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Jun 3, 2020

Zoom transforms hype into huge jump in sales, customers

The logo for the Zoom Video Communications application. Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

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Zoom Video Communications Inc. demonstrated that paying customers have flocked to its virtual-meeting software, transforming the once-niche appmaker into a popular communications service and positioning it to benefit as the nature of work, school and life is upended.

Zoom reported sales soared in the three months ended April 30, when the coronavirus pandemic spurred a wave of stay-at-home orders for millions of people worldwide.

The company expects the trend to continue the rest of the year, and projected that revenue and profit will leapfrog investors’ earlier expectations.

“A shift in work culture triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic urges corporations to pull forward adoption of cloud-based video-conferencing tools,” Boyoung Kim, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, wrote Tuesday in a note.

Zoom’s “intuitive technology and strong brand recognition should help the company pick up market share in video conferencing, outpacing the industry.”

Sales in the current quarter will be as much as US$500 million, the San Jose, California-based company said Tuesday in a statement.

Revenue in the third and fourth fiscal quarters should be consistent with that performance, Chief Financial Officer Kelly Steckelberg said during a conference call.

Overall, Zoom expects to generate as much as US$1.8 billion this fiscal year, which is almost triple the size of the business last year.

Analysts, on average, estimated US$930.8 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Zoom’s shares jumped 6.6 per cent to US$221.80 at 11:44 a.m. Wednesday in New York after closing at a record US$208.08 on Tuesday. The stock has tripled this year.

Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan has tried to ensure that his virtual-meeting platform can cope with a swell of demand from people staying home to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

While security and privacy issues plagued the system early in the quarantine, Zoom has become an essential service, attracting more than 300 million participants some days, up from 10 million in December.

The software maker allows gatherings of as long as 40 minutes for no charge.

While Zoom has attracted more buzz than corporate rivals, the results Tuesday suggested it can attract the paying clients needed to compete against services from Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

The software maker said its potential market has expanded beyond an estimate of US$43 billion by 2022 made by analyst IDC, according to a 2019 regulatory filing. And executives said they have expanded hiring plans to take advantage of the opportunity.

While Steckelberg warned that the lifting of stay-at-home orders may cause fewer people to use Zoom’s software, the company said it hadn’t seen the numbers decline yet in areas that have reopened.

Many educational institutions that teach through Zoom have decided to host virtual classes through at least the fall, pointing to robust demand for the app through the rest of the year.

To continue growing at a torrid pace, Zoom will sell its Phone software and Rooms hardware products to existing customers, Steckelberg added.

Yuan vowed not to rely on advertising to make money from its legions of free users.

In the fiscal first quarter, revenue increased about 170 per cent to US$328.2 million.

Analysts, on average, expected US$203 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Profit, excluding some items, was 20 cents a share, compared with analysts’ average projection of 9 cents.

The company said its expects adjusted profit in the fiscal year will be US$355 million to US$380 million, or US$1.21 to US$1.29 a share.

Analysts had estimated 46 cents, just more than Zoom’s earlier forecast.

The company has been spending to bolster its network capacity, including by buying cloud-computing services from Oracle Corp. during the pandemic.

Zoom also continues to use Amazon.com Inc.’s cloud service, which provided the majority of the new capacity.

Zoom’s daily meeting participants have dipped a bit below the blockbuster 300 million figure revealed in April, but Steckelberg said the company expects to consistently surpass that milestone in the future.

The company said it ended the quarter with about 265,400 customers with more than 10 employees, a more than fourfold increase from the same period a year earlier.

The company now has 769 corporate clients that have spent more than US$100,000 on Zoom’s products over the last 12 months, about double from a year earlier.

With Zoom’s popularity has come controversy over the company’s security practices.

Trolls have invaded myriad meetings, religious gatherings and other events, to share pornography and shout profanity or racial epithets, in a phenomenon known as “Zoombombing.”

The company highlighted or created a raft of tools users can employ to prevent the virtual attacks, including passwords and waiting rooms.

There also were instances when Zoom calls were routed through servers in China even when no participant was based there and users were unwittingly sending metadata to Facebook Inc. when they signed in.

Zoom put an end to both practices.

The company pledged to commit to bolstering privacy over all other concerns for three months, purchasing a secure-messaging company, Keybase, to bring the highest standard of encryption to the platform, and hiring cybersecurity experts to guide safety efforts.

Corporate clients will get access to Zoom’s end-to-end encryption service now being developed, but Yuan said free users won’t enjoy that level of privacy, which makes it impossible for third parties to decipher communications.

“Free users for sure we don’t want to give that because we also want to work together with FBI, with local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose,” Yuan said on the call.