In this episode we were fortunate enough to talk to Wade Foster - Co-Founder and CEO of Zapier.com. Wade and his team have built a massively popular product that has helped many businesses (including ours) automate their processes. We discuss the ongoing process of building a positive and productive company culture, how to be a better manager, his YC experience, early iterations of Zapier and much much more.
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Wade is a constant learner with a mindset that is focused on always improving. I particularly enjoyed our discussion around how his team manages feedback in an environment of kindness, and his humbleness when discussing his own journey of managing an ever expanding company.
Wade is also an impressive writer and blogger, and we discuss the importance of writing as a CEO.
Please check out Zapier.com and start a free trial if you haven't already tried the product. You won't be disappointed!
[00:00:00] Matt H: Hello everyone. My name is Matt Hollingsworth, and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show, where we discuss everything to do with remote work with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening.
[00:00:16] The Remote Show is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.
[00:00:26] My guest on today's show is Wade Foster. Wade is the co-founder and CEO of Zapier, a software tool that gives people internet super powers by letting them easily connect to the many apps they use. They are 100 percent distributive team helping people across the world automate the boring and tedious parts of their job.
[00:00:43] We are big fans of Zapier. We know many of you out there are familiar with the platform. If not, I encourage to checkout Zapier.com. I promise you it will make your work a heck of a lot easier.
[00:00:54] All right, Wade, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate it.
[00:00:58] Wade Foster: Yeah. Happy to be here Matt.
[00:01:00] Matt H: Awesome. So, I think a good place to start and where I typically like to start is a little bit about your background and then we can talk a little bit about Zapier and what you guys are up to, but why don't we start with a little bit about you.
[00:01:11] Wade Foster: Sure. Yeah, we started Zapier, I guess, seven years ago. Myself, Bryan, and Mike. Three co-founders, but before that, I had been working at a few companies in Columbia, Missouri. I had grown up in Central Missouri not really knowing kind of what I was going to do, and kind of fell into tech a little bit accidentally during the sort of housing crisis, financial crisis. It was tough to get a job and found a small software company in Columbia, Missouri that was willing to hire me on as an intern, and even now, I just kind of fell in love with building software there and figured out that, "Hey, this is what I want to do."
[00:01:45] And there was a series of coincidences that hooked up with Bryan and we started building a bunch of little side projects together and one thing led to another, and we sort of had this revelation that we could probably make it easier for folks to build sort of work flows and integration between some of these really common tools like PayPal the tools that were sort of popular or circa 2011. That became the sort of original idea I had for Zapier, which was help people be more productive at work by connecting the tools that they most commonly use.
[00:02:18] Matt H: Fantastic. And it seems like it's such an obvious thing that should've been kind of often for people to find out there, but to be honest and from our experience it seems like Zapier is one of the only companies out there that is doing it well. So, kudos to you. Was there any other software program that you're doing, or some other thing similar when you first started?
[00:02:34] Wade Foster: You know? Not really. No. Integrations were certainly a thing. People rebuild native integrations and in fact, that's sort of why we thought like, "Hey. This could be a valuable thing." Is we'd go to these forums, we'd look at like the Dropbox forum or the Evernote forum and the Salesforce forum, and you'd see customers asking, "Hey. When are you all going to build an integration for X"
[00:02:54] And those threads would sometimes be years long with dozens, sometimes even hundreds of comments with people asking for this. And so, we were kind of like, "Wow. This thing should exist in the world, and if we could build sort of a hub and spoke model that'll allow anything to connect to anything else." It's clear that that would be pretty valuable, because most of these software providers were struggling to build integrations for whatever reason.
[00:03:17] And so, it certainly seemed like if we could pull it off, there was a market there for us.
[00:03:23] Matt H: And what was that response when you first started? And maybe to take a step back, how did you first start and what was the original product? Maybe start it off with.
[00:03:32] Wade Foster: Yeah. So, the first sort of integrations we build, we had a PayPal, High Rise, Twilio, Twitter. I think were the first four apps on Zapier, and you know, it was a single trigger. There were single actions. So when something happens in this app, you could do something in that app. So yeah, someone pays you on PayPal, go ahead and add them as a customer in High Rise. Use CRM to track them.
[00:03:53] Simple things like that is where we started. I still remember talking to our very first customer. Yeah. They were wanting to use Wufoo and Aweber together. And so, we built a Wufoo connector and a Aweber connector for them, and I jumped on Skype to help them sort of set it up. We'd given them access to the software, and they were struggling to set it up on their own. And so, I jumped on and helped them sort of figure out how to use the software effectively, because it was confusing at the time.
