In the Season 1 finale of #Exceptions, host Jay Acunzo goes inside a seemingly ubiquitous brand in the business world today: Zoom. In talking to the company’s CEO Eric Yuan and head of marketing Janine Pelosi, we learn why they refuse to settle for conventional wisdom and how they orient their team to push past “best practices” to build an exceptional customer experience. Plus, the heartwarming story of a second-grade teacher connecting his students to countries across the world through the Zoom platform.
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Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect on Twitter with @jayacunzo, @Janine_Pelosi, @ericsyuan and @zoom_us.
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In This Episode
1:38 – Introduction of Zoom
4:02 – A practical look at Zoom in action: Michael Dunley and his 2nd grade class
7:10 – Using Zoom, Michael Dunley and his 2nd grade class tackled international issues and
9:38 – Why did Michael Dunley choose Zoom?
14:46 – What is ‘reasoning from first principles’?
15:12 – Elon Musk’s take on reasoning from analogies vs. reasoning from first principles
15:59 – Elon Musk’s SpaceX predicament
16:15 – Why first principles matter
16:50 – SpaceX solution
17:26 – Paths of conventional wisdom and first principles
18:24 – Paths of first principles obstructed by precedent
18:55 – Break the Wheel overview and how to cut through precedent
19:12 – Tim Urban, “Wait but Why” blog and his take on conventional wisdom
19:45 – Path of analogy and best practices are lagging indicators, not leading indicators.
20:00 – Why ‘why’ is important to ask of yourself
20:27 – How to start reasoning from first principles
20:43 – Janine Pelosi, head of marketing for Zoom and her marketing strategy: build a
preference for the brand and pursue third party validation
21:50 – What it means to build a preference for a brand
22:10 – Steps to first principles
23:50 – What steps Janine took to market with first principles in mind
26:59 – How Janine encourages marketing decisions that are directionally correct
28:56 – Why Janine chose to work with Eric Yuan and at Zoom
29:59 – How Zoom sets itself apart from competitors
31:24 – Most memorable project for Janine: “Put Your Dongle Away” with Tripp and Tyler
33:11 – Customer experience is the new version of the word ‘brand’
34:10 – The people we admire keep it simple
34:30 – Recap of #Exceptions episodes and the one reason why these companies set themselves apart
Jay Acunzo: Video conference calls. What the aliens must think earthlings do to each other at work, because we hate each other.
Jay: Welcome to Exceptions, the show about why brand matters more than ever in B to B.
I’m your host, Jay Acunzo, author of the book about challenging conventional thinking, “Break the Wheel,” and I’ve partnered with Drift to bring you this show, because Drift is all about creating a better experience between B to B sales and marketing, and their customers. In each episode, I go inside one of the world’s best B2B companies, to understand how and why they’re actually proactively building a brand.
After so many years, where just uttering that phrase was seemingly forbidden, these companies are challenging that conventional thinking. These are the Exceptions.
Today we go inside a company whose software youth probably used, and one that I use in my own business, Zoom. Zoom is a video conferencing platform, that, in the eloquent words of Janine Pelosi, their head of marketing, “Doesn’t suck.” Oh, and the audio you heard at the top was from a video called, “A Video Conference Call in Real Life.”
It’s from the corporate company duo, Trip and Tyler. Definitely check it out on YouTube, it’s hysterical and they do a lot of corporate parodies. Trip and Tyler on YouTube. Anyways, in 2011, Zoom CEO, Eric Yuan, was Cisco’s corporate VP of engineering for WebEx, another video conferencing platform that many of you might know.
And customers kept telling him that they were frustrated with the product, and so he left, along with 40 engineers who joined him at Zoom. The video conferencing space back then was already full of competitors, but Skype, Google Hangouts, WebEx and others, didn’t scare of Eric. And, that’s saturated market, and that decidedly unsexy nature of their product hasn’t stopped Zoom’s customer base from growing to this very day.
Between the years 2013 and 2018, they’ve grown their company 160 times. 160 times more customers between 2013 and 2018. Zoom is used at universities, software companies, startups, creative companies, agencies. The list goes on. Individuals, I use it for my company and I run it basically alone.
