When the global pandemic hit earlier this year, many virtual platforms kept us connected, but one stood out thanks to its accessibility and ease of use. From press conferences to team meetings to online family quizzes and virtual drinks with friends, everyone has been logging into Zoom this year one way or another and it seems as though it’s here to stay. Rewind to January 2020, an American-born virtual calling platform Zoom was relatively unknown to the average online user. That’s because this platform was initially used by large corporations to keep connected internationally when physical travel was not always possible. Fast forward two months and physical travel was not possible for any of us, so the world’s masses turned to Zoom as a lifeline, allowing them to communicate, connect, work and engage virtually. And the success has been incredible with many businesses now using Zoom on a daily basis.
Founded in 2011 by businessman Eric Yuan, Zoom’s business strategy focuses on providing an easier to use product than its competitors, as well as cost savings, which include minimising computational costs at the infrastructure level and having a high degree of employee efficiency. Zoom has been a fast-growing company since the beginning. By the end of its first month, it had 400,000 users and by May 2013 it had 1 million users growing to 3 million by September of that year. But no one could have predicted the incredible growth in 2020. By April 2020 Eric Yuan announced that Zoom’s daily users had ballooned to more than 300 million per day. And it was seeing new ways of using the platform all around the world. Schools were connecting students, companies were uniting employees, families were coming together and businesses were sealing deals virtually. This was the new normal.
As we come to realise that things aren’t going to bounce back to how they were before any time soon, if ever, Zoom has become a crucial part of millions of people’s lives. To find out more about this platform of the future we talk to Managing Director for MENA at Zoom, Sam Tayan.
Of course, this has been an exciting year for Zoom, how have you managed the explosion of the demand for Zoom calls?
It has definitely been an exciting year for us. As a company, we are glad and honoured that we were able to support the world through the pandemic and to be able to provide solutions for people and businesses to continue to have efficient communications. We also provided support to our users across the board, be it businesses, schools or for personal use. We are also proud that we were able to handle the increased demand for our platform by taking the right actions at the right time. Our unified communications platform is architected from the ground up to address the most technically difficult aspect of communications. We ensure this through:
- Operating our own global (co-location) data centres in 19 locations around the globe, providing significant control and flexibility when it comes to routing both our audio and our video traffic.
- Having architected the platform such that, in the event of capacity constraints at the data centre nearest a user, additional traffic will be routed to one of our other data centres.
How have you functioned as a company this year at a time when we are sure you have been very busy?
With the pandemic happening on a global level, at Zoom, we wanted to make sure we were able to support people globally. In order to do so, we had to take the right actions in a timely manner and in a way that fits consumers all over the world. To do so, we had to listen to the needs of our consumers as well as be proactive with the solution we suggested and that was how we made sure we functioned effectively during the busy times this year.
Since the pandemic began how have you developed the platform to allow for easier use?
Zoom prides itself with how friendly its interface is and how accessible it is for people of all ages. Throughout the pandemic, we made sure that we were flexible enough to change features throughout different times to make the platform even easier to use. For example, increased our attendees’ capacity for webinars and calls. Zoom is currently the only platform that can have 49 speakers in the same call and on the same screen. Moreover, with schools and universities being increasingly reliant on Zoom throughout the pandemic, we enhanced our features to ease the process for teachers and students and to have them enjoy the e-learning experience. With our updated features, teachers now have more control over Zoom education through several features such as:
- The teacher’s ability to mute all participants in the meeting and place students in the waiting room (where they can be readmitted). Additionally, teachers can also now create a virtual classroom seating arrangement, spotlight a group of presenting students, and enjoy other custom meeting views. Teachers can get a head start by setting meeting controls before class begins.
- Multi-pinning is particularly helpful to teachers and students that use American Sign Language because it does not automatically trigger the speaker to appear in the speaker view. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing can pin both teacher and interpreter on the screen for a more accessible learning experience.
- Teachers can now spotlight up to nine participants for the entire meeting, creating a custom, focused group view that is visible to the entire class. This view is perfect for allowing a group of students to present to the class together.