[00:04:21] It was actually more than confusing, like the first merging was really hard to use. And so, I remember just literally talking them through like, "Hey. Click this button. Do this thing next." Like literally just telling them what to click to set up this sort of first zap to connect Wufoo and Aweber, and I remember thinking to myself, "Oh, my God. This is so painful. Like they're never going to like what we're working on if we can't make this better."
[00:04:44] At the end, the first time the zap worked, they filled out the Wufoo form and it sent someone over to Aweber, and they were like, "Oh, my goodness. Wait. This is so awesome. This is going to change my business. I'm so excited this exists." And so, for me that was like a clear cut signal as like, "Wow. Even despite how bad this experience is for them right now, we're on to something."
[00:05:07] If we could make this simple enough for people to use, we're going to get folks that love this thing. So, even though the first version was so bad, it was like the reaction was so positive though. I was like, "We're on to something here."
[00:05:21] Matt H: Yeah, I think that's a common thread that I here, especially with products that maybe are new and haven't been explored as much is even though like you said. Even though it might be hard to use, the fact that it exists alone is enough for people to get excited, which is pretty cool.
[00:05:36] Wade Foster: Mm-hmm. Exactly.
[00:05:38] Matt H: Was it just the two of you there to start at that point when you were working through the user experience, and at what point did you decide to expand and maybe move on to that full-time?
[00:05:49] Wade Foster: Yeah. So, there was three of us. Bryan, Mike, and I are working on this as the nights and weekends project. And so, we'd been doing that for several months. I went full-time I think maybe three or four months in, and then, Bryan and Mike went full-time six or seven months in. The thing that really set us down the path to committing was when we had gotten accepted into YC. We went to the YC summer 2012 bash, and we moved from Missouri out to California to go participate in that.
[00:06:17] And then you know, at that point in time, all three of us were very clearly fully committed spending pretty much all of our waking moments working on Zapier.
[00:06:26] Matt H: Nice. I was able to talk to Ben from Lambda school there not too long ago, and he mentioned that he also went to the YC. I wasn't able to dig in at all with him unfortunately, but for our listeners, could you explain a little bit about what that involves and what the experience was like for you to go through that program?
[00:06:43] Wade Foster: Yeah. So, YC is probably the ... Well, they are the biggest, most well-known startup accelerator, incubator, whatever word you want to give to it, and they accept companies in batches. So, you know our batch ... Or it was 80 companies that went through it. Some companies you may have heard of, and our batch or like Coinbase, Instacart, a bunch of other companies that are doing quite well, but maybe a little less well known.
[00:07:06] And the way it's set up is you go to office hours, which is you meet with one of the partners once a week. You kind of talk about your biggest problems, your most urgent problems. They sort of give you some tips and advice on how to navigate those things. They help you out with making sure that your company is sort of structured legally in a good way. They have dinners every Tuesday night with the whole batch, and they bring in speakers from the startup community and ecosystem that have usually reached some significant level of success to kind of come back and share a little bit of their lessons learned along the way.
[00:07:40] They all are off the record. So, you get like these really sort of real, honest conversations out of them, and you know, they give you a little money to sort of get you going as well too. But the thing that I think is really magical is just the community around it. You have all these really sharp, ambitious people who are working hard to try and make something important happen that breeds like a really ... I don't know. Just like a really good work ethic and ambition amongst a lot of the people who go through YC.
[00:08:08] Matt H: Yeah. That might be the answer to my next question here, but if there was one thing that you could take away from YC and that experience other than the funding and the community, was there one lesson that you could take away that you would like to share?
[00:08:20] Wade Foster: Yeah. I mean, I honestly think for us, the biggest thing was it really allowed us to go all in and be like fully committed. Because Zapier was a side project up until then. So, it wasn't during our best hours, and YC allowed us to give it our best hours. We were able to go full-time on it without distraction, heads down, and you know, the advice, the money, the community were great and all that, but more importantly, just being able to really focus and focus intently is really I think the thing that allowed Zapier to accelerate in the way that it did.
[00:08:54] Matt H: Right. And again, I haven't gone through it, but for you and the Zapier team it probably was that confirmation that, "Hey. Everybody else is excited about this as well. Yeah, we're really on to something here." That's probably, again, part of the experience of YC.
[00:09:08] Wade Foster: Yeah, I mean, it's certain things like that. You have to celebrate those things. Obviously, YC in and of itself is not success, but like you know, startups are so hard. Building a company is crazy hard, but any sort of validation or thing that sort of keeps you motivated to keep moving is usually something you've got to savor a little bit, because of how everything else is.
[00:09:30] Matt H: Right. Because this is a remote specific podcast, I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the YC experience in terms of whether or not they gave you the idea for remote work and to hire remotely, or was that something that was discussed within the YC community and the people you were able to talk to?
