Wade Foster – Co-founder and CEO of Zapier: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Wade Foster

Wade Foster Q&A Session is happening on Thursday Jan. 28th 2016 (1pm EST)

Wade is a co-founder and CEO at Zapier. Zapier is the easiest way to integrate the web apps you already use. Wade has overseen the growth of Zapier since it’s founding in late 2011 at a Startup Weekend (Columbia, Mo.), through participation in Y Combinator, to over 800,000 users and a team of 30+.
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Wade Foster is a co-founder and CEO at Zapier, an online service that makes it easy to automate tasks between web apps.

The Q&A Session with Wade was held on January 28th, 2017. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.

Hi all! Checking in a couple minutes early. Excited to chat with you all.

1) What new mktg channels are you excited for in 2016? 2) How is the mktg team structured over there? 3) Favorite or funniest zap you’ve seen or built? 4) Cool part of Zapier culture?

1) We’re diving even deeper into co-marketing partnerships. It’s really tough to do well because incentives are tough to align, so I wouldn’t generally recommend it. But we think we can make it happen. 2) Team of six. Danny runs the show. Two people on content. Two on partners. One on product marketing. 3) Funniest Zap is probably NSFW so I won’t share. Favorite, I still get a kick out of really simple stuff. I have a Zap that auto generates a monthly email for me with all the data filled in. Super handy. 4) We’re all remote. We just got back from one of two retreats we take every year. We have an awesome time at those.

What do you guys look for in a Product Manager that other organizations would care less about?

We want PMs to be technical. Zapier is complex behind the scenes. If you can’t understand the moving parts it makes it hard to be effective.

Most companies DEMAND having the Product Manager in house. What do you have in place for your remote team to make things flow smoothly?

We have no one in house, and everything is built for remote work. So that makes it easier, because we’re all on a level playing field. From there, it’s really good, written communication.

I’d like to know:

1) If SQL integrations will be more dynamic in the future – for example, integrations with Excel only allows for new rows, but will there be a way to “update” specific cells, rows instead?

2) What has been the most successful and least successful acquisition channel for partners & users?

1) At some point! Not sure when, but got some exciting stuff coming Monday.

2) Most successful is SEO; least is tough to say because a lot haven’t worked for us. Maybe events? IDK. I still think we could make events work someday.

What I would love to know is how in the world you’ve been able to get the company to run so smoothly remote. I plan on reading through your compendious guide here (https://zapier.com/learn/the-ultimate-guide-to-remote-working/how-manage-remote-team/), and I’m sure you may have answered the question already. Have you had any prior experience to running/being a part of a remote team?

No experience running a remote team. In school, all group projects are remote, because no one wanted to come to campus at night. Does that count?

What do you see as your most useful but underused features? And how do you go about educating and evangelizing for them? (other than AMAs of course!)

The email parser. parser.zapier.com is great for getting info out of templated emails into other apps. Webhooks and RSS are also really good workarounds when apps aren’t officially supported on Zapier.

Hi Wade — what’s the best tool / tip / trick /etc. you’ve used to make a remote team work well and have an excellent culture?

Be really picky about hiring. It took us a while but we have a pretty good hiring process now that identifies people well suited to remote.

I love Zapier! My business uses it daily; I only wish Twilio would have a few more triggers, otherwise great service! Keep up the great work! What’s your favorite personal Zap? Could you share a link to it?

I like simple Zaps. This one is super nice for me -> https://zapier.com/zapbook/schedule/gmail/7871/remind-me-to-update-investors-each-month-with-a-pre-made-gmail-draft/

 This Zap creates a templated email draft in Gmail at the beginning of each month to remind me to update our investors. It requires a few tweaks each month, and then I can send away.

What makes, according to you, the most successful partnership between Zapier and the integrating company?

Great question. I should write a full post on this. The biggest thing is talking about it. If both companies put a lot of work into an integration and then never talk about it, what’s the point? The best companies promote their integrations like crazy (Slack, Mailchimp, Salesforce, etc.).

