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How Eric Yuan takes Zoom beyond video conferencing

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“Zoom is kind of a verb when it comes to video conferencing, right?”

That’s what Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of Zoom, says – and then retracts the statement: “I think that’s too strong.” But he was right the first time. Thanks to the ubiquity that bacon is saving during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom is real is in the tenuous company of Google and Photoshop — products so synonymous with their categories that they’ve transcended the noun.

Zoom may have a symbiotic relationship with online meetings, but that doesn’t mean it’s a one-trick pony. For example, in 2014, the company introduced ZoomPresence, a video collaboration service for meeting rooms; today, under the name Zoom Rooms, it offers everything from a virtual receptionist to the ability to reserve a desk. Zoom phone, launched in 2018, is a cloud-based replacement for old-fashioned desk phones. Then there’s Zoom Chat, a Slack-like business messaging tool, which will be renamed Zoom Team Chat as of today to emphasize that it’s not just for use in video calls.

Eric Yuan [Image: Courtesy Zoom]

The chat service rebranding is part of a larger Zoom initiative to bring out all the communication issues the software can solve. “The good news is that the trust is already there,” Yuan says in a rare interview we conducted via – what else? – a Zoom call. “Due to many years of hard work, as well as the pandemic crisis, [customers] understand that Zoom is a great company that really helps people connect.” Still, he adds that Zoom has many satisfied users who consider it only a video conferencing service. Now the company wants to correct that misconception.

From a messaging standpoint, the centerpiece of this effort is a new variation of the Zoom logo. It locked the two Os in “Zoom” to six circled icons, turning “Zoom” into “Zoooooom”. Each icon represents a Zoom product: Team Chat, Phone, Meetings, Rooms, Events, and Contact Center. (Don’t feel guilty if you didn’t know that the video conferencing product we consider Zoom is really called Zoom Meetings – I didn’t until I wrote this article.)

The “Zoooooom” visual representation of Zoom’s wide range of capabilities will be featured in a new ad campaign that includes digital, social, streaming and out-of-home media such as billboards. It also appears in the Zoom experience itself, for example you can see it while you wait to be admitted to a meeting.

[Image: Courtesy Zoom]

“This brand expansion is the hallmark of Zoom today, which is so much more than conferencing,” explains Ben Torres Ezrick, who joined Zoom in May as head of brand marketing, after more than eight years at Google. (While updating its logo, the company also switched out its signature light blue for a darker shade to “improve readability and improve accessibility on our platform for people of different eyesight,” says Torres Ezrick.)

The goal is not just to communicate Zoom’s current wide range of capabilities, but also to provide space for services to come: “What we’re striving for is to become the operating system for your workday,” said CFO Kelly Steckelberg. But it all depends on whether customers are open-minded about what Zoom exactly is — and the company providing complementary products worthy of the foundation it’s built with video conferencing.

“On the one hand, that’s the opportunity,” Yuan says. “On the other hand, that is also the challenge we face.”

‘There are many new services in the pipeline’

Now there’s nothing radical about the idea of ​​selling video conferencing as part of a larger suite of services. Indeed, that is how all of Zoom’s main competitors market their wares. In the case of Microsoft Teams, a competitor of both Zoom and Slack, that suite is Microsoft 365. With Google Meet, that is Google Workspace. Many companies are already paying for one of these two productivity bundles and can go to Teams or Meet over Zoom by default for that reason alone. That gives Zoom a strong incentive to make it clear that it’s not a one-product company.

Communication is a core competency, and [customers] wants someone who is committed to it.”

Zoom Chief Product Officer Oded Gal

From Excel to Gmail, Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace offer plenty of common productivity tools that Zoom probably won’t use with its own counterparts. [Update: I spoke too soon—The Information’s Kevin McLaughlin reports that Zoom is working on an email app, as well as a calendar.] But when I ask Yuan if there are any product categories he would avoid because they are outside Zoom’s wheelhouse, he mentions none. Instead, he’s rattling some of the various recent additions to the company’s lineup. Zoom events is for large-scale virtual gatherings, from internal all-hands sessions to business with tickets open to the public. Zoom contact center is a customer service platform that does voice, chat and text messages in addition to video. And Zoom IQ for sales uses AI to assess merchants’ interactions with customers. Stay tuned: “There are a lot of new services in the pipeline,” Yuan says.

Zoom Sales IQ
Zoom Sales IQ [Image: Courtesy Zoom]

Ultimately, said Zoom Chief Product Officer Oded Gal, customers appreciate the company’s focus: “Communication is a core competency, and they want someone who is committed to it, who can really meet their needs and not be distracted by, you know, everything for everyone.”