[00:09:50] Wade Foster: Yeah. At the time, this was 2012, and YC wasn't too key on remote work at the time honestly. Their sort of default advice was like, "Hey. You should probably be in the same place." That's since shifted, however, we felt sort of convicted that we could make that work. And so, at the end of YC, that's kind of where we went down that path. Obviously, Kevin (Hale) who is now one of the YC partners, at the time, he was just Wufoo, and his company he founded just got Acquired)
[00:10:19] And they sort of set up shop sort of remotely. You know they have an office and things like that, but it worked really well for them. And so, yeah we were convinced after talking to him and seeing companies like Basecamp GitHub and these others that were working remotely be successful we were like, "Hey. This probably can work," and it lended itself well to sort of our own personal working styles and circumstances at the time.
[00:10:47] Matt H: Yeah that makes sense, and I think it seemed like probably around that time there was, like you said, that first initial push to the remote work as a phenomenon that seems to work for people. At the time, there wasn't a road map or playbook that you could sort of copy and apply to your own business, which is more the case now, but I'm guessing that wasn't the case back when you started.
[00:11:09] Wade Foster: Yeah, there wasn't a lot of folks you could pattern or match against. It seemed sort of like a risky thing to do, like why take a chance operating this way, but for us, we had a clear vision of why it could work and why it could be successful and why it could actually be a strategic advantage for us. So, it didn't seem all that risky for us to operate in that way.
[00:11:28] Matt H: Initially, what was the most difficult part about remote, and again scaling and growing a team is difficult into itself, so they might be difficult to separate out, but what was the main challenge that you found in growing a remote team early on?
[00:11:44] Wade Foster: I think you have to build just a lot of good habits that maybe you haven't necessarily built before. So, you have to be diligent about how you communicate, how you document work, how you share things out to the rest of the company. The good thing is in those early days everyone is sort of committed to doing that, because they know if they don't do it it's going to sort of make work harder for them.
[00:12:09] So, it really does help you build that habit when everyone is sort of working that same way in the beginning, and once you sort of have that system and infrastructure in place, it makes it a little easier to evolve it and grow it as you scale. But I think, certainly yeah, communication and collaboration and documentation habits early on are important things to build, and they may not be sort of skills that you spend a lot of time building in the past.
[00:12:37] I know for me they weren't.
[00:12:38] Matt H: Right. And so, were you remote right away, or was the first initial hires there out of YC? Were those in house hires, and what was the situation early on for you?
[00:12:49] Wade Foster: Well, so yeah for the first six, seven months, it was a side project and that was kind of remote-esque. Then when we went to YC, we were all living and working out of the same apartment, and then, at the tail end of YC, Mike had to move back to Missouri to be with his then-girlfriend, now-wife that she was at law school.
[00:13:07] So then, we were back to being kind of quasi-remote, and then, our first hirers were remote as well. So, it's our first company. We had never hired before. The advice was sort of like, "You can do this hiring if you go work with former colleagues." People that you've already worked with and you sort of know and trust. And so, our first three hires were all people that we already had a sort of professional relationship with and felt like it de-risk the hiring force, but those happened to be all back in the Midwest.
[00:13:36] You know, there was one in Chicago, one in St. Louis, one in Columbia, Missouri. And so, that I had sort of cemented I guess, "Hey, we're going to give this remote thing a go."
[00:13:46] Matt H: Right. What was the most difficult part about hiring for you early on? It maybe still is to this day that you didn't expect to be difficult. Was there a challenge specifically that you stopped and pondered, "I didn't expect this." And my follow up question to that would be how have you been able to manage those difficult hiring situations within Zapier?
[00:14:07] Wade Foster: I mean there's a lot of things that are difficult. I don't know that they are specific to remote if I'm honest. Like building strong teams, building good working relationships. You know if you're doubling your head count every year. That's just a hard thing in general. I don't know if it's specific to remote. You know we certainly had to learn how to do certain things. Like we hire people without ever seeing them, and that's like a new and different thing, but we never felt like it was that crazy, because we're interviewing people on Zoom, we see their face, we get to know them.
[00:14:38] It didn't feel like it was hindering us. So, it's tough to say for us that there was like remote-specific things that caused challenge. I guess if there is one like time zones, or like physical constraint that you have to learn to operate within, this is sort of a thing we're still even learning today. You know our first forty into like extreme time zones, we hired someone over in Europe. That went really well. We didn't have a lot of problems, and now we've since spread out across the globe, and time zones have largely worked in our favor, but there are certainly things that are challenging about them.
[00:15:12] You know for teams that sort of follow the sun. Our support and infrastructure teams. Like those time zones are diversity is really powerful, because then you can have sort of 24/7 support, which is awesome for your customer base. For teams that require a little more collaboration, it's a little harder. So, if you have a teammate spread out over multiple continents and you are working on a very specific product feature or something like that, a collaboration element and the time zones make that hard.
