Featured case: Zoom Video Communications:
Eric Yuan’s Leadership During COVID-19

Share this page:
The case

Eric YuanWho – the protagonist

Eric Yuan, founder and CEO, Zoom.

What?

Zoom is a group video conference meetings platform that was initially created to serve the business sector.

Why?

Zoom websiteAs we now know, Zoom became a worldwide phenomenon overnight in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As businesses and schools closed their doors, many turned to Zoom for online meetings and classes. In addition, everyday activities such as exercise classes, religious services and birthday parties began being hosted via Zoom.

When?

By June, Zoom Cloud Meetings was the most downloaded app on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

san joseWhere?

Zoom is headquartered in San Jose, California, but it has a team of established engineers in both the US and China.

Key quote

“There’s a real opportunity here to serve the world through video communications. But this experience has been tough. Over the past two months I’ve had more sleepless nights than ever before in my career. I wouldn’t wish this extreme growth on anyone. Step by step, sustainable growth is still the best.” – Eric Yuan.

What next?

Once Zoom has caught up with its own growth spurt, what direction does the company take?

Should Zoom remain focused on enterprise/business customers, or embrace a business-to-consumer model as well? And to what extent should the company develop new features internally, versus relying on its marketplace for app development?

 
Interested in finding out more?
Download

Download the case

Educators can login to view a free educator preview copy of this case.

Zoom Video Communications: Eric Yuan’s Leadership During COVID-19
Ref 9-821-014

The authors

author

Scott Duke Kominers, Christopher T. Stanton, Andy Wu and George Gonzalez

The co-authors discuss Eric Yuan’s inspiring leadership, producing a case entirely via Zoom and how each student knows the case subject inside out.

Zoom logoLeading by example

Scott said: “Eric’s leadership story focuses on his tactics and strategy for Zoom to rise to the opportunities presented by the pandemic against a backdrop of strains on the company that came from explosive growth.

“There were unprecedented demands on the product and tech infrastructure, a non-stop news cycle oscillating between praising Zoom’s decision to provide discounts or free products to schools and civic organisations, and pointing out the security challenges that resulted from the diffusion of an enterprise-focused product to a consumer application.  All of this happened at once, while internal corporate leaders also had to manage Zoom's own transition to remote work. Their ability to capture and then manage the growth was no accident: they relied on the culture and technical capabilities that Eric spent years building at Zoom well before the pandemic. Their readiness is a testament to Yuan’s extraordinary attitude and vision. 

“In our case interviews, the Zoom leadership team all focused on Eric’s extraordinary grace and determination to help the world.  Initially we weren’t sure if this was corporate spin, but then talking to Eric, we immediately ‘got it' and saw what all of his leadership team raved about.  He is a purpose-driven leader and his mission focus is genuine. There have been few historical episodes where one company could have profited so much from an external shock. The testament to Eric’s leadership is that his goal was first to do good.”

Writing a case remotely

Christopher commented: “Perhaps fittingly, this was the first case any of the three of us (Scott, Andy and I) have ever written entirely over Zoom: we conducted all the interviews with executives and our own internal meetings virtually by necessity, whereas in the past we would have flown to California to meet with executives in person. We were living the ‘remote work’ challenges that we wrote about in the case.

“In addition, the state of the world changed rapidly while we wrote, so week by week we had to adjust our view of the company as the company adjusted its view of itself. Everyone from the company we spoke with was living in the ‘eye of the storm’. We were very fortunate that they took the time to speak with us – they were working extremely long days." 

Zoom trainingKnowing the subject

Andy observed: “The case is a rare example in which every business school student by now has deep experience with this particular product. They have a lot of preconceived notions about how it came about and what it does. We expect many instructors to teach this case via Zoom, which allows for a more meta learning moment. We’ve also taught this where the class was using Cisco Webex – the competing product that Eric Yuan and most of the original employees used to work on – and the irony of that scenario is also great for students to reflect on.

About the authors

Scott Duke Kominers is the MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
e skominers@hbs.edu
tw @skominers

Christopher T. Stanton is the Marvin Bower Associate Professor at Harvard Business School.
e cstanton@hbs.edu
tw @EconStanton

Andy Wu is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
e awu@hbs.edu
tw @AndyWuAndyWu

George Gonzalez is a Senior Researcher at the Harvard Business School California Research Center.
e ggonzalez@hbs.edu

 

View a full list of featured cases