Vimeo’s evolution into a billion dollar company
Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud chats with Scott and Nora about her path from serving as head of marketing at Vimeo, to becoming CEO in 2017, and details how she transformed the company from a $40 million company, to a publicly traded company worth over $5 billion. She also reveals why she took a risk and pitched her big idea for Vimeo’s redirection, helping it become a software platform for businesses at every stage.
Nora Ali: If you're a 90s kid, you might still think of the video platform Vimeo as, in the words of one recent Forbes article, YouTube's weird, flailing, artsy cousin. But in reality, the company has made a monumental shift in the past few years that has transformed it from a $40 million company to an over $5 billion company that went public this May. Vimeo may have started as a streaming platform for filmmakers, but it has become a software platform for businesses at every stage to easily shoot, edit, and post videos. These changes can be traced back to Vimeo's then-head of marketing, Anjali Sud, who took a risk and pitched the redirection to the CEO of Vimeo's parent company at the time, IAC. After proving her idea’s potential, she was promoted to CEO of Vimeo in 2017. She joins us today to discuss her journey transforming the company and realizing its new mission. For Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, the podcast that gives you a front row seat to candid conversations with some of the biggest names in business, asking them the questions you wish you could ask. I'm your host, Nora Ali.
Scott Rogowsky: And I'm your other host, Scott Rogowsky. Nora and I are here for your ears, bringing you stories about business shapes our daily lives now and into the future. Let's get down to business. Nora, we talked to a woman this afternoon who has quite the story in her business career, starting out, trying to and failing to land a job at an investment bank out of college. I guess she found one finally. And then she jumped around, went to business school, Amazon marketing departments. Joined Vimeo, became CEO of Vimeo after pitching this somewhat radical idea that ended up pivoting the company's strategy and turning them into a massive player in the digital video space. Do you have any similar stories from your career? Did you turn around any companies, become a CEO?
Nora Ali: Wow. I wish I could say yes, but to a very small scale, I have been in situations where companies are trying to pivot, trying to experiment with new features, with new angles, new apps even. When I worked in e-commerce, I was in part responsible for a team that was looking for the next generation of that app. So we had this ragtag team of engineers and designers that were told by management, run free, go test whatever you want, and then pitch to us what the next generation of this company should be. It's equal parts fun, but also very daunting because not only do you have to convince management and convince investors that this is the right way to move forward, you also have to convince consumers that this new experience is better. And I'm sure you've experienced this before, Scott, where a feature will change on an app that you're very used to using. And you're like, "Oh my gosh, this sucks. I hate this." We hate change. I remember this when Facebook introduced the newsfeed, everyone was like, what is this? And now it's hard to imagine Facebook without newsfeed.
Scott Rogowsky: I couldn't believe they changed their name from The Facebook to Facebook. That threw me off. I was like, no, we need a proper article there.
Nora Ali: I don't want to use it. Yes, exactly. You need the, the.
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. Vimeo, in my mind, because I've been familiar with Vimeo for over a decade. I definitely uploaded videos there early on. I never really thought much of it. And then all of a sudden in the past year I was talking to a company who said, "Oh, we're using Vimeo to run our livestream conference." I said, "Wait, Vimeo? You're using Vimeo as a service?" This was a lightning conversation on many accounts, hearing her personal story, the story of Vimeo and how they've evolved over nearly two decades as a company. And we get into so much more. What do we get into, what else do we get into?
Nora Ali: Here's our conversation with Vimeo CEO, Anjali Sud.
Nora Ali: Anjali, we're so excited to talk to you. I think there are few stories if not this being the only story of such a big pivot at a company, by a person like yourself who then goes on to become CEO. Let's start by dispelling some misconceptions about what Vimeo is at this moment. So what was the OG problem that Vimeo was trying to solve? And what is the new problem that Vimeo is trying to solve now under you as CEO?
