A Look Again: Zoom At $100m ARR, Burning Virtually Nothing (Video + Pod)


As we gear up for SaaStr Europa 2024 in London on 4-5 June and SaaStr Annual 2024 in the SF Bay Area on  September 10-12, we wished to have a look again at a few of our most iconic audio system and classes from over the yr, that we will nonetheless be taught from right now.

At present, Zoom is at $4B ARR.  In some ways, it’s the identical Zoom, albeit with a way more enterprise focus.  However at $100m ARR, Zoom was nonetheless a scrappy upstart.  And importantly, it was burning nearly $0.  Sure, Zoom’s internet burn was $0 within the run-up to the IPO.  $0.  Extra on how they did it right here.

Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom Video Communications shared at SaaStr Annual 2017 how he and his staff obtained to the primary $100m ARR in addition to his philosophy on operating an organization:

  • Learn how to develop sustainably
  • Hiring overqualified individuals — or not
  • Learn how to discover the suitable buyers
  • Freemium, when it really works
  • Billboards, why to do them
  • How attending SaaStr Annual is the “Superbowl Second” for SaaS execs!
  • And a lot extra!!


Announcer: Wish to know who has bought over a billion {dollars} in subscription merchandise? There aren’t too many, and we’ve obtained maybe the one one. Welcome again second-time SaaStr annual speaker, and government vp of RPX Company, Mallun Yen.

Mallun Yen:  Eric, I’m so pleased to be right here with you right now.

Eric Yuan:  Thanks.

Mallun:  A lot of you’ll have seen that the title to this speak was Constructing a Tremendous Environment friendly Prenicorn, Get Sixty Spend Six. On account of some occasions of a pair weeks in the past, we needed to change the title. We have been going to alter it, briefly, to Constructing a Tremendous Environment friendly Unicorn however Eric is so humble and so modest, he stated, “We are able to’t use the U phrase.”

So, [laughs] we’ve modified it once more. Attending to $100 ARR Whereas Burning Virtually Nothing, is fairly good I feel. Congratulations in your latest increase, Eric, and your phenomenal progress.

Eric:  Thanks.

Mallun:  Now I feel the onerous half begins, proper? You began Zoom six years in the past?

Eric:  5 and a half.

Mallun:  5 and a half years in the past. Take us again. What was it like leaving WebEx and deciding, “OK. I’m going to start out one other video firm”?

Eric:  It’s not a simple choice. It was very emotional. I used to be one of many first of a number of founding engineers. In the end, I turned Vice President of Engineering at WebEx. I used to be there for thus a few years, and kind of, the product is your child. Additionally, we construct our merchandise and have so many staff members there.

Each time I considered, “I’m going to be leaving…” It’s actually onerous. It’s very emotional. However lastly, I made it.

Mallun:  So then, you allow and also you determine, “OK. I’ll simply begin an organization?”

Eric:  Earlier than I left, I did spend lots of time speaking with all types of consumers. The market we’re enjoying is a video conferencing market. It’s kind of very crowded. My good friend instructed me that, “It’s too crowded, you can’t construct a sustainable resolution.”

However guess what? After I talked with all the shoppers, not the entire clients they really feel pleased. All of the options they’re utilizing, they don’t really feel snug. That’s why I noticed there’s a possibility for me to construct a significantly better resolution.

Mallun:  Take us again to the early days. You’ve got this concept. You recognize that the shoppers aren’t pleased. You recognize “OK, I feel I can do that higher. I do know one thing about video.” Did you begin creating the product first or go increase cash first?

Eric:  For positive we raised the cash first. That is the robust half, to lift cash. Most likely, that’s one to the important thing classes I discovered. We dwell in Silicon Valley and now we have a bonus to have entry to many good VCs and in addition good buyers. To search out the suitable investor and a VC is absolutely not simple.

Many VCs there, all the time let you know they’re higher. Nevertheless, I feel our philosophy is to search out the investor who will prefer to spend money on me, not simply in our enterprise. The enterprise could be up and down. Your authentic founding concepts may find yourself being unsuitable for the market, which might be too painful for the enterprise.

If that occurs and in case your buyers, they make investments not in you, in what you are promoting, guess what? There’s a battle down the street. Very seemingly, we see they could be bringing the a brand new CEO that’s going to switch you.