Everybody in the corporate world that seems to have some sort of technology savvy, seems to prefer Zoom. With over a thousand team members between its home of San Jose, California, and in Denver, Santa Barbara, and Kansas City, they ranked number three on the Forbes’ Cloud 100 list in 2018.
They’ve raised over $145 million in capital, and are valued at over a billion dollars. Yes, the proverbial unicorn in the tech world. Later on, you’re gonna hear from Janine, their head of marketing, about the unorthodox marketing tactics they’ve use to grow, and about why they’ve become such a powerhouse in their space. But, for now, let’s start where we always do here on Exceptions.
But because this is the season one finale, we have to get a little bit more special, I think. So we’re gonna start with the voice of a customer, but let’s take a journey to a place you may not be expecting. A place you probably haven’t visited in at least 15 years. Okay, let’s be honest, probably more like 20 or 25.
A second grade classroom.
Michael Dunley: I’m a second grade classroom teacher, and my name is Michael Dunley on a teacher in Tabernacle, New Jersey.
Jay: Michael’s kids stay in his classroom for most of the day, and they’ve developed a strong bond with each other as a result. So, when Abby, one of the kids in the classroom, got sick and had to miss class for over a week, they were all upset, especially Abby.
One of the most treasured times in the classroom was read-aloud time, when Michael would read to the kids from a novel called, “The Borrowers.” Being a caring and compassionate teacher, Michael searched for a way to include Abby in the read-aloud from home.
His solution? Having her join them via Zoom.
Michael: So, that 15 or 20 minutes of the day, she was back in our classroom even though she was not physically able to be, and she was able to keep her flow of knowledge when it came to this storyline that had become so important to her and everybody else.
So it’s just a really great way to take something and use it to bridge that space between home and school.
Jay: So, when she first appears on that screen and the whole classroom sees her, is it like a big moment? Like what do they physically do?
Michael: Oh, yeah. All the kids were like, “Yay!” They all started like yelling out her name, and I had to remind her, she’s probably on medication and we want to be calm. Imagine being in a hospital bed and having 15 people come in at once and all call your name.
So it was a great moment to be able to teach them about empathy. Once again, how would you feel if? And, so they immediately were able to check their behavior. But, they were really wanting to let her know that they cared and they missed her. And I think she benefited a lot, I think she needed to know.
I think when you’re long like that, and you go through anything medical, you’re always very fearful. And for her to have that, “There’s my friends and they’re rooting for me,” kind of feeling, I think it helped. Her mother said it really boosted her emotions at home.
So I think it had an added bonus to her own recovery.
Jay: That’s awesome. And you’ve mentioned the word empathy a couple of times. Is that, like is this tool, to you, like a tool that develops empathy in people because instead of a phone call, I’m able to somehow, like, see a person and react like I would offline?
You’ve mentioned that so many times, I’m wondering if that’s something you’ve thought about when trying to figure out, like Zoom, it’s a stagy type of technology. It’s a video conferencing software. It’s not, you know, like a consumer brand like Nike, where you associate it with something maybe emotional.
But you’ve mentioned something emotional in relation to this tool. I’m just wondering if you could talk more about this idea of empathy in the classroom, or empathy through technology.
Michael: Well, I think that, with everything that’s been going on in our world, and with students coming in and being more anxious or nervous in general, that we’ve really started to teach a lot more of the social, emotional learning and empathy, seeing something from somebody else’s point of view. Is a really important skill that, in many people, we see it lacking, and it leads to a lot of big, huge world issue problems.
Jay: After meeting another teacher at a conference for the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, Michael and his students did a month long program that involved 69 different countries. Really think about that. This second grade classroom was working with 69 different nations.
Say what you will about our politics today, I feel pretty damn good with these kids as our future. And the whole time they were building towards that future, these second graders used Zoom to bring people from other countries into that classroom that they called home every day, and to collaborate with them on solving international issues. Again, these are second graders!
I mean, how many national problems did you tackle in second grade? Or even today?
