Automating (Remote) Work

Enabling efficiency has always been at the heart of Zapier’s mission: the automation software startup was founded specifically to serve as the lynchpin platform between myriad web apps, allowing people to focus on their core projects without getting bogged down with mundane tasks.

Moreover, the company has been distributed from the get-go, and has found that the requisite digital tools, meeting structure and business strategies that make remote work possible also happen to be the most proactive, pragmatic and productive ways to run a business.

Zapier CEO and co-founder Wade Foster sat down with Greylock general partner Sarah Guo to discuss what he’s learned in the nine years since the company was founded, and how he sees the widespread shift to remote work affecting the way companies operate in the future. Wade also shares the Zapier founding story, describing how their mission to provide the “nuts and bolts plumbing of engineering” to businesses big and small was untrendy in 2011, but is now regarded as one of the early trailblazers of the no-code and low-code software movement.

Today, some 300 Zapier employees around the globe serve thousands of teams, and the company is often held up as an example of how to work remotely. Frequently asked for advice, Wade talks about the common pitfalls of those in forced-remote work situations such as an overreliance on synchronous communication, and how the now-necessary use of digital collaboration tools is illuminating the need for better meeting design and management practices.

Wade also shares his experience running the organization across multiple time zones, and gives pragmatic advice for those who are still yearning for the days of in-office work, when spontaneous conversations could spark ideas and strengthen co-worker connections:

“I feel like leaving your company strategy up to chance encounters in the hallway is a pretty risky proposition on its own. If you are banking on an employee happening to luckily bump into another employee to create whole new things…I think I would try and find a better way than that.”

This episode is part of the #WorkFromAnywhere series hosted by Sarah Guo and David Thacker. You can listen to the podcast here.

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Sarah: Wade, welcome to Greymatter. Thanks so much for doing this with us.

Wade: Thanks for having me, Sarah.

Sarah: I think a lot of people will have heard of Zapier already, but please go ahead and introduce yourself and the company a little bit.

Wade: Yeah, I’m Wade Foster and I’m the co-founder and CEO of Zapier. Zapier helps you connect all the tools that you use at work, and makes it really easy to automate all the things you really want to do. So we hook into things like Slack and G Suite and Trello and MailChimp and QuickBooks and Zendesk and Salesforce. There’s like 2000 of these, so I could go on for a really long time.

Sarah: I think now people recognize the value of integration and automation software, but you’ve been working on this for a long time – before it was widely understood. What’s the founding story of Zapier?

Wade: We started the company in 201, and it emerged out of some side projects and freelance work. One of my co-founders, Brian, and I were doing just anything to make a buck, honestly – if someone hired us to do something, we would pretty much just do it. We were making some websites, we were making some plug-ins (we ended up making a WordPress plugin that you could hook into Salesforce, we made a PayPal –QuickBooks thing, etc). Brian had this realization that this app to app connectivity is a big pain point, particularly for small business owners who can’t afford engineers and who don’t know what APIs are even there, but they still need this. It’s really valuable to get your leads from your website into your CRM and into your email marketing tool, or to get notifications for new payments, or to get alerted that you have a critical file waiting for you. All these little things are super compelling and are needed. So Brian said, “We should just make a place where it’s easy for the sort of regular person who works in all these small businesses to set this stuff up on their own. They don’t need to hire engineers. They don’t need a lot of code. They don’t need to know APIs.” And so we set out to start building that in 2011. Now, nine years later, here we are.

Sarah: What does “here we are” look like?

Wade: So there are over 300 employees working at Zapier globally, all over the world, fully distributed. We’ve never had an office.We support millions of users; over a hundred thousand companies are using the platform. We’ve been profitable for a long time. It’s not a tiny little company anymore.

Sarah: Congratulations to you and Brian and the entire team on the progress, as well as the impact you’re having on these businesses.

Let’s talk about you and being a remote company – The 17 times zones of Zapier and everything. I’m sure you just get inundated by the startups that are like, “Wade, we’re remote. How do we do this? What do we do now?” You guys published a guide and lots of content around this. But what are you hearing from founders and leaders about going to remote in a forced way? What are the biggest mistakes you’re seeing people make right now?