Nevertheless, to search out an investor who’re going to spend money on you, not in what you are promoting, may be very tough. Virtually each one among them will let you know they’re all for investing in you. You’ve obtained to check them. In my case, I did lots of exams. That’s why I discovered an investor who actually wager on me, invested in me.

My analogy is extra like, if you have been younger you considered who to marry. For positive you wished to marry the one who actually preferred you or cherished you. You don’t want up to now the one who all the time asks about how a lot cash you may have, how wholesome you’re, what’s your loved ones background? I feel that’s not sustainable.

In the end, I discovered an investor who actually preferred to spend money on me.

Mallun:  That’s studying primary, “Go along with the buyers who spend money on you, (or somebody you may wish to be married to)?”

Eric:  Yeah.

Mallun:  Obtained it. After your seed spherical, you raised 6 million in an A, 6 and a half in a B, 30 in a C, and now 100 million. Whenever you took the 30 million in your C, which was led by Emergence, you had the entire earlier spherical within the financial institution. Now that you just’ve raised the 100 million from Sequoia, you may have the entire 30 million within the financial institution.

Inform us somewhat bit about this philosophy. Why increase in case you have the entire cash, beforehand, nonetheless within the financial institution?

Eric:  In our case, for any new initiatives, we all the time want to check the water first. Then we double down or triple down on that. Very often, it’s going to take a while to check the water. After you end testing the water, you attempt to double down on one thing. In case you don’t have a finances, and at the moment you considered elevating a spherical, it in all probability takes a while.

The chance window could be gone. That’s why we all the time considered if we should always have sufficient finances in case there’s large alternatives down the street, we will double down on that. Ideally, you actually concentrate on the shopper expertise, be certain that your buyer pleased.

In case you do this, the VCs, they will know you. They in all probability are going to cease by to ask about in the event you want cash or not. In that case, even when you don’t want cash, you higher take it. Sooner or later, you may have extra alternatives down the street, be sure to have the capital prepared.

Mallun:  Do you ever get stress out of your buyers who’ve put in, say, the 6 and a half, after which the 30, and now the 100 to say, “Eric, we gave you the cash, to not have it sit in your checking account”?

Eric:  I feel I discussed being married with them. I don’t suppose that they’re going to provide us stress. For positive, we wish to spend in a sensible approach.

We can’t burn all the cash. We all the time considered how one can spend extra however burn much less. All people would take into consideration, “If we make investments this quantity this quarter, can we be in a money movement constructive or attain profitability subsequent quarter or subsequent month or not?” Each time, each month, we check it.

Mallun:  That’s labored effectively for you till this stage. Do you suppose that may give you the results you want for this subsequent stage going ahead, and will your progress have been even greater in the event you had really spent extra?

Eric:  I feel, finally, we don’t wish to develop too quick. Our philosophy is we actually concentrate on making our present buyer pleased. We don’t aggressively pursue the brand new prospect. Additionally, we all the time prioritize the options requested by our present clients over the brand new prospect.

We actually imagine if you don’t make the prevailing buyer pleased, even in the event you get extra new prospect, it might not be sustainable. That’s why I all the time share with my staff, it’s extra like I drive right here from San Jose to San Francisco. If I drive 80 miles in a single hour, then I would get right here in a single hour.

Let’s say it’s like 65 miles per hour. Simply to save lots of quarter-hour, however the danger may be very excessive. It might not be manageable. You may get a ticket in the event you drive too quick, your automobile may crash due to the street situations.

We actually wish to concentrate on sustainable progress, concentrate on present clients, reasonably than aggressively concentrating on the brand new prospects.

Mallun:  The educational quantity two. To summarize what you stated a second in the past was principally, “Don’t wait till you want it to lift,” proper?

Eric:  That’s proper.

Mallun:  In reality, you have been lucky sufficient that you just really weren’t even seeking to increase if you have been approached by a few of these buyers?

Eric:  Yeah. By the best way, additionally, many individuals instructed me that. If you’ll want to increase cash, it’s possible you’ll not get it. Nevertheless, if you don’t want the cash, it’s very seemingly you’ll get it. I don’t know why that is the case, however I can let you know that’s completely proper.

Mallun:  [laughs] Let’s speak somewhat bit concerning the, “Spend extra, burn much less,” and the way can you go to 100 million ARR whereas spending little or no. You went from 0 to 100 million in 5 and a half years. Inform us somewhat bit about how the primary income got here. Inform us about your first six determine deal, your first gross sales.

