Zapier grew from a small SaaS startup to a company with over 500 employees over a decade. Want to know how they did it?
Wade Foster, Co-Founder and CEO, shares secrets from 20 of the earliest employees at the company. The employee names and numbers in which they are listed below correlate to the order in which they joined the Zapier team. Here’s the advice they had to offer on scaling your SaaS company.
Zé #21: Create scrappy solutions that get you 80% there. They’ll last longer than you think.
Your systems don’t need to be 100%. Build them to get the job done and allow for more time to focus on more critical tasks. Build things quickly and with quality, and don’t worry if they aren’t perfect.
Jordan #20: Don’t brace for change. Instead, learn to love reinvention.
Change can be daunting to many folks, so it’s essential to build an organization that loves to reinvent itself. Create a learning culture and develop a shared learning mindset to set yourself up for success in the long run.
Vicky #19: When you’re in the high growth stage, solutions to org problems have around a six-month shelf life.
Don’t be tempted to overthink the first version of a solution, and don’t fall into thinking your solution is one-and-done either. Build mechanisms to reflect on where you’re at so your business can evolve. Most importantly, build for the problems you have today, not those that might appear years down the road.
Adam #18: Invest in a strong hiring and onboarding process from day one.
Adam attributes the caliber of the people at Zapier to hiring and onboarding. Wade believes there are four critical components of this process:
- Make sure team members know how to evaluate candidates for roles
- Teach new hires the company values and culture
- Institute a great pairing culture
- Repeat the cycle
Paolo #17: People are more passionate about the work if they have a good understanding of the product and customers.
In the early days, Zapier invested a lot into all-hands support. They required that every employee provide some support, which allowed all employees to understand the product and know their customers. For as long as you can, find some way to get your employees in front of customers and inside the product.
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Stephanie #16: Startups are hard enough. Be someone you would want to work with.
Be eager, challenge each other, work hard, and push each other to keep folks around. We all need to look in the mirror and ask, “Am I the type of person others are going to work with?” It doesn’t matter how smart or talented you are if you’re a jerk.
Ben #15: People come first.
Zapier focused on people in four areas:
- Employees through rewards, recognition, and culture
- Customers through product
- Partner ecosystems by building an open platform
- Power users through supporting them and sharing their stories
Organizations exist to serve people, don’t forget that. Understand your key stakeholders and what matters to them and work hard to serve them over time.
Steve #14: Keep the values, change the mechanics.
Companies change constantly. Your code, org chart, systems, processes, or go-to-market motion will likely evolve. Your organization needs something to ground itself, such as strong values, to help people feel a sense of continuity amongst the changes.
Linds #13: Have fun! It builds camaraderie and makes people want to stick around.
As your organization grows, it can feel lonely over time. Do things like create team brands to allow employees to feel a part of something larger than themselves. Startups are hard enough, so remember to have some fun.
Joe #12: Don’t hire for the sake of hiring. Ensure you have a clear six-month plan for all new hires.
It can be tempting to throw more bodies at problems, but you need a clear plan for new hires to avoid overspending and putting too many cooks in the kitchen.
Andrew #11: Core values will stick with you as you grow. Take the time to be mindful about those values, hire for those values, and live those values.
Be intentional with your values and establish them early. They have the power to create a positive ripple effect when executed well.
Rob #10: Even when you have positive intentions, you’re going to make mistakes.
It’s not the mistake that kills you; it’s how you respond to the mistake. It’s okay to own your failures and course correct. Hiding or ignoring errors will set you up to fail in the long run.
Statwonk #9: Measure outcomes, not effort.
Effort doesn’t necessarily correlate to outcomes over time. Focus on the outcomes, and if you can find a way to connect efforts to outcomes, you’ll hit the jackpot.
Justin #8: Beware of teams sharing code without clear ownership.
Sharing code to go faster in the early days didn’t always benefit Zapier. It’s hard to re-engineer your business at scale. Instead, understand the strong foundation and then scale from there.
Jesse #7: It’s easy to get ahead of yourself. Focus on solving current problems before thinking about solutions for future challenges.
Don’t get bogged down by anticipating all of the things that can go wrong. Focus on your problems today and let future problems show themselves when it’s their time.
Danny #6: There’s no such thing as a small role. Help employees understand their impact regardless of if they’re a manager or individual contributor.
It takes a village to build a company. Invest in all of your people and let them know that every role serves a purpose, no matter how big or small.
Cooksey #5: Equip employees to prepare for a constant state of change. It’s inevitable that org structures will shift and processes will break down.
Fast growth leads to inevitable change, so create an organization willing to embrace change and focus on the customer’s needs.
James #4: As you grow, it becomes important to move away from a mindset of “I can do it all!” and instead become accustomed to delegating.
It will be challenging to keep up with the demands and challenges of your customers as your company and teams grow. It’s essential to invest in your early employees and help them grow over time to develop skills, like delegation, to succeed.
Micah #3: Don’t ‘play business,’ until you have to.
Small companies will not be able to operate like large ones. Focus on building a great product, selling more of your stuff, and serving your customers well until the rest falls into place.
Mike #2: Don’t forget to invest in innovation, or you’ll risk getting left behind.
Don’t let innovation fall behind as you start to focus on scaling. Bring in folks to help advance the future and new things to take you to the next chapter.
Bryan #1: Hire senior people sooner. People that have been there and done that but are still scrappy.
There are plenty of senior leaders out there who are willing to roll their sleeves up and pave the way for the future at a small company. Find them, hire them, and learn from them.
Wade #0: Break the rules. Best practices get you the same outcomes as everyone else.
The best companies are outliers, so find a place that you want to stand out in your organization. Don’t be afraid to take risks, even if it looks weird.
Putting it all together
If you want to scale your company, Wade said these things stand out most:
- Put people first
- Values matter
- Change is constant
- Be scrappy
- Focus on the fundamentals
Take it from Wade and the Zapier team: Scaling an organization isn’t easy, but these tips can help set you up for success.