If he finds himself repeating a task over and over again, Wade Foster finds a way to automate it. In 2011, he and two fellow entrepreneurs co-founded Zapier (pronounced as in “Zapier makes you happier), to enable small businesses and individuals to do the same. Zapier helps apps like Evernote, Gmail, Slack and more talk to each other and saves massive amounts of time. The app was part of Y Combinator in 2012, and reached 400,000 users as of December 2012. This week we talked to Foster about YC, how clients are using Zapier, and, most importantly saving time and being more productive.
A lot of people think you have to want to have been an entrepreneur your entire life in order to be successful, but that wasn’t your story. Is it important to get more young people exposed to entrepreneurship earlier?
I am somewhat partial to Paul Graham’s answer in this interview about “Should all young people be entrepreneurs, and why?”
Most people probably shouldn’t. But I do think that in my case I would have benefitted from getting exposed to more types of careers and jobs early on. I played a ton of sports, but hardly ever job shadowed anyone which is kind of crazy since the odds of me being any type of athlete are low, but joining the workforce is high. It would have been awesome to watch programmers, welders, carpenters, teachers, etc. go about their daily jobs. I think exposure to more types of things gives you a better idea of what you want to do when you grow up. And maybe you might think ‘I want to solve this problem by starting a company around it’ or maybe you might think ‘I want to go help this company solve that problem.’ Both are good routes.
That means spending very little on rent or other lavish lifestyle. It affords you the opportunity to experiment until you can get something off the ground.
What lead you and your cofounders to create Zapier?
One of my cofounders, Bryan, and I freelanced a lot for small businesses. They would often ask us to do what I like to call API grunt work. Things like, “We have a bunch of Paypal stuff and we need it in Quickbooks,” or “I have this big list of contacts I met at a trade show and I want them in Salesforce.” We would build scripts and things to handle that for them. One day we found ourselves saying “I think we can automate this. I think we can build an out-of-the-box tool that allows these small business owners to set these things up themselves without needing to know coding, engineering or anything like that.
Although at first you were rejected from Y Combinator, you still reapplied a second time and were accepted. What was different about Zapier that allowed YC to bring you on board?
The first time around, we didn’t have much. We’d worked on the idea for about a week total. We had a couple hundred interested potential customers and we were basically three nobodies from the Midwest. Really not much.
The second time we applied, we’d been working on it for a long time. We had over 1,000 users, we’d proved that we could do what we said we were going to when we did that first application.
How would you compare Zapier to If This Then That (IFTTT)?
I think IFTTT is a lot more consumer-oriented and Zapier is much more B2B driven, and solving problems for businesses. Zapier has some tools you won’t see on IFTTT, IFTTT has some integration on devices you won’t see on Zapier. So there’s actually not a ton of overlap, even though the triggers and actions are often the same.
What are some of the most popular “Zaps” you see?
The types of things people do tend to fall into a few categories.
- Notifications – One popular one is notifications, like an alert when someone RSVP’s on EventBrite or a payment comes in through Paypal. Those might come through e-mail, Slack, Hipchat, SMS, or something else.
- Lead generation – Another big category is lead generation, so gathering information from a website form, an e-mail, etc. and saving to a CRM, an e-mail marketing tool or something like that.
- Archiving – Saving files into Dropbox, Google Drive, Onedrive, things like that, or opening notes into apps like Evernote.
How about the most unusual Zaps?
While Zapier’s primarily B2B-focused, we did have one guy come to us who was a really heavy gamer. He used EVE Online, one of those massive online role-playing games and he wanted to get notifications of things that are happening in the app while he wasn’t playing. So he hooked up EVE Online to Zapier so he could be a better gamer by automating stuff from throughout the game. We have all these great B2B apps, and then right in the middle of that we also support EVE Online, which is pretty great.
How important has SEO been for Zapier’s overall growth? What do you think about the idea of SEO “hacks?”
Search is definitely a valuable channel for us. A lot of people go to Google when looking for solutions to problems. We’ve set up our site so that when people are searching for certain types of integration, we have pages that potential users can land on and sign up. That’s really valuable. I don’t think there’s really any hack that you can do.
Zapier is entirely distributed. We don’t have a central office. Everyone works from homes, libraries, coffee shops, etc. Working remotely is our culture. That is who we are. We use things like Slack, and we have a tool that basically works like an internal blog, and we have Hackpad set up for lots of documentation.
A key belief at Zapier is that work should be transparent. We make sure anything we’re working on is well-documented somewhere, so if a teammate wakes up halfway around the world, they know where to go to look for answers to things. In that way, we’re just as efficient—if not more so—working remotely than we would be in person. As a result, we’re able to recruit people to work for us all over the world, we’re not limited to a local area.
And we do some other fun things too, like we use Giphy and have Gifs all over the place, we go on retreats twice a year, fun things to build camaraderie. But ultimately I think a lot of people at Zapier get a lot of pride out of the work they do and want to do good work that gets used by a lot of people. That’s attractive to them, and we set up an environment where folks can do really great work and have the excitement of seeing that work being used by thousands, millions of people.
What are some things you’d tell entrepreneurs that wish someone told you?
Don’t get lost in the details. Just start. I remember reading all these articles about things like A/B testing, optimizing your price points, and so on. Don’t get lost in all those details, just pick something and go. You can change your decision tomorrow if you want to. Having that decision made gives you a lot of momentum you might not have if you sit around day after day debating stuff. That may be the most critical thing.
Even if it’s small, find something you can check off a to-do list, and say “my company is better today than it was yesterday.” If you make that little bit of progress and you do that 365 days in a row, you’ll find that you’ve made an incredible amount of progress in a year.
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