Eric:  Possibly let me share with you somewhat bit concerning the first deal after which I can share with you the primary huge deal. The primary deal is…I actually respect Stanford. Stanford Persevering with Research Group is our first buyer, even earlier than our resolution prepared. They provide us large confidence.

At the moment, no gross sales staff, no advertising staff, simply the engineers. We bought our resolution and provides us a higher confidence. When it comes to the six determine deal, I feel that’s the primary one I feel additionally the essential one. Sorry, I don’t wish to point out the corporate title. That firm obtained a brand new CIO. The brand new CIO got here from Microsoft.

That point, we spent lots of time, I’m fairly positive they will standardize on Microsoft’s resolution. Nevertheless, he didn’t do this. His IT staff may be very sensible. They examined 42 options all collectively. I in all probability wouldn’t know a dozen resolution.

Mallun:  I used to be going to say, I didn’t know there have been 42 options.

Eric:  I have no idea. They examined 42 options. Lastly, they decide up three. In addition they didn’t make a closing choice. They decide up the staff throughout a number of departments and so they selected 100 staff, give them 90 days to check an answer. Lastly, 99 out of 100 staff, they chose Zoom and we obtained that huge deal.

Mallun:  That is your first six determine deal, this isn’t the persevering with schooling?

Eric:  Six determine deal. That’s the large deal.

Mallun:  Had been you nervous [laughs] throughout that 90 day interval?

Eric: For positive. Yeah. We thought have been going to lose that deal. I used to be very nervous at the moment. Anyway, we obtained to provide the credibility to that firm’s CIO.

Mallun:  Zero to hundred million in 5 and a half years, what income bucket do you suppose was the toughest?

Eric:  I feel to get the primary a million MRR may be very troublesome as a result of no person is aware of you. Additionally, at the moment, we solely had an engineering staff. We don’t have advertising staff. We did it on objective. Earlier than we attain a million, we don’t wish to create a advertising staff. Solely gross sales staff.

Most of our leads are natural leads. We don’t wish to spend cash to generate leads. I feel the primary a million MRR may be very, very onerous. It’s only a gross sales staff, simply to promote.

Mallun:  Did you may have a VP of Gross sales, or a Head of Gross sales, on board throughout that point?

Eric:  Sure. After our founding staff we closed a number of offers, we employed a VP of Gross sales and he employed a bunch of the gross sales guys. So, sure.

Mallun:  Let’s have a look at this for a second. These of you who dwell within the Bay Space have in all probability seen these billboards. The place did you first get this concept for a billboard?

Eric:  After I got here to the Valley in 1997, someway I fell in like to the billboard. At the moment I used to be considering, “Some day once I begin a enterprise, I’ll have a billboard.”


Mallun:  It loves you again, apparently. Describe your method to billboards. This was the one billboard in 2015. Then, quick ahead two years later now we have, not solely billboards…I feel we minimize off the image of Steph Curry in there, however he’s in there as effectively, and we’ve obtained the Warriors, you’ve obtained the airports…

Inform us about your philosophy behind this method. We all know that you just’re very frugal. You possibly can’t simply be sponsoring the Warriors for the heck of it.

Eric:  On the subject of spending, we all the time check the water after which we determine, “Are we going to double down or not?” For the billboard, any advertising initiatives, that’s additionally the identical. When it comes to billboard, really, we have no idea. Even right now, I nonetheless have no idea if it really works or not.

It’s extra like on a model, it’s to advertise our model. It’s onerous to market a model inside a brief time period. After we had our first billboard, my neighbor, she instructed me that, “I noticed your billboard.” I feel, wow, that is nice.” Then I instructed our advertising staff, “Let’s have one other one.” Quickly, lots of different individuals they are saying, “We noticed your billboard.” OK, “Let’s add a 3rd one.”

We hold including increasingly more. Most likely, now we have 4 or 5 billboards now.

Mallun:  I meant to purchase inventory in all the businesses that promote the banners within the airports earlier than I requested you this query on stage, however I didn’t. I’m going to ask it anyway. Which is, then you definately began exhibiting up in all of the airports as effectively. From there, do you know what would occur if you began being within the airports?

Eric:  I feel, to begin with, by way of model consciousness, it actually helped us lots. A whole lot of enterprise information staff, every time they journey, they noticed our billboard. Nevertheless even right now, I feel most of our leads are nonetheless coming from natural progress. Not from these billboards from any airport both.

