How did a company that nobody'd ever heard of find hundreds of beta users, and even convince them to pay for access? Wade Foster tells the story behind user acquisition at Zapier.
United States


00:00:07hello everybody this is court one from and the actors dot com and today I've got weighed foster the CEO of sappy or on the podcast has gone way pretty good thanks Randy Cortland yeah thanks for coming on the show I'm gonna do my best to explain what's Appier
00:00:21is and then I would love for you to go ahead and explain what that is case I do an awful job but sappy here allows you to cut back to clean any apps and products to each other so that you can automate your work for example if you
00:00:33get a new tweet you can automatically of sappy or create a trap email inbox are at a road spreadsheet personally I think zap here's an invaluable tool for people who don't know how to code and also for developers I use it in any hackers because way faster than
00:00:46learning a hundred different API's including all of myself that's my interpretation was that beer is wait how would you explain that's pretty good I I generally talk about APRS like a workflow automation platform hooks and about I think we've got eight hundred different apps now so you know
00:01:01tools like sells more slack Google apps MailChimp straight you name it like if there's a sass app out there it's probably on chapter at this point time and like you said you can set up these little rules that automate pushing data between very saps in a really does
00:01:20help you you know speed up time automate kind of the mundane work you got going on and you can end up building some some pretty cool stuff for that yeah I think it's one of those tools that now that I'm like super familiar with it I use it
00:01:32all the time I wonder how I got anything done without it I guess I just did everything by hand and spent a lot of time looking things up and yet it's pretty new you know look for most of the internet history there was no tool exact here and
00:01:43so I really want to get some point this interview ask you questions about like how you end up marketing a tool that you know doesn't really exist in trying to explain it to people who've never heard of it because I'm sure in the earlier days like trying to
00:01:53figure out what messages resonate with people is very difficult but we'll get to that later let's start off and the very beginning can you talk about like the earliest days after when you guys gonna be working on a prototype or just coming up the idea yeah so zap
00:02:08your started as a side project between me and my two co founders in Columbia Missouri in two thousand eleven and so the way it regionally came about was Brian and I one of my co founders here we've been doing that like just various amounts of freelancing you know
00:02:26odd web jobs basically anyone that would pay us to do anything on the internet was the Texas parks we would do more last so you know in Columbia Missouri so not like a super tech centric town there is some stuff going on but you know it it doesn't
00:02:40compare to say for example like San Francisco so like basic wordpress installs you know whatever right was the type of stuff we would do and a couple times things came up that were like you know get this now sales locked in quickbooks or get this list of leads
00:02:57up lated into sales force yes things like that and Brian had this insight he was like you know they're paying us a lot of money to do this type of work what if we built kind of a a plug and play out of the box tool that allowed
00:03:12non engineers to set the stuff up and using you know the very safe guys that existed and so that was kind of the original idea and so we ended up taking kind of that not get over thought to a startup weekend in teaming up with Mike built out
00:03:29like the original prototype and it seemed to go pretty well Sir like okay let's let's give this thing a go and for like the next basically I don't know six to nine months we worked like nights and weekends on chapter just trying to get like a proto type
00:03:43in a beta working so kept our day jobs Mike stayed in school and and it was really just trying to like make something happen with what spare time we had so what does start up again exactly is that hackathon or something basically a hackathon you know fifty something
00:04:02hours or whatever Friday night to Sunday night you bring an idea and you build something more or less how did you come up with the idea that well how did you know that non engineers wanted to look stuff up like this because it's very possible that you could
00:04:15build it and nobody would care about it I mean we guys certain that point it was a problem that lots of people had or were you kind of just thinking this would be cool let's see what happens we're fairly certain that it was a problem that some people
00:04:28had well I don't know that we knew that lots of people had it but we knew that it was something some had because if you went to the various apps they a lot of time folks have forums where their customers talk about this stuff so at the time
00:04:41I remember being on the high rise forums and they're asking for a Google contacts integration and there was like four hundred comments on it where there was no Google contacts integration and then it you know you do the same thing on like the Evernote forums for the drop
00:04:55box form to the salesforce forums where people would be asking for these variety of integrations and just looking at the common history like a lot of the threads were like fairly dated you know and then the richest comments that kind of trickle Dan over you know months and
00:05:10sometimes even years of people requesting the staff so to us that was validation that you know if we could build a tool that allowed people to set up integration between the stuff certainly it would solve problems for for folks did you ever think in the beginning that this
00:05:26is something that people would pay money for our it did you think it was you know a cool project that people just use we're pretty sure that people would pay money for it we didn't know like how much or anything like that but at its premise it kind
00:05:40of makes sense right companies have a lot of money they don't have a lot of times if you can automate something for them you know they're willing to pay some money for that you know if you can save an engineering resource like engineers costs a lot of money
00:05:54so it made sense to us that like it would be worth some amount of money for this to exist yeah and the reason I'm asking you all these questions about like how you came up with the ideas because a lot of people get stuck in this loop at
00:06:07that phase where they're really excited to go work on something and it really motivated maybe they've learned a code or maybe they already knew how to code but they just don't know what idea work on and they kind of fall into two buckets one is people who have
