Everyone you know uses Zoom. That wasn't the plan

Some cabinet secretaries’ Zoom screen names were visible, you could see which platform the cabinet was running its computers on, and most glaringly, the meeting ID was visible for all to see.

Everyone you know uses Zoom. That wasn't the plan

By Jon Sarlin

The tweet was when Eric Yuan knew something had to change.Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, shared a photo from his first ever virtual cabinet meeting. The cybersecurity red flags jumped out immediately.

“Our company that used to be a 100% enterprise-focused, is now powering the world. It’s powering governments, education, social activities… And then when the other shoe dropped, it’s like we need to get ready for that,” Subotovsky said.

From fast-growing startup to a ’rounding error’

Thanks to the Cisco acquisition, Yuan became a rich man. But while some WebEx employees took their earnings and split — wary of making the transition from fast-growing startup to cog in a Fortune 500 corporation — Yuan stuck around. It was still his baby after all.

“He wasn’t ready to leave yet. He had a lot of loyalty,” said David Knight, a VP at WebEx at the time of the acquisition. But, that loyalty was quickly tested.”Almost immediately they started to dismiss everything that we did,” said Matt Sheppard, then a WebEx employee.

“Eric was dismissed, along with the other leadership at WebEx, as being kind of second rate.”But still, Yuan stayed. “Every time I felt like leaving, I just got emotional,” said Yuan, who worked at Cisco for four years.

Former WebEx employees who made the transition to Cisco describe a key philosophical difference in how the two companies handled their customers.

While WebEx’s SaaS business model required them to serve their customers 24/7, Cisco made its billions selling physical routers and switches. “It’s a completely different mindset,” said Sankarlingam. “Cisco just sells the gear.

And after that it’s up to your network … if a company’s network goes down, nobody’s going to go blame Cisco. “WebEx, once a fast-growing startup, now was a cog in a blue-chip behemoth. “We were a rounding error in Cisco’s business,” Knight said. Yuan felt for the first time that he couldn’t satisfy his customers.

He says his WebEx customers grew frustrated with the quality of the product. They wanted WebEx to work reliably and more intuitively. And above all else, they wanted video to run seamlessly.

“He was sincere, almost naïve in that he always cared about the WebEx customers and that they were not being attended to,” said Iyar, who was often told by Yuan that he should have never sold the company. Yuan would confide in Iyar that he felt like he was betraying the customer-obsessed ideals he learned at WebEx.

“He had the advantage, in retrospect, that that’s the only thing he grew up with, right? In a sense, one of his strengths is that he’s a purist to that model,” said Iyar.

For Yuan, his time at Cisco turned out to be invaluable: it transformed him from engineer to entrepreneur. Yuan’s frustrations at Cisco “sparked the flames in his fire that he became very competitive,” said Sheppard.

Founding Zoom “was purely a reaction to them not listening to him.”A Cisco spokesperson told CNN Business in a statement that the WebEx acquisition was a “very important one for us and changed the way the world works. We thank Eric for his time at Cisco.”

Zoom founding

Yuan’s plan to capture WebEx’s enterprise market relied on building Zoom video-first. It would be cloud-based, run on Macs and PCs, iPhones and Androids, and you could make it work without downloading any software in your browser.

But above all else, Yuan wanted to make his customers happy. “I wanted to join a company where I woke up every morning and felt happy: I wanted to build a better solution to deliver happiness to the WebEx customers,” said Yuan.

“That’s it.” AT&T, which owns CNN’s parent company Warner Media, offers business customers Cisco’s WebEx collaboration software, which competes with Zoom.

‘The Holy Grail’

“You don’t control the network, you don’t control the ISP, you don’t control whether somebody turns the microwave on and interferes with the WiFi.

“While figuring out how to make scalable video calls was a daunting challenge, for Yuan’s Zoom team, it was only half the battle. They also had to make Zoom frictionless enough that anyone could use it. So easy that it makes his customers happy.

Zoom could work in any browser. It wouldn’t need you to adjust your firewall settings. And unlike WebEx meetings, with their hard-to-remember pins and meeting IDs, Zoom would be accessible with a simple link. “Getting rid of that user friction… in the tech world, it’s kind of the holy grail,” said Beth Kindig, technology analyst at beth technology.

Live from Zoom, it’s ‘Saturday Night Live!’

Over a mindboggling month of coronavirus-fueled growth — according to Zoom, its traffic rocketed up to 3,000% in May — Zoom unexpectedly joined Google, Kleenex and Band-Aid in the hallowed branding pantheon of proprietary eponyms.

“You free to Zoom?” a phrase that would have been incomprehensible to the vast majority of us a couple of months ago, became an invitation your grandparents understood.

And during an unprecedented spike in traffic, Zoom’s cloud network, built on AWS and Oracle, scaled up to meet the crushing demand. Yuan’s obsessions — his focus on video, on ease-of-use, on building scalable architecture — all paid off, and amid a cratering global market, Zoom’s stock surged over 600% since the beginning of 2000.

But as Zoom transitioned from IT departments to “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and 10 Downing Street, security researchers began to dig into this newly ubiquitous company.Was this easy-enough-for-anyone-to-use product actually safe for any of us to use?

‘Speed at the expense of all else’

The waiting room is the first step of a password protected meeting, where the host could choose to let people in. Marczak and his colleague John Scott-Railton discovered that Zoom was sending an encrypted stream of the meeting to those not-yet-accepted.

A savvy user could scoop up that data and spy on the meeting, “presumably, so that when you were admitted the video would show instantly,” explains Marczak.

Or, take the Boris Johnson photo.Having the meeting ID visible on the top-left corner of the screen was an intentional choice to make Zoom’s customers not have to dig around menus to find a meeting ID.

“We wanted it to be easier for the end user to let others join,” Yuan said. But having a visible meeting ID meant that a screenshot posted on social media would allow anyone to enter the ID and join in (assuming that the meeting was not password protected). “Did we think about privacy? No, that’s the problem,” Yuan said.

‘His product did so well, it broke’

Zoom is Malware,” reads one headline, while a trio of security researchers published “Zoom isn’t Malware,” offering a number of steps to bolster up security for the average user.And while Zoom’s continued public lashing is ongoing, it could end up helping them in the long run.”I think that probably a lot of CEOs are envious of his position,” said Kindig. “His product did so well, it broke.”

“Thank you, Zoom, for listening,” wrote Doc Searls, a technology journalist who had been highly critical of Zoom’s privacy policies. “At least in public, they’re taking all the right steps,” echoed Marczak.MORE ON ZOOM

Yuan says the scrutiny that Zoom has received has been a blessing in disguise, allowing him to improve his company in ways that he never could have imagined otherwise. He now devotes his entire day only to security and privacy matters.

“The harshest criticism may be the best words you ever hear,” Yuan muses.Even in response to Nancy Pelosi wrongly describing Zoom as a “Chinese entity” Yuan blames himself.”If the world misunderstands us, then I don’t blame others, it’s our problem We are a very proud American company. The company is a public Nasdaq company, headquartered in San Jose. I’m a Chinese American.

I truly believe as long as you do the right thing, sooner or later they will know it… just be patient.””In ten to twenty years, when people write the history of Covid-19, I want them to write that Zoom did the right thing for the world,” Yuan said.

Originally published at Cnn business