customers happy. Every day I think about that. I think nothing has changed.”

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