2012 is the first complete year Zapier has been in business and it's been a whirlwind of a year. We thought it'd be fun to take a trip down memory lane and look at the top 12 posts on the Zapier blog from this year have been.
Developers have a knack for not believing in themselves and for questioning whether or not any good product will succeed. The good news is that if you are a developer "you are the exception to the rule." Most people can't program. Most people don't want to learn to program. If you can build a simple SaaS application that automates tedious parts of someones job then you can sell that for good money and make a living. Don't worry about what the haters say.
A year ago Mike, Bryan and I were literally three dudes hacking nights and weekends to build a product. A year later we've built a successful product, got paying customers and landed a spot in Y Combinators summer batch. This is our story.
Bryan, Mike and I aren't formally trained programmers. We all picked it up for fun and to scratch an itch. Bryan shares his experiences learning to hack and the tipping point that helped him become a full time developer and a technical co-founder.
Finding customers as an early startup is one of the hardest tasks around. It seems harder when you don't have tens of thousands of twitter followers, a happening blog, or a huge email list. This post runs you down a few of the basic things you can do to get early customers when you aren't internet famous.
Building a product from scratch that will support you, a co-founder and your collective families is hard. Really hard. Worst of all it doesn't come with a playbook. So what was our approach? Talk to customers and potential user. A lot. Like a whole lot.
When you want to put together a web applications or a prototype really quickly like commonly done at Startup Weekends and Hackathons it's often nice to rely on tools that can handle a lot of the heavy lifting without you actually having to write a ton of code. Mike demonstrates in this post how he built PRLibs using webhooks, Zapier, and Posterous.
99% of the time buying is the best decision for a startup. That may be a slight exaggeration, but the sentiment is true. This post outlines when and why building might be a good option for certain processes in your startup.
Support for web applications can be fun, challenging, crazy and a whirlwind. Zapier supports hundreds of web applications because Zapier provides integrations with hundreds of web applications. This post outlines how we handle the madness.
For the longest time the Zapier free plan was limited to to five hours syncing. Now it's 15 minutes. The people rejoice.
Backbone can be pretty complex for new users. Mike outlines how he got his feet wet building a Backbone Chrome extension for Zapier.
Sentiment analysis is pretty dang hard. Always has been. The Semantria integration with Zapier lets users easily do sentiment analysis using hundreds of different sources and no need to write complex code or deal with APIs.
Finding lead sources is tough when you don't know anything about marketing. Any easy way to tap into existing marketing expertise as a developer is to build a useful integration with an existing service and tap into their marketplace.
One of the tricky things about running an integration product is that a users experience with our product is highly dependent on their experience with at least two other products. Because of that we end up providing support for all the apps we support (almost 150 at the time of writing).
Over the course of doing this, we've learned a few things that work well and a few things that don't.
This requires two things: a good product and good documentation.
In a perfect world, your product is so slick that a user never needs to get in touch with support. They know exactly what to do and how to do it because your product or app makes it glaringly obvious how things should work.
If the product is a bit confusing, have documentation available so that users can read through and support themselves. The key is to make documentation available perfectly at the point of failure.
Wufoo does this really well. Anywhere in the Wufoo interface clicking on help takes you to the support documentation for the specific issues that you as a user are looking at.
Also, make sure your documentation has good search functionality, the site hierarchy makes sense, and makes copious use of tags or categories.
The world isn't perfect and users will have questions. The number one thing a user cares about is a quick answer. Even if the answer is "we're looking into it" a user will feel good knowing that their support request didn't go into a never ending black hole.
Consider using a Live Chat tool like Olark too. Live Chat can be a blessing and a curse. It forces you to pay attention to a user right away and can pull your concentration away from important other tasks. But if you can spare a person on your team to man live chat while others on the team are working it can be a huge boom to your bottom line. We've had countless users run into small issues that otherwise would have turned them away from Zapier. With live chat we solved their issue in a matter of minutes and earned a life long customer and many times a fan who spreads the word about how awesome Zapier is.
The hardest sites and services to get support from are those who aren't public. Ever tried getting support from Google? For most of their products it's impossible and a quick search doesn't help.
Being public with support lets users know that you are there to help them. You do want them to succeed. And that they can ask questions and they are going to get a response.
We do this using a public help desk where many of the questions and answers are shown publicly. We also have live chat monitored almost 100% of the time during normal business hours in the United States. This lets users know that we are around and that they can expect good support from us.
Users don't like being duped or being strung along. If you can't solve what they are looking for just say so. It's tempting to try and dig for more and more information, but many times you just end up wasting a persons time who just isn't a good fit for your product so let them know that.
