Zoom CEO Eric Yuan says any competitor using this moment to 'attack others' has a 'horrible culture,' as Cisco and Microsoft step up their rivalry (ZM)


Eric Yuan Zoom

  • As Zoom’s popularity has surged, so have its privacy and security problems. As Zoom addresses its issues and takes steps to fix them, rivals like Microsoft and Cisco have swooped in to tout their own products.
  • Zoom CEO Eric Yuan told Business Insider that while more competition is good for his platform, he believes that any company using this moment to “attack others” has a “horrible culture”  
  • He has told his own employees that now is not the time to focus on sales and marketing. 
  • Yuan said that Zoom’s business customers still trust the company and that, ultimately, Zoom will end up “better and stronger.”
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 Zoom’s popularity has surged over the past few weeks as shelter-in-place orders force people around the world to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including nearly all Americans.

But as people started using Zoom for purposes other than work, like catching up with friends, online classes, weddings, and more, researchers, journalists, and regular users have exposed numerous privacy and security issues with the video conferencing tool. 

As Zoom has admitted its missteps and moved to fix them, rivals like Microsoft and Cisco have swooped in to tout how much more secure their competing products are. 

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan told Business Insider that while competition is good for the video conferencing market and his company overall, he thinks poorly of companies that use the coronavirus as an opportunity to attack others or drive sales.

“This is a crisis,” Yuan said in an interview on Friday. “If anyone leverages this opportunity to do marketing, to do sales, to attack others, history will tell the truth: which company is doing the right thing, which company is doing the wrong thing.”

Companies that do so have a culture problem, he said.

“I told our employees several times, ‘Let’s focus on the end user, let’s focus on committing to society, and focus on the crisis and doing the right thing, show our corporate social responsibility,'” Yuan said. “Don’t focus on marketing and sales. That’s horrible culture.”

While he didn’t explicitly namedrop his competitors, his diatribe came in response to a question about whether Zoom’s rivals were using the current moment to boost their own businesses. Several competitors have recently capitalized on Zoom’s security failings. 

Microsoft, for example, touted how secure its chat and collaboration app, Teams, is in a blog post earlier this week. “Now more than ever, people need to know that their virtual conversations are private and secure,” Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365 wrote. “At Microsoft, privacy and security are never an afterthought.” 

Cisco had a similar line: “Security is not an afterthought,”Abhay Kulkarni, Cisco’s general manager of WebEx Meetings said in an interview with Business Insider last week. “It’s part of our culture.”

Both appeared to be a jab at the fact that Zoom has blamed some of its problems on the fact that it was built for business users (versus normal people) that have dedicated IT teams to configure privacy and security settings, and that it was unequipped to deal with such a huge surge in new users. Zoom reported 200 million daily active users at the end March, a huge leap from the 10 million it had at the end of December. 

That left it vulnerable to security and privacy issues it had never imagined, Yuan said. For example, hackers and trolls have infiltrated private meetings, resulting in ‘Zoombombing’ attacks. Zoom mistakenly routed call data through China as the company desperately tied to ramp up capacity. It was caught sharing data with Facebook and LinkedIn, and potentially exposed user email addresses to strangers. 

Competition makes Zoom “work harder” Yuan says 

Aside from his strong words about company culture, Yuan said he embraces competition from other video conference platforms. 

Several competitors have copied features from Zoom in recent weeks. For example, Microsoft Teams added virtual background and noise suppression features last month, features that make Zoom fun and easy to use. 

Yuan said those things don’t bother him: They push Zoom to keep doing better. 

“When competitors try to innovate, I think it puts more pressure on us,” he said. “The only thing is, we’ve got to work harder. They work two hours, we work three hours…Ultimately this is good for the end user.” 

Yuan also said that its snowball of security issues hasn’t scared its existing large corporate customers away.  

“Enterprise customers have been working together with us for a long time, they trust us, and we just keep everything open and transparent,” he said. “They know we are doing the right thing, our intention is good.”

The same can’t be said for non-paying customers though. 

Google banned its employees from using Zoom on their company computers, citing the “security vulnerabilities,” and New York City issued a warning to schools to stop using Zoom earlier this week, with the district directing teachers to use Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom instead.

Early on in the crisis, Zoom was proactive about making its product free for K-12 schools and Yuan isn’t giving up on NYC yet: He said he is working with the district to create a comprehensive, district wide plan to use Zoom that will make sure there are overarching security settings baked into every teacher and student’s account. 

Ultimately, Yuan says he’s not sure yet how all the negative scrutiny about privacy and security will impact Zoom’s reputation, though he strives to see it as a golden opportunity and praises his team for its work so far. The company has been able to address multiple issues and fix them in a matter of days, where normally updates would take much longer.

“We leverage this opportunity to transform our business,” he said. “[We’ll] keep working hard to make the company better and stronger.” 

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