When it comes to numbers can you share a little with us about how Zoom has grown this year and the growth compared with previous years?
Usage of Zoom has ballooned overnight, and by far surpassing what we expected when we first announced our desire to help in late February. This includes over 125,000 schools across 25 countries that have taken us up on our offer to help children continue their education remotely. To put this growth into context, as of the end of December last year, the maximum number of daily meeting participants, both free and paid, conducted on Zoom was approximately 10 million. In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid. As of April this year, we reached more than 300 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid.
What would you say is the biggest achievement of the company so far?
At Zoom, we are glad that we can support people globally throughout these unprecedented times. We are proud of our response rate and the immediate action taken throughout the pandemic to provide people of all ages with a user-friendly interface that allows them to stay connected with friends and family. Our biggest achievements lie in our ability to be there for our consumers, listen to them and deliver what they want before they realise they need it. An example of this would be the constant developments and feature updates, from the capacity of calls and webinars, Zoom for Home, Zoom Meeting rooms, the new background and filter features we added, and the features we constantly update for students and teachers.
In your opinion what is the next step for Zoom moving forward into the future?
With the pandemic having all sectors move towards being more frictionless and digital, there became a realisation of the importance of having an easy-to-use unified communications platform like Zoom to help support the ease of communications across different departments. Hence, Zoom will for sure take part in enabling the efficiency of communications in the future and definitely has the ability to do so, since the speed of our innovation counts for 300+ features and enhancements added a year. At Zoom, we also constantly work on upgrading our features to make the experience more user-friendly and fun.
What are the latest features of Zoom we should look out for?
During our first digital Zoomtopia event we unveiled several exciting new features. We announced the rollout of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for free and paid Zoom users around the world. We also released OnZoom – an online event platform and marketplace for paid Zoom users who want to create, host, and monetise classes, concerts, or fundraisers via the Zoom Meetings platform.
Additionally, we also announced the release of Zapps (apps for Zoom), through which users will be able to use their favourite apps like Atlassian, Asana, Box, Dropbox, PagerDuty, and Slack directly within the Zoom platform. Other than that, users should also be on the lookout for UCaaS enhancements; a new and enhanced features across our platforms Zoom Meetings and Zoom Video Webinars and Customizable SDK which allows developers to use our new customisable SDK to bring high-quality video, audio, chat, and other Zoom features directly into their custom-built apps for Android, iOS, and web.
How do you ensure that users will continue to use Zoom after things calm down with the global pandemic?
Digital transformation drive will not stop with the end of the pandemic and different sectors will continue to be part of this transition. While social interactions and offline activities are very important, incorporating digital elements into traditional education and work models would be very beneficial on many levels. This can reduce costs, offer more opportunities for learning, give employees the option of efficiently working from home and reduce carbon footprint. These are just a few positive outcomes we can expect from the increased inclusion of communication through a video communication application.
It is interesting to note that even before the pandemic, advances in technology, interwoven with the new generation of the workforce, meant that workplace culture was already experiencing a shift. When you consider the term ‘workspace’, it has somewhat lost its true meaning. It no longer defines a traditional work setting; the connotation of going to work is drifting. With people opting to go to co-working spaces, coffee shops, to stay at home, or even go outdoors – more places are deemed acceptable “workspaces”, so long as the process works for individuals and the job gets done effectively. However, this flexible concept of the workspace is no longer optional, being able to work remotely is critical for businesses. Organisations have to adapt and rethink their day-to-day operations to ensure they can successfully continue. Considering COVID-19 has completely changed how digital communications technology is being used, our vision is to ensure video communications can empower people to accomplish more and create a connected culture. We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to support our customers in these unprecedented times by committing reliable technology, expanded access, and agile customer service.
How do you ensure the safety and security of Zoom users?