00:06:18a ton of ideas and not sure which one's the best how to think about okay which ones I perceived as some people who think you know I don't have any ideas not have any problems with solving do you have any sort of philosophy about how to come up
00:06:29with ideas and do you guys consider other ideas besides that beer it was really the only one that we seriously consider we had a few different things you know we're kinda we used a lot of sass apps like in our day to day job and honestly like this
00:06:45observation just came from like hanging around in the forums it like the forms of the sass apps like are just it's just literally customer feature requests like nonstop you know each one is just like I wish your app did this or wish your app did that or a
00:07:01wish this exists or wish that existed so it literally is customers telling you if you build these things I will want to use them right so from an idea generation standpoint like this you know hanging out in forums where other products exist like a pretty good way to
00:07:17find ideas for stuff that if you're looking for something to build you might find something there yeah I've never heard anyone give that advice before but it's really good advice because like you said people are constantly airing their problems and they're usually doing in like a business environment
00:07:32where they have some problem of their business needs to solve which means it's likely that they'll pay for it because their business will make more money or save more time as a result of it what exactly they're already paying for those tools to write so it's like they've
00:07:44already demonstrated you know I'm gonna pay for stuff I just want these features to exist and I'll pay more so if you're listening and you are trying to come up with an idea spend sometime in some some customer support forms or some other software ideally business software that
00:07:59people pay for it and see if you can find some insights and some problems there and people are probably going to to talk about their problems right they're not going to suggest a solution there's nobody and the forum who said I want you know you guys the bill
00:08:12I want Milton to build that beer right they just that I want Nelson to connect with accident you guys had to do the extra reach of figuring out that his with the ideal solution to that problem looks like for anybody yeah exactly another cool thing about sap here
00:08:24that is not necessarily the most common thing among the people that I talk to you is that you guys have three co founders it's you and I if I'm not wrong you were at the beginning at least come the marketing guy and you two co founders are developers
00:08:39how did you guys meet early on and what was that dynamic like working with the co founders Brandon I met %HESITATION playing music so he's a bass and guitar player and I was a saxophone player so we played in like a blues and jazz quartet around town and
00:08:55we both kinda worked on various things you know started doing work together basically as an evolution of being in that music quartet so you know he would he would do a lot more the harder technical work and then I would you know help out on some of the
00:09:09technical side and do a lot of the marketing client tells type stuff support type stuff and Brian had met Mike I think they're like hacker news of all things and it's like there was like someone did a show H. and that was you know put your zip code
00:09:23in and they were like the only two people in Columbia Missouri so they met that way I think and you know Brian introduced Mike and I and we all just kind of hit it off pretty well Brian and I had known each other for a long time and
00:09:36Brian Eno Mike for awhile and so yeah we kinda had similar backgrounds similar values similar approaches to work so it was pretty easy for us to to collaborate and and we had all I complementary skills which made it even better to actually start something together you say that
00:09:53did you play this accident Brian play the sax I play the sax one ace guitar mostly Tanner bike I play all of them club a group playing alto sax not cool as is pretty good as a kid in fact I I kind of wanted to get into jazz
00:10:07like not the good jazz I idolized Kenny G. kind of like ten years old and I at some point I was like I either want to be Bill Gates RB Kenny G. those are my role models and fortunately I chose the technical coding path but it's funny to
00:10:21hear yeah it seems like there's a lot of you know jazz musicians and and the tech world I I don't know why that is but it just seems to check out that way we'll maybe there's some sort of theory could extract here about how of playing jazz and
00:10:35improvising leads to people to being creative thinkers and being independently motivated to start businesses I don't know I don't care if they're if it's to me so must be true that must be true listening take up jazz jazz music please so the other cool thing is that you
00:10:51guys were working on this on the side of your full time jobs after wasn't like some huge success that immediately made you guys enough money to quit their full time jobs and a lot of people in this position find it really difficult to find the time to you
00:11:04know come home after work and put in the hours needed to build a business up on the side how did you manage his work life balance type thing where you had to work a job in actually building the roads out here there really wasn't much ballots to be
00:11:17honest but I was at a time in my life where that wasn't super necessary so I had just gotten married and my wife was a first year teacher and if you know anything about you know first year teachers they work crazy hours so like she would be upgrading
00:11:32to until like you know ten or eleven PM every night and then out the door in the morning before seven AM so she was working a ton to I actually started working a lot because like I needed something to do you know because she was she was doing
00:11:46stuff so that's really where I started digging in and like just getting excited about working on side projects and doing stuff on the side and so when we started chapter really wasn't a big deal to to just work a ton after work but it was working on stuff
00:12:01that I was maybe more excited about then you know what was happening on day job so I AO wasn't like I had school or you know kids or anything like that that required that sort of balance was at a time in my life that was a good period
00:12:15where I had that opportunity you say the same is true of your co founders to you today yeah definitely they were both in a similar situation as well where putting in those types of hours and working on this stuff on the side just you know was it was
