A blog about productivity, workflow best practices, company building and how to get things done with less work.

 

Entries Tagged “Startup Weekend”

Today we're excited to announce that Zapier now supports more than 100 public applications on the platform. That's making no mention of the hundreds of other apps used privately on the developer platform.

Today Zapier automates millions of tasks every month and helps thousands of people all over the world. That's with just a tiny portion of all the major applications used for business around the world supported. 116 to be precise. But working efficiently is hard. And there's still a huge demand for helping you connect the tools you use everyday.

To help you understand where we are going I thought it'd be interesting to show where we've been.

September 2011 - An Idea is Born

The Dude Chat

As my co-founder Bryan and I tend to do, on September 8th of 2011, we found ourself chatting ideas back and forth during our day gigs. And thus the original idea for Zapier was born. A way to connect paid services.

October 2011 - The First Ever Columbia Startup Weekend

From September 30th to October 2nd we took the idea to Startup Weekend in our home town of Columbia, Missouri. The original name from Bryan? API Mixer. (Yeah, he doesn't have naming privileges anymore).

The funny thing about Startup Weekend is the participants pick the ideas and the top 10 or so ideas get selected. API Mixer was dangerously close to not getting picked but the voting happened with sticky notes. Luckily we found an extra pack of sticky notes and like any good startup founders would do, we made sure API Mixer participated in the weekend.

Startup Weekend

By Sunday night with a nearly failed demo, Zapier was the winner of the first Startup Weekend in Columbia, Missouri. And by mid-week we'd setup an LLC and were already talking to some of you about how your work can be done more efficiently.

November 2011 - Bootstrapping Our Way to Our Sale

Being born and raised in the Midwest definitely instills in you certain life lessons. Phrases like "A penny saved is a penny earned" and "Pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" aren't just silly colloquialisms, but a real way of life.

So for us, we knew growing Zapier in a way that could help customers over the long haul meant that at the end of the day we needed to be making more money than we were spending. Basic finance 101.

That's why on November 30, 2011 we were beyond stoked to sell our first Zapier beta invite to Andrew Warner for $100. And by a week later we'd sold a dozen more. That's when we really knew that we were building something that could really help a lot of people.

Andrew Warner

January 2011 - Going Full Time

Knowing when to take the leap from nights and weekends to full time is something a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with. For some it's easy, but for some it's really hard. Even Mark Zuckerberg never intended to dropout of college.

By January we were gaining enough traction that it was clear someone needed to go full time on Zapier to help with support. With a helpful nudge from my then boss and after some long night discussions with my wife and family I went full time on Zapier at the beginning of January.

Zapier for several months had been one of the main things in my life. Outside of my wife and family, it was now the only thing.

It wasn't too much longer that Bryan and Mike both followed suite.

Zapier Sign

March 2012 - Product/Market Fit

Figuring out the right thing to build and the things customers care about is always challenging. By March we'd heard loud and clear from our beta customers. Custom fields, filters, a better UI, and a never ending suggestion of new apps were things we heard all day long.

We experimented with pricing by charing $1, $5, $100, whatever for access to the beta. What dollar amount attracted customers that cared? What users needed the most support? What apps attracted the highest quality customers?

Each day we found ourselves pushing some small piece of the product forward. Never with overnight success, but we tried to make one small thing better everyday in hopes that lots of small improvements would add up over time.

But on April 2nd we broke the mold and made a big change; we launched a brand new interface. An interface that nearly tripled engagement with our beta customers.

New Interface

April 2012 - Y Combinator and A Change of Pace

Over the last few months we'd been approached by a number of accelerators, angels, and venture capitalists about raising money and relocating the now small but growing company. Raising money is something we had no experience with so we knew we'd waste a lot of time and not be giving our customers features, support, and help they need. Accelerators are quite the fad and seem to be dime a dozen these days, but as far as accelerators go no one matches Y Combinator. After talking to mentors, customers, and YC alum we decided YC would be a good thing for Zapier and so we went for it.