Wade: I think a lot of folks don’t use presence in a super great way. You see this most commonly when folks are talking about Zoom fatigue – I think everyone’s got Zoom fatigue right now ,where they’re just on zoom all day, every day, and by the end of the day they’re just beat. It’s like, “I just can’t do this. At all.” I think a big part of it is that they’re over-reliant on synchronous work to get things done. They’re like, “If I don’t talk to you and tell you, ‘Hey, these are our priorities, this is what happens. If we don’t spend time discussing this live, how would work ever happen?’” I think if you step back and say, “Actually, we can get a lot of things done if we aren’t on Zoom all day long,” you’ll probably be more effective.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s not a place for being on video conferences. We’re power users of Zoom. We love the software. But I think if you rely on it and back to back all day, every day, you’re going to have a tough time.

And so how do you actually change that? Well, it really just boils down to getting really crisp about what it is you’re trying to achieve. You have to set up goals on a day-to-day and a week-to-week basis. Ask, “Where do we want to get to at the end of the week? What is it that we care a lot about?” Then make sure your team has the time and space to get that stuff done. You can rely on tools like Slack or email or whatever other tool you’re using to do quick little daily updates. You can do things where you say, “Hey, when you have a second, just give me an update on this thing.” You can use tools like Zapier that automatically ping in status updates from these other tools like, “Hey, there’s a new thing that’s been built and figured out; pipe that into Slack and let people get alerted that we’re starting work on this stuff.” That reduces your reliance on synchronous work to be successful. That’s a big one. Once you make that shift from synchronous to more asynchronous, you’ll find that remote can work a little more peacefully for you.

Sarah: Yeah, and I also think that the definition of how to do synchronous is going to change for many organizations, because it’s not going to be like, “Let’s be in scheduled, one-hour meeting blocks all day.” That means you’re literally going to do no real work. But as you said, I think there’s a place for Zoom meetings, but being conscious that it’s not the direct translation of being around each other 100% of the time.

Wade: Yeah. We did our annual planning this week. A big part of it did happen live over Zoom, but the way that it happened looked very different. We utilized breakout rooms a ton to get into smaller groups, we have Google docs open and shared with everyone at the same time, so every single person is tossing stuff into the doc as we work through things. It’s not this situation where there are five or 10 or 20 people in a Zoom, but most everyone wants to lean back and not be engaged while one person is talking to everybody else. It’s really trying to use these tools to get everyone actually engaged and working on the same problem at the same time. It accelerates the work rather than blocks it. If you have a room of 20 people and 19 people aren’t working and one is, you want to try and figure out how to get 20 people all working together and putting that into creating something.

Sarah: Absolutely. There’s a concept at Greylock of the partner hour, which is, “Do not put eight GPs in a room and have a discussion if it’s not worth eight partner hours.” Because there’s a lot of stuff you can do one-on-one, and there’s a lot of stuff that you only need 20 minutes for. So don’t schedule an hour. We absolutely need that live discussion to make good investment decisions and make decisions for the fund, but we do not want to be wasting 40 partner hours every day.

Wade: You said a really important word in there: Decisions. You get people in a room because you have a hard, difficult decision to debate. When you have that kind of decision to make, synchronous communication can be a very valuable tool for wrestling with the nuance of hard problems. But you don’t want to put eight people in a room to get a status update. That should just be an email or a doc or something and you tell everyone to read it. As long as they read it, you’re fine.

Sarah: We got to know each other around 2013 or 14, some while back. At the time, of course Zapier was already remote, but at a different scale. And I think we were probably speaking a year or two ago where you were telling me that the way you managed Zapier remotely (prior to this crazy year) was because the company was scaling. When you onboarded people, you used to have every new employee come camp with you or something for some period of time, right? Now you are 300 people and growing, so what have you done to scale while remote? A lot of young founders are saying they still need to hire, but they are very uncomfortable doing that remotely. How does everyone continue?