Michael: So, you know, my student population is all white children from the edge of rural/suburban Southern New Jersey, and so, for them to be able to Zoom with somebody in Bangladesh and to see that their whole home is one room, it gives them the ability to really understand something in a much more. I mean, it’s invoking another sense. It’s not just hearing about it, but you’re seeing it, and you’re able to see it happen while it’s happening.
It just connects and it allows people, I think, a much better, a more broader way of bringing in a different diversity experience into the classroom no matter what it might be. It might be living conditions, it might be skin color, it might be religion type. All those differences that are not currently in the room, but you want children to understand them and celebrate them.
Not just tolerate them. This is something that really allows you to have them, to see the humanity across all differences. It’s just a great way for us to teach beyond the walls of the classroom, and it’s just been amazing.
The kids at the beginning of the year, before we did any of this, I asked them how many languages they thought were in the world, and they said two. Spanish and English.
Michael: And now they know. My seven and eight year old kids know that there’s 6900 live languages on the planet, and it’s that kind of a learning experience that we’ve had this year because of the way that you can bring all these different countries and nationalities in.
Jay: In both scenarios, with Abby, and with the international calls, Michael used Zoom to foster empathy in his classroom, which is awesome. Don’t you wish he was your second grade teacher? I do.
And while this is a great story, it could have happened without Zoom. I mean, let’s be honest here. There are tons of video conferencing platforms out there. So, the question becomes, why, when he could have picked a myriad of other solutions, did Michael choose Zoom?
To understand that, let’s first go a little deeper to know what it really means to implement something in a second grade classroom.
Michael: I often use the analogy that, in the classroom sometimes you feel like you’re at the plate spinning booth. You know? You gotta spin the plate, run around, and spin the other one, and by the time you get all the plates spinning, the first one starts to wobble. You can have your hands full in a classroom, and turning your back on the kids to do something can, it’s a gamble.
So the easier something is to click, and how fast you can connect on something, and it’s the problem or the glitches or those things that you don’t have to encounter, it’s less time that you’ve got the kids looking at the back of your head. And so, I think the ease and the simplicity of something is really important when you’re trying to jump in and do something quick and you gotta be flexible, and so those things mean a lot.
The more complicated something is, the more logins I have to do, the more walls I have to get beyond, the more software I have to download. These are all steps that, if, oh, now I’m on this computer, I can’t use it. I’m on my phone, I don’t have it on it.
You know, with Zoom, you just send the invite and it’s good to go. And, it definitely was always something that I find, like I said, it’s really quite simple to use. And I’ve shared it with other people, and it doesn’t take them long to acquire a high level of functioning within it.
Jay: Adults are willing to wait until the host enters the meeting, everyone figures out their login passwords, get their computer glitches worked out, and all of the other things that little students just don’t have the patient for. Okay, I’m kidding obviously.
We’re terrible at that, but we’re sort of forced to figure out video conferencing platforms. But not second graders. If the teacher puts his back to the class for even a moment, even the most skilled teacher like Michael, can take the calculated risk in doing so.
While his back is turned, Jimmy might make a fart noise with his arm, or disrupt the whole class, and Samantha might whisper at Arianna to stop paying attention. Okay, so yeah, it’s pretty much exactly the same as any conference call in the corporate world. I don’t know what I’m saying here.
But, like your team leader, Michael wants to make sure that these meetings run smoothly, have a purpose, and produce outcomes. With Zoom, you can do that really quickly. You don’t need an account, a password, you don’t need to download a bunch of software and continually update it.
You just click a link, and there you go. You’re done.
The other reason Michael probably used Zoom was because it’s so embedded in his world. It was basically ubiquitous. It had this aura of ubiquity that made it the logical and first choice. And that is one of the powers of brand.
Michael: Most of my interaction with the product has just been through the teacher leadership activities that I’m already involved, and different organizations have accounts that are very user friendly. I think that is like the two words I would really come up with most, is that you can really easily jump in and out of it.
It’s a smooth product. You know, there’s the applicability, like I said, where I could just bring in somebody from their phone, their mom’s phone or whatever device. But, I have not really been very privy to any of their advertising or their marketing materials. Like, it’s all been inside three different organizations.
