Lessons from scaling a fast-growing distributed team at Zapier
May 28, 2019, 9 p.m.
Ryan and Wade Foster have known each other through the internet for years before recently meeting in person in Mountain View. Ryan learned so much from the coffee chat that he asked if Wade would join the podcast to share some of his stories scaling Zapier. Like Product Hunt, Zapier is a fully distributed team, although they're much bigger with 200 people in over 20 countries. They're helping makers create no-code apps and helping everyone get work done more efficiently.
Ryan and Wade talk about...
Learnings from scaling a distributed team and Zapier's “delocation package”
“We went through YC in summer 2012, and for the summer all three founders worked and lived together. That was the only time period in our company’s history where everyone was in the same location.”
Zapier is a very large distributed team, with over 200 people working completely remotely. They've only worked together one time in their history, when the founders were all at YC together in 2012. Wade talks about some of the benefits to working in a distributed team, including the fact that he has “effectively a teleportation machine” that can transport him from meeting to meeting in seconds by taking calls via Zoom, instead of having to find an open meeting room and switch between physical locations.
Zapier came up with a unique “delocation package.” As a distributed team, they offer people living in the Bay Area $10,000 to move out of the Bay Area, which a few employees have taken them up on so far.
Wade talks about how they make sure that everyone is on the same page in a fast-growing, distributed team:
“A big task that you have to do as you get bigger, is alignment. Alignment is simpler when there are fewer people. When you get bigger, you can do a lot more, which is exciting, but good smart people can pick different paths to go down, which don't necessarily solve for the customer's needs. The last 18 months we’ve worked really hard to create an OKR system that creates alignment across all these different teams.”
Managing team dynamics in a fast-growing organization
Wade talks about how managing a big team is different than a small team, and why CEOs need to pay attention to how the team is working together and how everyone is feeling about their work.
“The larger your org gets, the law of large numbers kicks in. If, say, 1% of your company is angry about something in a given day, you get to 200 people that means every day 2 people might be pretty angry about something. If you make a mistake, maybe 5-10 people are pretty angry about something. For someone who’s a natural people-pleaser, that can wear on you.”
Wade explains why it can be difficult to hire from within in a company that is growing exponentially.
“If the needs of the company outpace the needs of the individual, which is often common in these companies that are growing exponentially, there are very few people who can rise through the proverbial management ranks fast enough to match the growth of the company.”
What it's like to be CEO and the “cheat code” that CEOs get to keep in their back pocket
“CEOs get a cheat code, which I think is fair because CEOs have a crazy hard job in so many different ways. We get to hire people. If you feel like any function isn’t being successful, you get the opportunity y to go hire the best leader you can possibly find in the world. As a CEO, your job is to assemble the best team and so if you do your job right you should probably be the dumbest person in your executive team to a degree.”
Wade also talks the system he adapted from Dharmesh Shah at HubSpot to denote how urgent his communications with the team are (or aren't). They have a set of hashtags that Wade uses alongside his emails and Slack messages to make clear whether urgent action is required or not. Sometimes employees feel that any email from the CEO means action needs to be taken right away but this system ensures everyone is on the same page.
His thoughts on the no-code movement
“If you’ve got an idea and you really aren’t an engineer, you can get something up and running that is pretty good in a couple hours. I think it’s just fantastic because it allows many more people to get their ideas out into the world.”
Zapier is a big part of the no-code movement and Wade and Ryan talk about some of the coolest projects they've seen built by makers without writing code and some of the products being used alongside Zapier in the no-code movement.
“I imagine we’ll find that more and more companies are built with off-the-shelf software, which feels pretty powerful for society to enable the 99% of us who are not engineers unleash our creativity on the world.”
Joel also talks about some of this favorite products and the software the company uses to collaborate.
We’ll be back next week so be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, Overcast, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Big thanks to Pilot, Monday.com, and Embroker for their support. 😸
Companies and Products Mentioned In This Episode
Airtable — Real-time spreadsheet-database hybrid.
Coda — It's a new day for docs.
GitHub — The world's leading software development platform.
Hubspot — Sales and marketing software.
Jira — Issue and project-tracking software.
Slack — Be less busy. Real-time messaging, archiving and search.
Typeform — Makes asking questions easy, human and beautiful.
Webflow — All-in-one web design platform.
Workona — Transform Chrome into a professional work tool for free.
Zoom — Cloud video conferencing and simple online meetings.