Wade: Yeah, we used to do this thing called Airbnb onboarding. We would fly the new people out to the Bay Area, rent an Airbnb for them here, would work with them for the whole week, and then in the evenings we’d take them out to dinner, we’d come back and play board games and other nerdy stuff – that’s just kind of just our personality types. And it was a really valuable way to get to know the early employees. We really knew each other in a way that I don’t think is common for most companies. And that scaled pretty well – we did that for about 150 people. But towards the end of that run, it was definitely breaking. It got to the point where people were flying out here every month. It was a big burden for managers and leaders in the company to always be out here. We could see that it was a lot and it was starting to slow things down. We eventually moved to totally remote onboarding, which honestly, we probably should’ve done sooner. We’re an entirely remote company. Why wouldn’t we onboard remote? So we made a few shifts; we started onboarding in cohorts. Every two weeks there is a new cohort of folks that joined the company, and their first week is through a centralized onboarding process. They don’t go straight to their manager on day one. Instead, the people team owns their time and they run them through some self-directed materials, some live learning courses, and it’s more oriented around helping them get to know Zapier, helping them understand the tools that we use, our values, our culture, who our customers are, what our product is, etc.

We do all these different types of things that give them this real high-level holistic understanding of what we are and what we’re trying to do. So that way, when they go to their teams, they’re able to actually be more effective on day one. And that has been really important. The other thing that they get out of that is a sense of community. That was one thing we realized was really important that Airbnb onboarding did really well (sort of on accident) in that you started with a group of folks that you got to know. It didn’t matter if you were in engineering or support or design or whatnot – you started with these people and went through like the onboarding ringer together, so those folks checked in on each other. There was a sense of “These are my work people now.” And you need that in a remote company. When you don’t have connections to others by default, you have to work hard to build those bonds with other people. And the new onboarding process did that really, really well. We certainly have other things that augment that, but finding ways to build that community and connection is critical in a remote company, just for folks’ sanity.

Sarah: Question about handling time zones. When the pandemic first started and people had to go remote, I would suppose that a lot of companies were digital enough and well-oriented enough that they actually could manage it until they had, you know, people fleeing New York all across the globe, moving their whole families, living with their in-laws, etc. And then all of a sudden, these companies are having to manage a time difference. They’ve never done it before. How does Zapier think about that?

Wade: So our team has evolved over time. We started first as 10 people who were only in the U.S., across three or four different time zones. It’s not really a big deal. You can manage that without a huge amount of headache. The first person we hired in Europe was interesting. I remember talking to him and saying we had never done this before, so I have idea how well this is going to work. It’s a big time zone difference. We don’t think it’s going to be a problem, but I just want you to know up front before you join us, that you’re the guinea pig basically. And he was like, “It’s all good. Let’s do it. Let’s see how it goes.” And it turned out to be great. He was one of our best engineers in very short order. And so we were just like, okay, I guess the time zone doesn’t matter. And so we got really adventurous in that we hired folks who have people all over the world. And for the most part, it kind of worked for a while. And then there was like a point in time –

Sarah: Wait, let me say just one thing, because I specifically have portfolio companies who are like, thinking about pulling the trigger on hiring somebody just one more time zone away and they’re super nervous. The thing they specifically worry about is getting blocked on decisions and slower velocity. How do people do this?

Wade: I think people just thought about like, “How do we set this up and make it successful?” We had a writer in Thailand and it was actually pretty great because he would do drafts of his work, hand it off to the U.S., they edited during his night time, and then he’d wake up the next morning and have his edits back. There was no latency in feedback for him, so it worked out really well in those instances. That was what our early experience looked like. Then we got to a point where we had a product unit, and the product manager, designer, and engineers were spread across Americas, Europe, and a person in Australia. It was just no good. It was slow. Everything was slow, everything was frustrating. The person over in the APAC was new to the company and just felt like they weren’t getting a lot help getting onboarded. It was a new team, it was emerging. The documentation for them hadn’t been written very well yet. So we figured out,“Oh, okay. So I guess it’s not a thing you get for free. There is a bit of effort that has to be into this.”

Since then, we backed up. The real key learning that we have is there are parts of your company where a 24/7, follow the sun model is a strategic advantage for you. You think about your support org, who you can support globally. If you think about sales. You can do that there too. Any of your go to market functions or customer-facing functions are going to benefit from being more distributed. Even things like your site reliability team is going to benefit from that because now they’re not getting 3:00 AM PagerDuty calls. Those teams really can be quite successful, the more distributed they are. And it becomes an advantage for you if you get those collaboration pieces right. The cost is well worth it because you can reach customers more effectively.