00:12:29fun it was like a hobby for us and we didn't necessarily have other commitments that prevented us from doing that okay so the three of you guys are working we're trying to build this product up from scratch you've launched a firm hand on basically a couple days of
00:12:45work in a few more weeks of work after that what is your job early on in the company as the marketing guy so I was doing a lot of trying to drive a beta customers more last building a lot of landing pages out so like our sap book
00:13:00was partially built by me and then I basically you know I mention those forms earlier where folks were talking about integrations I would actually start commenting on those forms I'd say things like you know that hire a school context there and it's like Hey you could you could
00:13:15build something through the API scares the links to their API docs but if you want something a little more out of the box I'm working on a project where I might be able to solve this you know go to this link and give your contact information I'll get
00:13:28in touch and so I would just do that like a ton honestly and you get kind of tired of trolling their forums but that's what it took and you know I remember putting those links and and any given comment would drive maybe like I don't know ten visitors
00:13:45over the lifetime of the comment to that to zap here but of the ten visitors like five of them would be like I want to be a beta customer right now which at the time that's exactly what we needed we didn't need you now millions of users we
00:13:59really just needed like a couple folks to give us a shot right in so that worked out really really well in the early days it's cool that people reacted so well to you coming into these forms and promoting your product because effectively it's a lot of people will
00:14:15go on a hacker news on to a Facebook group on reddit and promote their product and then just get flamed out of the room because it's like Hey we've got our own culture here you know like you're violating it a self promoting yourself but I'm like company support
00:14:26forms there really isn't much culture it's just people who go there and hang out there all day they just go there to solve a specific problem and so you came in and said Hey we got this perfect solution to your problem try this and people reacted really well
00:14:38to it it sounds like I think part of it is to to just understand like if you know that self promotion is a thing like you should probably be tactful about how you you know approach those comments so for me it was always I always tried to promote
00:14:52the API's first and say like Hey look if you are developer you can use the API as you can get this done but if you are looking for something out of the box I'm working on something else check it out right like it I wasn't trying to be
00:15:05like overly sales leader say like the thing I had was the best solution or even you know the preferred solution it was just I got a project I'm working on if you want to talk Lestock if not that's cool there's these API's is the other way to do
00:15:19it so it's very just like casual you know comments and not you know hard selling the other cool thing about you going on to these forms and finding your first customers are your your beta customers is that it fits so perfectly into this narrative that I see time
00:15:33and time again of companies getting their start by doing things that don't scale which is you know program is really big on it and it should be because it's totally true for any hackers I'd send out a ton of emails to get my initial interview reason I don't
00:15:46do that anymore but I had to do it to get off the ground and with you guys I'm sure you're not spending your day to day now you know on customer support forums asking people to use a product like you said it's it's kind of advantageous to be
00:15:58small because in those early days you don't need to get a million users in the door you just need to get five or ten or a hundred people and you can get that number of people for any product that you build purely through brute forcing and being willing
00:16:10to actually have these one on one conversations with individual customers on support forms are on Twitter or wherever you can find exactly and you just learned so much from two going through that exercise you learn you get such a good qualitative feedback because you understand the nuances every
00:16:28step of the way and so you can figure out like what is the actual appropriate way to scale this up by doing this you know basically manual work the entire process yeah it's like you're validating your idea that by talking to all these people also getting them on
00:16:45your platform were there any conversations you have a customer's early on that let you guys to realize you're making you know some sort of mistake that you know how to kind of course correct I remember you know my very first Sir very first customer happen to be answer
00:17:01Warner of of Nick Cergy it was from a cold email turned just I found him actually commenting on a forum saying like I wanna pay pal highrise integration or something like that and so I emailed him and said Hey by chance did did you find us if not
00:17:15you know again I'm working on a project would you be interested chat and you was like I didn't find it I I would be interested so we bill out what he needed like that night and then sent him an email and said like here you go check it
00:17:27out and answer is like the nicest guy ever and so he mails back and he's like Hey where did you know this looks cool I'm really excited about using it home do you mind if you jump on Skype real quick and show me how to use this so
00:17:43like it was so bad like he wanted it to work but the apps was at that time is just so bad that he couldn't even figure out like what he was doing and I remember like you know watching him try and use it and then me looking at
00:17:57the same time being like yeah this is bad like you know he liked the fact that he's even going through this like process with me just shows how much he really wants this am I remember like you had that there was this but we were setting up a
00:18:11wufoo a Weber and integration and to set that up you have to pick like which we food form do you want this to work with and in the drop down it showed the ideas of the reform and not the names of the worst reform so like he didn't
00:18:26even know which we threw for it's not like I had to show a Mike how to figure all this out and stuff is just like really silly and so I think you know going through those calls with our I did that for probably like our first I don't
00:18:39know how many was it was like several dozen customers and every time I would just like to jot down the things that you know didn't work for them basically that out I'd sit down and show the videos to Brian and Mike and so I came here is the
