- Eric Yuan: The Man US Denied Visa 8 Times but Now an American Billionaire
Eric Yuan was one of the few people profiting big from the ongoing global health crisis despite the global lockdown eroding profits of many organisations.
Eric Yuan was a Chinese American who founded a video conferencing app called Zoom, the main app through which businesses, schools and governments across the world are connecting as nations enforce social distancing to curtail COVID-19 pandemic.
Yuan, 49, was born in Shandong Province in China and had his undergraduate in applied mathematics before proceeding to obtain a masters degree in engineering, according to a Bloomberg report.
Upon graduation, he moved to Japan where he worked for four years and was only inspired to move to Silicon Valley, California to work for an internet startup after listening to Bill Gates’ speech on the dot-com bubble.
However, it took the future billionaire eight different applications to secure a US visa in 1997 at the age of 27. Yuan moved to America and immediately buried himself in loads of programming with almost zero social interaction since he speaks very little English.
“For the first several years, I was just writing code and I was extremely busy,” Yuan said, according to CNBC.
Before founding Zoom, Yuan worked for a video conferencing company called WebEx that was later acquired by Cisco in 2007. He later became the vice president at telecommunications equipment company, Cisco Systems.
According to a Fortune story, Yuan was inspired to build a video conferencing app because of his experience with his girlfriend (now wife) during his college days. Yuan had to travel 10 hours by train each time he wants to see his girlfriend and because of this, they only see twice a year. Therefore, he was forced to think of how to create something that would make them see more often.
“I was only able to see her twice a year and it took more than 10 hours to get there by train,” Yuan told Forbes in 2017. “I was young then — 18 or 19 years old — and I thought it would be fantastic if in the future there was a device where I could just click a button and see her and talk to her.”
That experience gave birth to Zoom, an idea that he pitched to Cisco management in 2011. He called a new smartphone-friendly video conferencing. However, his bosses shot him down as they did not see how a new application would compete or displace Skype and other established video conferencing brands.
“Cisco was more focused on social networking, trying to make an enterprise Facebook,” Yuan told Forbes. “Cisco made a mistake. Three years after I left, they realized what I said was right.”
Yuan left Cisco to pitch his idea to other investors, just like in Cisco, he could not convince any of the investors to support his new startup, so he borrowed money from friends and family to kick-start zoom.
“They thought the market is so crowded, the game is over,” Yuan told The Financial Times.
At first, according to a Forbes report, his wife questioned his decision to leave Cisco for an unknown future. “I told her, ‘I know it’s a long journey and very hard, but if I don’t try it, I’ll regret it,'” Yuan told Forbes.
Yuan later changed his screensaver to ‘It can’t be done and kept working’ after countless rejections, according to Santi Subotovsky, a partner at Zoom investor Emergence Capital.
His courageous move started paying off two years later when Zoom growth kicked off even before its Initial Public Offers that saw the company’s share price rose by 72 percent on its very first day of trading.
Zoom now worth more than $35.5 billion with over 30,000 corporate clients from Samsung to Uber, Walmart, and Capital One and many more.
“During the early stages of Zoom, I personally emailed every customer who canceled our service,” Yuan said in an interview with Thrive Global in 2017. “One customer replied to my note and accused me of sending auto-generated emails “impersonating” the CEO — he said Zoom was a dishonest company! I wrote back that the email was indeed from me, and that it wasn’t generated by one of our marketing tools. He still didn’t believe me, so I wrote back again and offered to meet him on a Zoom call right that minute to prove it was me writing the emails. That call never did take place, but he stopped accusing Zoom of being dishonest!”
Since December 2019, Zoom’s global usage has surged by more than 1,900 percent as schools, businesses and governments shifted online to comply with social distancing. Active users rose to 26.9 million in March, up from below 5 million in January and February.
The company’s value more than doubled in the last three months to send Yuan’s total net worth to $7.57 billion from is 19 percent stake in the company. The billionaire is now ranked 192 on Bloomberg Billionaire’s list.