Startups Don’t Have to Start from Scratch

I’ve been using Zoom video calls to conduct meetings for the last few weeks. Zoom is a perfect example of a startup (well . . . it used to be) that improved on an existing product rather than creating something new. Zoom’s founder worked for Webex, and he realized its product was becoming obsolete in the age of cloud computing. And Webex’s acquisition by Cisco, a large enterprise company, slowed Webex’s evolution.

The founder saw an opportunity. Wouldn’t video conferencing be better if it was designed to work on cloud computing infrastructure? He built a beta product, raised some capital, and the rest is history. Today, Zoom is publicly traded and has a market cap (i.e., worth) of more than $42 billion. Its product is popular with customers even though it has lots of competitors and it wasn’t the first video conferencing product. (Side note: Zoom currently has an enterprise value of forty-five times 2020 projected revenue. For most publicly traded SaaS companies, this number is in the vicinity of ten.)

Many entrepreneurs feel they should create something transformative that no one else has thought of. But building a better mousetrap can be just as rewarding. (I’m not saying it’s easy—the product usually needs to be ten times better than existing products to scale quickly.) Zoom is a great example. Its founder combined his deep knowledge of video conferencing (his “unfair advantage”) with new technology (cloud computing) to create a much-improved video conferencing experience that customers love.

I like this path because everyone isn’t an idea person or futurist. Most professionals, though, have years of experience in some corner of the world of work and can easily tell you what people don’t like about it and how it could be improved. A great startup idea could spring from that specialized knowledge.