Wade Foster is all about getting things done. He’s the Co-Founder and CEO of Zapier, a tech company that is built on a genius idea: making it easy to get your web apps to talk to each other.
But getting things done is a learned skill, and his journey has left him with wisdom to share. We were lucky enough to chat with him and hear about his journey this far.
You don’t often hear co-founders talk about how they didn’t mean to create a successful tech company, but Wade is full of surprised. It turns out, he and some friends were just trying to solve a problem. “We started the company as a side project. Three people – just, me and my co-founders – we had a problem that we wanted to solve for some of our consultant clients. We wanted to build something together because we thought it would be fun. And so that’s where it started. There wasn’t sort of some like, ‘We’re going make this much money and have this many employees’ or anything like that. It was just like, ‘Let’s make something cool that’s solves some people’s problems.’”
And the spark of an idea was born, and the co-founders came together. “Brian and I were playing in a blues and jazz quartet together and then Brian had known Mike. I had known Mike super well before Zapier. But, Brian and I, we had the same day job. We were working in the marketing department at this online mortgage company specialized in VA home loans. In the evenings, we’d play in this quartet together and we’d just hack around on side projects and anything to sort of make a buck and do something interesting was kind of our MO in the evenings. We would get asked to build these little one off integrations from time to time. So we built like a WordPress forms plugin that could feed data into like Salesforce. We built like a PayPal QuickBooks thing and, Brian sort of had this insight. He’s like, ‘Wow, a lot of people like these little connectors. I bet if we could build a tool that helps connect any sort of generic SaaS app or a tool that you use for work, whether it’s for marketing or for sales or for productivity or for your invoicing or payments, whatever. There’s all these things that you have to use when you run a business. That could probably be pretty useful.’ And in my day job, I was actually messing around with the Marketo API at the time and struggling because I’m not that great of an engineer. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we had something like this, I wouldn’t have to be dealing with this gnarly API as a bad engineer.’ And so that’s where the kind of original idea came from. And we teamed up with Mike and built the original prototype of this thing at a hackathon, in one weekend and just had a lot of fun building it together. And we’re like, ‘What would happen if we just sort of keep working on this thing? Could we get some customers for it? Could we make something out of this?’”
Tuns out, they absolutely could. But they’ve been very smart about taking it slow when it comes to building the company – and they only expanded when they really needed to. “We were pretty patient and intentional about this. So we didn’t hire our first person for over a year. It took us a year before even said, ‘Hey, let’s hire a fourth person into this company.’ And, once we did, we knew it was for a reason. So we starting to generate lots of inbound support requests. We’d wake up in the morning and probably work till maybe 2:00 PM just sort of answering support requests and it got to a point where it’s like, ‘Look, we love doing support. We love helping our customers, but if we could cut this down to like one or two hours a day instead of six, that extra time we could spend making the product actually better and helping these customers out before they even have an issue with the product.’ So we went out and hired someone for support, and then we started where it will start making progress on building the app, we got a little more revenue and we were like, ‘Okay, we’re still not quite in the red, but we’re feeling pretty good about how this is going with the team, our first employee sort of worked pretty well, let’s hire a fifth one’. So, four months later we sort of did that and we we’re like, “Okay, that’s feeling pretty good,” four months later, like, ‘Let’s add another person.’ So we were really slow in making sure that the team was jelling and working together.’”
And now, Zapier is solving problems all over the world, in ways Wade never would have originally expected. “We’ve got one of these Zapier experts who is in Israel and he’s a sort of marketing consultant for a lot of small businesses in Israel. And before I talked to him, I used to talk a lot about ‘here’s how much time Zapier saves you, here’s all the hassles that get in the way way’ And he sort of came back to me once and was like, ‘Wade, Zapier definitely helps save time. But as a small business owner, it’s really not about time for me. I definitely get more time back, but what Zapier really does is let me do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do before. We didn’t have the funds to hire engineers to do these types of things, but now we sort of operate like a much bigger company and we’re able to use tools like a Wufoo or like a MailChimp or like a Basecamp or Trello or these types of software that are like pretty inexpensive for a small business owner and automate this stuff into end. And so as a small business owner or company that’s got less than ten people, he was able to get a lot more done and feel a lot bigger in operations because he has software doing that work for rather than interns trying to scramble all this stuff.”
To hear more from Wade, check out the full podcast here.