Hope Street group has used, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year have used it for Webinars. They have accounts, and so I have just become a user through that, and then an independent user in the classroom, because again, it’s just another option for reaching out and connecting.
And you know, each of these things have different selling points or different advantages and disadvantages, but overall, Zoom is just so easy to use and I haven’t had any disappointments on it, really.
Jay: So, the two reasons that Michael uses Zoom. It’s quick to use, and top of mind. Those things aren’t complex to get on board with. In fact, they’re rather elementary. You just see what I did there? ‘Cause we were talking to an elementary school.
All right, come on. I’ve done 10 of these episodes, all right? Just give me that one, it’s the season finale, okay? Okay, so Zoom is so simple It’s simple to use, simple to set up, and simple to share. And that’s why, in the high stakes, high stress world of second grade, in a world where a quiet group of kids can turn into a rioting mass of hoodlums in a moment, Zoom is champion.
Michael: I speak very highly of it. Whenever I have a chance, I try to tell others, this is this great thing and you should be using it, because it’s just a great way to connect your teaching with other teachers around the world or around the states, and the payoff for collecting beyond your classroom is huge.
Jay: So, it’s easy to hear a story like Michael’s, and say, “Well, that sounds great, it sounds kind of like a case study for Zoom, and you know.”
This is not an ad for Zoom. But, when something just works, when it just sorta clicks, being on a microphone like I am, and then telling the story of why Zoom is so great, it can be kind of a challenge. Really.
I’m just sitting here like, “Why Zoom?” I don’t know, it just sorta works in a space where, lots of people produce products that don’t.
But this brings us to our big idea of the day. Reasoning, from first principles.
There are basically two ways to make decisions in our work. One way can lead to complexity, and the other to something that feels so simple and easy to use. We can reason and make decisions by analogy, or reason by first principles.
Now, arguably the best articulation of this difference comes from Elon Musk. Here’s what he has said publicly about reasoning from first principles, versus analogy.
“I think generally, people’s thinking process is too bound by convention or analogy to prior experiences. It’s rare that people try to think of something on a first principles basis. They’ll say, “We’ll do that because it’s always been done that way.” Or, “We’ll not do it, because, well, nobody’s ever done that, so it must not be good.”
But that’s just a ridiculous way to think. You have to build up the reasoning from the ground up, from first principles is the phrase that’s used in physics. You looked at a bunch of fundamentals, and constructed your reasoning from that, and then you see if you have a conclusion that works or doesn’t work. And it may not be different from what people have done in the past.”
For example, through his company, Space Ex, Musk wants to colonize Mars. To colonize Mars, he has to make space travel relatively affordable for at least some wealthy people.
When he first started the company, rockets were impossibly expensive. So expensive to build, that his goal of selling tickets to even the wealthiest individuals in the world, seemed unattainable. But, then Musk asked, “Why?”
He asked why enough times to reach some very powerful first principles that his peers hadn’t considered. Or at least taken seriously enough to inform their decisions. He realized, rockets are impossibly expensive because so many parts and pieces are sold to his competitors from lots of different companies, all of which wanna maximize their profits.
And, as a result, when he launched Space Ex, he decided to bring all the production in house, becoming a vertically integrated operation. He also realized that the price of a ticket on a space ship could drop even further, if a rocket could be used reused, much like an airplane. We can afford to fly on airplanes, because our tickets don’t need to cover the cost of the entire plane.
Musk recognized that the key was the ability to land the vehicle, fix it, and refuel it, and then launch it again, much like a commercial jet. So, rather than focus Space Ex solely on rockets reaching orbit, Musk allocated significant resources to design and test vehicles that could successfully land on Earth without breaking apart.
Elon Musk does things that others see as crazy or innovative or creative, but I think he just sees the world for what it really is.
Imagine we have two paths we can walk down to arrive to a conclusion that works. Whether we’re making decisions about something small and every day, or massive. The path on the right looks easier to walk down. All along that path, too, you have all these case studies and blog posts and smart sounding tweets about the merits of that path.