We are one of the Zapier apps partners. Most of our users use Zapier (to connect it with marketing automation platforms, Google Sheets, etc.) – what’s the best way to get featured as a case study or to take advantage of Zapier’s audience?

Make something awesome and valuable, then find ways to get customers (SEO and partnerships are great for us).

What are two of the most influential books that you’ve read (relevant to business or life at large)?

Best is tough. I recently read High Output Management, which was great for me as someone who is managing a bigger group of people now.

I’d love to work with Zapier – any tips on how to break through and become part of the team?

The people we tend to hire tend to write well, have a lot of relevant experience and do really well in our skills interviews.

How did you get initial traction, and when did you know you’d made something people love?

A lot of people ask companies for integrations in the company forums. I’d go find those requests in forums and tell people about Zapier.

It seems that you guys are being successful in attracting SMBs and marketers. What’s the secret sauce?

Feed the marketing team with case studies and stories. We spend a ton of time trying to track awesome use cases down. If you can help give them to us, then that’s a huge load of work off our plate and really increases the likelihood of getting featured.

What does the tech stack at Zapier look like? Just curious to hear what kind of tech you guys are working with!

Python, JS, React, AWS. Going to be a post on the engineering blog about this next week ->https://zapier.com/engineering/

Thanks Wade for doing this. How do you compare to IFTTT?

Way more powerful. IFTTT is for IoT/consumery stuff. Zapier has 500+ apps, lets you connect to multiple accounts and has tons of SaaS products on the platform. And next Monday, we’ll have a huge announcement that’ll make Zapier even more awesome for automation. BTW, ya’ll should subscribe to the Zapier blog if you haven’t: https://zapier.com/blog/. The announcement will get made there on Monday.

What’s Zapier’s biggest challenge right now?

It’s cliche, but building an awesome team. Products come and go, but the best teams are able to keep innovating and solving problems. We’ve kind of gotten that initial traction, so it’s all about keeping the momentum up and setting us up to be around for the long haul.

What’s the sweet spot for Zapier in the market?

Good question. SMBs tend to be good, but best is someone that uses any of these apps: https://zapier.com/zapbook/apps/. And I mean the actually user. Not someone who’s buying it for someone else. The person that feels the pain of importing and exporting lists into Mailchimp all day, or the person copying and pasting data into and out of a spreadsheet.Zapier makes it easy to automate tasks between web apps.

BTW, this https://zapier.com/learn/the-ultimate-guide-to-remote-working/how-manage-remote-team/ is a ridiculously great case study.

Thanks! I’m going to try and update that about once a year so you can see the historical changes as Zapier grows.

I think you have the baseline needed to even publish something closer to an ebook, with this.

Well I have good news for you! http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Guide-Remote-Work-Manage-ebook/dp/B00VDQ280A/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1454005555&sr=8-2&keywords=remote+work

I’m very interested in your content marketing strategy – how you were able to empower a community of freelancers to contribute amazing content. How did you start this from day one? How did you grow this strategy? How did you attract such amazing talent before you had a brand name? Are your freelancers paid or writing for goodwill?

It started with me writing, and my writing was bad early on. Seriously,go look at the oldest posts on Zapier. They pale in comparison to today. But eventually I got better and figured out that longform and tutorial-esque don’t scrimp on the details. So we hired Danny who had been an editor at a tech blog to help. He’s a good writer but a great editor. He’s recruited most of our freelancers. We pay all of them, probably $300-400 per post. And we edit like crazy. Some great writers we’ve turned down on the blog, because they couldn’t match our style.

IIRC Zapier came out of a startup weekend hackathon event – one of the very few startups I know to do so – how has that been?

Great! I have a lot of respect for the SW community. I try and go to a couple events a year to help the teams.

Something I’ve always liked about Zapier is the “forward” SEO – that you seem to programatically setup all the relationships between services with their own pages and then they get traffic – do you use that for planning?