We scoured our network and our userbase and asked every YC company we had warm intros to for help. At the end of April we were accepted into YC which meant a major move from Missouri to California.

Zapier in YC

June 2012 - Launch, Growth and Support

In mid-June we launched. For many startups launching is a big ordeal. It's the make or break day. Sink or swim. For us, it drove a lot of traffic and attention, but we kept growing at a strong steady pace. It wasn't sink or swim. It was another tick mark in a long line of tick marks we'd been making as we grew the product with your feedback.

The support load kept growing. We implemented systems to make sure we could provide high quality support. We listened to the features customers were asking for. We built the most important ones.

August 2012 - Catering to Vendors

In August we launched the developer platform. An easy way for vendors and app developers to add new services to Zapier.

It was an extension of our philosophy of good support. The best way to give users what they need and want is to enable them to do it for themselves and others which leads us to today...

Developer Platform Launch

October 2012 - 100 Apps and Funding the Future

In early October we crossed 100 apps supported on Zapier. We now support the best-of-breed SaaS applications on Zapier. The model is proven. Revenue continues to grow. We have a good sense of the path forward. Where once we would have thought funding risky, now it feels natural. A way to help grow the product in the way it should grow and helping revenue grow alongside it.

We've partnered with the teams at Bessemer Venture Partners, DFJ and a handful of angels that know SaaS products, know companies, know product, know support, know marketing and can help ensure that Zapier will stay around for many, many years to come.

Funding isn't success and it's not the finish line. In many ways, funding is like a nice power up you find in Mario. Funding will let us move faster without sacrificing quality along the way.

To November and Beyond!

We never know 100% what the future may hold, but for Zapier we know that helping businesses run more efficiently and doing it with fun will always be center.

Expect to see more services supported, key features added, better support, and a slowly growing team that cares about helping you run your businesses the way you want.

Zapier Team and Tuna

About the Author

Wade Foster is a Co-founder and CEO at Zapier. He likes to write about process, productivity, startups and how to do awesome work.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Columbia MO's second annual Startup Weekend (you can read about Zapier's origins at the first annual, last year) While the Zapier team was officially registered as mentors, Wade and I decided to also build a gag startup, PRLibs.

PRLibs — madlibs to create press releases for startups. We realized that many startup press releases sound the same and that we could build something to auto-generate them. I think the expression is, "adding fuel to the fire".

PRLibs Banner

The product works like this: users fill out a few form boxes with details pertaining to their startup. Those form entries (coupled with a website scrape which we added later) combine to create an often hilariously inaccurate madlib-style press release.

Wade and I decided that we wanted the final product to auto-post to a blog somewhere. We could have spent a few hours installing, configuring, and designing a WordPress blog (or similar) but realized we could get there even faster by using Posterous and using their built-in "Email a blog post" functionality.

The final piece of the puzzle was the glue between our madlib form and sending an email. Something Zapier can help with! You can hook up simple HTML forms to Zapier using our Webhooks app. In a few minutes we had our Zap, Webhook -> Send Email, and even used Zapier to build final paragraph out of the submitted form fields.

Zapier can help you get from idea to working demo, even if you don't know how to program. Many times (like in the example above) you can build an entire demo only knowing HTML.

There are a ton of other tools out there that can help you get from zero to demo, especially if you are not a developer. This list is compiled from actual observed successful usage at Startup Weekend:

Kickoff Labs Landing pages and email collection. A great thing to have live by the end of the night, Friday

Balsamiq Pitching an idea or vision? Mock-ups can quickly convey information to would be developers

WooThemes Get a custom Wordpress Site off the ground by Sunday

Posterous and Tumblr can host your Blog without needing a server of developer

So, how'd we do? 54 hours and a working demo later, we had this nice traffic graph:

PRLibs Traffic Graph

I believe one of the judges referred to us as "worst startup of all time". In other words, PRLibs was a smashing success and great way cap-off the real Startup Weekend participants. Congratulations to everyone who participated!