Mallun:  Advertising and marketing is tough to get proper. Everyone knows that. How do you see this method becoming in with the advertising as a result of it’s natural progress? How a lot of this ends in lead gen?

Eric:  It’s not that a lot in any respect. Once more, our lead era I feel primarily coming from our natural leads. Our present pleased clients confer with different clients. A whole lot of freemium product additionally provides lots of qualifying leads. Once more, that is simply the model consciousness. Possibly in subsequent two to a few years, wanting again, we are going to know if that is efficient or not.

Mallun:  Do you do any lead gen advertising?

Eric:  All people. Sure, for positive. At present I speak with you, I attempt to get a buyer you already know.

Mallun:  [laughs]

Eric:  I feel basically all of us, advertising, gross sales, engineering, product, all of us work on promoting as effectively.

Mallun:  Freemium is one other factor that might be onerous to do proper. You continue to have a freemium product right now. Inform us somewhat bit about that.

Eric:  I feel it’s essential. In our case, we actually wish to get the shoppers to check our product. This market is extraordinarily crowded. It’s actually onerous to inform clients, “You’ve obtained to strive Zoom.” And not using a freemium product, I feel you’re going to lose the chance to let many customers to check your merchandise.

We make our freemium product work so effectively. We give most of our options at no cost and one to at least one is not any limitation. That’s why virtually daily there are such a lot of customers coming to our web site, free customers. In the event that they like our product, very quickly they will pay for the subscription.

Mallun:  You principally give all of them the options, versus a subset of the options, however you narrow them off at 40 minutes, proper?

Eric:  You’re proper. Sorry, I forgot to say that. One to at least one is all the time free. Greater than 2    as much as 50 contributors, the assembly has a limitation, length is 40 minutes. I got here from WebEx, I constructed that product. We all know the best assembly by way of length is 45 minutes. That’s why we provide you with 40 minutes.


Mallun:  Know your buyer, and know when to have the dialog minimize off midstream… [laughs] Proper? The important thing to what’s allowed you to preserve your money is principally…Eric doesn’t enable something to be funded till you show it really works. Then when you show it really works, you go huge. Just like the billboards, you double down…?

Eric:  For something.

Mallun:  Something?

Eric:  Something. Not solely billboards. For nearly all the things. We all the time hold that philosophy.

Mallun:  You talked somewhat bit about this subsequent one already, which is, “Don’t develop too quick.” Which in some methods could be counterintuitive, however I like your analogy of, “You will get from San Jose to San Francisco, however in the event you go too quick, you might need an incident on the best way right here.” [laughs]

Eric:  In case you all the time, daily, take into consideration rising quick, I’m fairly positive you all the time take into consideration how one can get extra clients, most prospect. In case you do that you just’re in all probability going to lose the main focus to concentrate on making the prevailing buyer pleased. Crucial factor is to verify the prevailing buyer pleased reasonably than chasing after the brand new prospect.

Mallun:  I do know your NPS rating is one thing that you just’re happy with. What’s that once more, your NPS rating?

Eric:  It’s 69, final quarter. The quarter earlier than, is 68. Clearly, in that 67 to 69 vary.

Mallun:  With out mentioning any names, what are your peer corporations hovering round?

Eric:  I don’t wish to point out the title, however none of them above 20.

Mallun:  NPS is one thing you centered on from day one, would you say?

Eric:  Sure.

Mallun:  To the subsequent one, which is…One other factor that’s all the time of nice curiosity of the parents right here, and actually it was a panel that I used to be on yesterday, which is, how do you rent a administration staff? How do you rent your first administration staff?

Some individuals are of the speculation that rent the pure athlete and permit them to develop into the place. Others are, the person who you rent who can convey you from 0 to five million or 10 million, shouldn’t be the one who can take you from 5 to 100.

What’s your philosophy?

Eric:  Our philosophy is we all the time rent these individuals with the potential for progress. I actually hate an concept of hiring these over certified individuals. We actually imagine there are a number of advantages by doing that.

In case you rent both managers or leaders, staff with potential for progress, to begin with they’re loyal to your organization. Secondly, they’d seemingly adapt to what you are promoting reasonably than we adapt to them.

