But that was before the pandemic. Now video conferencing tools have gone from the punchline of a dry office joke to a vital social lifeline — and perhaps none more so than Zoom.
In recent weeks, Zoom has emerged as the most downloaded app on the Apple App Store, repeatedly breaking its download records. On Monday March 23, Zoom was downloaded 2.13 million times worldwide, up from 2.04 million the day before, according to app tracking firm Apptopia. Two months prior, the app had just under 56,000 global downloads in a day.
From the start of its life as a publicly traded company, investors seemed to buy into Yuan’s vision, as laid out his letter to shareholders: “video is the future of communications.” But it looks like that future came much faster and more abruptly than anyone could have expected.
“This is a very critical moment,” Yuan said on a conference call with analysts earlier this month. “Overnight almost everybody read and understood they needed a tool like this.”
To handle this surge, Zoom spokesperson Farshad Hashmatulla told CNN Business it relies on its data centers in 17 global locations, routing both audio and video traffic to these sites. He said the company’s policy long before the health crisis has been to make sure it can support double its average daily peak of usage and have the ability to deploy tens of thousands of additional servers within hours if needed.
“We remain confident that our architecture is built to handle these growing levels of activity,” Hashmatulla added.
‘A moment of truth for the company’
Li was impressed with Yuan’s vision to build a product around technical precision from the ground up. “Because of Eric’s experience at WebEx, he knew the video communication space super well,” Li said. “He left to start Zoom because he wanted to launch the best user experience, so he architected the product early on to just do that.”
“Zoom realizes it can accelerate their growth by several years right now,” said Wayne Kurtzman, who tracks teleconferencing platforms for market research firm IDC. “This is a moment of truth for the company by stepping up in a way to allow people to be productive and be human — and right now, it is.”
Zoom is far from the only video chat app experiencing rapid growth. On Monday, Skype for iPhone had more than 500,000 downloads in one day; WebEx for iPhone had 89,000, according to Apptopia data. “Companies including Cisco, Microsoft and Slack have also been prepared for the days something like this could happen, where they would see exponential sales and growth,” Kurtzman said.
“Zoom is seeing the biggest increase because its product is easier and more robust than others and it’s at right time when people really need it,” Kurtzman said. “When it comes to work, people want the same ease of collaboration they get in the office or in person — and [in many ways], Zoom delivers this.”
Eventually, analysts say it will need to add new features to encourage people to pay for the service. For now, companies are largely cautious to roll out new tools as their remote teams get comfortable at home and remain focused on making sure everything works.
“Zoom is an overnight success nine years in the making … but has, in my view, prepared for the long [haul] to support users both now and with future growth,” Kurtzman said.