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Breaking Stereotypes, Winning Hearts, Challenging YouTube: Vimeo CEO Does It All

When Indian-origin Anjali Sud became the CEO of Vimeo, she knew that her mission was to make the video service stand out in a crowd of iconic competitors like YouTube and Netflix. And she achieved her goal in style, becoming a business legend in the process.

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For the longest time, when you thought of Vimeo, the impression of a weak contender to YouTube came to mind. The website had struggled to gain similar traction to consumer video companies such as Netflix and YouTube and more or less remained underground.

However, it took the vision of one woman for the company to do a complete 180. In 2020, Vimeo had sales worth $84 million during the fourth quarter, and its net subscribers increased to a whopping 1.5 million, which was a gain of nearly 25%. Moreover, its annual revenue topped at $300 million.

The woman behind the company’s turnaround is 37-year-old Anjali Sud, an Indian-origin businesswoman born in Detroit, Michigan. Anjali took over the company as CEO in 2017, and changed the company’s direction from entertainment to entrepreneurship. “Vimeo had long been a software company for filmmakers but the market was too small. There was a much bigger market — businesses. What Squarespace and GoDaddy did for websites, we could do with video,” she told Forbes.

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In May this year, Vimeo became a public company, thanks to Anjali’s vision. We take a look at some lessons we could learn from her long and arduous journey to bringing the platform to where it is today.

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  1. Be mindful of the world’s changing landscape: In an interview with The Verge, Anjali said, “I think you could have argued, maybe 10 years ago, that we could have opened up to ads. We could have competed with YouTube….If we had done that early enough, maybe Vimeo would have been another YouTube. But I look at the landscape today and I don’t think the world needs five more YouTubes. Especially since the pandemic, every business, every team I’ve talked to, needs professional-quality video to be easier so that they can use it to communicate.”

2. ‘Simplify the user experience’: “If you wanted to build a Netflix service, you would have to hire a set of engineers to build your website and app, as well as designers to create the template for you. You would need somebody to answer your customer support calls, an analytics person to give you a sense of how your business is doing and your reports. If you took all of the costs of doing that, not just the time, but the money, that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. And what we’re doing in many ways is radically lowering the barriers through our technology. And the reason we can do that is because we’re doing it at scale…Our goal is to continue to simplify the user experience and the process of creating and distributing that content and keep reducing the costs,” Anjali said in an interview with The Verge

3. ‘Live outside your comfort zone’: On Business Insider’s podcast, Anjali said she received an important piece of advice from her father. “Probably one piece of advice that I give to others that he’s given to me is to live outside of your comfort zone. It speaks somewhat to the philosophy of ‘put yourself in positions where you might not have a ton of experience’,” she said. 

4. ‘Empathy for users’: “I appreciate that it’s not so simple to just build something. You have to really have empathy and understand the user, there’s so many things you have to get right. You have to have the right go-to-market, there’s all these other pieces. So I just think we just have to execute better. And luckily, we have the focus, we have the capital, I think we have the patience,” she told The Verge

5. Pick your battles: Beyond her role as a CEO, Anjali is also a mother. In an interview with New York Times, she said, “I live in a world of perpetual trade-offs. I can no longer operate at 100% capacity like I used to as a CEO, a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a colleague. I think what I’m learning is that every day, I have to pick the things to let go, and I have to know I’m going to drop some balls, and that’s okay.” 

6. ‘What will customers need tomorrow?’: In an interview with McKinsey, Anjali said, “The way I think about a strategy is, “Is there a problem to be solved? Is it a mission-critical problem? And can you solve it better than anybody else?” The first part you can usually develop with data and a theory, but the rest requires understanding your customers and the industry. True innovation requires you to then bring the solution to users—they are not going to tell you what to build. And you need to think beyond what they need today to what they will need tomorrow.”

7. Keep innovation alive: “When I was director of marketing, I could spot an opportunity because I was close to the data and the users. In the same way today, we try to include our product managers, marketers, sales teams, and customer support folks—the people closest to the trends—when we come up with plans. Another thing is creating the right framework. Our strategic planning used to focus largely on the financial impact. Now we are oriented more to asking, is this an interesting market? Is the problem we want to solve mission-critical? Empowering people closest to what’s happening to think that way about trade-offs and resource allocation is a great way to avoid the incrementalism trap,” she told McKinsey.

She added, “We have a version of a hackathon called Vimeo Jam. Its goal is to create a space where people are encouraged to think about things outside their normal jobs. In the past, everyone used that time to build products or resolve the backlog of bugs, but that’s not the point. And we never say, ‘it’s a one-week hackathon, let’s see how many products come out of it’. It’s about sharing ideas, coming up with things we can flesh out later.”

8. ‘Look where others aren’t looking’: Anjali told McKinsey, “The reason I was able to champion the strategy we have today and why I think Vimeo has been successful at that strategy is that, while everybody else was focused on creating original content, my team said, what about all the businesses that need video to communicate? It wasn’t sexy, but it allowed us to not execute perfectly at the outset. We could throw things against the wall because nobody was focused on that market.”

Edited by Yoshita Rao

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