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Anjali Sud is reinventing Vimeo and taking over the future of video

It's not a YouTube competitor anymore. It's something much bigger.

Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud

Anjali Sud has been CEO of Vimeo since 2017, and has totally changed the company in that time.

Photo: Vimeo

Anjali Sud's first day as Vimeo CEO was an eventful one. Not only was she standing in front of the company as its new leader, she was telling them that things were about to change. A lot. After more than a decade operating as a home for streaming content — sometimes a YouTube competitor, other times coming for Netflix, never quite reaching either goal — Vimeo was going to become a SaaS company. It would be wooing IT managers and vice presidents, not A-list directors and Golden Globes voters. Even after the initial shock wore off, she knew it would take a while to change the structures, incentives, goals and workflows to become a different kind of company.

That was 2017. Now it's early 2021, and Vimeo is on a tear. Sud and her team are getting ready to spin out of Barry Diller's IAC later this year, turning Vimeo into a public company in its own right. They've raised $450 million in capital ahead of that change, and are currently valued at about $5.7 billion. Vimeo has more than 200 million users, 1.5 million of whom pay for its services. Its revenue increased 54% in the most recent quarter compared to a year ago, and by some measures the company is already profitable.

The wildest part of it all, Sud said, is that most people still have no idea what Vimeo's up to. "Everybody still thinks of us as, like, the indie version of YouTube," she said. "They definitely do not think of us as a B2B SaaS company that's powering the town halls and trainings and marketing videos of Fortune 100 organizations." The new Vimeo doesn't sound as sexy as the old Vimeo, but it's turning into a much better business.

Anjali Sud was also this week's guest on the Source Code podcast — you can listen to our full interview above. The questions and answers below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

I'm guessing you've gotten really good at the 30-second "what Vimeo is now" pitch.

You'd think that I would be better! But I think so. The pandemic really crystallized things for us, to be honest. Anytime you're embarking on a new strategy, you have conviction, you have passion, but you don't have certainty. You don't know it's the right strategy. And there are many times along the way where you sort of question, "OK, this is the angle we're coming into the market, is it the right one? Are we off about X, are we off about Y? The idea that even large organizations are going to be using video in every way they communicate, is that a little crazy?"

Those questions, I think, are ones that we've really wrestled with. That I've wrestled with. And the pandemic has really helped accelerate the demand. Today, if I said to you "you know, large organizations are going to use video to train employees, or to do product demos or support," you would think that makes total sense. But three years ago, people were very skeptical. It's much easier now to just say it in terms everyone gets and understands.

Let's walk through that a little bit, actually, because I think understanding the video space is tough. When we talk about video, we either tend to talk about Zoom or Netflix. Those are the two sides of the spectrum here. And I feel like you're exploring, and in some sense kind of inventing, this new third space: what video is for people at work. Is that right? Paint the ecosystem for me here a little bit.

As you think about the evolution of video, it started as a form of entertainment. You had Hollywood Studios, and then you have Netflix, and it's a form of entertainment. And that's awesome. And then you had the consumer wave with social media and phones, and it actually became a form of personal expression. You look at what's happening with TikTok, it's a form of personal expression.

Then I think you have this third wave that we're going through now, which is now businesses using video for communication. It started with the meeting; meetings have been video-ified. And that's permanently changed behavior.

Then the next phase of that is really taking these other pieces of video, and how do you actually bring that into businesses and how they communicate? And I'll give you just like some examples. A meeting, you know, there's a meeting, but then what about events? Conferences? Town halls? What about onboarding and training new employees? What about marketing? What about every Instagram post being a video because it gets higher clicks and engagement, and is prioritized in feeds? What about when you go to a website, whether it's a product demo or support tutorial, being able to use video to make purchase decisions?

If you actually look at the ecosystem today, very few businesses are doing it. And the reason is that the barriers are high. And that's what we're trying to solve at Vimeo. We're trying to really make it easy for any business to use video to communicate externally with potential customers and internally with their employees using professional-quality video. We launched an app called Vimeo Create, and it'll help you make quick social media videos in a couple clicks and in a couple minutes. We use AI, and we provide stock footage and licensed music and creative templates. And you can totally customize it, make your own. But those are the types of ways to lower barriers and make it easier. Otherwise, you're not going to see the kind of mass adoption that we now see with meetings.

