A Note From Mike: I am super pumped to welcome Al Abut to the Zapier product Team. I met Al during a design meetup during Summer 2012 when Zapier was going through Y Combinator and was impressed by his design sense and communication ability about design. Fast forward a year (and after reaching out unsuccessfully three times) and I'm finally excited to introduce you to our newest product designer. Here's Al...
Hey there! My name is Al and I joined Zapier a few months back as our designer. You may have seen some of my work, like the new home page, KISSmetrics case study, new developer platform, API course or the one I really rolled up the sleeves for, the 2013 annual review. I've had a lot of fun ramping up on the Zapier mission and there's even more brewing for 2014!
A quick bit of background on me. I've worked at early stage startups for a few years before Zapier and worked at UC San Diego before that. I'm very Californian: raised in San Diego, married a girl from LA, settled in San Francisco and love skating, water sports and tacos, in reverse order. But I also love traveling the world, since I was born abroad and all my family are in Turkey. I've been screwing around with computers since I was in the first grade and went to an experimental high school that taught different programming languages every year.
How I met the gang is also an interesting story. We went through Y Combinator at the same time and I was a cofounder of Referly, a product review website. I hosted a few meetups to do group design reviews while we were doing the program and that's when I met Mike. We hit it off pretty much right away and I remember being especially impressed at how far along Zapier had gone with finding an audience, considering many of the other teams were just trying to keep up with product development.
Fast forward to about a year later. I'd left Referly and was helping another YC team pivot to a new product when I realized that I kept thinking about and re-reading the Zapier blog post about remote teams. Eventually I got curious what they were up to and searched my email archives to see if they'd sent any updates. It turns out Mike had been emailing me for 2 months straight about joining them and I didn't know! Apparently Gmail's multiple inboxes feature is incredibly aggressive about auto-archiving messages, especially if you subscribe to too many newsletters. Thank goodness Mike was persistent and also tweeted at me, otherwise this awesome gig would never have come together :)
Since day one Zapier has been a remote team. Now that we are up to seven people, one of the downsides of being a remote team is that physical interaction doesn't happen unless you make a dedicated effort to get the team together.
While we are firmly of the belief that day-to-day work does not need to happen in person, we do believe that there are some things that happen easier when in person. Because of that we try to get the whole team together for a company retreat every 4-6 months.
Since we just completed our second team retreat, I thought it would be a good time to share what we've learned about how to run a company-wide retreat and get the most out of it.
Big, full-company retreats can be tough to coordinate and can cost quite a bit of money, so why even bother?
Ultimately, because some things are just better done in person. For instance, it's hard to have a casual conversation with a teammate over Google Hangout about their kids, shoot the breeze about some random idea you've had improving a secondary process in the company or sit down and talk about company values. All those things tend to naturally happen in person, while they don't happen in a remote team, unless you force it.
Also, it's a ton of fun. Since you don't see everyone on a daily basis; it's a ton of fun to actually have everyone around for a week-long excursion where you can chat shop and learn more about each other as people rather than the person on the other end of that avatar you see ever day.
Wherever you want!
For this latest trip, we chose an awesome five-bedroom home that overlooked Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier near Olympia, Wash.
We chose it for a few reasons:
Ultimately, go with what suits your company. I know some companies travel overseas or some bring everyone into headquarters.
It depends. We did 10 days this last time around and it worked well because it gave us some time to do some work-related activities and some fun activities. It also worked well since our last retreat was five months ago and we'd added a new team member since then.
That said, you should be respectful of people's time. Many teammates might have family and other day-to-day activities they could be missing out on. I would never want our company retreat to cause marital strife or have some other unintended consequences.
One thing you can also do is setup the retreat so that if teammates have to join a day or two late or leave a day or two early it's not a big deal. That way you can get a longer retreat, but also not have to worry about coordinating tight schedules for a lot of people.
It can be easy to default to doing the things you always do on a day-to-day basis at work. But that would be a waste of an opportunity.
We decided early on that we should do things during the week that we can't do together—even if it was at the expense of making progress on Zapier itself. After all, we work on the product every other day of the year. For one week it makes sense to take some time off and work on the team which is just as important as the product itself.
Some of the best activities we did were mostly unrelated to work.
We also spent time doing work-related things as well.
After doing a couple retreats, I think the best retreat combines something everyone on the team can work on in person along with multiple activities that help the team get to know each other better.
Obviously cost is a big consideration for doing a trip like this. We have the luxury of generating significant revenue each month plus being well-funded so it made it easy to splurge a little (we paid for the whole trip including plane tickets for all our teammates).
Also, a typical remote team saves tons of money each month by not having to pay for an office or paying for a much smaller one than you'd normally have to have. We decided to pour the money we save on office-related expenses into the trip.
The total cost of the trip wasn't cheap, but what's even more expensive is having a remote team that doesn't work well together. Ultimately, the cost of the trip is way worth it in my mind, but you have to make that choice based on the constraints of your own business.
Our latest trip to the great American Northwest wasn't our first company retreat. Our first company trip was in March during PyCon. While everyone had a good time, we learned a lot from post trip feedback. We used that feedback to make the trip to Seattle much better.
The feedback we got from our first company retreat during PyCon was that since we paired the trip with a conference, everyone spent a ton of time doing their own thing at the conference and by the time we all were able re-group at the place in the evening everyone was really tired.
We definitely didn't get the same benefits from the trip in March as we did from our most recent Seattle trip two weeks ago. But in our quest for crafting the perfect company retreat, this time I posed the team six questions:
Here's what I learned about what we've got right versus what we can do better for our next trip.
Based on the feedback from everyone on the team, here's what we got right this time around.
While I wish the trip would have been perfect (I'd give it a 90%), there's definitely a few things we're going to try to do differently next time around.
Doing a company wide retreat is a big event, but it's a lot of fun. If you run a remote team, I would highly encourage you to consider planning one for the next year. I think you'll find it well worth it and your teammates will love your company even more for it.
Have you been trying to keep better track of when your Zaps are running? If so, then you'll be excited about the new Google Chrome extension which launched today.
The Chrome extension does two things:
If this sounds good, install the extension in the Chrome Marketplace today and you'll get 100 extra tasks each month for free. Check it out below.
Got a quick bit of good news today. If you've been around Zapier long enough you know how hard it can be to stay up to date with new services, triggers and actions or updates to existing services, triggers and actions.
So today we've launched the Zapier updates blog.
Any time a new service is launched or an update to an existing one is made you can find out about it on the updates blog.
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