Let me ask you a question: what’s your favourite video teleconferencing app today? Was it the same 2 years ago? 5 years ago? I’m fairly confident that your answers are likely be different for all three questions. In my case, the answers are: Zoom, Google and Skype. That said, today I don’t do Skype calls anymore. I do Google calls only when required and when I have the authority to choose I do only Zoom calls. And I suspect I’m not the only one …in fact there are millions who rate Zoom as the #1 platform for online video calling. Not many know that Zoom was launched 9 years ago – January 2013 & became a unicorn in January 2017.
The same analogy could be made for grocery shopping: How do you shop today? 2 years ago? 5 years ago? I shall give my answers towards the end…
The point I’m getting to is why and how did Zoom become reach the top of the pyramid when virtually it was unknown pretty much around the world just two years ago. The obvious answer is the “pandemic”. Forced to work from home, most of us, resorted to video calling frequently with colleagues, customers, clients and suppliers. That gave Zoom the required shot in the arm to rise to the top. But why not the same with Google Meet or Microsoft Teams – since they already have the super strong brand prefixed to their app name. There must be something else behind the success of Zoom. When doing a video call what are the most important parameters we rely on: bandwidth fidelity (clarity of audio-video), ease of connectivity, ability to scale up (dozens of people joining together), omnipresence (can join from laptop, PC, mobile, tablet), call recording, screen sharing, background changes, real-time chat and so on. Of course, the importance of these parameters varies from user to user and within a user from time to time. Apparently, Zoom ticks on all these boxes with finesse. It’s not that Zoom’s competitors are not able to do so – but none does it with the consistency, functionality and ease like that of Zoom. For example: try the recording function on Google Meet call and see how easy it is…..or a multi party call on Skype and check how well can you hear others (and vice versa).
The makers of Zoom, through some divine advice, thought of all these points that could prove a cause of irritation to the user and addressed it well before any one else in competition woke up to it. And yes, the pandemic did help… but by then Zoom was streets ahead of competition….and others were still trying and experimenting and rolling out updates or new versions. Zoom combined several approaches to becoming a dominant leader in the video teleconferencing branding space, first by pioneering a simple-to-use offering and marketing it to both businesses and consumers.
According to download estimates from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, between March 25 to April 10, 2020, Zoom became the most downloaded Android App in India surpassing even the popular social media app TikTok. Another report by the app analytics firm App Annie reported that during the week of March 15-21, Zoom was downloaded 14x more than the weekly average during Q4 of 2019 in the United States. Zoom generated US$2.6 billion revenue in 2020, a 317 percent increase year-on-year. It was one of the fastest growing apps of the pandemic, with meeting participants increasing by 2900 percent. Zoom’s valuation exceeded US$100 billion during the pandemic, a 383 percent increase on its value in January 2020. Zoom’s usage shot up in March 2020 to 200 million daily meeting participants from a previous maximum total of 10 million. In 2020, over 45 billion minutes of webinars were hosted on the platform. On the flipside, many governments and private companies do not use Zoom on account of data security fears but till date nothing has been founded in favour of such favour and nowhere is Zoom banned.
What does Zoom’s success convey to us? In one simple sentence. Find a problem, generate create a solution and then scale up. Often startups do not do things in this order. Many look for an existing solution and remake it with the slightest modifications and no real material difference. Others take their idea and look for the problem where it can work as a solution. Yet others create anything (and call it solution) and look for investors to sell off & exit. That’s why there are only 936 unicorns (valuation of US$ 1 billion & above) in the world amongst the more than a million startups exist on this planet.
The same truth holds good for existing companies too. In the name of innovation or R & D, management rarely think of a underlying fundamental problem and look to find solutions to overcome them. Even if they start with right notion, time and cost overruns force them to change the goalposts or sometimes just abandon the project.
What can an average company do? Firstly, keep it practical and simple. By practical, I mean identify those problems that actually affect not just a small community or a town but not large enough to affect a continent. By simple, I imply that your solution should be achieved by deploying reasonable resources. Remember, most companies do not innovate (from 0 to 1)….they multiply (from 1 to n). For real innovation to happen, you need a real problem and a practical solution.
With that, let me now order my groceries on Blinkit, since I don’t go Big Bazaar anymore.