00:18:50spots on the product that are confusing people you know we gotta find better better you acts for the stuff and so rents washing repeat like we just kept doing that over and over again until eventually it less people said Hey can you get on the call hot show
00:19:04me how to use this and instead it was like looks great we love it nice put one of the important lessons here is that you're getting so much feedback to this back and forth interactions with customers from from super early on and I hear one of the most
00:19:18common stories at eight years people who spent the last six months or twelve months of their life working on some project and total isolation without talking to a single customer trying to get anybody to use it because they're embarrassed and I like it's not ready yet need to
00:19:30get to its final form for show to anybody and then they do show the people and as all of these problems and nobody wants to use it and they realize you know retroactively it way too late like Hey I probably should've been showing this to people from day
00:19:41one so that they can exactly yeah and if you're working on a problem that people really care to get solved they won't care that it's bad like they don't care that it's crappy they'll just tell you though so I can't can't use this do you think you could
00:19:54add like this feature do you think you can make this more confusing like they'll work with you on it if it's that big of a problem for you so you shouldn't feel embarrassed to share that stuff because people want the problem solved so they'll tell you like Hey
00:20:06I need this and it's really helpful because then you could be like oh okay I'll fix that yeah that's perfect to go to someone just asked me the other day like how do I how do I know what features to build next you know I've got my minimum
00:20:18viable product I would wait till next and it's like if you truly built a minimum Bible Pollock that's like the bare minimum that customers can get away with and just talk to your customers and they'll tell you for sure what you need to build next them to use
00:20:28it and speaking of customers you mentioned that you're signing up customers not beta users and I know from reading your past interviews that you guys actually made people pay for your beta why did you do that well you asked me earlier you know did you know that people
00:20:45would would pay for this stuff and you know I said we thought they would and you know a paid beta was our way of proving that'll pay something right I you know you read some comments about this where it's like you know pulling a credit card out is
00:20:58like one of the toughest things and so we didn't ask for a lot of money we made our beta was a one time fee it wasn't a subscription so we just said pay for a beta you know eventually this is going to turn into a subscription at some
00:21:10point time but for now you'll have access to it while we're in kind of you know beta building you know more or less and I think the very first folks we charge like a hundred Bucks do and yeah I was like alright that proved it and then after
00:21:24that we just changed its like three it was like five or ten box and just as a way to get more folks in the door but we wanted to be talking to people who are going to be willing to pay we wanted to weed out like the tire
00:21:37kickers we wanted to folks who in the qualitative feedback we knew were going to any up the cash right those are the problems we wanted to listen to not to you know tire kickers who were just like curious because the tech at school or the product is cool
00:21:51yeah and those people are going to probably give you the worst advice because it actually serious about using your products so ultimately if you optimize our product based on the advice of free users are going to build a product that's good for free users and that's bad for
00:22:03you know the paying customers you actually want to get into the door exactly they'll tell you to chase features that are not relevant to solving a business problem they'll just be nice cool things that exist for as you know your business customers they'll tell you like this is
00:22:18the stuff that matters for my business exactly so okay you're in this early stage posting on these forms are getting a first beta users what was the next step in the process like what did you guys move to the next level and say okay we've really got a
00:22:30real business here in our our bait is really taking off so I think you know by the end of you know you know after I had done like those dozen plus Skype calls or whatever we got to a point where we had as several hundred folks into the
00:22:44beta we talked to like tons of folks and we didn't prove the U. I'd you acts such that we didn't have to like manually on board people anymore people could self serve figure out like how to use the thing and so that was a good signal to us
00:23:00that it's time to launch in so about that same time was when we applied and gotten into YC and I remember very first office hours we were telling them this and they were like why don't you just launch like it sounds like you're ready and so literally that
00:23:14week we launched after publicly so you know we open it up yeah we had a email list I think of that point time of several thousand folks things about ten thousand folks who emailed all and said like Hey you can sign up now check it out right now
00:23:28and that was kind of our transition from like this private beta you know side project thing to like okay this is gonna be like a real product a real business let's make this go how was the why commentator experience for you by the way for people listening weight
00:23:44and I both went through I commentator together it will not together I did in one or two doesn't eleven I think you guys were two thousand twelve yeah we went through summer two thousand twelve and for us the thing that was most critical I think you know we
00:23:56were a side project right you know granted a very committed side project but a side project nonetheless so you know I I gone full time I think by the time we've gone to the White Sea interview process and Mike mostly had and Brian I think was still employed
00:24:14as well I'm so for us though YC was just like this ability give us is a credible ability to focus on sap here as the only thing so we moved away from Missouri way from friends family and so for an entire summer was like the three of us
00:24:31just holed up in an apartment a hundred percent focused on sap here like we didn't do much else other than work on chapter and so that amount of focus allowed us to make incredible strides in three three month period yeah I thought the exact same way going through
00:24:47it I mean you're surrounded by a whole bunch of other people who are also intensely focused pretty much talk about nothing besides their companies and how they gonna grow them and then you're especially if you move from out of town just to be there for like operator you