If the user is asking for a big feature. Tell them if the feature is coming. We get requests often for features we'd like to have, but may not get to for years. What we say is: "We'd like to support that, but that is a big feature request and one we likely won't get to in the short term."
Providing good support is hard.
If you haven't run into support questions like "The websitez dont work. Can you fix it?" consider yourself lucky.
For those of us in the real world, make it easy for users to give you the information you need to solve their problem. Balsamiq does this great. They ask users to upload screencasts which helps the support team see exactly where the user is struggling.
Many other SaaS services ask users to tell support how they feel by clicking on smiley or frowny faces. This gives the support team a chance to dig into the psychology of the user and relate to them. A lot of times users know what to do, they just need an encouraging hand telling them they can do it.
Sidenote: many users are afraid to click buttons and links. They've been burned by other services where clicking a button or link spammed their Facebook feed or took money from them they didn't want to give. Make it easy for users to trust you and feel like they are the ones in the driver seat and not the developers.
Some users pay you. Some pay you a lot. It's obvious that those users should get the highest priority support. In fact, I'm surprised help desk software doesn't have more native integrations with payment processors to help support teams figure out which users are paying and which ones aren't.
To help ourselves out with this we made a quick chrome extension that loads plan information from Stripe into the side bar for conversations with users in Help Scout and also auto tags conversations with whether a user is trialing, paying, or free.
Most users understand that support costs time and money. If a user is unhappy with the support they are getting let them know how they can get it or raise your prices so you can afford to give it to them.
Make sure users know how to get the best support. Early on users could email me directly and I would respond right away. As my time spread thin and more people needed to help with support emailing me became a less efficient way to get support.
We had to re-train users on where to go to get the support they needed.
Make sure to man unofficial channels too. Some users gravitate towards social media like Twitter and Facebook to voice their issues. Make sure to help them there or help them get their support issues directed to the right channels.
Most users are great. A few are loud and vocal jerks. It's inevitable that you will get someone who expects the world for free. If they don't get they'll go yell on Twitter. Forget those people. They aren't your core audience anyway.
Focus on making the users you want really, really happy and letting the users you don't want graciously help themselves out the door (or the back button in this case).
Support can be a hairy and thankless job, but it can also be deeply rewarding and immensely valuable.
The bar these days is set so low. Simply solving a users problem and helping them get the solution they need can make life long fans.
We often forget that software isn't if/then statements for most users. Software is pure magic. Helping users use your software effectively puts the magic in their hands and makes them feel like real wizards.
If you've lived in the tech world long enough odds are you've done some freelancing. And if you've done some freelancing odds are you've tried to get paid. And getting paid is hard.
That's where Ronin comes in. Ronin is the simplest way for freelancers to get paid. Track time. Send invoice. Get Paid. Easy as that.
Sometimes you'd like to do a bit more for administrative purposes and that’s where the Ronin integration with Zapier comes in. With Ronin and Zapier you can easily:
Zapier lets you extend the functionality of Ronin far beyond the capabilities already built into Ronin and really simplify the process around getting clients, following up with clients and getting paid.
The short youtube video walks you through connecting Ronin with MailChimp. Thanks to Lu and the Ronin team for creating such an easy to use tool for invoicing.
Lu, the founder of Ronin, has been kind enough to provide a coupon code exclusively for new Ronin users from Zapier. Go to this link and use the promo code ZAPIER4THEWIN to get a 50% off discount for your first month of Ronin use.
If you want to build an integration for your web or mobile service check out the Zapier developer platform.
I'm ecstatic today to announce an integration with the sentiment analysis API Semantria.
Semantria is a simple API that lets you send it text and in return get nice sentiment score and summary about the text. If you've done sentiment analysis in the past you know how hard it can be. Collecting the data to analyze is a nightmare. Actually analyzing the data can be a nightmare. Looking at results can be a nightmare.
The Semantria integration turns your nightmare to into a pleasant dream with visions of sugar-plums dancing in your head. :)
So what exactly can you do with the Semantria integration? Quite a lot it turns out.
Zapier lets you extend the data sources you can track with Semantria by letting you send text into Semantria from over a hundred different data sources. In turn Semantria does some quick scoring for sentiment, provides a nice summary and then lets you send the results to either an excel plug-in or to any of the services supported on Zapier (though I must admit sending Semantria results to Google Docs is my favorite so far).
The short youtube video walks you through connecting tracking twitter mentions for sentiment. Thanks to the Semantria team for creating such an easy API for sentiment analysis.
If you want to build an integration for your web or mobile service check out the Zapier developer platform.
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