Anjali Sud: Today, Vimeo is a video software company. The majority of the world probably doesn't realize, most people probably think of us as the indie, ad-free version of YouTube. And that's because for over 13 years of our 16-year history, that was the problem that we were trying to solve. So Vimeo was first launched really as the creative hub for high quality video hosting. This was right at the time that people were uploading video for the first time to the internet. And you had YouTube doing that at massive scale, but with advertising. And so a lot of filmmakers and video professionals and agencies and creatives didn't want their work to be cluttered with cat videos and ads. And so they came to Vimeo as this really high-quality, professional community with very simple, beautiful UX. And that sort of was the problem that Vimeo was trying to solve for many years. When I got to the company, this was about seven years ago, we had sort of moved away from that strategy, largely because video hosting itself was becoming commoditized and we didn't think it was as big a market. And so for a few years there, the other problem we tried to solve was entertainment. We actually did spend a few years pursuing a strategy to invest in original content and look to compete with the Netflixes of the world. This was before content budgets went from millions to billions and the streaming wars took off. So at the time actually that was a really viable strategy. And four years ago, I stepped in as CEO to solve a very different problem. And that was that video as a medium, was clearly a form of entertainment and had actually become because of our phones and social media, a form of personal expression for consumers, but video wasn't being used by businesses. It wasn't being used at work to communicate, connect, collaborate. And so we actually saw a totally different market opportunity, which is how can we empower every business, every team, every employee in the world, to be able to work better using the power of professional quality video? And we looked at the market and thought, well you can imagine a world, it seems obvious today now, but it wasn't four years ago, where every town hall is live streamed. Where people record product demos and walkthroughs instead of setting up a meeting and asynchronously send it to their team. And so we kind of envisioned that future and said, well, why isn't video being used today? If you think about how we're communicating at work, we use email and chat and image and text, but we don't use this incredibly powerful medium. Why? Because the ecosystem was never designed for any employee to adopt it. Extremely complex, requires big budgets, time. The technology wasn't such that you could really do something like produce a live stream from your browser in TV quality or privately and easily send video files in a way that was super simple without friction. And so that's the problem that we have sought to solve. Our mission is to enable professional quality video for all. And think about how we can do that for any business, regardless of their size, budget or expertise. Scott Rogowsky: And were you aware of Vimeo and YouTube in those early days? Were you a content creator yourself back in college and coming out of college? Anjali Sud: I wasn't a content creator myself. What I was, was a marketer, which is interesting because actually that's a customer that we look to serve today. But for me, I never set out to enter the world of video. I worked in a bunch of different industries. I worked at Time Warner, I worked at Amazon. And the reason I came to Vimeo was because I had seen, in my time at Time Warner, I'd seen the media landscape really get disrupted by digital models, going from traditional Hollywood to how large media companies had to then shift their strategy. And then I had gone to Amazon and I'd seen the explosion of e-commerce and I was just really intrigued by Vimeo because I felt like video is probably going to go through the same kind of disruption that e-commerce went through 10 years ago and where there's disruption, there's opportunity for innovation. And then, it was only until I got to Vimeo and I came in as a marketer that I found...my job was basically to understand who our users were, so we could market to them and speak to them better. And as my team and I were really diving into who the users were on the platform, we were noticing a very organic, natural trend where previously it had really just been filmmakers, agencies, and the video professionals and they were uploading feature-length films, documentaries, and music videos. And then we started to see, which is this very slight but steady uptick in small businesses and marketers. And they were uploading short-form video for their website or social media. And it was really through understanding what some of those users were asking for that I think it became clear that there was actually an evolution happening in the industry and through that an opportunity for Vimeo.
Nora Ali: Because you come from that marketing background, I want to dig a little bit more into what marketers are looking for today. Just one example, I know Vimeo's a TikTok partner helping small- and medium sized businesses with production and Vimeo Create, which is the tool allows marketers to produce and publish content onto TikTok pretty quickly and seamlessly. And it makes the volume game a little bit easier. So how important is quantity and volume these days for marketers versus having fewer videos that are perhaps higher quality?