00:24:57not much else to do besides work on your business and so you get an amazing amount of work done and it's sometimes hard to sustain that after what time later you know when you move out or you know things kind of quiet down I see a lot of
00:25:10businesses that go through I see in slow down tremendously after after ending it but on that note I'm curious what your thoughts are on on work life balance because like you said your wife as a first year teacher so you're working all the time your YC do this
00:25:22three month stint of just hardcore work we ever worried about burning out and also nowadays you guys have a really big business how does your work life balance you know get affected by being such a big company and you feel like a traitor the lifestyle that you could
00:25:36sustain for years to come so yes I think we I I've definitely changed you know the work life balance bits of it and it was something we had to improve on like when we you know I think around post YC for like a year or so was was
00:25:53kind of tough because from work I found standpoint because we were growing a lot we're adding a lot of customers but we still didn't have like a very big team you know we're still less than ten people so the way of the entire company was still more or
00:26:10less on our shoulders and so that meant working a lot like customer support tickets don't answer themselves co doesn't write itself so you have to be doing that stuff otherwise you know the business doesn't move forward so that was kind of tough right like had to figure out
00:26:25like ways to get things done where I could still have time off and so I think the agreement at the time that I made with my wife is like okay I'm not going to work on Saturdays at all right but like I'm stir still gonna be some longer
00:26:37hours but then over time as we were able to staff up the team a little bit more there was always this goal to like build a much better work life balance into the company and so nowadays like you know we have a we have a good support team
00:26:51we have a good marketing team we have a good engineering team good product team and so the weight of the world isn't on any one individual to do this and so all of us can put in a good forty hours a week we can go home at the
00:27:03end of the day see our kids see our families have hobbies and things outside of work because at the end of the day now the business is it's it's really is a marathon not a sprint and so if you don't pace yourself and you will find yourself burning
00:27:20out basically and so you gotta you gotta eventually find that balance I think otherwise it something well something's gotta give yeah I'm like the textbook poster child of what you should not do is constantly burned myself out all the time like I gotta get this fast they possibly
00:27:38can I gotta get this fast the can I just work crazy hours and never learn my lesson I get burned out and I'd like to super unproductive weeks every time I get burned out on that note a cool thing about how you guys operate zap years that you're
00:27:50totally remote company release very beginning you guys where you guys still completely remote were a hundred percent remote still to this day how did you decide to go that route because I know like at the time it wasn't nearly as common as it is now and it's still
00:28:04really not all that common people most companies operate you know in the same locale what influenced you guys to become a remote company so there was a few companies doing it you know and I think base camp thirty seven thirty seven signals was like the most public about
00:28:18it but also automatic get hub read it like there was quite a few that were doing it and since after was a side project we were used to working like just wherever we were and not being in the same room I see was kind of a departure from
00:28:31the norm for us a little bit in that we were all in the same place but then post why see it might moved back to Missouri to be with his then girlfriend now wife as she was finishing up law school and so we're like yeah I'm gonna kick
00:28:46the guy of the company just to you know be with the girl he loves so we just figure out let's make a way to remote to work and so and and also when we went to go hire folks we didn't know anyone in the bay area wouldn't have
00:29:00a network built up we didn't know anything about hiring the advice we heard from around hiring your first books was just hire folks you've worked with in the past and so yeah I had an old college roommate that lived in Chicago was running a cubs forum and I
00:29:15figured if he could deal with unruly cubs fan he could probably do customer service for us not an old coworker who was an engineer that I worked alongside we knew he was really solid so he was in Columbia Missouri so you know we're just like finding these people
00:29:29we knew who are talented and it didn't matter to us where they were because you know we've already set up kind of some systems and processes to make remote work and and that's kind of what set us down that path all right now that you guys are a
00:29:43profitable business you know unlike most of the people that I talk to you guys raise money you went through I see you had just raise a seed round or a round we did a seed round yep see round and that you never raise after that did you cracked
00:29:56one of their end dynamics of that kind of relationship with investors were you almost immediately go for profitability rather than you know continuing to raise additional rounds of funding because a lot of people listening are leaning towards the bootstrap realized down maybe they don't want to talk to
00:30:10investors and I really don't have time to do it what are the advantages disadvantages you see of being a profitable company that's also raised money a good question so you know for us we were we pulled in about a million dollars and are seen around and this was
00:30:25post YC and the reason we did it like you know our mentality is mostly to you know build profitable businesses that's always kind of been are like the thing that we value but we realized you know we've got a lot of work on our hands so a little
00:30:40bit of cash would really help us out a bit you know just to get things kickstarted so having the money to pay for like two or three employees you know someone on support to my engineering to help us just kick start things just a little bit faster in
00:30:55afford to like live in Silicon Valley that was a basically all we felt we needed and so that's what we did and then the way we approach spend hiring and spending money was we have this philosophy that at the time we use which is don't hire until hurts
00:31:13so unless we knew we needed somebody we weren't going to bring somebody else on and that help us kind of slowly add folks the team as we grow and forced us to really be intentional about the types of folks who brought on with the side note that the