The teams where you have to think harder about it are the ones where collaboration and feedback loops need to be fast. This is certainly your design teams, your product teams, sometimes your marketing teams. We have a loose rule around having plus or minus three time zones. Why not just group people and cost your people that way for those teams? That’s been our core learning there. As long as you make sure the teams have clear missions and understandable goals, you don’t have to worry so much about decisions getting bogged down because they have the autonomy to go pursue those things.

Sarah: I was thinking about something that you have said. Your attitude toward the work that Zapier does – and the value you guys add to the world is – is very down to earth. You said at one point that excitement about the engineering work doesn’t equate to value. In regards to the engineering work that Zapier has taken on, I think that’s a really funny thing to say – Silicon Valley culture is often like people want to work on the “hardest problems” or “most interesting problems” in the world. Can you explain what you meant by that?

Wade: Sure. There’s always this idea of, “what’s hot,” in the news, and it’s usually ML, AI,or whatever sort of trendy thing that people tend to flock to. But most engineering work is just nuts and bolts, plumbing style work that has to get done. I mean, how many credit apps have been built across the SasS industry? So many. And they’ve gone on to be quite successful; these very basic building blocks. And it isn’t necessarily super exciting or thrilling work. And so it often is hard – or harder – to get that work done or prioritized.

I think when you look at a company like Zapier it’s easy. And some companies that do have engineers, people will say like,”Well, why would I use software like that? I could just build that on my own.” But the reality is that you don’t really want to spend your time deploying engineers against this problem. You want them to be focused on the core business, things that you are serving and this other type of work; you want it to be fast and easy and done. And so that’s what Zapier really gives you is a place where you can come in, set it up in minutes and we take care of everything. It’s hosted, it’s maintained; all this stuff you don’t have to worry about. It’s the unsexy, unglamorous part of running a business that keeps that just makes it work, and that’s the part we really help accelerate.

Sarah: From a recruiting perspective, do you think people at Zapier look at that work differently than others do, or do you think it’s a cultural thing that you guys are so excited about doing this [this kind of work]?

Wade: I think part of it is the scale and the diversity of tools that we get you to work with. I grew up playing Legos and stuff like that. There’s something interesting about all these random tools. What can you build if you put them together in interesting ways? And in fact, while I’ve sort of always talked about what we’ve done in unsexy ways, it actually sort of turned into a trendy thing. These days you hear about no code and low code, and we’re square in the middle of that. It gets to that point where you’re actually helping people build and unlock their creativity in a way that’s really compelling. And so I think there’s a personality type that gets really pumped about that.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. So, sexy or not, tell me one story of an automation that a user has built with Zapier that you are inspired by and that you think is really cool.

Wade: There are two users that I have just been enamored by lately. They are two of the foremost folks of the no-code industry – they really kicked it off. One is Tara Reed at Apps Without Code, and one is Ben Tossel at MakerPad. If you go check out the stuff they’re building, it is pretty inspiring. Makerpad is building Airbnb clones, Reddit clones, Facebook clones, all this sort of stuff. And they’re using off the shelf software that’s predominantly connected with Zapier. Zapier is the logic layer for all these things that they’re building. I think it has really created a totally new category of work. It’s shown folks that you actually can do a lot with these types of tools. You don’t need to learn how to write code these days to get stuff built.

Sarah: What is Zapier’s process for goal creation?

Wade: It’s hard. As your company gets bigger, this is one of the hardest things to get right. I heard a CEO say one time that if they give really specific goals and tell people what they want to happen, the right things get done and they are happy. But everyone hates them because it’s too dictatorial. Whereas, if they give people lots of autonomy to go get things done, then those people are very happy, but the right things don’t happen. So figuring out that middle ground is kind of tricky. There’s this constant pruning and curation of the strategy and the mission as you get new information like new market threats and new competitive environments. You’re always doing a little bit of gardening in those areas to make that work. I can’t say that we’ve nailed it, but we use an OKR framework: We focus really heavily on what the key things are that we want to get done in a year, what the most critical things are for our business, why now is the right time to do it. We really try to focus on the answer to that question first and get lasered in on, and the OKR framework then supports that stuff.

