Location: Mountain View, CA though we got our start and still have employees in Columbia, MO
How did the idea for Zapier come about and why is it important?
Zapier was created because of two problems Bryan, Mike and I had. 1) When we were building our own SaaS tools we always got asked for integrations, but could never provide all the integrations we wanted to our customers and 2) customers are always demanding new integrations and using an API is too difficult for 99% of the population.
Zapier is what makes it easy for SaaS vendors to connect with hundreds of other services and it’s easy for customer and end users of SaaS products to get integrations between the tools they are already using.
Where on the continuum of [MVP --> Early Traction --> Scale] would you put Zapier? can you identify some of the key points on that journey.
Zapier is definitely in the early traction growth stage. In November 2011 we launched our initial MVP to relatively few early customers. The UI wasn’t great, but it did what our early customers needed it to do. Another key decision we made was to charge from the get go. Every single beta customer we had paid us.
By March we launched our current iteration of the UI which got much more traction and allowed us to publicly launch the site to anyone. Soon after we applied to Y Combinator and got in which really gave us the legs to grow the product and get to where we are today.
You’ve got gamified interactions as part of the experience from getting extra tasks to unlocking features on plans. Why did you adopt that approach and how’s it affecting the way people use the product?
One of the reasons we added that was to get users to use the product. A lot of times people think that’s just a way to get users, but for us it’s more about incentivizing first time users. We’ve found that users who are able to get one Zap setup and get a few tasks completed are much more likely to be long time users. So we added a little incentive that encourages a user to get to that stage instead of just giving up.
How are you using data to change the pitch to potential customers?
We use a lot of qualitative data at Zapier from talking to users via support, twitter, facbeook, you name it. One of the key things we do is collect email addresses for services we think users might like. We then keep a running tally of the most popular ones and those are the services we integrate next.
Zapier is a company that couldn’t have existed even a few years ago as API’s were not commonplace. What other advanced do you envision changing the way businesses operate?
APIs are just the first piece, but it’s still the wild west in the API world with APIs constantly changing. One thing that will happen is APIs will move away from polling driven to push driven. That way API consumers don’t have to constantly asking providers for new data like a kid on a long trip asking “are we there yet” but can instead rely on the API provider to send us the data when we get to the proverbial travel destination.
What your thoughts are about the changing landscape of API access with some of the free big networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin are becoming increasingly restrictive in the way they allow developers to access their feeds?
The only services I’m seeing become more restrictive in how they allow developers to use their APIs are free tools. Many those services are in the high growth stage and are starting to think about monetization and are experimenting with lots of different ways to make money. Unfortunately this means instability for developers. Zapier leans heavily B2B though. And B2B services are doubling down on their APIs. For them, more usage of the API leads to more usage of the core product and since their core product is a paid service that means more paying users and the paying users are upgrading to higher plans. That means a service like Zapier is highly valuable to both API providers and to consumers alike.
What is your distribution strategy?
We rely on two primarily: 1) Search. Users are looking for integrations between various tools and we are there for nearly all of them and 2) Is content marketing with our integration partners.
Which bloggers, writers do you find influential?
I like Patrick McKenzie, Dharmesh Shah, Rob Walling, Paul Graham and Jason Cohen. I particularly like reading from active practitioners and people who bring real-world practical advice rather than “Top X style” posts.
What’s the tech stack you’re working off?
Python on the backend and Backbone.js on the frontend
What products are blowing your mind right now?
I like products that are really simple and just get out of my way and let me get stuff done. A couple products that do that really well are GitHub, Stripe, Help Scout and Buffer.
GitHub: because they are constantly releasing new features that just let you write a ship code with a team.
Stripe: payments are a nightmare.Stripe makes them less so.
Help Scout: when Zapier started having a support problem we wanted a Help Desk that basically let us share an email inbox. Help Scout does that exactly with some nice reporting tools around.
Buffer: When you are constantly trying to share little snippets of information or content with customers and fans it becomes time consuming. Buffer lets me do it all in ten minutes a day, but then spaces out the sharing I do on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc without me having to actively do it.
What book would you recommend reading?
This is a tough question since there is so much good stuff. I’m a big fan of Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston though. I don’t think there is another book that gives you as close of an insight as to what it’s like to run a startup than Founders at Work.