[00:15:40] So, there's spots where it's like really simple, and then, there's spots where it's just harder. And so, I think those things that we kind of just had to learn as we go along and adjust how we operate to be successful and kind of come up with a set of standards for how Zapier thinks about these problems and they are different than how other companies think about these problems.
[00:15:59] It's different from how other remote companies sometimes think about these problems, but we're kind of just trying to find the stuff that works for us and then, say, "Hey, this is how we decided to do it. This is how we're going to be."
[00:16:10] Matt H: Right. And that's kind of the fun part for me about this podcast, because I get to learn and ask about the process and procedures and the different things that remote companies have done to fight the challenges that come with remote work. And like you said, it seems to be that there isn't obviously one playbook that works for everybody, and everybody seems to be just trying to figure it out and they are all different. Everybody is different and that's kind of something that I love about being able to talk to people like yourself is that there is such a distribution about how companies find ways to get around these problems.
[00:16:39] It's super interesting. The reason I was so excited to talk to you and learn about Zapier is because it seems from an outsider's perspective that Zapier has such a strong culture and the online presence is so positive and viable and people want to work for you. So, how have you been able to build your culture, especially now that you're a bigger team and you've grown remotely? Is there anything that you do deliberately that is focused on the company culture for Zapier?
[00:17:07] Wade Foster: Yeah. I mean, we worked really hard at this and we don't always get it right, but we work really hard at it. And we work hard to make sure that we improve and continually improve as we get bigger. I think there is a few things that have been helpful for us. One is being sort of intentional about how we define our values and how we work, and we make those values part of the hiring process and the performance review process. And sort of really gives credence to the fact that these things are important.
[00:17:34] These things aren't just lip service. This isn't just something you put on a wall somewhere to make you feel good. These are real things about how we operate and work that matter. And so, I think that's a big part of it, and I think probably at the core of it, the most foundational thing we do is we care a lot about making it a good place to work. Where you can sort of be successful, where you can grow your skills and become better at your job and you can serve customers at the core.
[00:18:02] So, we really care about what's at the heart of work, I guess. I see a lot of companies that sort of take approach that's more about how do we make work a fun place to be or how do we get good perks, but to a certain extent, that's just putting lipstick on a pig. You have to like work really hard at the hard parts about it. How do you find ways to be really successful, have good work life balance, have people work on hard problems, and align people to get work done. How do you deal with conflict in the workplace?
[00:18:35] How do you deal with disagreement in the workplace? How do you deal with stress in the workplace? All the sort of things that make people excited about coming to work or unexcited about work. Like get to the heart of those problems and work on those things, because those are the things that are going to make your company worth working at. And so, I think we really just pay attention to those things at the heart of it. We're not always successful. We make a lot of mistakes, but I think we try and just own up to the fact when we make mistakes, and just know that, "Hey, we're still working on this. We're still a work in progress."
[00:19:07] Humans are flawed. All of us are flawed and we kind of accept that about each other and yet still try and work really hard to make this a really positive work experience. We spend too much time at work for it not to be. 40 hours a week, and sometimes a little more than that. I think it's important to get this stuff right.
[00:19:24] Matt H: Yeah, no. I think that's a super refreshing take on it. What I see sometimes is the perks part of it as sort of like, "Hey, we've taken care of the culture piece, because we allow for people to do X or Y, and then that's it."
[00:19:37] Wade Foster: Yeah.
[00:19:37] Matt H: You know, but it's an ongoing, continuous process it sounds like for you, and I think that's probably the right way of going about it. It's not just a matter of, "Hey, unlimited vacation and you get this amount of coffee at work. And then, we're done with culture. We can move on."
[00:19:53] Wade Foster: Yeah, that's how I think. My favorite sort of anti-pattern. There's this story of a company. I forget where I read this. He thought like hey let's get a ... I don't know. A ping pong table or a pool table or something like that so people can sort of have a good time at work or what not. And then, the company sort of came upon bad times. Things weren't going so great, and there was layoffs. What people started to notice was that one week you were playing on the pool table or ping pong table or what not, the next week you were part of the layoffs.
[00:20:24] And so, all of a sudden people would totally avoid the ping pong table or the pool table because that's like that's how you're going to get laid off, because if you touch this thing.
[00:20:32] Matt H: Right.
[00:20:32] Wade Foster: Like stuff like that can happen, and that's just such a weird cultural phenomenon to have evolve accidentally. Right? And so, I think it's just requires a lot of thought and intention to make sure you're constantly working to level this stuff up and being honest with yourself that this stuff is hard. Like not everyone is going to love working at your company everyday, and that's just reality, but how do we sort of give it our best and try and make it a good place on a whole and one where we can do good work and serve our customers really well.
