Founding a global tech business on happiness: Zoom CEO Eric S. Yuan at Rakuten Optimism

Since March 2020, companies worldwide have scrambled to adapt to the unprecedented challenges of the global pandemic. Nearly overnight, broad swaths of the world’s workforce shifted to work-from-home setups for the first time — something that simply would not have been possible a decade earlier.

Powering this digital workplace migration for millions was Zoom Video Communications, Inc., a company which is now a household name. So, what made Zoom a market leader during this critical time for online video conferencing? While some may point to their cutting-edge technology or strong executive leadership — Zoom’s founder & CEO, Eric S. Yuan, attributes the success to something else: the company’s relentless dedication to delivering happiness.

“Imagine a world where, in the future, any two persons, no matter where they live… are literally just one click away.”

Eric S. Yuan, Founder & CEO, Zoom Video Communications

Yuan recently joined Yasufumi Hirai, Group Executive Vice President, CIO & CISO of Rakuten Group at Rakuten Optimism 2021 for a wide-ranging conversation about everything from the company’s founding and the potential of emerging technologies to the evolution of work culture and Zoom’s own focus on happiness.

A founding story

Born in Tai’an, China, Yuan’s first spark of entrepreneurial inspiration came when he attended a talk by Bill Gates held in Japan in 1995. It was there that he first grasped the potential of the internet and resolved to move to the U.S. to develop his career. After eight rejected visa applications, his ninth proved to be successful, and he joined WebEx, which Cisco acquired in 2007. After a successful tenure at Cisco, Yuan eventually set out to create his own communications platform in 2011, launching Zoom two years later.

With Zoom, Yuan aimed to create a platform that focused on two key areas: ease of use and reliability. Zoom is different, he explained, because it is a “video-first, cloud-first architecture to make sure that, no matter which device or where you are joining [from], a Zoom meeting will always deliver better quality,” adding “Zoom is very, very easy to use. There is no learning curve… Ultimately, we want to make sure the video communication experience is frictionless.”

Eric S. Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, believes that the pursuit of happiness is life's purpose.
Eric S. Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom (right), believes that the pursuit of happiness is life’s purpose.

The multi-sensory future of video communications

It may sound like science fiction, but Yuan has a bold, multi-sensory vision for the future of video communications platforms.

“Imagine a world where, in the future, any two persons, no matter where they live, no matter what kind of device they are using, are literally just one click away. It will feel like they are sitting together at a local Starbucks. We speak a different language. That’s okay. We will understand each other. I shake your hand. You will feel my handshake. You get a cup of tea – one click – I can enjoy the smell remotely. That’s our vision. We are not there yet, but I think in the next 10 or 15 years, we can get there.”

Trust at the center of the remote work revolution

While Zoom has powered a remarkable amount of the world’s digital communications throughout the pandemic, the company’s employees have nonetheless had to deal with the same remote work challenges as everyone else.

“In a virtual environment and for the future of hybrid work, the number one important thing is trust.”

Eric S. Yuan

“We realized that letting our employees work from home is okay. There was no productivity loss. At the same time, over the past 20 months, letting employees work from home five days a week is also not sustainable… I think the future of work will very likely be a hybrid — two or three days in the office or two or three days at home. Give employees flexibility. If you do not embrace the hybrid model, very likely you will lose your talent. They can join another company.”

Yuan uses one word to encapsulate his philosophy on remote work: trust. “In a virtual environment and for the future of hybrid work, the number one important thing is trust. How can you trust your employees, your partners and your customers, even if you aren’t in the same office?”

Building a culture around happiness

Throughout Yuan’s conversation with Hirai, he pointed to several factors contributing to his company’s success, including product quality, ease of use, speed, timing, and trust. But as their conversation drew to a close, Yuan shared a personal anecdote that may have been the most revealing reason behind Zoom’s growth.

“Sustainable happiness comes from making others happy. That’s why this is a part of our company culture.”

Eric S. Yuan

“Our common culture is just two words: deliver happiness… The reason why we have a culture of delivering happiness is, when I was young, I had no idea about the purpose of life. I realized the purpose of life is to pursue happiness. Sustainable happiness comes from making others happy. That’s why this is a part of our company culture. Every day, for me, we think about how to make sure our team is happy. And how to make sure our customers are happy. And how to make sure our partners are happy. If they are happy, we are going to be happy. I think that is the foundation of Zoom’s culture.”

“Imagine if one of our employees, he or she is not happy. And when he or she comes to the office, let’s say they are on the phone with customers, do you think he or she can deliver happiness to the customer? Absolutely not. That’s why I tell our employees every morning, when they wake up, to please ask themselves one question: ‘Do you feel happy or not?’ If you do, please come to work. If you don’t feel happy, you can stay at home. We’ll still pay you, but we’ll figure out what happened. What was the root cause? So make sure you fix all those problems. Make sure you are happy before you come to work.”

To view Eric S. Yuan and Yasufumi Hirai’s full session from Rakuten Optimism 2021, click here.

Show More
Back to top button