Even once people buy into the concept, Sud said, building great video tools is a tricky business. There's a glut of professional tools, from Premiere to Final Cut to Avid, all of which have huge power and huge learning curves. Meanwhile, apps like Snapchat and TikTok are building increasingly functional — but extremely platform-specific — tools into their own services. Vimeo is trying to occupy a middle ground: powerful enough to make interesting stuff, simple enough to be approachable for anyone at a company with a few minutes and an Instagram account.

"There are two categories of users we have," said Vimeo's CTO and chief product officer, Mark Kornfilt. He called the first category "video is my business," referring to longtime Vimeo users who host and share their stuff on the platform. The second category is "video helps my business," which he said, is where Vimeo's biggest market lies: flower shops that want to get people in the store; retailers who want to show off their new stuff; real estate agents who want to shoot fun virtual listings. Video is a means to an end for all those businesses, which means Vimeo needs to get them through a video as quickly as possible.

One of Vimeo's favorite metrics is the time it takes people to create something — even if it's bad — in the app. With a couple of photos and a logo, "before we even show you the editor, we'll show you a video that you've just created," Kornfilt said. "We try to bring the satisfaction of seeing the content as quickly as possible in the process."

Social videos are a particular focus for Vimeo, Sud said, as companies look to leverage the billions of people who use Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn/TikTok /Snapchat/every other social app out there. But most of those companies don't have the resources to build teams or content for every platform, so Vimeo's trying to automate the process.

One thing that we're learning about TikTok and Instagram and Facebook and all these places that people want to be able to do their brand-building, is that they all want totally different things. And it feels like the challenge of being a business right now is that you need a team of 1,000 people just to program all of these different places. Can you roll all of that stuff up into one place inside Vimeo?

We think we can. The way I see it, this again goes to the business model. All of these platforms are ad-based, and so what you're seeing is that each is becoming a walled garden. They want content created just for that platform. And they want to keep the creator and the viewer on the platform, because they literally monetize the eyeballs.

So if there's a battle for eyeballs, we're the Switzerland for the creators. We are neutral, we want to help you put your content everywhere, we actually have tools today that allow you to natively publish with one click from Vimeo to multiple platforms. And we bring the analytics back into one place, so that you can actually understand what's happening. And actually, most social media platforms have been thrilled to partner with us on this, because if we can help more people create video content, that is good for them. So this is an example where I think the SaaS business model allows us to be totally aligned with the success of our customers with the success of a business in a way that social platforms are not able to. And so again, I think it's incumbent upon us to build these tools, if we really want to make it easier for people to use video.

I guess that's true, that for these people getting a lot of TikTok followers is not actually the point of your business. It's a fine means to an end. But that's not what you're here for.

But also you don't have to sacrifice that! We want you to make content — and by the way, we're working on using our API and our data to actually tell you, "Here's a video you just made, we just optimized it for TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Press this button, and each version will go out, and you can see what you want to do with it." We're going to automatically optimize the thumbnails and do X, Y and Z. The real thought here is that right now, the platforms are asking businesses to choose, and you shouldn't have to choose, and we don't want you to have to choose.

Sud said that Vimeo's not trying to out-Zoom Zoom, but it has its eyes on almost every other part of a businesses workflow, from staff events to training videos to virtual yoga classes.

By not caring about being a destination, Vimeo has been able to get a head start on becoming the internet's infrastructure for making video. It has partnerships with GoDaddy, Shopify, MailChimp and others that allow users to use Vimeo's video-making tools from within those other platforms. Sud said: "And it's specifically designed again to just open up the market because the biggest barrier is people just not trying video."

That's what Sud keeps coming back to, the real task in front of her and the entire video industry: convincing everyone that video is actually achievable, a task worth their time and energy that won't take up much of either.

As Vimeo gets ready to strike out on its own and make a name for itself all over again, Sud said she's confident the industry is ready for what Vimeo is selling. (Maybe even sooner than she guessed, thanks to the pandemic.) She likes to compare video right now to websites in the internet's early days. "Today, any restaurant, any mom-and-pop shop can build a website in a matter of clicks. Ten years ago, you would have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and six months, and have an in-house group of engineers. Now we look back and we think, 'Wow, that's so easy.' And professional quality video should be so easy that anybody can do it," she said. "We just have a lot of work to do to get there."

Image: Yuanxin

Yuanxin Technology doesn't hide its ambition. In the first line of its prospectus, the company says its mission is to be the "first choice for patients' healthcare and medication needs in China." But the road to winning the crowded China health tech race is a long one for this Tencent- and Sequoia-backed startup, even with a recent valuation of $4 billion, according to Chinese publication Lieyunwang. Here's everything you need to know about Yuanxin Technology's forthcoming IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

What does Yuanxin do?