[00:21:06] And I think that dedicated day by day, week by week intention to making that stuff happen is really the only way you ... That's the only way at least we've found to be able to make this be a place that people like to show up and work.
[00:21:21] Matt H: Right. And kind of going on that a little bit. On a daily basis when weekly and maybe further on than that, what is the process for you and what are the habits that you form to make sure that that stays consistent and you're still continuing to iterate on making it a great place to work? Is there something that you found that works well for Zapier on a daily and weekly basis whether amongst your team or just generally speaking across Zapier?
[00:21:47] Wade Foster: I mean, there are so many things. You couldn't even enumerate them all. I think at the heart of it is good management though. If you have good managers, strong managers, you have a fighting chance of getting this right. If you have sort of weak managers or managers who sort of don't care about the discipline or management, it's going to be a lot harder. You might still luck out and be okay, but it's going to be harder.
[00:22:11] And you might have good managers and it still might not be great, but it's totally a possible thing. So, I think investing in your managers, trying to hire some experienced managers, trying to promote some managers from within who sort of understand the culture and where you come from. You know, building the culture of sort of adaptability, willing to change, things like that. A culture of openness, but really important, at least for us ... You know, we have strong management practices.
[00:22:39] Things like weekly one-on-one's happen. Things like honest feedback is one of our values. So, we give a lot of regular feedback. We teach people how to give and receive feedback, how to handle when you are on the receiving end of feedback, what to do when you get touch feedback. We try and make that a part of the culture to really address some of the hard things about work instead of avoiding those things. You know, I mentioned how to tackle stress in the workplace or how to deal with conflict in the workplace.
[00:23:05] These are like hard things for us, even still today. Like one of our biggest challenges is that Zapier is a kind workplace. We're really kind, and so, how do we actually have disagreements in a healthy way? How do we deal with conflict in a healthy way, and sort of when sort of our kindness might actually get in the way of some of these really healthy things that need to happen.
[00:23:27] So like even stuff like that we're still constantly working on. We're constantly making that a part of our onboarding for new employees. It's part of our regular management training to make sure that we can handle some of those things more easily. There's no easy way to do it, but how can we make that just a skill set that we have in our tool kit to address those things.
[00:23:47] So, I think those are some of the things we are just kind of constantly working on, and then, we do our surveys twice a year that are sort of more holistic and take a step back. We do that to sort of try and understand are we trending up or are we trending down? If we're trending down, why are we trending down? What are the things we've got to step back and look at. Do we have a management issue? Do we have a leadership problem?
[00:24:06] Do we have something different? Did we accidentally do something wrong that messed things up? We're just constantly trying to work at that stuff and solicit feedback around those things to give us direction and guidance on what we can do to make Zapier a better place. So, I think that's really, really important. Actually, one interesting anecdote, like one thing we've had to do is as the company has grown, a lot more voices are brought to the table. And so, we tried to sort of build more formal ways to hear some of this feedback.
[00:24:35] You know we have this strong culture of feedback, so now, all of a sudden our people ops team are getting tons of feedback. I'm like, "What if we did this? What if we did this? What if we did this?" There has been so much feedback that we actually had to give the team better ways to give them suggestions so that they could sort of ignore ... Like they didn't have to respond to every little bit of feedback, because they were taking so much time just responding to every little idea.
[00:24:57] And so, we had to come up with ideas to how to let them say, "Hey. Your feedback has been heard, but you're not going to hear an actual response from this. Instead, we'll review this stuff quarterly and what not." And we sort of find the most important themes and find a way to address the most important themes. So, even stuff like that you have to find ways to sort of structurally scale how you even respond to your company, your organization as you grow.
[00:25:20] Matt H: So, just on that a little bit, how big is Zapier and how many countries are you in and how are things going right now?
[00:25:26] Wade Foster: Yeah. We're a little over 200 people. I want to say we're in like 25 or 26 states in the U.S., and then, 20-ish countries.
[00:25:35] Matt H: Wow. And it's been around since 2011 you mentioned.
[00:25:39] Wade Foster: Yeah. Yeah, we started in late 2011.
[00:25:41] Matt H: Nice. One of the things that I love to ask CEOs and I've been fortunate to talk to a few now is what is the most important aspect or skill that you've either had to develop as a CEO or you see other CEOs have, and I guess a better way of asking that question is what do you think is the most important aspect of your job as the CEO?
[00:26:04] Wade Foster: I mean for me, most important job of the CEO is to set the vision of the strategy of the company and communicate that, make sure that everyone understands what we're trying to do, get everyone on the same page, working together. That sort of thing. So, that's number one. Number two is hire and build a team that can execute against that sort of vision and strategy. Make sure it's a strong team, and three is (inaudible) money. Make sure that the money in the bank exists to help you execute against those things.