Anjali Sud: It's funny. I think that trade off between quality and engagement versus frequency and speed is exactly what we're trying to break with the tools that we're building. And so, if you talk to most marketers, they want to communicate where their customers are and they want to communicate in the most engaging way that they can. And we all know that your users, your customers are all over the internet. And because we have these news feeds and algorithms, there's a lot of noise and we all have short attention spans. And so of course, if you ask any marketer and or you ask any small business owner or entrepreneur, they will say, of course I want to use video in every social media post and on my website. But historically to produce high-quality branded content with custom graphics and great footage, you literally had to spend tens of thousands of dollars, hire a crew, write a script, have someone edit in an editing bay. It was weeks long and thousands of dollars of a process.For what? A social media post that you're going to put out that has a shelf life of four days and then you’ve got to do it again? It's just the supply-demand didn't work. And so Vimeo Create, it's a mobile app and it's an AI-based tool. So what it seeks to do is actually take all of the inputs that you have, your own footage, stock footage, music, graphics, branding, and use AI to actually dramatically lower the barriers to get that first version of a video in front of you. So we'll just sort of create something for you and then you can customize, edit it, and make it your own. And by the way, we're just getting started in this industry, there's so much room to grow. For example, we collect data all around the internet. We track every single piece of video. We know, for example, that if you're a real estate broker and you want to do a real estate listing that the drone shot in the first five seconds with upbeat music is going to get better clicks on Instagram. And so the idea that we can actually use data to then further optimize and help businesses get higher performing, better quality videos...and the number one piece of feedback we get from our users when they actually do it, it's always like a big barrier to get them to try to make their first video, to really play with the tool. But once they do it and they get that output, usually the response is, "Wow. I never realized that I had that power in the palm of my hand today."
Scott Rogowsky: Under your leadership and thanks to the decisions you've made, Vimeo went from a company earning about $40 million in revenue to now a public company with a market cap of over five billion. Very prescient and brilliant on your behalf there, but there are a lot of articles about, and I've heard you being interviewed and giving talks about this, but I want to hear about the actual moment. We want to get deep here. The moment that you pitched the idea as the head of marketing at the company, so you were not CEO at this point, but you pitched the current CEO at the time of the parent company of Vimeo on this idea of changing track. Switching from entering the content wars, the streaming wars, you had just invested all this money into Vimeo Originals and built an LA office. And you had just started this new initiative, but you thought, you know what, let's pivot here. Was this an epiphany in the middle of the night, you woke up in a jolt? Was this a brainstorming session with a partner? How did that idea come about? What was that aha moment?
Anjali Sud: And I think often is the case, it's never an epiphany in the middle of the night and it wasn't just me and it wasn't even a pitch really. The reality is that we had filmmakers and businesses using the platform. And while it wasn't our strategy, there were people coming to us to do those things. And so it's interesting I think, what really happened for myself and there were others at the company, where I was really more the champion of something that I think many folks felt. There was just some skepticism, genuine skepticism that the original content strategy was going to work. And meanwhile, we have a whole base of users and this sort of organic trend that's happening. And basically there was about a year where we hadn't launched our own subscription service. We still were investing in original content. So what are you going to do with all those users and that opportunity? And so in many ways it was more, we need a plan for this group. At the time, the assumption was we are all-in on original content. So there was never an idea that this is going to maybe be the thing that ends up being what we do, or it never occurred to me that I could ever possibly be the CEO of Vimeo. But there was a feeling of, there's something here and we don't yet have our new service launched. So let's just take a small group of people at the company and let's see what we can do if we just try, for the first time in Vimeo's history, really try to build whole products and tools to serve this market in a very concentrated way. And honestly, that's how it started. It didn't start as this radical pivot pitch thing. It was just, let's do that and see where it goes. And really what happened is that a year later we had launched a very MVP version of Vimeo Business, which was a plan targeted to businesses. We saw really strong validation in all the ways that you would care about. And at the same time, original content, the budgets got higher, the streaming wars got more intense. And I think what often happens is that you have a kernel of conviction, but then as you get more and more into it, it becomes a passion. And I think for me and a group of folks at the company, it did become a real passion, something that we were willing to bet our careers on and the company on. And when you find yourself in a time of uncertainty of, okay, well plan A isn't working, can plan B work? And you got a group of people standing right there saying it will work and we will bet on it. I think it becomes a lot easier for others to bet on you. And that's how I would describe the great pivot.
Nora Ali: Looks like the pivot has paid off so far. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll talk more with Anjali Sud about this famous great pivot and her role as CEO of Vimeo.