00:31:29primary way you spend money in a company is hiring people on the ship I mean you might do marketing but really salaries is is what's the most expensive for those who are listening that's really what kinda kept our spending in check in you know over time we did
00:31:43add like quite a few folks you know we went from three people to seven to fourteen to thirty to seventy right so it ended up being actually like a a pretty good increase in head count what that rule of thumb always made sure that when we are hiring
00:31:58folks it was when it hurt and when there was money and revenue coming into the company so we weren't spending VC money we're spending our own revenues and profits it's funny that you mentioned %HESITATION being able to afford living in the bay area exist so ridiculously expensive here
00:32:14I talked to a lot of people in any hackers and a lot of the two chapters just aren't in the bay area there in Boise Idaho there in Pennsylvania there New Hampshire and I thought about you McKenzie about it a few weeks ago in his theory is pretty
00:32:26straightforward you're going to go the bootstrapping lifestyle you can afford to live in a tech hub for programmers are making two hundred thousand dollars a year you know and rent is crazy and on that note I also wanted to ask about you know the pressure that a lot
00:32:40of people theorize come from investors to drive your company out of profitability mindset and to look up your growth mindset do you feel that your investors are pressuring you to do that in any way and you know are they happy with your decision to become just a profitable
00:32:54company do you pay them a dividend or something are they looking for like you know an IPO so I had another good question so zappers investors are there the board for chapter still Brian Mike and I saw the end of the day still we still controller destiny can
00:33:09make the decisions that we think are our best for the company and you know early on we did get times like you know or are there ways that you feel like you can feel more growth you think you can go faster and and the thing we always went
00:33:21back and asked ourselves because we want to grow to write we want to have a make more money and you know have more impact like just because you're you know VCR bootstrap doesn't mean growth as part of both of those types of businesses right it's not exclusive to
00:33:34one one type of business and so we would go back and ask ourselves and say look what would we spend more money and we always felt like the money we were spending was what we would want to spend we never felt like we wanted to spend more money
00:33:48we felt if we spent more money we couldn't control it like you know if we hired more people it would disrupt the culture in a way that we couldn't control so we always were like very measured about when we spend money to make sure that it was like
00:34:02at a cadence and a pace that the business gets a sport and not artificially doing it because that was what you know some DC thought was the smart thing to do and so like that was our approach to it and it worked out pretty well for us yeah
00:34:17sounds like it's our dad accidentally and we haven't really talked about read the numbers or anything and I'm not sure you know what you feel comfortable sharing but just for some context can you talk about how successful I guess that beer is today sure so and you know
00:34:29we announced a few months ago zappers past twenty million in annual recurring revenue yeah that's taken us I almost six years to get there congratulations and that's huge and how things are changing we're about ninety people today world that's awesome I know I did a civic yeah it
00:34:50it's definitely grown up a little bit since those the people in our apartment icy hot for sure so you guys raises the round let's go back in time a little bit raises the round you're now spending your money hiring people rather than spending it on just like marketing
00:35:06and ads how did you grow at that point was it does all word of mouth magical Grosso re eyes and the many specific growth strategies and marketing strategies to get the word out about sappy or the biggest thing we focused on was getting more apps on to chapter
00:35:21because that was kind of the the factor in terms of who could use our product the product is used by people who are using other apps so if we had an integration for an app that opened up a new potential market for us so every new after we
00:35:36added to zap your meant we could do a co marketing and you know trade email campaigns and you know spend up landing pages and do all these sorts of things to promote to a new set of folks so invested heavily in our developer platform to try an on
00:35:52board as many apps as we possibly could because every new app meant more potential customers for us that's awesome so just by building your product and making it better by adding these integrations yes at the side effect of every new integration was an opportunity to promote that promote
00:36:10the integration and and work with that partner and doing that exactly and it really play to our strengths early on because we are technical have the founding team so you know building those integrations was a lot more natural to us than doing you know sales out reach or
00:36:23something yeah I was gonna say a lot of people listening or developers and I know that when I was working on my old out task force like my dream was that I would be able to sit down and code and that you know the primary driving of my
00:36:37actual user acquisition in marketing would be writing code for so many businesses like with any actors it's literally the exact opposite everyday I write code is the day that I'm not getting the word out of a and the actors and for a lot of businesses that's the case
00:36:48there's a lot in there about how you work with partners and how you promote a lot of specifics I think I'd be really cool to go into you mentioned that you were doing coke emotion with the partners you mention that you're setting up a landing pages which I
00:36:59assume give you some SCO benefits you talk about how exactly you promoted is happier with these these new partners hearing out of the platform and also how that strategy involved over time because I seen you guys got better at it as you absolutely like we have a whole
00:37:14playbook on it now where every new partner like we give him this checklist that's like a menu of things to work through like we know which ones work best which ones like are fine but you know honestly won't do much and so it's really gotten pretty good early
00:37:28on it was literally just like trying the things that we've seen others do so it was like Hey can can you put us in your app directory because most apps had an after actor he and then from there it was like well Hey you know can you send