[00:26:33] I think those three are really ... Everything else kind of comes back to those three in some way. Now, CEOs often have to do a lot of other stuff too, because you just end up having to. Over time as your work gets bigger, you can sort of delegate more and more the job, and it can really become just those three things over time, but you don't always have that luxury.
[00:26:55] In terms of what I had to develop and what I had to get good at, certainly my management skills. Like I had no management skills starting Zapier. I've worked hard to try and become even an adequate manager. It's just not a sort of natural skill. I think a lot of folks approach to management is based on what they've seen their old boss do. There's so much of management that's not observable. So, you've only observed certain things, and then, to top it off, many people don't actual have a method to their madness when it comes to management.
[00:27:30] So, you might actually be observing good things or bad things and have no clue. And so, you're either trying to say, "I'm not going to be like my boss in this way, or I'm going to match them in this way without any sort of method to your madness." And I've had to work very hard on learning really what it means to be a good coach, to delegate well, to give good feedback, to articulate strategy, to communicate well, to run good meetings.
[00:27:53] Like all the sort of work that goes in to being a good manager is not something that happens over night. It's something that you learn over years and years and years. I'm still working on getting better at it.
[00:28:06] Matt H: What is getting better at it look like just in terms of the different skills that you'd have to acquire? I would think like you just go with you when you go back to these experiences and you apply what works and what doesn't work, but is it a constant feedback loop that you're having with your employees, or do you sit down at a certain amount of time and think, "Hey. How could have I have done this better?"
[00:28:23] How do you get better at those skills that you mentioned that would include in being a good manager?
[00:28:29] Wade Foster: Yeah, I think I've ... Like anything you're trying to get good at. Like you're trying to learn an instrument, if you're trying to learn how to be good at a sport, if you're trying to learn how to be a good programmer, a lot of it comes down to practice. You just have to have practice doing these things. You know, you don't become a world class software engineer in a year. You know? That's just not a thing that really happens.
[00:28:50] You have to be working at it for a while, and you know, eventually you sort of get better, then basic, then you become an intermediate, and eventually you sort of learn advanced techniques, and maybe a few years in, you actually find out, "Hey, I'm pretty good at this." But it takes time. Management is the same. You can read a lot of books, and you can get a lot of sort of theoretical advice and that helps. It certainly gives you a way to think about problems, but to a certain extent, you also have to just experience some of these things.
[00:29:19] You have to be in the moment and figure out okay, now I actually have to deal with this hard problem. I read about what it's like to fire somebody, but now, here I am doing it. If you've never done it before, you might find like wow this is actually harder than the book made it sound, or the podcast made it sound.
[00:29:37] So, to a certain degree, a lot of it just comes from experience and sort of reflecting on your own experience and saying you know, "Here's how I handled this really tough situation. If I find myself in that situation again, here's what I'm going to do differently next time. I'm going to try and do it this way and see if it goes better." So, I think a lot of it is you've got to learn. You've got to read up, own up on some of the basics, but to a certain degree, a lot of it just comes from experience too.
[00:30:02] Matt H: Right. One of the things that I see quite often now is that CEOs are, or at least the CEOs that I follow and admire, they are doing a lot of writing, and that seems to help at least in the vision of the company and it seems to attract people to these companies for whatever reason, but you definitely are included in that. Have you always been a good writer, and how important do you think writing is to your job as a CEO?
[00:30:30] Wade Foster: It's probably the skill set I've improved on the most since starting Zapier, and I used to think I was not a good writer. I struggled in my high school English classes. I was always way better at math and science, and I remember just thinking like, "I'll never be good at this." Like this is a thing I'm not good at, and I eventually had ... I think it was my senior year of high school. I had a teacher who told me they really liked one of my papers, and I think that was the first time anyone had ever told me like, "Wow. I just like what you wrote. I like what you did."
[00:31:04] And it was kind of eye opening. It was like, "Oh, maybe I'm not so bad at this thing. Maybe there is something to this. Maybe I can develop this." And now, it wasn't something that overnight I found a huge interest in, but certainly between that and starting Zapier when I found myself writing. Like I found myself more open to sort of trying to be a good writer. Before that, I wasn't really trying. I was just trying to get by, but then when I had opportunities to write papers or write blog posts and do any sort of writing, I was just like, "Hey. How can I be good at this?"
[00:31:36] Then certainly when I started Zapier, I saw firsthand the power of writing. A lot of the public writing has attracted a ton of people as users or attracted a ton of people who eventually applied and now work at Zapier. And so, the power of putting your thoughts out there in a well articulated way. I mean, it might be second to none. It's total and incredibly powerful when you have strong persuasive writing, and every week now, I write essays to the team internally.