I think a lot of times people mistakenly start with the framework and then when they see things don’t fit within it, they think they have to change it. But if it doesn’t fit in the framework, that’s actually ok. Let’s just get what it is we need to achieve first, and then we can fix the framework to match this other stuff.

The one thing we’re trying that’s new this year is adding a piece called actions to the OKR framework. A lot of times, the OKR framework cascades through your org and there’s this idea of just giving objectives to try and figure out how to get the work done. I find that that can be challenging because oftentimes there’s a disconnect between a belief in the objective and a belief in the OKRs, but there’s not necessarily alignment that the work is going to deliver that stuff.So we started asking ourselves if we believed in the actions piece. Do we believe that is going to deliver that stuff we need and really get alignment on what’s important? I’m optimistic about it, but we’ll see. We’re constantly evolving this stuff.

The other tricky thing with annual planning is that it’s annual. So you only really get one shot at it a year, and then you’re just kind of constantly trying to regularly engage with it. It’s probably one of the hardest things. It’s one of a very few, really hard problems that I think companies have: getting that tight alignment on what it is you’re trying to do as you scale.

Sarah: I think one of the things that I’ve seen that is really hard for company leaders is to understand when there’s a disconnect across functions, or what reification is happening between their teams. How do you as a CEO know what communication and relationships are happening in your teams?

Wade: Yeah. I think you want to create artifacts. The cool thing about these tools is that they create a digital exhaust. If you’re using GitHub, it creates commits. If you’re Sigma, you’ve got files. If you’ve got Zendesk, it’s creating tickets, Salesforce has a customer log. So there’s this exhaust that happens from the work. The cool thing is that you can set these up, where the manager or CEO or whatever leader gets that exhaust sent to them automatically. In my case, I have alerts piping into Slack all the time, so I’m able to observe the proverbial factory at work without having to ask people. No one wants to turn in their TPS reports; that’s just mundane work. But I can set it up where it automatically comes to me, so it helps me get a feel for where things are operating really smoothly, and where there is decision-making that’s getting bogged down, or where two teams are clearly not aligned or just sort of stuck.

Sarah: Can you give an example of an alert that you pay attention to?

Wade: I’m paying attention to a lot of metrics. Those are like the obvious ones like revenue and customer happiness and things like that are piped in daily and weekly. And then we also have anomaly detection (certain key indicators that move outside of the normal fluctuation) – those spin up alerts. Beyond that, it’s a lot of certain decisions I’ll be keying off on. There will be times when we’re working through a particular problem or I need to be paying attention to something so I’ll set up alerts for certain keywords inside of Slack where it comes up. I want to be seeing what’s going on in those things.

Sarah: You’ve talked about this idea of a digital-native work, and how many organizations now are trying to take everything that they did in the real world in the office. They just want to find the analog and get as close as they can to that analog while we’re all distributed. You’ve talked about how you don’t think that’s right. Can you explain a little bit more?

Wade: Sure. I think about things like the weekly conference room meeting or whatever. In instances like those, we’ve got a project and someone’s got to come in and present us to what’s going on. Y’all pile around a conference room. Someone gets in there, hooks up the slide deck, turns it on and just walks you through a slide deck and you spend 45 minutes out of an hour, hearing them talk to you. And then you hear the last 15 minutes of cute random Q and A. And what goes on there is a very low calorie meeting. Not much has gotten done other than a bunch of people sitting there and hearing a person talk to them, then at the end you have a Q and a session that maybe was a little productive, but I would bet the most dominant voice is the one who did most of the question asking and answering. You may not have even gotten dissenting opinions. You may not have heard the things that you need to hear. That’s what the offline world looks like. And then people try and replicate that online.

One: that’s a bad way to do it. You shouldn’t try and replicate it anyway. You should just try and find a better way to do it. The cool thing about all these digital-first tools is they actually give you ways to fix some of that stuff. And so if you started online, you can just design that whole process better in the first place. You can say, “Hey, before this meeting, I’m actually gonna send you out the document that has all this stuff, and I’m going to expect everyone to have read it.” Or if you don’t want to expect everyone to read it, you can say in the first 10 minutes of the meeting you want them to read through this stuff, and people can be interacting with that document. They can be putting in comments, asking questions, and then folks can be answering each other live, doing work, answering, building clarification, building consensus, building understanding all at the same time, because it can happen in a writing form. These digital tools allow you to do that.