Nora Ali: All right, Anjali, as a fellow Midwestern child of South Asian immigrants, I can guess that your parents and your family are very invested in your success and your career and the notion of you being the boss, especially now the boss of a publicly traded company. And I was reading that you got advice from your dad when you were offered the CEO position, and he told you to step out of your comfort zone and to launch into jobs that you feel like you might not even be qualified for, which I think is great advice and advice that I live by as well. So how did this direction from your father impact your career decisions and how do you live by that today? Anjali Sud: My parents are super proud. They bleed Vimeo blue. I think my upbringing absolutely influenced my entire career and the way I think about my ability to be a leader. I grew up in Flint, Michigan. My parents are Indian immigrants and from the time I can remember, my dad would always tell me and my two siblings to pursue the world. That was the internal Sud family mantra. And the idea was, my parents left all their family and friends to come to America, to pursue the American dream. And we were so privileged to have a much better education and much better resources than they had growing up. And so, it was kind of like, what are you going to do with that privilege? How were you going to have an impact and how are you going to make the world and your community a better place? My father, among many things, is also an entrepreneur and loved building businesses and creating jobs in our hometown. And so I got the bug pretty early on as a child. The bug that, one way to have a positive impact on the world is to create thriving businesses that will drive the economy and drive jobs. And that sort of advice from my dad to get out of your comfort zone and to just put yourself in situations where your learning curve will be very steep, because that will actually make you a better leader, definitely is something that I followed. And I do believe firmly the best leaders are not always the experts. They don't always have all the answers nor should they. What they have is a vision. They have the ability to bring a team together and to allocate capital and resources in the right way to empower people, to achieve it. And they have really good gut instincts and ability to take signals and information and data and make better decisions. So when I had the opportunity to become CEO, I had massive imposter syndrome. There was lots of reasons why, I was like, I don't have any business doing this job. But I had sort of the confidence of having at least had a dry run for a year, proving out the strategy. And honestly, I had a team that was rooting for me and that had my back and that I think was an incredible source of strength. Nora Ali: I think it's comforting for us to hear that even the CEO of Vimeo has felt imposter syndrome before. So thank you for being honest about that. Anjali Sud: I feel it every day. I feel it right now. It's totally normal. Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. Nora Ali: Good. We feel it too. Scott Rogowsky: What was that moment like when you were offered that role, was it something that you had time to prepare for? Was it sprung on you? Did you have to take a few days or a few weeks to think about it or was it an instantaneous, I do? Anjali Sud: When I was offered the role, it just had never occurred to me that would actually happen, so I wasn't expecting it. And I was really surprised. I think my first response was, is this a joke? Genuinely. Scott Rogowsky: Was this in a boardroom, or at a dinner? Set it up for us. Anjali Sud: I was in my office with Joey Levin, the CEO of IAC, our parent company. He'd come to my office that morning and he offered me the job in a very concise, direct fashion. I was kind of like, is this a joke? But also, I understood the context, which was that we were no longer going to do original content. And therefore we were leaning into the strategy and the way it was positioned to me, which was awesome, was, well, you've been leading it already. So we'll give you a chance to do it at the CEO level. And I think I said to him, "Well, can I have the day to think about it?" And I think he said to me, "Of course, but just to be clear, you'd be crazy not to take this job." And in my head, I was definitely ready. I was in I do mode. But I think I tried to play it cool. And I'm pretty sure I lasted five hours before I called him back that evening. Honestly, it was my dream job. It was my dream job for so many reasons, but more than the title and the career path, it was that I really loved Vimeo. I really loved EO and I wanted us to be successful and I loved everyone I worked with and I just felt like we were too passionate and it was too good to not become great. Nora Ali: And I know you've said in past interviews that your biggest investment, or one of your biggest investments is in R&D, in research and development. So you can look towards organic growth versus paying for growth or paying for marketing. Is that still the case now under being a publicly traded company and having this market grow so quickly? Are you still really investing the most in R&D? Anjali Sud: Absolutely. And I would actually say, I think it's increased the need to do it. And what I would say is, we used to be out there in the market talking to large companies and we'd say, "Hey, you should use video more. You should be video first in all of your communication." And before the pandemic, the answer was, "Yeah, that sounds like a good thing. We'll put that in our 10 year digital transformation roadmap." And then now it's companies knocking on our door saying, "I need this, I need it now. I need it for all 100,000 employees with the right level of scale and security." And so what's actually happened on the R&D side for us, is that when you're building a roadmap you don't always have validation that you're building the right things. It's become very validated what we have to build. The bigger challenge for us is, how do you simultaneously build the things that are urgent needs today that your customers want today while also still defining an even better future for how video can be used? And I'll give you some examples. We're all now doing events. People are hosting webinars every week, but how many people actually enjoy a webinar? It's not actually an engaging fun experience for anyone. And we've accepted it as now the new reality, but it's really incumbent on companies like Vimeo to be defining the future of these experiences in ways that our customers aren't going to tell they need. We have to imagine for them what's possible. And so we have to think long term and we have to find investors and shareholders that want to think of this market in decades, not years, because that's the approach that we're taking and how we run the company. Scott Rogowsky: Webinar is my safe word at the local S&M dungeon. That's just how much of a turnoff the word itself is. Anjali Sud: Yep. That sounds about right. And also very revealing about you, Scott. Nora Ali: My, oh my. Scott Rogowsky: Well, we're going to reveal more about Anjali and the future of Vimeo and the future of live streaming after another quick break.