Zoom takes user privacy, security, and trust extremely seriously. Zoom was originally developed for enterprise use and has been confidently selected for complete deployment by a large number of institutions globally, ranging from the world’s largest financial services companies, to leading telecommunications providers, government agencies, universities and others, following exhaustive security reviews of our user, network and data-center layers. As video-first communications become more popular and accessible, we feel a responsibility to help where we can. As more and new kinds of users start using Zoom, we have been proactively engaging to make sure they understand Zoom’s relevant policies and the best ways to use the platform, including many recent updates to Zoom’s security features that help users protect their meetings.
How do you stand out from competitor platforms?
The user interface and experience are truly where Zoom excels. Zoom users all discuss how Zoom has a simple interface and the ability to get end-users up and running with little to no training or IT support. Zoom has facilities that are specifically made for virtual classrooms, as compared to other similar platforms. Moreover, we also have features that enable teachers to have more control over the classroom since they can also now create a virtual seating arrangement, spotlight a group of presenting students, and enjoy other custom meeting views. Teachers can get a head start by setting meeting controls before class begins.
In terms of business, how can Zoom help to enhance business growth and support small businesses?
Zoom recently unveiled the public beta for OnZoom, a one-of-a-kind online events platform and marketplace that supports – and salutes – the creativity, perseverance, and innovation that enabled so many people to adapt their in-person events to virtual or hybrid experiences. Zoom was inspired by all of the amazing ways the world adapted to a literal shutdown of in-person events amid COVID-19. When business owners, entrepreneurs, and organisations of all sizes had any way to stay on course and continue providing services to their customers, many turned to Zoom and OnZoom was able to simplify the experience.
Can you tell us a little about how luxury brands are using zoom as a platform to communicate with clients?
During the pandemic, we were thrilled to be able to support so many industries, including the fashion industry, and luxury brands in particular. At the beginning of the pandemic and the global lockdown, and with just three months from the launch of many brands’ spring/summer 2021 collections, Zoom was able to support photographers shooting for lookbooks through Zoom and brands presenting their collections to clients and buyers. Zoom is glad that it provided a gateway for artists and photographers who were able to continue working throughout the lockdown and potentially provide a new way for them to work on shoots. Other than that, we have seen an increase in luxury brands’ activity on Zoom where they had ongoing communications with clients through live tutorials on products.
With Zoom calls becoming the norm, how do you think people’s approach to business has changed?
Due to the pandemic, there has been a normalisation of remote working and working from home. Hence, even in a post-COVID world, a hybrid model of working is yet to take place since businesses have acknowledged that employees can be productive even when they are away from the offices. We have seen major companies like Facebook for example, announce that their employees are working from home for the next year or so. And in the region, Chalhoub Group is incorporating a hybrid working style till the end of the year.
What can you tell us about Zoom in the Middle East?
The Gulf market is extremely important to Zoom. We value the region’s focus on digital transformation and the interest in Zoom from our growing user community here. This is particularly true in the UAE where the government’s ambition to fast-track its digital economy gives us full confidence in the potential that this market represents for Zoom. The UAE leadership’s vision to become a leading global hub of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and its rapid adoption of innovative digital strategies to support that vision is a goal we are well equipped to support. In particular, Zoom is able to help accelerate the UAE’s digital development in vital sectors like healthcare, education, e-government and smart city infrastructures.
We are proud of the role we have played in the region during the challenging COVID-19 period, and we took notice of the recent announcement of the UAE’s plans to focus on digital transformation as a major component of the UAE’s economic recovery. We look forward to the opportunity to contribute to that recovery. We see huge potential for Zoom in the UAE and look forward to growing our activities, partnerships, and infrastructure in the market for many years to come. The diverse business environment and the UAE leadership’s drive to adopt new technologies, support innovation, and revolutionise efficiency in government make it a natural fit for Zoom’s mission to transform how we communicate.
What is a lesson you have learnt from this year, both on a personal and company level?
At Zoom, our culture is to deliver happiness to our users and one another. We’ve learned that the success of our platform has been largely due to our laser focus on our users and what they have to say. Our obsession with listening to our users’ pain-points and feedback has helped Zoom to innovate and become the platform of choice by many around the world.