Perspectives on Zoom Perspectives 22

by Dave Michels
Zoom Exec Q&A

I have to admit that I am getting burned out on remote analyst events. I know I should prefer them. Online events are less expensive and more efficient, but we just haven’t nailed them yet.

While in-person events are slowly returning (I’ve been to Vegas three times this year), I figured Zoom would be the last vendor to return to physical events. Both Zoom and CEO Eric Yuan are all about reducing (business) travel.

Zoom did host an in-person analyst event dubbed Perspectives 22. As analyst events go, it was a big one, with nearly 50 attending in-person. Perspectives utilized Zoom Events, so many more attended remotely. It was one of the better hybrid events I’ve attended (partially because I was there in person) — even remote attendees liked it. I asked.

The primary emcee (Josh) was also remote, and the event did an excellent job of bringing the remote analysts into the fold, such as this Q&A session. They also had a remote panel moderated by a local host. Surprisingly, the agenda didn’t give much time to Zoom Events, but it was one of the stars of the event. 

I did have one complaint about the hybrid implementation: As an in-person attendee, I could only see the slides on the big in-room screen. I wanted to see them on my computer, but they disabled online participation for in-person attendees as a simple way to avoid audio feedback and other issues. That’s a reasonable intent, but a #fail and I let them know. I was surprised/impressed on Day 2 when they informed me that they had fixed it. #Agile.

Here are some of my key takeaways from Perspectives 22.

Zoom Is a Platform. The opening presentation played the platform card. A familiar card. I think most UCaaS providers (MS, Cisco, Dialpad, RingCentral, 8×8, Vonage ….) are now playing the platform card — What I hear during obligatory platform discussions is “blah blah blah rutabaga blah.”

However, two recurring words did snap me out of my platform reverie: experience and productivity. Someone commented to me that the Zoom app is as important as the web browser. While I don’t agree, I do appreciate his point. Zoom is more than a set of apps; it’s also a gateway to productivity. Zoom intends to be the glue for comms and collab — via its app or yours. We can all agree that happiness and glue go together.

The Importance of Chat: Now, this one did resonate with me, and it’s long overdue. Zoom has discovered that Zoom Chat is a pretty decent app. More importantly, Zoom has noticed that Chat (aka team messaging, workstream collaboration, and messaging) is the killer comms and collab app.

I’ve noticed these things, too. In fact, I’m working on a research note on the future of team chat. Many of my colleagues believe MS Teams has won the chat war. While there’s some truth to that, I don’t think its monopoly is sustainable. I’m pleased that Zoom intends to take the training wheels off Zoom Chat. I don’t know what Zoom intends, but I can say I already have about 40 external contacts in Zoom Chat. 

Phone Baby: The death of telephony is greatly overexaggerated. What is true is that it’s very hard to make money in (hosted or premises-based) PBX services. This has recently changed for a bunch of reasons that generally point toward Redmond. The question is, what to do about it?

The default answer is direct routing — which is essentially opening a florist shop to profit from your funeral. The preferred approach, and one being implemented by several providers, is to build a better alternative. Zoom has the cash, brand, and general wherewithal to do it.

Zoom Phones sales are increasing rapidly. It recently reported it crossed the 4M threshold in just a few years. In the near term, it might be driving down its valuation (welcome to voice), but in the long term it’s a critical component to enterprise communications and collaboration. The alternative, not providing voice, leaves it to another provider which most likely also offers meetings, chat, and CCaaS. 

CCaaS: The world did not need another CCaaS provider — we have too many as it is. Of course, we could have said the same thing about search engines to latecomer Google. Zoom has a few aces up its CCaaS sleeve, namely speed of innovation and intelligent multimedia routing. For some excitement, let’s also consider brand momentum, telephony expertise, UCaaS with Chat, global reach, and whatever they may do with Solvvy. I think the key to CCaaS for Zoom is really the multimedia engine. Many CCaaS providers still struggle with omnichannel which despite its name rarely includes video. THere are more applications than trad CCaaS that can leverage a multimedia routing engine. 

Those are the highlights of what was said. Now, a bit about a few things that didn’t really come up.

Big Ideas: Zoom today offers a robust UCaaS suite (calling, messaging, meetings, and whiteboard). Even when we factor in CCaaS and Zoom’s recent AI acquisition, its portfolio still looks very much like other UCaaS portfolios. 

The problem here is that comms and collab are shifting from being a profitable standalone business to a loss leader. Microsoft and Cisco can (and do) use UCC as a loss leader to sell other products. Google and Amazon have expanded into meetings, messaging, and CCaaS, and often position these workloads as additional services. 

Zoom needs some big ideas. I suspect they have them, but they didn’t offer any previews of what they might have in the lab. The next big reveal opportunity is Zoomtopia 2022 in November.  I suspect they have something in mind as they were pretty bullish on their goal of hitting $10B in revenue. The roadmap items that Zoom shared at Perspectives could be classified as incremental improvements. 

Competitors: Competitors often create a sense of urgency, but that’s not needed at Zoom. The pace of everything at Zoom is relentless. Sometimes vendors don’t like to talk about competitors, but my impression is that the internal pressure to innovate and iterate is far greater than the external pressures. The only time competitors came up at Zoom Perspectives were when the analysts brought them up in Q&A.

Mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them. Prior to 2019, I think Zoom accepted mistakes as a minor cost of doing things quickly. I would have liked to have heard more about how past mistakes have made Zoom stronger. For example, Eric Yuan shared with me privately a prior mistake that has impacted how he views Zoom Chat. It may seem counterintuitive, but the Zoom team would be walking even taller if they shared more of their lessons. 

Final thoughts:

I had heard in advance that Eric Yuan was not planning on participating in Perspectives. I get that, and I respect that. He’s a rock star celebrity,  and the company has a new President, Greg Tomb. So, I was quite pleased to see that he reconsidered. When Eric approached me during Day 1 breakfast, I was so surprised I gave him a hug. Oops. Probably not appropriate, but at least he was able to leverage it in his opening comments (hugs don’t work at virtual events).

Eric was present and accessible throughout the event. He opened and closed Perspectives onstage, participated in the exec Q&A, and was available at the extended dinner reception. Greg Tomb also made himself available and actively introduced himself to many of the attendees.

Additional members from the Zoom Leadership team participating at Perspectives 22 included Ryan Azus, Aparna Bawa, Kelly Steckelberg, Oded Gal, and Gary Sorrentino. Their involvement made it a first-rate event. Note that I am mentioning only the leadership team by name. Many of Zoom’s employees were invited to participate, even ones who weren’t local. There was very strong participation from the product and marketing teams.

For even more information, see this Real-Time Recored episode recorded the day after ZK.