There are many ways startups can crack open the health care market in China, and Yuanxin has focused on one: prescription drugs. According to its prospectus, sales of prescription drugs outside hospitals account for only 23% of the total healthcare market in China, whereas that number is 70.2% in the United States.

Yuanxin started with physical stores. Since 2015, it has opened 217 pharmacies immediately outside Chinese hospitals. "A pharmacy has to be on the main road where a patient exits the hospital. It needs to be highly accessible," Yuanxin founder He Tao told Chinese media in August. Then, patients are encouraged to refill their prescriptions on Yuanxin's online platforms and to follow up with telehealth services instead of returning to a hospital.

From there, Yuanxin has built a large product portfolio that offers online doctor visits, pharmacies and private insurance plans. It also works with enterprise clients, designing office automation and prescription management systems for hospitals and selling digital ads for big pharma.

Yuanxin's Financials

Yuanxin's annual revenues have been steadily growing from $127 million in 2018 to $365 million in 2019 and $561 million in 2020. In each of those three years, over 97% of revenue came from "out-of-hospital comprehensive patient services," which include the company's physical pharmacies and telehealth services. More specifically, approximately 83% of its retail sales derived from prescription drugs.

But the company hasn't made a profit. Yuanxin's annual losses grew from $17 million in 2018 to $26 million in 2019 and $48 million in 2020. The losses are moderate considering the ever-growing revenues, but cast doubt on whether the company can become profitable any time soon. Apart from the cost of drug supplies, the biggest spend is marketing and sales.

What's next for Yuanxin

There are still abundant opportunities in the prescription drug market. In 2020, China's National Medical Products Administration started to explore lifting the ban on selling prescription drugs online. Although it's unclear when the change will take place, it looks like more purely-online platforms will be able to write prescriptions in the future. With its established market presence, Yuanxin is likely one of the players that can benefit greatly from such a policy change.

The enterprise and health insurance businesses of Yuanxin are still fairly small (accounting for less than 3% of annual revenue), but this is where the company sees an opportunity for future growth. Yuanxin is particularly hoping to power its growth with data and artificial intelligence. It boasts a database of 14 million prescriptions accumulated over years, and the company says the data can be used in many ways: designing private insurance plans, training doctors and offering chronic disease management services. The company says it currently employs 509 people on its R&D team, including 437 software engineers and 22 data engineers and scientists.

What Could Go Wrong?

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped sell the story of digital health care, but Yuanxin isn't the only company benefiting from this opportunity. 2020 has seen a slew of Chinese health tech companies rise. They either completed their IPO process before Yuanxin (like JD, Alibaba and Ping An's healthcare subsidiaries) or are close to it (WeDoctor and DXY). In this crowded sector, Yuanxin faces competition from both companies with Big Tech parent companies behind them and startups that have their own specialized advantages.

Like each of its competitors, Yuanxin needs to be careful with how it processes patient data — some of the most sensitive personal data online. Recent Chinese legislation around personal data has made it clear that it will be increasingly difficult to monetize user data. In the prospectus, Yuanxin elaborately explained how it anonymizes data and prevents data from being leaked or hacked, but it also admitted that it cannot foresee what future policies will be introduced.

Who Gets Rich

  • Yuanxin's founder and CEO He Tao and SVP He Weizhuang own 29.82% of the company's shares through a jointly controlled company. (It's unclear whether He Tao and He Weizhuang are related.)
  • Tencent owns 19.55% of the shares.
  • Sequoia owns 16.21% of the shares.
  • Other major investors include Qiming, Starquest Capital and Kunling, which respectively own 7.12%, 6.51% and 5.32% of the shares.

What People Are Saying

  • "The demands of patients, hospitals, insurance companies, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies are all different. How to meet each individual demand and find a core profit model is the key to Yuanxin Technology's future growth." — Xu Yuchen, insurance industry analyst and member of China Association of Actuaries, in Chinese publication Lanjinger.
  • "The window of opportunity caused by the pandemic, as well as the high valuations of those companies that have gone public, brings hope to other medical services companies…[But] the window of opportunity is closing and the potential of Internet healthcare is yet to be explored with new ideas. Therefore, traditional, asset-heavy healthcare companies need to take this opportunity and go public as soon as possible." —Wang Hang, founder and CEO of online healthcare platform Haodf, in state media China.com.

Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

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