We did early on. Now not as much. It was a great early stage strategy. Now I like only having apps we support on those pages.

How do you guys handle security? Are big corporations or companies with sensitive info concerned about moving their data around?

Good question. We don’t talk nearly enough about all the stuff we do for security. A lot goes into it behind the scenes, but it’s tough to communicate what those are. You can always buy badges and certificates, but those are mostly bs.

How many factors are you up to for security? Settling for two or committing to 6-factor ?

LOL. We need to release 2FA. We have it for staff. Got to release it for everyone.

What’s a must do when trying to raise seed?

Makinga good product is 90+% of the challenge. That’s the part I was good at. The other 10%, the salesmanship, the email intros, the networking, I was pretty mediocre at.

Has content marketing been your primary acquisition channel since launch?

SEO through our app directory has been #1 -> https://zapier.com/zapbook/. Content (i.e. our blog, learn and books) is more about creating a community that helps increase our influence with our partners.

What’s a website you visited that you’ll never visit again?

I don’t know. I forgot it already.

I feel like the MVP culture makes it really hard to make a good product while also launching fast.

Most people forget the V in MVP. Our original product was bad. I had to help people set it up over Skype. But it solved a problem once it was set up, so we were able to keep iterating.

Love this. Do things that don’t scale as you iterate!

Yep. Totally fine to have something bad. Just make sure it doesn’t stay bad.

We’re at a funny point right now, where I think my company has maxed out of growth with the single product. Do you think at this point, it’s better to expand the product line and add new products or focus on finding a new big win through growthhacking/marketing?

Oooh, tough question. Two products is hard to run, because it splits focus. You may need to think about business model changes or targeting different markets. Once you get to a certain size, multiple product lines are almost inevitable if you want to grow.

And then when we launch new products, do you think its OK to MVP them to our customers, or do they expect a certain quality now?

MVP is fine. Only give to a select few that need it most. Iterate with them, then launch to the full community.

How do you overcome the challenges of maintaining so many different integrations? Also, how do you recommend a SaaS company position their partnership with you if their end users have to pay for an additional subscription to Zapier?

Partners maintain the integrations mostly. We have about 100 on our plate. It’s a tough job. Mostly it’s a lot of monitoring. Also, Zapier is freemium, and most users don’t pay, so there isn’t another subscription. Also, businesses pay for subscriptions for all sorts of stuff. Literally, we subscribe to probably 50+ apps. $20 / mo is nothing. We wrote a big guide on this too for partners -> https://zapier.com/developer/documentation/v2/lifecycle-launch/

Any techniques or levers to move people from free to paying?

It’s tricky. Freemium has to be valuable enough to get someone hooked, then there has to be feature sets or usage throttles that businesses are almost assured to hit. That way when they hit them, they pay. A business isn’t going to not pay for something that saves them hours/days of time each month. Especially if it’s only $20.

What would you say was your most valuable marketing initiative for acquiring new customers in your first year of business?

SEO for our directory -> https://zapier.com/zapbook/apps/

Have you been able to find a way to get some actions for Instagram?

I’d be surprised if that happens. Instagram wants you to manually post to Instagram. No automation in their neck of the woods.

I know IFTTT is pushing really big for consumers, especially those that are dabbling in home automation. As a home automation fan myself, does Zapier have anything likely on the horizon in that industry?

No real plans. We’re B2B all the way. We’re coming up on the end of the hour. Thanks a ton for inviting me! We have a big launch on Monday, so follow me on twitter to stay tuned: https://twitter.com/wadefoster. And if you’re a Product Hunt user, I’d appreciate the upvotes there, if you have them.

Last question: What are the three most valuable books you’ve read to help a startup guy that’s never really started a startup?

Four Steps to the Epiphany, The Lean Startup and… maybe, Don’t Make Me Think?

Thanks, Wade, appreciate you spending the hour with us all!

Y’all been great. I’ll probably keep the tab open the rest of the day and circle back tonight.

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