Zoom’s bigger competitors have taken away the lead it has built in video collaboration by starting earlier and taking the category more seriously, and Yuan is feeling the pressure: “We need to work even harder to make sure we understand customer pain points. “, he says. But how the race translates into current market share is unclear. In April 2020, Zoom said it had 300 million daily active users and then corrected the record by stating it meant: daily meeting “participants”, where each person who attended more than one meeting counts multiple times. It has not updated this figure since then. Google hasn’t revealed anything about Meet’s user base since April 2020, when it said the service was growing by three million people a day. Only Microsoft recently shared a hard number: 270 million monthly active Teams users from January.

Zoom phone
Zoom phone [Image: Courtesy Zoom]

‘Personally I had Zoom fatigue’

Even if Zoom weren’t excited to move beyond its core video conferencing offerings, it would remain much the same for years to come. While the product’s ubiquity during pandemic times has provided a windfall of free publicity, it has also turned it into the poster child for the ills of video conferencing. Stress due to overuse is endemic to the category, but no one is talking about Microsoft Teams fatigue. It is Zoom who is to blame.

Yuan can’t help but notice that the time we’ve all spent staring at a webcam can be tough. In the early days of COVID-19, after doing 19 Zoom meetings in one day, he recalls, “I personally had Zoom fatigue. Soon we all realized that is not sustainable.” These days, he adds, he spends quite a bit of time on Zoom Team Chat rather than turning everything into a video meeting.(One of Zoom’s measures to keep its employees from burning out of its own product: Wednesdays are non-internal. meeting days.)

Zoom team chat [Image: Courtesy Zoom]

With knowledge workers finally returning to the office in meaningful numbers, Zoom’s next task is to bridge new and old ways of working together. With Zoom Rooms—a rich set of tools for holding meetings in real conference rooms and bringing in participants who are located elsewhere – the company seems well positioned for an era where teamwork is becoming more physical again. A feature for rooms called Smart Gallery intelligently divides the video feed from a conference room camera into individual windows for participants at the table so they don’t look all that different from the people dialing in from home offices. It actually brings that democracy back, even in a hybrid meeting,” says Gal.

Yuan emphasizes that broad support for hybrid work as a concept does not mean we know exactly where we are going. “If you ask a company, ‘What is your definition of hybrid work?’ it’s very different,” he says. “How many days is that optional, flexible or mandatory? The policy is different and evolving, and the technological tools are also very different.”

Zoom Rooms brings a Zoom experience to office collaboration.
Zoom Rooms brings a Zoom experience to office collaboration. [Image: Courtesy Zoom]

Beyond the hybrid era. . . well, maybe the metaverse, whatever it may turn out to be. Yuan seems like a game to see how it could disrupt Zoom in its current form: “I think video calling and AR, VR and the metaverse will eventually converge into one thing,” he predicts.

Eric’s vision has always been to make a Zoom meeting better than an in-person meeting.”

Zoom CFO Kelly Steckelberg

Zoom has actually been working on proto-metaverse technologies for quite some time now. Way back in 2017, it partnered with an AR startup called Meta-no not That Meta—to enable Zoom meetings with 3D holographic representations of participants. Last year it was announced a partnership with Meta—yes, this time the company formerly known as Facebook – to let Quest headset users join Zoom meetings from Meta’s Horizon Workrooms VR interface. Introduced in April, Zoom’s Immersive View waives the Brady Bunchstyle grid of participants in favor of immersing people in virtual environments such as an auditorium or classroom. (It’s similar to Microsoft Teams’ Together mode, which debuted first.) With Zoom, you can even imagine yourself in a meeting as an Animoji-esque animated animal avatar, a light-hearted feature Yuan demonstrated for me by pausing during our conversation. to turn into a fox .

Zoom CFO Kelly Steckelberg
Kelly Steckelberg [Image: Courtesy Zoom]

Even if the details of where the metaverse could take Zoom have yet to be looked at, the company does have a leading approach in mind. “Eric’s vision has always been to make a Zoom meeting better than an in-person meeting,” CFO Steckelberg told me when we spoke via Zoom. “And in a way it already is. You can record this, you can do transcriptions, you can get translations, all things that we couldn’t do so easily if we were sitting together in person.” As the company considers what the metaverse can do for its products, she says, the overarching question is, “How do you create an experience so that you and I really feel like we’re even closer together?”

Zoom’s association with the pandemic-induced boom in video conferencing may cloud the credit it deserves for doing many things well long before it was a household name. When the service came out in 2013, video calling had been around for years, but most of what was there was too cumbersome and messy to have that much of an impact on work or culture. Zoom was more accessible and reliable than before (including the venerable Webex, where Yuan, Steckelberg, and Gal once worked).

“I remember in the early days of Zoom, I would sometimes literally spend an hour looking at a screen without doing anything, thinking about how I could simplify the user interface,” Yuan says. “Adding a function is easy. But simplifying is so difficult.” From hybrid work refinements to metaverse transformations, what the company adds in the coming years will matter, but maintaining that simplicity is critical to making tomorrow’s Zoom feel like Zoom.

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