Scott Rogowsky: So, Anjali, like we've been talking about, there has never been more demand for the services that you presciently had prepared for before the pandemic with those key acquisitions. So now looking ahead, you're saying we're in the early innings still here, where do you see all this going? If not just quicker, faster, stronger, constant optimization for these tools, but I hear you're experimenting with AI to create marketing content for certain industries. And can you tell us about some of these projects in the works? Anjali Sud: Yeah, sure. And first I'll say on the COVID piece, there's no question that Vimeo has been a beneficiary and it is hard to be benefiting during a time of real crisis. And I think the way we've tried to think of it is, again, it's a privilege. We're privileged to be in that position and we got to do something with it. In terms of how we think about the future, so it's funny, I think today, because so many of us spend our day on Zoom calls, we kind of feel like we're already using video a ton. And we are, but we're only actually using it in one way, which is meetings. Synchronous meetings. And if you actually think about all the ways that we communicate with our teams and colleagues, as well as with our potential customers, there's many ways that video hasn't yet permeated. Examples, think about every HR onboarding of an employee or training or compliance video. Think about how we used to have sales teams flight, air, steak dinner, to go and sell somebody to walk them through a product. Or if you wanted to train your retail employees at 30 stores across the country on a new line, how you going to do that in a way that's scalable and cost effective? There's so many ways I think that video is actually not yet being used at scale within organizations. And so we actually literally think about every single team at a company, every department, we think about what the business output is that they're trying to achieve. HR is trying to have employees be more engaged, have higher morale. Sales people are trying to, they want to get a 1% increase on that email, that cold email that they send, which would be a lot better if you had a video in that versus just the standard cheesy opening from anonymous salesperson. A lot of it is just taking capabilities that are out there and available for professionals and just democratizing it so that it can be adopted in a very self serve, intuitive way by any employee. What we say is, we believe every employee can be a content creator. And the same way that content creators in the past were video professionals and filmmakers and then we as can consumers all became content creators on TikTok. The same thing is going to happen in business. And so that's really what we're trying to do. And then the last thing I'll say is, as many companies think about the future of work, I think you're going to see a real explosion in asynchronous communication. So instead of having to schedule a meeting across seven time zones, when somebody can't make it, because they have to pick their child up from school, using video to walk through complex topics or present things, asynchronously send that out to a team, be able to collaborate, get feedback, make decisions. It has the potential certainly to provide actually a step function and improve productivity for businesses globally. Because think about how you can then hire people in many more places, people can be more productive. You have whole parts of the workforce that have left the workforce because of some of these constraints of time and place. And we can actually remove those constraints with the right video tools if they are made available in the right way. When I think about future innovation, that's where I get really excited. You just need the right kind of combination of product technology, UX, pricing, go to market and scale to make it permeate. Scott Rogowsky: I made my bones in the live streaming space, Anjali, interactive live video with HQ Trivia. I haven't heard you mention interactivity so much in terms of the video technology. Is that something that Vimeo is working on or looking at potentially ways to enhance those webinars you're talking about or other video products? Anjali Sud: Absolutely. So actually one of the reasons why large companies today use Vimeo to do things like livestream events is because we offer things like polls, Q and A's and interactivity at a certain scale and quality that makes it feel more like a TV show than like a Zoom call. And that, if you're the CEO of a company and you're doing a big event for lots of your employees or for your customers, that actually matters. We are investing more in it, Scott. And this is an example, when I talk about the experience of an event and how we think we can make it better, interactivity is a huge part of that. If