By MICHAEL LIEDTKE AP Business Writer
If you hadn’t already heard have of Zoom Video Communications, there is a decent chance you’ve made its acquaintance over the past few weeks.
Millions of people are now working from home as part of the intensifying fight against the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to using the video conference for work, many are also tapping it to hold virtual playdates for their kids and virtual happy hours with friends and family banned from gathering in public places.
The crisis has cast a spotlight on Zoom, a company founded nine years ago by its CEO Eric Yuan after he defected from Cisco Systems and took about 40 engineers with him. He wanted to refine a concept he first dreamed up during the 1990s as a college student in China, when he dreaded the 10-hour train trips to see his then-girlfriend, now his wife.
Now Zoom is booming, just 11 months after it made its debut on the stock market. While the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has fallen by 25% since its record high on Feb. 19, Zoom’s stock has soared 46% as investors bet on its service becoming a mainstream staple in life after the coronavirus.
Yuan, 50, recently spoke to The Associated Press during an interview conducted on Zoom. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Are these strange times providing a glimpse at how we are going to be working and living in the future?
A: I hope this crisis can be over very, very soon, but one one thing I know for sure is that companies will learn this is the way to work. I am pretty sure almost every company will be thinking about it and say, “Hey, maybe working from home makes sense,” and maybe let every employee work from home, maybe once a week. Previously, a lot of businesses didn’t even want to try.
Q: Do you think we will find out that people can be more productive at home?
A: It’s too early to tell whether it’s more productive or less productive, at least for me. I am finding I have even more meetings, and every day I miss the launch time, so I am also learning how to adapt to all this working from home.
Q: Zoom primarily has been used by businesses. Are you discovering new social applications now that people are using it to virtually hang out too?
A: That is not our intention. But kids are pretty smart, they always figure out new use cases. There are some very cool consumer use cases. For now, I am just telling my team and reminding myself this is a very critical time because we are in a crisis. So we are focusing on two things: To serve our existing customers and make sure our service is always great quality and is always up. The second thing is how can we help the local community, like the K-12 schools, handle this crisis. Anything else, I told our team, that’s just a distraction.
Q: Zoom’s stock has been soaring while most of the market has been plunging. How are you managing that?
A: It’s good that I am 50 now. If you had asked me this question when I was 25, I would tell you, “Yes, we are very excited about the stock price!” But, now, seriously, I can tell you the truth, it don’t matter. So the stock is up, it’s good for our investors. If it’s down, we keep working hard. I really do not focus on the stock price.
Q: Do you still see personal, physical interaction as an important element in society?
A: I think for the foreseeable future, that’s absolutely right. We still haven’t been able to have cool features like a virtual hug that you can actually feel. We talk about that, but we don’t have that. Or when you drink tea or coffee, with one click you can digitize a smell. Those features will be available with AR (augmented reality) technology, but for now it’s too early. That’s why you have to have the personal interactions.