And at the very end, you have all these experts. People you legitimately admire, and they’re calling to you down that path, to just walk that same way. That is the path of conventional wisdom.
Then, there’s this other path, away to your left. This is the path of first principles. We want to take that path. We don’t want to be a commodity or look and act like everybody, we aren’t trying to be average. We’re trying to be exceptional. We’re trying to be the exceptions.
So, of course we want to go down that path of first principles. We can see how, at the very end, there are just a few people. It’s way less crowded there. But the path to that destination is pretty cluttered with all this junk.
Leaves and branches, and trash bags, all of which got dumped on the path when all those experts created all these rules, or we as leaders built playbooks and set processes. That junk is called precedent. There might be some useful stuff in there, but man, if there isn’t a ton of garbage.
I just published my first book, called “Break the Wheel,” and during the research, my eyes were open to this idea. The book is about questioning best practices, honing your intuition, and doing your best work. And, as you can imagine, first principle insights matter a ton, when you break from conventional wisdom.
It’s how you walk down that path, and cut through all that precedent with relative ease.
To understand first principles better, I talked to a guy for my book, who spent a ton of time with and written about Elon Musk, and how he makes decisions. His name is Tim Urban. He created a blog called, “Wait, but why?”
Which is an unbelievably smart and entertaining site. And when I asked him about his idea of first first principles and how to reach them, here’s what he said.
“Conventional wisdom is slow to move, and there’s significant lag time between when something becomes reality and when conventional wisdom is revised to reflect that reality. And by the time it does, reality has moved on to something else.
See, best practices aren’t leading indicators. They’re lagging indicators. So, if all we do is look for some kind of case study, blueprint, or precedent to justify our work, if all we do is take the path of analogy, than our work will be lagging, too.”
Said, Tim Urban, “I think we benefit from saying, why do I think this, actually? Why is the world like this? And then you realize, the world is like this, or society believes this, because of something that happened in 1860 that doesn’t apply anymore.”
If we were to play that ‘why’ game more often, Tim believes, and I agree, that we’d realize that what we assume is the right decision for ourselves is actually the product of another person or trend influencing our behavior. So, how do you break from that?
You stop obsessing over everyone else’s right answers and start asking yourself the right questions. That is how you can start reasoning from first principles.
I talked to Zoom’s head of marketing to learn how this applies to their seemingly ubiquitous company.
Janine Pelosi: My name’s Janine Pelosi, and I lead marketing for Zoom. When I came in, it’s been about three and a half years now, to start the marketing function here, I knew we had to do two things. It was, build a preference for the brand, right?
It’s not just building the brand, but people have to like it. And then, third party validation. So, while I, and most of us here at Zoom, all of us here at Zoom think the product is phenomenal, easy to use, and reliable, everyone else is saying the same damn thing, right?
So, if we could get our customers, analysts, et cetera, to talk about that on our behalf, it is more effective.
Jay: In other words.
Janine: The expectations of the consumer are different, whether it’s B to B, and frankly, I don’t even care for the terms B to B and B to C. We don’t use them internally.
Janine: I just think that’s the other part of being practical, you’re selling to people, right? No matter whether they’re a CIO or an IT manager or someone in marketing, they’re people. So, I guess we lead with that. And so, if you, that’s why I go back to [inaudible 00:21:51] to describe it, is building a preference for the brand.
Like, people have to like what you’re doing. If people like you, they buy from you. If people like you, they talk about you. If people like you, they will refer you. I mean, it’s just, people don’t do business with people that they don’t like.
Jay: Think of this as the top soil, where Zoom begins to dig for first principles. They know their goal for digging deeper is to first figure out how to make a brand people love and talk about. And they keep asking great questions, trying new things, and learning, digging ever deeper because customer reactions tell them, they’re on the right path towards the first principle.
Janine: Early on, we knew, you know, based on what I just said about building preference for the brand, that we were gonna be doing things differently. We are a little bit more old school, we’re very focused. We want to bring our customers to the forefront, and I kept hearing, when I came here, Zoom, it just doesn’t suck.