There’s all sorts of other creative ways you can make this work. You can use tools like Mural to do better brainstorms. You can say, “Hey, let’s break out and everyone answers this question at the same time.We don’t need to sit around as a group.” You make sure that the voices of everyone are being heard, and you can also see the dissent easier. You can see even the quiet person saying they are not really on board with an idea. Everyone gets to participate a little bit better and you can use that to better understand the real blockers, and you can also use it to clear up real issues faster.

And so I think when we talk about digital-first tools, that’s the power. The way a lot of this software has been built is to allow you to do that kind of stuff. It allows you to play around with a medium in which work gets done. It doesn’t necessarily have to be this traditional meeting structure.

Sarah: Yeah, I’m a big believer in that and I sit on a lot of video calls, so I don’t think video is going away. But I think there is going to be a combination of richer interaction than just video where one person is communicating.

That being said, have you filtered for this when hiring at Zapier, or do you just teach people about it? Traditionally, there’s been a lot of resistance to this idea of structured meetings and meeting tools. It’s kind of seen as this weird management “F you.” How do you work around that resistance, or filter for it?

Wade: Yeah, you can certainly teach that in onboarding. We teach people how to have better meetings. The first time you experience it and it just works, you’re sold. I find very few people who go through that and are like, “Enh, I’d rather be snoozing through this meeting than actively engaging in it.”

The part that’s a little bit trickier is the prep part, because sometimes it does require a little bit more preparation, a little more discipline. But candidly, that’s just good hygiene for being a good employee. If you want to be good at your job, you should show up prepared. There’s a personality type who can sometimes get away with a little bit of charm and charisma and sort of float through this thing. But I find that in remote settings, that person tends to struggle more because they can’t really hide behind the charm and charisma anymore. They have to show up, be prepared and be ready to dig into this stuff.

Sarah: One thing that I’ve heard from other founders and CEOs in our portfolio (and on this podcast) is that they’re worried about breakthrough innovation and creativity while remote. You could believe that this can happen because you’re building your whole company with new products around this. Is that concern well-founded? What do you guys do to encourage brand new product ideas? How do you create space for real creativity?

Wade: This is the big thing, and a few thoughts come to mind. Oftentimes I’ll hear a critique about remote work, and the first example I’ll get is about the random chats; the serendipitous chats that you get inside your company. And my reaction to that is that I understand that that is how it has been done, and it can happen that way, but I feel like leaving your company strategy up to like, a chance encounter in a hallway is a pretty risky proposition on its own. If you are banking on just one employee happening to luck into another employee to create whole new things…I mean, it can work – it’s clearly worked before – but I think I would try and find a better way than that.

To the extent that you can understand what drives innovation and what drives new product ideas, I would try and put your focus on those things. It’s really just carving off time and space to work on those things. So that’s been our approach and it works pretty good for us. I would say it works better than a chance encounter.

Sarah: Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting framing. One thing I’ve always admired about you, Wade, is that you carry a very first-principles thinking approach to even the idea of the hallway interaction or the spontaneous encounter. I hear that all the time and it resonates with me, but the idea that just because we want spontaneous creativity doesn’t mean we can’t design those interactions into our company.

Wade: I’m not saying that hallway conversations aren’t useful or can’t create obvious things because there’s so many examples of where that has happened. To debate that is not possible. I don’t even want to engage in that debate because I’ll lose. I’d rather say, “Well, that’s good that that happens. How can we make that happen more regularly? And how can we make that more predictable?” Because if you can make it more predictable, then you’re really onto something.

Sarah: Yeah. Maybe you can even drive the equivalent of more of it?

Wade: Right, maybe you can make it go up. If you can’t, if it’s literally a chance that you have control over the success of your company or not, and you are just hoping…

Sarah: That’s no way to live as an entrepreneur. There’s enough control.

Okay, so here is my last substantive question: You must be watching with both empathy and bemusement as everyone tries to figure out this remote thing. As you are doing that, what is your prediction for what is going to stick (or not) about this new way of working?