About the Author

Mike Knoop is a Co-founder at Zapier. He helps run product and love the color orange.

Fourth in a four part series about the birth of Zapier at Startup Weekend - Columbia. This post covers the Sunday and the final demo. For more details, review Part I - The IdeaPart II - The Pitch and Part III - Saturday.

Sunday.

Demo Day.

Easily the most exciting day of the weekend.

Everyone is busy hacking together last bits of functionality for their apps, rehearsing the pitch, and gearing up for the final presentation. 

Here's what you need to know to nail the presentation and jumpstart your team into a real business that will last after the weekend.

Managing the Work Day

The only thing on Sunday that matters is the presentation. Forget all the grand plans you made on Friday and Saturday. 

Narrow down on exactly what part of your app users will see that night and work on that.

Zapier has a whole dashboard view that will show off zaps and how often they are performing, but for the demo no one cares. So we scrapped it for Sunday night. 

Don't be afraid to do the same. 

Rocking the Presentation

So many people mess up the presentation for preventable reasons. Here's a short 3 step guide to that will automatically make your demo stand out.

  1. Don't even think about opening Powerpoint, Keynote, Prezi, or whatever other tool of choice you are thinking about boring users with. Simply doing step one alone will automatically separate you from 95% of the presentations.
  2. Focus your opening statement on the problem space. Spend 1 minute tops talking about what problem users have. Use real life scenarios. The problem Zapier solves is that business owners have become glorified paper pushers and spend all day dealing with web apps rather than solving customer problems. 
  3. Focus the rest of the presentation on the solution and show how the product you built solves the problem. This is quite simple. Just run through how the app works. Show off the killer features. If at all possible get the crowd involved. We created a Twitter to Highrise zap that automatically made any Twitter user who mentioned @zapier a contact in Highrise and then asked the audience to tweet at @zapier. We had over 45 people tweet our name before Zapier broke. We had over 100 mentions in a 5 minute span with some big name people tweeting out our product. Simply adding a Call To Action will payoff big time down the road whether it's with Twitter followers, email addresses or Highrise contacts. 

Now you're probably asking about business model, user acquisition, market size, and all the other jazz the judges care about.

Forget about it for the presentation.

Save it for the Q/A session. The judges won't let you off stage without answering these questions about your business.

You only get 5 minutes to catch the attention of everyone in the room with your product and solution. Use them. 

Winning over the Judges

The judges are now impressed with your problem and product, but they've got questions. This is where prior preparation pays off big.

Know who the key judge is for you. For us, it was Jamie Stephens. He was the judge with the most experience in software applications. If we could sell him, we knew he could sell the other judges.

I had about four different ten to fifteen minute brainstorms with him over the weekend. After those, I knew exactly the questions he'd ask during Q/A, because I'd already answered those questions (or sometimes he'd answered them for us).

Celebrate

After a weekend of work, little sleep, and intense concentration you're done for the weekend. Even if the judges don't select your product as the winner you have plenty to celebrate.

  1. You've just done something remarkable to 54 hours. Most people don't do the amount of work you've done in a weekend in an entire month.
  2. You've learned more in one weekend than you've ever learned in an entire semester of college. 
  3. Most important - your product is positioned to turn into a real business. 

After the weekend is done, you have functioning demo, you've talked with users, you've identified a problem and you have a pretty good guess at what a solution looks like. 

Congratulations. Celebrate. You've just done what 99% of people haven't done.

Started.


One year later, Zapier returns to Startup Weekend

About the Author

Wade Foster is a Co-founder and CEO at Zapier. He likes to write about process, productivity, startups and how to do awesome work.

Third in a 4 part series about the birth of Zapier at Startup Weekend - Columbia. This post covers the bulk of the work done on Saturday. For more details, review Part I - The Idea and Part II - The Pitch.

