Timing is everything for Zoom

Posted on by Guy Cookson

In what now feels like another age, but was in fact just three years ago, Professor Robert Kelly spoke to the BBC live from his home on a video call.

As you may recall, Kelly’s train of thought was derailed by the sudden arrival in the background of two small children, followed swiftly afterwards by their flustered mother.

The hilarious clip immediately went viral and has been viewed on YouTube alone over 40 million times.

Now, in the absence of face to face meetings, many of us are doing Zoom video calls instead. And with schools closed the occasional guest appearance from a small child is pretty much standard.

As the writer Naomi Fry wryly notes, “Nowadays, we are all Robert Kelly.”

The number of people using Zoom has in fact grown from 10m in December to 200m in March.

Zoom was founded by Eric Yuan, who migrated to the United States from China, drawn as an engineer to the late 1990s tech boom.

After years working at the video conferencing company Webex, Yuan eventually grew frustrated at the management’s reluctance to build a simpler app for business video conferencing for the smartphone era.

And so he struck out on his own in 2011.

It was not an easy time to gain financial backing for such an idea.

Cisco had acquired Webex, Microsoft had bought Skype, and Google had launched its own video conferencing service.

“They thought the market is so crowded, the game is over,” Yuan told the FT.

Eventually, with support from mostly personal connections rather than professional investors, Yuan launched Zoom in 2013.

“Timing is everything,” he explains. “Ten years before, if I started a company, it wouldn’t get traction. The smartphone created a huge economy, the cloud created a huge economy. That’s why if you start a company, timing is very important.”

Whether the Zoom boom will continue after coronavirus has run its course is an open question. But with a trend towards remote working even before the pandemic, and obvious environmental benefits, it seems likely from now on we will think twice before travelling to meet.


A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Post. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.

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