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‘In April our paid customers in India grew by four-times’: Q&A with Velchamy Sankarlingam of Zoom

Zoom would face stiff competition in India from Reliance’s new product JioMeet.

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At the beginning of this year, Zoom calls were a rarity in India. Zoom meetings and webinars were few and far apart, but these have not only become common parlance among businesses but are also buzzwords for teachers, students, lawyers, and fitness experts, who are using Zoom’s teleconferencing platform to continue with their jobs during the lockdown.

In April, when the full impact of COVID-19 had become apparent and India was under lockdown, Zoom saw a surge of 67x in its free user signups in the country. While it doesn’t disclose country-specific user numbers, Zoom said its combined free and paid virtual meeting participants on the platform increased to 300 million in April compared to 200 million a month ago.

Earlier this week, Silicon Valley-headquartered Zoom, in a virtual press conference said it is going to hire extensively in India over the next few years along with opening a data center in Bengaluru. “India is a strategically important country for Zoom and we expect to see continued growth and investment here. We plan to hire key employees for the technology center over the next few years…,”said Eric S. Yuan, CEO of Zoom.

We reached out to Velchamy Sankarlingam, president of product and engineering at Zoom Video Communications, to understand the company’s commitments and plan for India.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (KR): How has the teleconferencing market in India changed post-COVID-19?

Velchamy Sankarlingam (VS): Virtual collaboration tools have certainly come to the rescue during the pandemic. This space has seen a massive uptick in usage. The ‘video collaboration tools’, as we like to call it, are not just being used by enterprises across industries to keep their operations running, but also by government organizations, as well as standalone users who are connecting with their loved ones. Sectors like education and healthcare have successfully been able to cope up with norms of the new normal.

For individuals practicing social distancing, video collaboration is the only way to stay connected with each other. We have seen how ‘Zoom’ has become a common term for any virtual meeting. Whether it is for weddings, birthday parties, or webinars, we are seeing enormous growth and opportunities.

Velchamy Sankarlingam, president of product and engineering at Zoom Video Communications.

Kr: Since when did Zoom start to focus in the India market? How important is the India market for Zoom?

VS: Zoom India chapter began in September 2019 and has since been an important focus market. We have employees and two data centers in India—Mumbai & Hyderabad—that help us provide the best services to our customers here. We have witnessed huge growth in India, amongst other countries. As part of our strategic investment in India, we have recently announced a new technology center in Bangalore where we will hire key IT & Engineering talent locally and across India. This center will supplement our existing R&D centers and engineering leadership based out of the US.

This growing presence is in direct response to Zoom’s increased level of adoption by users across India. From January to April 2020, Zoom has seen 6,700% growth in free user sign-ups in India.

Kr: Do you see this trend of remote meeting keeping the pace even when offices open up?

VS: Life after COVID-19 is unpredictable. People would be hesitant in meeting with others, going out more frequently, and would avoid crowded spaces. However, with virtual tools people have realized success. Employers have understood that the workforce is more productive and motivated while working from home. We are also seeing a trend of frequent events being held on digital platforms. As more people become comfortable with working online, we can expect digital events to have higher relevance and better market penetration. Easy to use collaboration platforms have given a new meaning to the ‘new normal’.

With virtual collaboration or remote working, businesses can now hire talent from any geography, allowing them to harness the best of an intelligent workforce for their business. A win-win situation for all.

Kr: What’s the kind of traffic Zoom is seeing in India?

VS: While we don’t have region-specific numbers, Zoom has definitely seen a massive surge. As of the end of December last year, the maximum number of daily meeting participants, both free and paid, conducted on Zoom was approximately 10 million. In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid, and in April we surpassed 300 million daily meeting participants.

The user base is a mix of enterprise and standalone users. Compared to January this year, our free user signups in April grew by 67x and paid customers with 10 (or more) employees by 4x. India is one of the largest markets for Zoom. With virtual birthday parties, weddings, clubs, comedy shows, we are proud to help connect millions.

Read this: Zoom is your new classroom: Will online education become the norm after COVID-19?

Kr: In April, Indian government had issued an advisory asking people not to use the platform due to the security concerns. What are the safety measures Zoom has taken to ensure companies and individuals feel safe to use the platform?

VS: Zoom has always been a secure platform and our 90-day feature freeze period focused on taking an already secure platform to the next level. During this period, Zoom launched a CISO Council, released various versions of Zoom with 5.0 being the latest one, acquired Keybase, and is working to provide End to End Encryption to our free and paid users.

Zoom 5.0 delivers one of our most advanced security enhancements to date with encryption support, which provides added protection for meeting data and greater resistance to tampering. The version provides users with features like reporting a user, new encryption icon, enhanced data center information which allows more flexibility and security to users.

The MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) advisory is based on CERT-In (The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team) advisories. It issues advisories for any vulnerabilities of any software or application that are detected. One of the CERT-In advisories for Zoom focuses on “how to safely use Zoom i.e. using the Zoom security features”, while another one speaks of “the vulnerabilities on our platform and the resolution”, i.e., by upgrading to a higher version of Zoom in the same advisory. This is a normal practice followed in the software industry and is intended solely to apprise the public of the possibility of the vulnerability of any technology they might be using, and to highlight a solution, if available.

Kr: Is Zoom in talks with the authorities to show there are no security issues anymore?

VS: We are in touch with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), and communicating with them, in terms of sharing the facts about technology, security of our platform, and the privacy of our users using our platform. We are focused on providing the information they need to make informed decisions about their policies and initiate corrective steps if any.

Kr: Recently, Jio launched a similar service in India. Plus, there are a few other startups also working in this space. Considering Zoom’s previous investor, Qualcomm, has bought stakes in Jio, what are the steps Zoom is taking to maintain its leadership position in India?

VS: Zoom has experienced intense competition since it was established in 2011, and yet we have become the platform of choice for millions of participants around the world. We know what it takes to become the unified communications platform we are today, including the immense amount of work and focus required to create our friction-less user experience, sophisticated security, and scalable architecture.

Kr: What is the monetization model that the company is looking at in India?

VS: The model is the same as globally. We are a subscription-based model and offer a basic plan for free personal meetings, pro plan for small teams; business plan for a minimum of 10 hosts; and enterprise plan for 100 hosts per month.

Kr: Is there a plan to invest or acquire Indian companies working in this space?

VS: We do not have any such plans at the moment.

Kr: From the technology perspective, what are some of the efforts Zoom has taken to make sure it meets surging demand in the India market?

VS: We have been able to scale our infrastructure (two data centers in India) to meet the sudden demand on our platform. In the case of an unprecedented, massive influx of demand, we have the ability to access and deploy tens of thousands of servers within hours, and in full compliance with our privacy policy, to seamlessly scale without any impact to our users.