[00:32:06] So, a lot of my best writing never even goes out into the public. It's something that only the team sees, but it's something I work on every week, and I think it's one of the most powerful tools that I have as a CEO to communicate with my team and tell them what's on my mind and how I'm thinking about tough problems is through writing.
[00:32:24] Matt H: Right. And even as well or probably more important as a remote team to be able to distill your thoughts down into something that is manageable and understandable and it just makes that, at least from my perspective in our team, makes communication so much more effective when we have quality writers on our team. I think that's a really important thing, and it makes total sense that people would be attracted to your company because you're able to communicate your vision through your blog post and things like that. So, that makes a lot of sense.
[00:32:54] Wade Foster: Yep. Totally.
[00:32:55] Matt H: Part of that question there about writing, it leads me to my next question, which is how does your day look regularly? Do you have any sort of consistencies throughout your day and through your week that you don't miss?
[00:33:06] Wade Foster: Yeah, I have a pretty consistent routine. I don't swap things up all that often. You know, I think for me one of my most, I guess, important routines that I have is my workout routine. So, 5:30 or 6:00, I'm either at the gym playing racquetball or I'm lifting weights, and that sort of routine is really important because it happens right after work. So, it's the thing that sort of forces me to shut down for the day. It's the thing that sort of takes my mind off of everything. I leave those workouts sort of physically exhausted, and I mean, I'll sort of go eat a pretty good, healthy meal, and then after that, I'm exhausted.
[00:33:45] I get a good night's sleep. So, I get eight hours sleep, and then, I show up the next day rested, well fed and ready for work. And I try and keep the first couple hours of my mornings free from meetings and things like that, because that allows me to sort of get prepared for the day and sort of review any material I need to review, or tackle any sort of projects that I have personally on my plate. Things that I haven't been able to delegate for one reason or the other, and then, usually by 10:00 I sort of take off the days meetings and things like that.
[00:34:17] And so, that's the routine I tend to keep to. It doesn't differ all that much for me.
[00:34:24] Matt H: I often here that exercise helps with the wind down of the day.
[00:34:28] Wade Foster: Yeah, I think it's really important and you know, like you said, "it's different for different people." I think the thing that I found for myself that was super important was finding the routine that did work for me. A lot of people were like into running. I just never could get into running. It's like even if I managed to build a bit of a habit, I always hated it. And so, it was really important for me was to find a habit or a routine both from an exercise and an eating perspective.
[00:34:59] Something that I could do for a lifetime. Like this is something that you know the routine I have today for exercise, for eating, I can keep doing this when I'm 80 years old, and I feel like that takes a lot of pressure off, because I know I've just built healthy habits, habits that I'm happy about and I don't feel like I'm constantly at odds with my sort of lifestyle and trying to convince myself, "I should workout more. Don't eat that last cookie." Like I'm never fighting that stuff. I just kind of feel a little bit more in harmony with my day to day routines.
[00:35:30] Matt H: Yeah, and for myself too, it's similar in the sense that it's so much easier for me to follow a routine that I'm strict on, because there's never a question about whether I am or whether I'm not, it's just this is what I'm going to do.
[00:35:43] Wade Foster: Totally. This is how I do it.
[00:35:45] Matt H: Yeah. So, if it's like, "Oh, I want to go to the gym more." What does more mean? You could say, "I'll go tomorrow." But if it's, "I go to the gym every day," or, "I go to the gym on these days." Then it's like there's no question there and this is just what I do.
[00:35:56] Wade Foster: Yup. You got it.
[00:35:58] Matt H: So, I want to be cognizant of your time, and I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your experiences with us. I have a couple of more closing questions. So, my first one and it's one that I ask everybody and it's fun, because I get all kinds of different answers to it. What is your favorite unplugged activity?
[00:36:14] Wade Foster: Racquetball is definitely my go to for sure.
[00:36:17] Matt H: Nice. So, my next question here for you is I have to caveat this with no Zapier and no slack because I heae those often. What is your favorite remote work tool or things that you use regularly that you find productive for you?
[00:36:32] Wade Foster: Zoom is the other one. (inaudible) which is so critical for us being successful at Zapier.
[00:36:39] Matt H: Fair enough. Actually, I have a follow up question with that. Do you do calls over video most of the time, or do you do the none face to face calls?
[00:36:46] Wade Foster: Video. Yeah. Video is so important, because it allows you to see facial expressions, body language. So much is communicated that way. So, yeah video for sure.
[00:36:57] Matt H: Yeah, and that makes sense and it's something I hear sometimes too with remote teams is that they wonder how they feel more isolated than other remote teams, and I often will ask, "Hey. What do you do for calls?" And it'll be, "No. We don't do video or we don't see each other face to face," and it's a good place to start if you're feeling isolated and remote team is getting to see those other people on your team regularly. It's huge.