00:37:41an email out that announces the integration right because if you send an email out that chapter is now on you know acts apt that was you know an announcement that this existed so those are some of the early things we did over time we got more sophisticated about
00:37:56it like we started saying like Hey why don't you talk about integration just part of your onboarding email phones after can be a part of that why don't we include you know how to tutorials on how to do this is part of your help docks you know and
00:38:10just really tryin you know expands the surface area of you know zap here inside of these partner apps that made it a lot more easier to get awareness of chapter if you're using those products that sounds like earlier on you guys just trying everything out throwing spaghetti at
00:38:27the wall which makes a lot of sense because because you don't know exactly what's gonna work early on you haven't tried it when you did kinda solidify your playbook and improve it wasn't based on things that you tried early on that were just that works the best to
00:38:39you just drop the things that didn't work or was absolutely okay gas so like we knew that the way to think about it is trying to get your name in the principal path that a user is going to be following right so if you think about how people
00:38:55use web apps will they sign up for it they get a sequence of the emails and then they interact inside the apt most of the day so it's like well can we get sappers part of the onboarding flow somewhere because that's going to be somewhere that every single
00:39:08user sees that was like for us like the best place to be versus you know it's great to be it have a blog post about us that's great but blog post get buried they roll off the feared and disappear over time so you know it was those types
00:39:24of learning for things we had to figure out as we went along was there any particular your marketing channel or a promotion type that worked way better than the rest I mean email is great honestly and what's better than being in like the inbox saying here's the thing
00:39:40that exists you directly get out reach to somebody so emails great search is great yeah really just just though those and then word of mouth having a great product that people want to talk about once you kind of get to a certain critical mass of folks like that
00:39:55word of mouth should really start kicking in from people talking about yeah yeah emails consistently under rated as a marketing channel by a lot of new new developers and entrepreneurs and founders all yeah I mean emails just likes it like their step everyone talks about you know social
00:40:11media Twitter Facebook you know read it hacker news things like that they're great but those are all spikey right you know it's like if something cool happens you might get a lot of traffic but then it disappears over time you're collecting emails like that's a chance for you
00:40:25to like get in front of people again and again and again so what's your email strategy like exactly you mentioned having your partners I kind of encouraging them to promote sappy or to their email lists you guys also sign people up your own email list and if so
00:40:39what kinds of emails you send people well for us our email is really a chance to make zap you're kind of a thing you daily interact with so I'm sappy or our product is somewhat invisible right you set up these apps and they work in you may never
00:40:55have to go to zapper dot com again the way we treat zap your our email list is our our blogger learn resources writing about work helping people do better work and trying to get people interacting with sap here on a daily or weekly basis through our content initiatives
00:41:12so that when you do think about Hey I need to automate some stuff like chapter can be top of mine another area where you guys I think a really great job was with a search engine optimization you would put up these landing pages for every single integration that
00:41:27you did and I'm sure that was painstaking work at least in the beginning like maybe you guys of automated or have that whole process now you talk about how your search engine optimization worked exactly and what kinds of things you're thinking about yeah I mean it's it's fairly
00:41:40simple right you know have a landing page for every integration you support on an single individual integration there's not much traffic to it because there's just not that many looking for but as it again as we added more more apps that just meant you know in plus one
00:41:58more opportunities for landing pages and that search volume adds up over time so it's just a really long tail play of getting as many apps on tap here so that we can have more landing pages targeting more types of use cases and so we we just spent a
00:42:12mop as we went along and it's it's fairly automated nowadays and all those are opportunities again to to get new customers yeah sure I think it's cool as in your story because you have so many different natural advantages was happier that you like really take advantage of it
00:42:30hit really hard to help grow the application besides just buildings Appier itself right you've got the integrations would seem to be the backbone of everything that you do and you've got things that are little bit less you know naturally arising out of your product like your block which
00:42:44I'm aware of your blog it's a ridiculous amount of traffic more than any hackers does by far I think how did you set up your blog and what strategies do you use of goodness to promote it well our blog was not great in the early days you can
00:43:00actually you know scroll the very end of it and you can see it's me like writing about basically like our founding tourney I think a lot of blogs start out like that it's like you writing meta commentary about your company which is fine but eventually you probably are
00:43:14going to need to start having more of a strategy about how your blog aligns with what your customers care about and oftentimes what your customers care about isn't necessarily your company journey they care about something unique to them right and so I think at some point time I'd
00:43:31heard that you know Tulio had this strategy which was like make your customers your heroes and and you know their concentration was basically just like case study after case study of like cool things that people were building and %HESITATION by the way Twilley it was part of what
00:43:45they built right and so that's kind of where we started to to move towards and eventually we stumbled on like this intersection of productivity and apps specific content where it was a lot of generic product division vice like wake up early in the morning or whatever right but