The Saturday post could literally be described in two words:

Do work. 

But since that makes for a detail-less post I'll try and go into a little bit more depth about what Saturday is all about.

Saturday is easily the most boring day of Startup Weekend, but in a lot of ways it's the most important. It's the only day where you have 24 hours of time completely available to you.

The four main things you should be worrying about on Saturday are: backend code, front end user interface, the message, and generating excitement. 

The Backend

This is all about generating a database schema and writing the logic that will make the demo work. You're basically implementing the vision you set forth on Friday night. 

For Zapier, that meant Bryan and Daniel put their heads down and were writing tests and slinging code all day. If you saw Bryan outside of the garage for more than twenty minutes on Saturday - congrats! You saw the real life equivalent of a unicorn. 

The Front End

The front end is one of the hardest parts to get right. It's the part the user interacts with. If a button doesn't quite describe what happens correctly or the user flow is just a little off, your app can be rendered unusable. 

With Zapier, the user interface is our highest concern. Syncing APIs is already a technical topic, now we have to find a way to make a highly technical topic seem simple and friendly for non-technical users. 

Mike spent Saturday morning sketching out wireframes, getting feedback from Dan and I, as well as other attendees. Getting  user feedback before ever implementing the UI design helped save us from some terrible UI mistakes. 

After you figure out the design implementation, it's all about doing work. And Mike did just that. We found him still churning out the front end - with lots of awesome javascript polish on Sunday morning. Yes, he pulled an all-nighter. 

The Message

Sometimes called the Story. This combined with a product demo is where you win Startup Weekend. 

The story is all about describing how users will use your product, why they will use your product, and what problem they are solving with your product. 

Then you need to figure out how to tell your story. Is it video? Is it an image? Is it copy? How will you communicate the story during the demo?

How did we find a story for Zapier? Saturday morning, I spent as much time with potential users as possible trying to get them to describe the problem back to me. Once I had some strong hypothesis, I went to the esteemed copywriter David Reed for feedback. 

I also sketched out a concept for the image on our home page and went to Michael P. Hill who nailed it all weekend designing logos and images teams. He turned our sketched concept into our current home page image and re-did the logo without us even having to ask. 

By the time Saturday is over you should have a solid message that accompanies your product that users can latch onto and resonate with.

Generating Excitement

The final thing you should be doing is generating excitement around your team and your product. Now that doesn't mean pimping out your product at every chance you get. 

Generating excitement usually boils down to a few things. Asking people for help and helping other people out.

People love to be heard and valued. If you ask for their opinion about your product they'll become a part of the story and that's cool for you and for them.

Teams are also going to be playing with a short bench all weekend because the teams all have varying skill sets. If you help someone out they'll remember that and how you made them feel.

Zapier was blessed with a strong technical team so we tried to help people out whenever we could. If someone needed help buying a domain, fixing a wordpress site, or setting up a landing page on KickoffLabs.com we tried to help out. 

You won't be able to meet with everyone or help everyone out, but by the end of Saturday most of the teams should know a member of your team and should have a basic understanding of the product you are working on. 

Getting ready for Sunday

By the time Saturday is over your team should have most of the functionality in place, the core UI should be in ready, the message should be taking form, and hopefully your product is the talk of the event. If you made it this far on Saturday, you should be feeling pretty comfortable and you won't have to make any crazy last minute changes on Sunday. 

If you don't make it this far - no worries. Zapier didn't have much in place for the UI on Saturday night, the back and front ends didn't talk to each other at all, and the core message is something we are still iterating on today.

As long as you know the road map forward, though you should be in good shape. 

Next up: Sunday - How to blow people away with your demo.


Startup Weekend Part IV - Sunday, Demo Day

About the Author

Wade Foster is a Co-founder and CEO at Zapier. He likes to write about process, productivity, startups and how to do awesome work.

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