And I was like, “Wow, it sounds like the bar’s pretty low here.” And I spent quite a few years working, you know, at the market leader in the space, and I know when I came in, I was like, “Wow,” just the barrier, the friction was gone. And, so, we ended up putting video conferencing that doesn’t suck on a bunch of billboards all over Silicon Valley, right? Up and down the 101, you’re gonna hear it on the radio.
The sides of buses, you name it. And it really resonated with people. And, then, you know, now, fast forward a couple of years. We kind of have the opposite. We have meet happy, which people just love, and that kinda came out of a very interesting political climate.
There’s lots of, you know, hard things going on in the world, and we wanted a happy message. So, I think listening to the customer bringing their actual pain point right to the forefront, and then bringing in a great, happy message at the end of the day, really resonated with the folks.
Jay: In order to understand what would make customers happy, and then getting them talking about Zoom, Janine learned as much as she could about Zoom’s unique context. What were people saying about the company? What did prospects already try to do with other competing products, and in what ways did Zoom provide a better experience?
The resulting marketing message wasn’t a bunch of jargon, like some Madison Ave agency executive might concoct. It wasn’t piffy vapor. Now, that makes sense, but billboards?
Janine: Eric came in, and he gave me someone’s phone number. And he had talked with, he had called an independent owner of a billboard, I think it was somewhere in Redwood City, and he said, “I talked to this guy and we want to do this billboard, so we gotta work on it.” And, I’m like, “Okay, we could do that,” and so we got that going, and then we kind of, as we started growing and realizing that top of funnel was gonna be a big part of what we were doing.
We knew, I’m a big believer in frequency. I don’t think you can just do billboards, or just do radio, or just spend a lot in digital. To my earlier point of, people not waking up in the morning, so you’ve got to hit them multiple times.
And once again, that’s nothing special. Like, that’s not any kind of X factor. That’s just the basics, right? When we think about frequency and advertising, but so many people forget that. So, for us it was like, “Okay, well we’re always gonna do a couple of billboards,” right, if we take San Francisco Bay area for an example.
Jay: From Janine’s perspective, the billboards were a way to increase brand awareness through frequency, but that’s not why Eric rented the space in the first place. His first billboard had an entirely different purpose.
Here’s what he said when I called him to ask.
Eric Yuan: To show our appreciation to our existing customers. That’s why we can justify that.
Jay: Eric didn’t choose billboards because of some heavily researched tactic argued by some data analyst team in a dark boardroom late at night. No.
He spent money on billboards for the simple reason that he wanted to appreciate his current customers, and he wanted his customers to appreciate Zoom back.
Eric: The word of the mouth, that’s the best marketing strategy. Zoom’s been all marketing resources to pursue new customers. The more sustainable way, you know, to pursue the new customer is make sure your product works.
Janine: So, I think it goes back to what I mentioned around, kind of our two key focus areas when marketing kind of was even founded at Zoom. Around building the preference for the brand, and then third party validation.
Fast forward three and a half years ago, and these are still going to be two of our four key initiatives here. And, so, you know, I see my role as a leader here is to be an advocate to my team, to make sure people have the appropriate swim lanes. I kind of hate the term, but it fits here.
I wanna make sure that they have, they’re on the right path, but we hire subject matter experts who are great at what they do, and I’m not here to babysit anyone or to micromanage anything. I’m gonna know what’s going on with every single person in my team, because we have such a flat organization at Zoom.
But I’m relying on them to come to the table with the tactics, and with the approach they wanna take. And some things are gonna work and some things aren’t. But, you know, we try and stick with that motto of being directionally correct. You know, having data where it’s available to help drive our decisions, but not letting the data necessarily hold us back.
Jay: Janine wants her marketing team to make decisions that are directionally correct. As long as their marketing decisions are guided by those key initiatives, they have all kinds of leeway to play and experiment. In other words, they set up the box, but then Janine lets her team play within that box.
They have constraints, they have a direction, they have guardrails and goalposts, but because they know them they can now innovative more freely. In fact, experimentation helps them get closer to first principles. Because, they’re trying different things to see what resonates most.
