Founder Interviews: Wade Foster of Zapier – Hacker Noon

Learn how Wade and his co-founders took Zapier from part-time side project to 180+ employees and $35 million ARR.

Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on? What motivated you to get started with your company?

I’m Wade Foster, CEO and co-founder of Zapier. Zapier is a productivity tool that connects over 1,300 of the apps you use every day and automates the tedious, repetitive parts of your job, so you can be more productive at work. Our product caters to individuals, small businesses, or smaller teams within larger organizations.

Bryan, Mike and I co-founded Zapier in 2011, while we were living in Columbia, Missouri. Bryan (Zapier’s CTO) and I were working at Veterans United Home Loans and Mike was still in school when we came up with the idea for Zapier.

Bryan and I did some freelance work alongside our day jobs, and we worked on a number of web projects for clients. We noticed a pattern emerging among our clients, and that they were asking us to build more and more integrations from one app to another.

We noticed that people were interested in the convenience that SaaS apps offered, but bringing those apps together was a complex and frustrating process that usually required technical help. We wanted to make it easy for people to connect their apps and make their lives easier.

We built our initial prototype at Startup Weekend in Columbia and we won. Coming out of Startup Weekend, we applied to YCombinator but were rejected initially. We knew we had a good idea on our hands, so we kept at it. We worked on Zapier on nights and weekends while keeping our day jobs. We bootstrapped the product, one paying customer and one feature at a time.

Once we had a more built-out product and paying customers, we submitted again to YC and were accepted into the Spring 2012 class. Not long after, we raised our one and only round of funding, $1.3 million in seed funding from YC and Bessemer Venture Partners.

Fast-forward to today: we now help 3 million people automate their workflows and we now offer integrations to 1,300+ apps, including G Suite, Slack, Mailchimp, Asana, and others. We’ve been profitable since 2014 and we last reported that we’re doing $35 million in ARR.

What went into building the initial product?

We built our MVP in 54 hours at Startup Weekend Columbia. As I shared in a post I wrote back in 2011, we had several chats with people about Zapier leading into the Startup Weekend and posted in forums to validate that the problem we were trying to solve. We then shifted focus on building our MVP, which ultimately won that weekend.

After our Startup Weekend win, we spent nights and weekends trying to refine the product and improve the UI. We often worked until 1 a.m. and then got up to go to our day jobs, but this taught us how to have discipline in how we ran the company. Because we bootstrapped the company, it took a little longer to get the company off the ground because it was just our founding team working on the product and building our integrations. After about six months, we went live with 34 integrations.

Not long after, we decided to raise a seed round from YC and Bessemer Venture Partners. The funding was more about building credibility with key partners over needing the capital. The stamp of approval from YC helped us to build integrations and partnerships faster than before. Since Zapier connects and automates workflows, it was essential for us to be connected to as many apps as possible.

Example Zap from Zapier’s homepage.

What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

When we were just starting out, our earliest users paid a one-time fee to get into our beta. That helped us gather some really high-quality early users who helped us improve what we were offering. In fact, the feedback we received from our earliest customers helped us build a final product that people were willing to pay for.

We now offer subscription plans that are based on task usage. There’s a free plan that is always available for people who want to try out Zapier, set up a few Zaps and see what the service can do. We also have paid plans for professionals and teams that allow them to do even more with Zapier.

We’ve grown 100% YoY and we last announced $35MM in ARR. We’ve been profitable since 2014, so we are feeling good about the direction that the company’s heading.

What are your goals for the future?

Our mission is to help everyone be more productive at work. With that in mind, we’re working on making it easier for people to share and collaborate on workflows with friends and colleagues through Zapier.

We’re also working on recommendation engines to suggest certain apps and workflows based on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Some of the more commonly used Zaps.

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing right now?

Zapier is growing quickly — we’re now working with over 180 people who are distributed around the world. The big thing that keeps me up at night is how to continue our rapid growth while maintaining a high level of employee satisfaction.

What’s been helpful or advantageous in helping you face that challenge?

Because we’re remote, we have access to some very talented people based all over the world. It helps us bring diversity and diversity of thought, which is always an advantage to any company. Retaining people is easier when they’re able to work from home. People get to trade in commute time for extra time with their loved ones or simply to get more done.

Remote workers are happiest when they feel connected to the business. We kept that in mind when we developed one of our core values, which is “Default to Transparency.” The tradeoff of having a distributed team is that you have to be disciplined at documenting decisions and major changes, so no one gets left behind. When people have accurate, well-documented information in front of them, they can make smart decisions and they can be self-starters.

Setting the right goals is important, too. Our team recently adopted OKRs as a goal-setting method. Those goals start with our executive team, outlining the biggest priorities we’re focused on as a company. From there, each team sets and measures the success of their own OKRs. We’ve been trying them out and so far, this methodology helps us all steer towards the metrics and activities that’ll drive us forward.

What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Pay closer attention to the fundamental things that make your company a truly great company: good products, happy customers, and a fun yet hardworking team.

Pay less attention to things like office space or where you’re located. You don’t have to be based in the Bay Area (or any large city) to be successful in these areas.

Where can we go to learn more?

A great place to start is by visiting zapier.com and testing out the product. We offer a 14-day free trial, and I usually recommend that folks play around with Zapier to see what it can do for you — many people hit these ‘Aha’ moments when they’re playing with it, and they then see how powerful of an addition automation can be to their workday.

We also have a great blog (zapier.com/blog) where readers can learn about productivity and read our recommendations for the best apps in collaboration, social media management, and tons more.

Lastly, if Zapier sounds like an interesting place to work, we’d love to talk to you. You can check out our open jobs at zapier.com/jobs.

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