Wade: Well, I think more things are going to stick than not, honestly. The biggest thing, I wager, is that most people are finding that they can be productive (or at least productive to a good enough degree) that the broader employee workforce is going to say, “This is better and I want this.” I think enough people will do that to the point where it creates a macro challenge for any company who says they only want to be an in-person organization. It’s going to be hard for any company with that mindset to hire talent, because the workforce by and large will not be interested in that. When it creates a talent shortage because people don’t want to go into an office or people don’t want to be in a big city like San Francisco or New York, there’s a certain pragmatism that companies will adopt. It’s like how many companies are in San Francisco because that’s where the money is and that’s where the talent is. That’s why I am where I am – not necessarily because I wanted to be here, but because I had to be.

Pragmatism is a very powerful driver of how companies operate. They go where the talent is and they go where the money is, and if the talent says they want to work from home, well, that’s how we’re going to be set up. I think that is one thing that is already a pretty powerful dynamic, and it will be interesting to see if it truly does play out.
Then, I think it will be interesting to see what the talent markets look like globally. With distributed teams everywhere, how does pay and compensation work? How does commercial real estate change? It starts to get upended and you realize how intertwined all these systems are. And I don’t know where it’s going to shake out honestly, but you realize that something has to change.

Sarah: In reaction to that, are you guys doing anything different with your own talent strategy from here?

Wade: Not much. The biggest thing that we’re really focusing on is tightening up our employee brand and how we position why you should come work at Zapier. For a long time, certainly, it was “Hey, we’re totally remote. We’re one of a few. If you really want that, we’re the place to be.” That was a very strong value prop. But when everyone’s that way, that value prop doesn’t come across as powerfully. And so we’re just looking at that and trying to just update how we think about it. Those are the types of things that when everyone is sort of shifting in your direction, you have to understand what your differentiator is.

Sarah: Last section: quick takes. Being locked up at home for the last seven or eight months, do you have a content recommendation you’d like to share?

Wade: I can tell you that I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately because I have a newborn at home, so I don’t really have free hands or anything like that. Plus, since the world has not been as fun to be around, I’ve looked for a lot of escapism and the “Conan Needs A Friend” podcast is a blast. He brings on his friends and comedians and they just chat about silly stuff, but oftentimes they also talk about their creative process – how they come up with jokes or skits or sketches and things like that. That part is pretty inspirational too. So if you’re looking for something to take your head out of how things are going right now, Conan’s a good stop.

Sarah: Yeah. I could use that. What about a shout out to someone?

Wade: Shout-out right now has to go to all the healthcare workers. My sister’s a nurse, my mom’s a pharmacist. There’s so many people out there who are doing things that are really difficult. Those of us in technology are really the lucky ones – we can work from home, we can sit in front of our laptops, we can get our food delivered to us. We don’t have to venture out into the world. Healthcare folks really are the ones who have taken the brunt of what this pandemic has done to us, and they deserve all the props that they can get.

Sarah: I deeply agree. What about one thing you’ve learned about yourself or the team?

Wade: In some ways, I feel like I was meant for this. It’s fantastic we are already set up to be remote. I’m an introvert by nature, so this has been great in that I don’t have to go out and have to see people. I can just hang out at home by myself a lot. [Laughs] I don’t know if my wife agrees with that, but it’s working for me right now.

Sarah: Awesome. Any last words of advice for entrepreneurs in the audience?

Wade: I’d say embrace this remote thing for the long haul. Don’t assume you’re going to get back to your office anytime soon. I’m sure folks are already realizing that now if they haven’t yet in the past six months. Just lean into learning these things, be comfortable with what you don’t know, and be comfortable trying new things. I think you’ll find that if you’re willing to try new stuff, you’ll find that a lot of it is stuff that really works for you. Honestly, that’s how our culture at Zapier has been built over time – through trial and error, we found some things that we loved and we doubled down on, or things that we tried one time and decided we’re never doing ever again. Over time you’ll come up with the rituals that work for you, and the company will get better.

Sarah: Awesome. Wade, thank you so much for being on Greymatter. I always learn something when talking to you about Zapier. And congrats on the newborn!

Wade: Yeah, that was fun. Thanks Sarah!

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