Not too long ago, the video web-conferencing platform Zoom was the domain of businesspeople. But with the arrival of COVID-19 and the move to remote work, school, and social gatherings to help stem the spread of the virus, it has become, as Bloomberg puts it, “the pandemic’s social network.” Zoom’s founder and CEO Eric Yuan, however, had long foreseen the potential for a wide array of uses for such technology. The son of mining engineers, Yuan was born in Tai’an City, in China’s Shandong Province. He studied math and computer science at Shandong University and earned a master’s degree in geology engineering from China University of Mining and Technology. Yuan became interested in video conferencing as a result of the long train rides he took to visit his girlfriend, who would eventually become his wife.
After hearing Bill Gates speak in Japan, where Yuan attended a four-month training program, he set his sights on Silicon Valley. Yuan was denied a U.S. visa eight times before he finally received one, enabling him to relocate to the United States in 1997. He started out as an engineer at Webex, a videoconferencing startup in California, and rose to become the vice president of engineering at Cisco, which acquired Webex in 2007. Yuan left Cisco in 2011 to found Zoom. The company went public in 2019 and was one of the highest-performing tech IPOs of that year. Zoom’s features — ranging from user-friendly tools for sharing presentations to fun options such as “virtual backgrounds” — contributed to its widespread adoption as millions of people transitioned to working from home during the pandemic. Across the country and indeed around the world, Zoom also kept students learning and enabled friends and families to stay connected while practicing social distancing. Today, Zoom has more than 2,500 employees and 300 million daily meeting participants. The company’s worth is estimated at more than $48 billion, and Yuan’s personal wealth is estimated at more than $7 billion.
As part of its COVID-19 response, Zoom has suspended its 40-minute time limit on free accounts for K–12 schools, working with more than 100,000 schools and districts worldwide to deliver online education. Yuan also launched Zoom Cares, the company’s philanthropic arm, with initial grants to organizations working on the response to the pandemic, including the San Jose Digital Inclusion Fund, the CDC Foundation, and the World Health Organization. Beyond its current COVID-19 efforts, the foundation will focus on “education, climate change, and social equity,” said Yuan.