Additionally, they are usually extra humble reasonably than relaxation on what they achieved prior to now. Take our Head of Gross sales, Greg Holmes, for instance. Earlier than I employed him, a lot of my buddies, they instructed me that, “You’ve obtained to rent a VP of Gross sales who already works for any individual else. You can not rent simply the direct degree particular person.”

I stated, “No,” as a result of he has large potential as a result of he has a self studying mentality, self motivation mentality, even have an enormous constructive affect to different staff. Since then, virtually for each place, we all the time rent for the potential with potential progress. We don’t rent these individuals we expect too certified.

Mallun:  I feel you instructed me that your total administration staff now could be the unique administration staff that you just employed?

Eric:  Sure, not less than no person left but.

Mallun:  [laughs]

Eric:  I have no idea.

Mallun:  Or nobody’s been changed or topped, I suppose. There’s a phrase that seems on this slide, as quickly because it seems, that seems seven instances on this slide. Are you able to guys determine what that phrase is? It’s, pleased, or happiness. Discuss being pleased. In reality, it’s even, I feel, thrice in your LinkedIn title. Inform us about happiness.

Eric:  That is again to my private story. Earlier than I left Cisco to start out an organization, I all the time considered what sort of firm I wished to construct, I wished to work for. I do know to construct a long run, profitable, sustainable firm, it’s an extended journey. It’s actually onerous, not simple.

As you’re employed on one thing very onerous for a few years, say you’re profitable, however guess what? You may have a good time it for sooner or later. In case you’re loopy sufficient, you may have a good time one week.

Wanting again, a few years of onerous work, I feel that’s a very powerful factor. End result, is extra essential. I feel the method is extra essential, sorry, than the end result. Throughout that journey, if you don’t construct an organization to ship happiness to your staff, you’re feeling prefer it’s type of like a torture to your staff.

A few years of onerous work…Worker daily, after they get up, they actually don’t wish to go to workplace to work. I feel that’s not an organization I wished to construct. I actually wish to be certain that each worker, a few years after they retire after they look again, they’ll take pleasure in a candy reminiscence of these pleased moments they shared at Zoom.

Mallun:  That results in the sixth studying which is, “Tradition is primary.” I wish to shut with two questions really. The primary is, what’s the toughest factor you’ve needed to undergo in constructing Zoom?

Eric:  Alongside the best way, generally, you have no idea what set off that. All of a sudden, you get up within the night time. You see so many issues down the street. All of a sudden, you misplaced the boldness. Nevertheless, the excellent news is, after you get up the next day, you’re OK. That’s the toughest half.

All of a sudden, at that second, virtually all the things’s unsuitable. You kind of, “Do I work on the suitable factor? Are these clients pleased? Are these staff pleased or not…?” All of a sudden, you misplaced your confidence throughout the night time, generally.

Mallun:  Is there a degree if you thought, “Possibly we’re not going to make it”?

Eric:  Yeah, it’s possibly annually.

Mallun:  Possibly annually? [laughs]

Eric:  The excellent news is it’s not within the daytime, so no affect to our staff.

Mallun:  Would you say it’s the primary million {dollars} that’s the toughest for you? Or what was the toughest level for you?

Eric:  The primary million, for positive, is hardest half. We don’t have a advertising staff, simply the engineers and a bunch of gross sales guys. We did it on objective. We actually wish to check, “Is that this product pleased or not?” “Can we ship happiness to our buyer or not?”

We don’t wish to spend cash on advertising aspect to generate leads. That’s why the primary million may be very onerous. It’s extra like to check water. If we all know we will ship first a million, we all know we will ship second, third…

Mallun:  Jason talked somewhat bit about this in his opening. Given the latest government order, what are your ideas on the manager order and the limitation on immigration? You’re an immigrant, and also you’re a founder. What are you able to share with us?

Eric:  The best way I have a look at it’s, take the Silicon Valley for instance, the rationale why Silicon Valley is worldwide innovation middle is as a result of we embrace variety. A whole lot of corporations’ founders come from all types of background. That’s the place the innovation come from.

In case you lose that, down the street, I have no idea what will occur for positive. I’m an immigrant. All of the excessive tech corporations, I feel…it’s onerous to say, however I actually suppose that it’s not a smart move.

Mallun:  Nice. Any closing ideas, Eric, you wish to share?

Eric:  I wish to say a particular because of Jason. After I cease by, I really feel like for all of the software program service corporations, that is our Tremendous Bowl second. We obtained to take pleasure in and have enjoyable. Thanks.


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