you think about what we all experience today, what we experience is a video player and a chat right next to it. And we've sort of assumed that the experience, but why should it be? And if you were imagining it from scratch and you were trying to replicate the feeling of being in a room with a bunch of people, you wouldn't build it that way. And so I think there's tons of opportunity, both in the functionality and capability of interactivity, whether it's adding the ability to shop adding the ability to ingest other content into a live stream and have people interact in real time. There's tons on the technology side. AI can be really helpful here. Integrations can be helpful here, but then there's also just UX and how we actually design these experiences. So you will definitely see more from Vimeo in this area. Nora Ali: Make webinars cool again. Anjali Sud: That is actually internally a thing we say. Nora Ali: I love that, or make them cool for the first time. Scott Rogowsky: For the first time. Any parting words? Maybe a bit of advice to someone who might be finding themselves in a position where they want to jump to a new level in the company. Not that you necessarily were gunning for that CEO role, but I just love the fact that you spoke up, you had the guts to speak up and say, I have an idea here to your boss. But maybe just a parting advice to someone who might be in the position you were in a few years ago to give them the strength to make that pitch. Anjali Sud: Sure. I'll give two pieces of advice. Maybe the first isn't even advice, but a statement which is leadership can look like a lot of different things. And I think for a lot of folks, it's hard to believe in yourself when you think you have to become a certain way. And I hope that the more folks that have stories like mine dispel that, and you got to believe in yourself. As my dad says, pursue the world. And the best advice I would give is, I've always been unapologetically ambitious, but I think the reason that I've been able to get to where I've gotten is because I always try to align my personal ambitions with what would help the business. And I think the more that when you think about your own career growth and development, you can tie that to helping the business be successful and driving impact for the company and your team. I guarantee sitting in the CEO seat right now, when someone comes to me with an idea that helps me and the company be more successful, I will lean on them. I will bet on them. And so that's honestly the best advice I can give is find a way to marry your ambitions and passions in your career with the company or the business or the problem you're trying to solve. And if you can't, find another place to do that. And I think that's the best way I have seen in my own experience to really accelerate your career path. Nora Ali: My biggest takeaway is that your dad is the MVP. He's got the good tidbits. Anjali Sud: By the way, he totally takes all of the credit too and he deserves it. I'm like, okay, fine. I'm lucky to have a pretty kick-ass dad. Nora Ali: Does he do podcast interviews? Can we have him on? Anjali Sud: Oh my gosh. I'm having like a full-on panic attack right now. The idea of him doing a podcast interview, he would love it. Nora Ali: Yes. I'm sure he would. Well, I think this is a good place to wrap it up. Anjali, thank you so much for the amazing conversation. I feel motivated. I look up to you as well in your position of leadership so thanks for the time, Anjali. Anjali Sud: Thanks Nora, thanks Scott. Scott Rogowsky: Thank you.
Scott Rogowsky: And now, BC listeners, we want to hear from you specifically for a future episode that we're working on. It's all about the business of everyone's favorite place to kill time, and Tom Hanks's favorite place to shoot movies: airports. What's your favorite airport business? What's the most creative way you've ever spent time or money during a layover? We want to hear it all. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Twitter @bizcasualpod. That's B-I-Z casual pod with your airport thoughts. Business Casual's produced by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins. Additional production sound design and mixing by Daniel Marcus. Alan Haburchak is director of audio at Morning Brew. Sarah Singer is our VP of multimedia and Jessica Cohen is our chief content officer. Music in this episode from Daniel Marcus and the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. If you like what you heard, please follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you go for ear candy. And we'd love it if you would give us a great rating and a review. Nora Ali: Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali. Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky. Nora Ali: Keep it business. Scott Rogowsky: And keep it casual.