– Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan Says His Zoom Fatigue Is Gone As He Launches New Tools For The ‘Hybrid Office Future’
Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan is excited for part-time office life. Months after making headlines in May by saying he was suffering from his own case of Zoom fatigue, the billionaire entrepreneur says he’s figured out a healthier meetings pace these days — and is now pushing Zoom to build the communications platform of a hybrid office future.
“It used to be we didn’t think about that,” Yuan told Fintech Zoom ahead of Zoom’s customer conference, held over Zoom (where else?) and starting on Monday. “Now for every feature, we need to think about how to support hybrid.”
At Zoom, that means Yuan plans to go into the office part-time, while employees hold meetings designed to treat virtual and in-person attendees the same. And for its customer base, that means a wave of new features designed with a mixed environment in mind, including capabilities for video-based sales and technical support, virtual whiteboarding, live translation and a new look to its conference product, Zoom Rooms.
“The goal is really making sure we can leverage this opportunity to stay connected,” says Yuan.
Zoom’s biggest new announcement is what it calls a Video Engagement Center, a service that will connect customer service reps and technical support to users for video-based consultations or walkthroughs. The tool could also be used in a shopping or retail context, with salespeople demonstrating products in brick-and-mortar stores or dedicated digital ones. Zoom expects to launch that product early next year, along with templates on how to integrate it into customers’ workflows and apps.
Zoom hopes another new tool, virtual whiteboards, will solve for collaborative use cases where what’s bring drawn up — code, or a new strategy — is more important than participants’ faces. That product should work alongside, not competing with, existing virtual whiteboard solutions from startups like Figma and Miro, Yuan says.
And Zoom’s hybrid strategy has also resulted in a handful of more incremental, but pain-saving, tools it plans to roll out through next year. Those include live translation support for meetings happening across multiple geographies and languages, the result of a recent acquisition Zoom made of a German startup, and hot desk support that will make it easier for workers to claim a temporary desk and computer and log into their Zoom account.
For remote attendees of office meetings used to seeing their in-person colleagues all together on screen — a potentially alienating experience — Zoom’s Zoom Rooms conference room solution will also offer an individual view of each in-person attendee to provide more of a consistent experience. Zoom also plans to offer a “bring your own encryption key” option for security-minded customers, and beefed up its event tools for customers to host and track complex and multi-day events within Zoom.
Zoom’s new features come at a time that could prove something of a crossroads for the company. Last spring, Zoom became the breakout work tool of the pandemic and life in lockdown: Yuan made the tool free for any schools to use, and Zoom business boomed while the company also grappled with heightened demand and privacy scrutiny. All eyes were on Zoom.
Today, Wall Street exuberance around Zoom has somewhat waned as offices have looked to — haltingly — reopen and competitors have fought to catch up. Cisco, Microsoft and others have launched their own batteries of features for their competitive products, Webex and Teams, for similar use cases to Zoom’s newest additions. Zoom’s stock is down about 18% so far this year, down about 50% from its October 2020 peak. The company’s latest earnings had analysts revising their growth models for life after a digital gold rush. “The market will need to rationalize a different level of growth post-pandemic into their valuation expectations,” Sterling Auty and the team at J.P.Morgan wrote in an August 31 note.
The race to be the broader work communication platform appears partly why Zoom announced a bigger move in July to acquire Five9, a contact center platform, for what was then $14.7 billion in stock. That acquisition, not yet closed, looms over the video engagement tools Zoom recently announced. With that deal still potentially months from completion, the companies continue to operate independently and Zoom built the tools to stand alone, Yuan says.
In the face of renewed competition, Zoom’s CEO says he faced a stiffer landscape in 2011, when he launched Zoom in the face of established players. “So long as we focus on our customers, our employees and be paranoid, I think we’ll be okay,” he says.”The problem would be if we became arrogant, and didn’t listen.” He’s spoken in recent months with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (the companies are discussing ways to integrate Zoom with Office and Teams, Yuan claims), Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and HP CEO Enrique Lores for support and advice. “We understand how to work together to build something that customers will enjoy, because then all of us will be successful,” he adds.
As for Zoom’s stock hype coming back down to earth, Yuan says he stressed to employees before the company’s 2019 IPO that they shouldn’t pay attention to Wall Street’s reactions. He points to Nvidia, the chipmaker that spent about a decade with a roughly flat stock price before enjoying a meteoric rise over the past two years, as inspiration; Yuan was excited to get Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang to speak at last year’s Zoomtopia user conference. “I’m more excited today than ten years ago, when I started Zoom,” Yuan says. “That’s why I really don’t care about these short term moves of the stock price. This will not change anything about our company.”
What will change Zoom’s future — more companies building on top of its platform with their own apps, and a full suite of video communications offerings for which he calls the new engagement center “the last piece.”
But Zoom is thinking beyond video in its hopes of becoming a communications platform, he adds. “I think video communication is just the starting point. There’s a lot of use cases: anywhere, one click, at home, on the way in a Tesla car, at the office, you and I can talk to get things done. With live translation, using AR [artificial intelligence], VR [virtual reality] and AI [artificial intelligence], I think the future is super wide.”
If anyone’s feeling Zoom fatigue these days, they aren’t telling Yuan, who insists that customers are learning to take their own measures like no-meetings days and no-video chats to adjust to a hybrid work long haul. Yuan’s particularly excited about the potential of digital avatars to represent workers as they move around and speak in virtual office settings; he likes to play around with video filters and end meetings by playing quick Zoom-based games with his staff to keep things fresh.
And while Zoom continues to offer its services to any K-12 schools that need them, Yuan’s glad to have his own two youngest children back in the building. “We want kids to go back to school.”