When, whether it’s the billboards or something else, I’m curious how you as a leader expect to prove the value of things, where there’s not like a tracking URL on it. I think we have a very blunt instrument form of tracking things, oftentimes, online, but that ability to do so sometimes shies us away from doing things where it’s not so obvious.
So, how are you actually, like, measuring the success of either the billboards or other quote brands’ activities.
Janine: Yeah, so I mean, you have to be hearing it from people, right? I need to be getting emails, Eric needs to be getting emails. People need to be saying, “Hey, I saw your billboard on your way to work. Congrats.” But I think it’s also going in, as I mentioned, starting in the Bay area, and looking at the KPI’s that work for your business, and saying, “Are they affecting them?”
And then, being cognizant of when you start and stop things so that you can actually see the effect. So, I don’t think there’s any kind of rocket science to it. I think it’s really just staying focused on what you can measure, and then looking at that against what you have in the market.
Jay: I asked Janine why she wanted to work at Zoom with Eric to begin with.
Janine: Yeah, I think it comes back to one simple thing, like the reason he started the company. So, you know, Eric’s background, obviously was one of the founding engineers of WebEx. He jokes now, his buggy code is still running from 20 years ago. And then fast forward, he was with Cisco running, you know, a thousand person engineering team, and he kept saying, like, “Things have to change, things have to change, our customers aren’t happy.”
And he wasn’t able to make that change there, so he left and started Zoom. And so, his reason for starting Zoom was to make customers happy. To give them a product that didn’t bring pain to their lives to take away the friction.
And so if you think about, you know, that being, and he was in a very comfortable position. A position where a lot of people would think, “You know, that’s the top of someone’s career,” and he took a really risky move to leave and start Zoom. And so for me, it always comes back to that. Obviously, knowing the product was really great, but I knew that he was gonna do anything and everything to make this company successful.
Jay: Eric’s focus on making customers happy borders on obsession, and it’s why Zoom is so easy to use. He and his team knew that they needed to make a video conferencing tool that worked well every time. Both so people could invite their friends to join Zoom, and so that they could grow trust int he brand.
So if the competition is all saying, “Our product works great,” and everyone sort of like, in the market, being like, “Not really,” and then Zoom is saying, “Our product works great,” what are you also tacking onto that to also be like, “And also, we do this better than anybody?”
Janine: I think we actually just deliver on it, and then we leave it to our customers and other folks to praise on our behalf. Like, you’re not gonna see us out there chest pounding.
Jay: Yeah, number one in the market for x, y, z category.
Janine: Yeah. We’re just not gonna, it’s not who we are. It’s not a part of our makeup. To your earlier question, it’s not the way I’d describe ourselves, right? So, I think leaning on other folks to help spread that message, and then being consistent, right? I mean, everybody loves you until they don’t, right? Until you don’t work for that one meeting, or until you start to consistently take minutes and minutes and minutes to have every single meeting start.
And then, you know, there’s this phrase of the meeting tax, you know, that people use to describe the first five to seven meetings with competitive products that they lose, ’cause it just doesn’t work. SO, I think we just need to stay, we stay consistent to our message and we hold true to it.
Jay: So, say you guys all go your separate ways, and Zoom is a wonderful success, it’s all high fives and handshakes, and hugs, and you have a reunion of the team you’re working with right now. What’s the project you’re looking back on over drinks, and you’re like, “Oh, man, remember that?”
Janine: Oh, this is a fun one. So, I think the video’s down now. So, we did a video with Trip and Tyler, that was “Put Your Dongle Away.” You can watch it here.
I guess the whole concept was our Zoom Rooms and the fact that you didn’t need a dongle, right? You could do sharing, you just go to, you know share.zoom.us, and now we have it where it’s even automated, right? You just walk into the room and you can share it on whatever screen.
So the concept was that you didn’t need a dongle.
And so we ended up, somehow talking San Jose airport into putting “Welcome to San Jose, put your dongle away.” On their main billboard. It didn’t stay up too long, there were some people that didn’t like that. You know, and we, that’s a campaign that came and went, but it was so fun.
