As more of our work shifts to the web, there's a growing need for ways to make the apps we use communicate with each other in the cloud. If all your files are in Dropbox, instead of a folder on your computer, you need a way for Dropbox to talk to the apps you use to make those files. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to make that happen without code. Enter Zapier, which facilitates two-way connections between a growing list of around 400 apps for over 400,000 people, no programming necessary.
Pajamas talked to Zapier CEO and co-founder Wade Foster about living the remote life and building a company with employees all over the world.
Can you explain what Zapier does and what you do there?
I'm the co-founder and CEO at Zapier. Zapier helps you build simple automation between apps you use so you can spend less time on busy work. For example you can easily save your tweets to a Google Spreadsheet or post new Stripe charges to HipChat automatically. Zapier works with 400 apps, so it's pretty likely you'll be able to hook some of your apps up together.
How many people are working at Zapier now? Are any of you in the same city?
[There are] 21. Most people aren't in the same city. There's three in the Bay Area, two in Columbia, Missouri, two in Tampa Bay, Florida and two in Miami, Florida, but everyone else is in their own city.
Why did you start working remotely?
After working for 3 months together for Y Combinator's Summer 2012 batch, my co-founder Mike moved back to Columbia, Missouri so he could be with his then girlfriend and now wife. Soon after he moved back, we hired a person in Chicago to help with support and from then on we were a remote team.
How do you keep everyone feeling connected?
Slack is our virtual office and there is office banter happening all day long there. There's a few things we do to help with the connection though:
- Weekly pair buddy - each week you are paired with a teammate and do at least a 10 minute call to catch up on life.
- Unplugged - each week every member of the team posts a update to our internal blog going over what they did that week. As a part of the update, everyone includes an "unplugged" section which gives little insights into people's personal lives.
- Retreats - twice a year we do an all-expense-paid retreat to somewhere and spend the week in person.
- Team retreats - ad hoc teams will get together in person for a few days to kick off new projects, finish existing projects or otherwise help on something better in person.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced working remotely and how do you overcome it?
Communication. In an in-office setting you can get away with being a bit lazy when it comes to communication. After all you can always just go talk to a person to straighten something out. In a remote team you don't have that luxury. So we spend a lot trying to document various parts of the company and to make information transparent. This goes a long way to making sure everyone has the information and tools they need to get their job done.
Conversely, what are some of the benefits that working remotely has afforded your company?
- Luxury to work and live where ever is best for you. If your family is in Tulsa, then live there.
- Hire the best and brightest. Lots of smart people choose to live in places that aren't San Francisco. We have a shot at hiring them.
- Less distractions. In an office things can get noisy and crowded. Working by yourself you have only yourself to blame if things are noisy and crowded.
We spend a lot trying to document various parts of the company and to make information transparent. This goes a long way to making sure everyone has the information and tools they need to get their job done.
What sort of culture have you built at Zapier?
You won't find ping pong tables, free lunch and dinner, or massages at Zapier. Instead we take a lot of pride in the work we do and a lot of pride in being able to spend time at home with our families at night and on the weekend. Some of our values include:
- Default to transparency: we try to share work internally and keep information generally open so that no one is slowed down because they don't have access to something.
- Trust your teammates: we try and hire smart people. So we tend to let them own things and not get in their way. Sometimes things won't go perfectly, but we embrace that, because more often than not you get a better product when you trust people than if you try and dictate everything.
- Disproportionate impact: we build a lot of internal tools to help make everyone better at their job. We want to be the type of company that can do with five people where other companies might need 10.
- No ego: check your ego at the door. Everyone has good ideas, everyone has bad ideas. So we don't worry about whose ideas are the ones that happen, but instead focus on making the best ideas happen.
What's the most unique thing you do at Zapier?
Outside of being an entirely distributed team? Probably our retreats. Week long visits to places like the Puget Sound in Washington, Winter Park in Colorado, Orange Beach in Alabama or the largest log cabin in the US are pretty incredible. We're able to visit places that people would probably never get the chance to go to on their own.
Do you think it's been harder to build a solid company culture while working in a distributed environment?
I haven't ever built a company culture myself outside of Zapier. That said, I definitely like our culture way more than any of the cultures at other places I've worked.
Describe your personal work environment.
I typically start my day on the couch for an hour or two. Then I head next door to work with my co-founder Bryan. I'll usually setup shop in the kitchen, but then maybe move to a desk or the couch later in the day. A Macbook Pro, some good headphones and a strong Internet connection are all I need.
How do you manage work/life balance when working from your home?
I try to stop working by 7 in the evenings and have dinner and some time with my wife. I also don't work on Saturdays. That way there's some scheduled time when I'm not around.
What do you usually wear to work?
Jeans and a t-shirt or pullover jacket.
How do you keep distractions to a minimum? How do you measure your productivity on a personal level?
Multiple desktops on my Mac with good window management. I try to only have the task I'm working on in front of me at all times. I only do email about twice a day, too, which helps.
What are some of the tools you couldn't live without as a remote company?
A Macbook Pro, some good headphones and a strong Internet connection are all I need.
What advice would you give to a company considering hiring a distributed team?
Go all in or don't do it at all. You don't want to have just a small percentage of people working remotely or it's likely that you'll create a second class citizen with remote workers. To really make it work, I think everyone on the team has to be working with the same handicap.