[00:37:17] Wade Foster: Mm-hmm
[00:37:18] Matt H: I've actually two more questions for you and I'm going to throw one at you that I didn't allow you to prepare for. What is the best advice you've ever been given, and it can be work-related or just outside of work, but what is the best advice that you've been given?
[00:37:32] Wade Foster: Best advice I've ever been given? I think the value of figuring out how to sort of have tough conversations continues to be one that I reap rewards from. In college, I signed up fr a master's program that I sort of got talked into doing. Someone sort of flattered me and said I would be great at this, and I think you'd love it.
[00:37:56] And I was like, "Okay, cool. Yeah." I didn't know what I wanted to do at the time. So, I kind of just like, "I'll give it a try and see how it goes out," and within a couple of weeks, I realized I hate this. I don't want to continue doing this. And I was like, oh I'm going to have to stick it out. Like I made this commitment to this person, and I feel like I'm letting them down if I don't do this.
[00:38:16] And so, I went to talk to my granddad who's ... He was a counselor for a long time, and I said, "What should I do? I don't know what to do." And he was like, "Well, it sounds like you do know what to do." And I said, "What?" And he said, "It sounds like you probably don't want to be doing this, and you should probably not do it anymore." And it was like such a, "Well, yeah. That's right. That's exactly right."
[00:38:38] It was like I don't know why I expected him to say anything different, but it just was a huge sigh of relief to say, "Oh, you can get out of this. This isn't a thing that you have to continue doing," but the follow up advice was like, "Here's how you do it. Here's how you go in and talk to your professor and here's how you have a hard conversation about this isn't what your heart is set on." And I think there were so many times in our lives we sort of find ourselves doing hard things, doing things that we don't love, or doing things that we're not sure how to do them, and we're just kind of unwilling to have the conversation about it, and I relearned this lesson over and over and over again, but it's so valued being able to just have the conversation about whatever it is.
[00:39:22] Every time I do, I just come out feeling much better than I did.
[00:39:28] Matt H: Right. Yeah, that's good advice, and it's definitely a skill that I think I don't have as well as I could have. Those difficult conversations. It's just one of those things you just have to keep trying and working through. My last question here for you is if you could read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be? If you're not a big reader, then it can go movie or whatever, and I have another question on top of that which is what would be the book that you feel you've given away the most or would give away if somebody was looking for a great book to read?
[00:40:02] Wade Foster: That's such a hard question, because it's like what's a substantive book that has enough to it that I can keep going back to time and time again. I'll be honest. The book that I probably or I guess set of books that I've probably read the most in my lifetime, like I still go back and read them from time to time is Calvin and Hobbes. I still go back and read those comic strips. It's like just humor and they are intelligent and fun all at the same time.
[00:40:29] So, I go back to Calvin and Hobbes all the time. So, that would be that one. Book that I would give away the most. Certain books I recommend a lot. You know if you're new to management, High off of Management is one I recommend a lot. Probably one of the classics is How to Win Friends and Influence People. You know Dale Carnegie from 1920s or whatever is another book that I recommend a lot has a sort of quick baby title, but it also has a lot of substance to it. Those are two that I find myself telling people about a lot of the time.
[00:41:04] Matt H: Yeah. Calvin and Hobbes. I'm a big fan as well. Well, Wade, I can't thank you enough for coming on the show and sharing your time and experiences with us. I learned a lot and we will link to your blog as well as just Zapier and your Twitter feed and all that kind of stuff in the show notes, but was there anywhere else that you'd like to send people before we head out?
[00:41:23] Wade Foster: Check out Zapier if you hadn't set up a zap yet. Give it a try.
[00:41:27] Matt H: Yeah, and I can speak to. We use Zapier in our business, and we rely on it pretty heavily. So, I can't speak highly enough about the product itself. It's great. So, if you haven't checked that out, then please do so. Well, Wade, thanks again and hopefully we can do this again soon.
[00:41:40] Wade Foster: Yeah. Have a good rest of the day Matt.
[00:41:42] Matt H: All right. Thanks.
[00:41:43] Wade Foster: Bye.
[00:41:45] Matt H: Thanks so much again for listening to the show. Be sure to check out WeWorkRemotely.com for the latest remote jobs, and if you're looking to hire a remote worker, WeWorkRemotely is the fastest and easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone that we should talk to, advice you have, please feel free to reach out to us at Podcast@WeWorkRemotely.com. That's Podcast@WeWorkRemotely.com, and if you'd like to sponsor the show, please go to WeWorkRemotely.com/advertise for all of our available opportunities. Thanks so much for listening and we'll talk to you next time.