And we don’t use any agencies here, whether it’s media or creative, I think that’s really interesting about us+, too. Like, we have these, one of them’s now in my office, like these blue Ikea couches from a couple years ago, that we just sit on and we all get in a room and we ideate and we have fun, and that was one of the ideas that came out of it.
Jay: Exceptional brands like Zoom use existing customers to create more. Customer experience is the new demand gem. And customer experience is the longer, newer age version of the word, ‘brand.’
Everybody has an experience of you. Every touch point, every tweet, every purchase, every moment. The difference is whether you proactively cultivate those experiences to create a great brand.
Just think about what you see happening around B to B marketing, or even experience or do personally as a marketer yourself. We panic read articles, panic download podcasts. Panic purchase books, panic attend events, panic call for all hands meetings or coffees with people we admire, all because we’re worried there’s some kind of big, complex, magical system that someone else we have mastered that we need to know, too.
They must know something else that makes them so great, and we’re just so close to finding that information. But, really. The people we admire, the exceptions? They keep it simple.
They start by knowing their customers. They put them at the center of every decision. It’s not giant projects or crazy stunts, or huge budgets that create these great companies. It’s the simple stuff. First principles, and people first.
We’ve come a long way since our first episode. We’ve heard from creative powerhouses, like Envision, and Wystia, refreshing perspectives on stale industries, like Gusto and Help Scout, we’ve searched for some sober truth, with Profit Well. We moved from traffic to audience, to true community with Buffer, and we went outside our echo chamber to learn about great brands with Great O’Labs and First Round Capital.
Last week, with Lesson Lee, we explored the silly, like painting llamas gold, and the serious like psychological safety. Over 10 stories, 10 brands, one thing has become abundantly clear: These companies are exceptional for one reason.
In a world of copycats and commodity marketing, they find and follow what makes them an exception. In the end, that means they’re people. They’re customers, and they’re teams. That’s what brand is. It’s how others feel about your team. We use words like work and brand and experiences, but it’s all just the response others have to what your people do.
We all want to build great companies, and because of the people you work with and the people you serve, and make no mistake, the person you are, your brand is an exception in some way. The only question is, are you willing to execute on that?
Remember, exceptional work isn’t created by the answers other give us, but by the questions we ask ourselves. So, ask yourself. What makes you, the exception?
Woo, season one of Exceptions is in the books, my friend. 10 episodes in, I’m having so much fun making the show, I’m hoping you’re having fun listening to it. If you haven’t heard all 10 episodes, go to your podcast player of choice, and check out the Seeking Wisdom podcast feed.
That’s the feed run by Drift, my partner in this endeavor, and they’ve allowed me to be creative and to find first principles, and talk to amazing companies in season one. Now, we are planning season two. It’s on the way, early in 2019, that much I can promise you.
It is officially happening, people, and it’s thanks to the support of listeners like you.
So here’s two ways that you can support me and support this show and make sure we keep going. Number one is, give me a shout on Twitter or over email. I’m happy to hear from you, I’d love your feedback on this show. I’m at Jay Acunzo on Twitter, Jay at unthinkablemedia.com, over email.
Unthinkable Media is the company that’s creating this show right now. That’s the first thing you can do.
The second is, Drift always wants me to ask you to give us six stars. But I have a compromise for you. If you can promise me that you’ll listen to season two next year, you can get away with giving us just five stars. Just this once, just this one time, give us five stars in whatever app you use, and we’ll float the sixth over to 2019.
How about that? It’s a little wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Don’t tell the folks over at Drift, they really want six stars. Again, still haven’t figured out how that’s physically possible in any app, but that is a thing they say publicly. So, good on them, they’ve figured it out. I think they have technology savvy that I lack, quite frankly.
But that’s okay, because I’m all about customer experiences and brand, right? All right, at the risk of going on too long, I just don’t wanna give up this show right now. I don’t want to say goodbye between seasons.
But you have been such an awesome supporter of this show. I can’t thank you enough for listening. I’m Jay Acunzo, author of “Break The Wheel,” and I’ll talk to you on season two, of Exceptions. See you.