00:44:03we didn't feel like people want more that type of content like that content exists in spades what people really wanted was like deep tactical level stuff like here's how to use Turlough Angie mail to like craft an amazing hiring process in like yours exactly how to set up
00:44:21your trailer board and like the filters you need an email and everything right like that kind of stuff his goal because now you can literally just be like okay I'm gonna follow these steps one to ten and I have a great hiring process set up right so that
00:44:36was the type of content we wanted to push for was how can we talk about this intersection of productivity and apps and get people excited about stuff and so that's the angle we took so you'll see when you go visit our blog like there is very little fluff
00:44:51just you know puff pieces almost everything has like very specific types of things a person can do to improve what they do at work yeah that's really smart I mean you're actually producing good quality content high quality content that people can't find elsewhere and so they want to
00:45:08read it that come to your blog and they gonna like it because it's not just for us but on top of that I think that it is kind of like two aspects of a right you have to write good content yet to figure out a way to get
00:45:17it into the hands of people who are going to read it and I can involve things like search engine optimization sending it out to list on email promoting it on social media what have you found to be the most successful ways to promote the content on your blog
00:45:30had if you can get that ball rolling in the early days email emails like again where it's at like once you get that list up you know just work on getting people who read your article the first time and say like Hey if you want more of this
00:45:42stuff like this like we'll let you know when a new articles coming out right get their email address then every time we send the email those people would are we post a new post with MLM they'd come back and read it and then a lot of times that
00:45:57audience of people that were reading it those would be the folks that helped push it out even further right so those would be the folks that would submit the articles they like to hacker news or they would set up they would tweet about our shared on Facebook or
00:46:10shared on link Dan or wherever so you wouldn't really the email strategy was a way to get our own users to try and make the content go a little further and and some stuff viral right eventually you do get a few that will exceed where the baseline is
00:46:26so for us it was always get a more emails to increase the baseline of what content is and then over time we'll just get more hits out of it too yeah I'm looking for blood right now and it's like you've got this very non obnoxious little pop up
00:46:39in the bottom right corner of the screen it's like join fifty thousand plus subscribers and get tips insider a your email address that I think it's really cool to have Mr email get more content like this is kind of your primary called action on your blog posts because
00:46:53it feeds directly into what you're saying like it's your best strategy is to have people better email so you know maybe focus on that more so than focusing on trying to immediately convert them into sappy or users yep yep totally and we kind of running out of time
00:47:05but there's one thing that I think I mentioned at the beginning that I really want to talk about which is that in my view this kind of like two spectrums are company can fall on you can be like converted for example we are entering a crowded marketplace will
00:47:18whole bunch of companies are very similar to you and you have to figure out how to differentiate yourself but people already know what you are and are researching for you and then at the other end of the spectrum you've got things exactly where you know when you started
00:47:29this company there was nothing that was really likes that beer and anything that was like that there wasn't really that popular and so there wasn't a whole you know there are a whole bunch of people searching for you know sappy our our workflow automation you know maybe there
00:47:42have maybe there were and I will much sure about it but the question here is when you're developing apple's Appier how do you communicate to customers and and educate them and let them know what it is that you're building and how do you kind of drum up demand
00:47:55for something that's totally new that doesn't have like a whole bunch of search traffic on Google yeah I think you got to figure out what is the problem that you're apt assaulting and that way you can tell your marketing more towards what I call demand harvesting rather than
00:48:11demand generation because you want to be more like you know you that the converted example right where you can tap into existing marketing channels where there's known problems and sell that way because it's going to be just a lot easier to get your message out there verses if
00:48:27you're trying to create an entire new category from scratch that's incredibly expensive no one searching for it it's really hard to do that so is best as you possibly can trying get yourself into kind of those normal channels so for us the way we approached it was well
00:48:45sap that the tool is new and novel the things were solving are actually still fairly mundane or you know something that already exists which is integrations so people were already looking for integrations you know male chimpanzee integration directory cell source had the appetites change base camp has our
00:49:02add ons page all that stuff already existed so it's like how can we just happen to that stuff that already exists to get new customers and just harvest the nascent demand that already exist today answer really that was it from the get go was like just tap into
00:49:17existing channels don't try and reinvent the wheel or create a new category or anything like that from the get go I love that answer because even if you're building a pool exactly which is totally new and can't be easily compared to existing tools on the market you're still
00:49:31solving a problem or hopefully you're solving a problem you really should be solving a problem that already exist the people are already looking for solutions for so if you come at it from that angle you don't have to say on my part of the so new and unique
00:49:44at to drum up demand from scratch instead you could buy the existing wave of traffic from people who are looking for solutions to the problem that it is that your new product solves high and you can use that to get your first users and grow from there I
00:49:56think it's a great place to end the interview can you let us know where people can go to find out more about yourself your co founders and happier yeah absolutely so I'm I hang out on Twitter fairly often outweighed foster if you want to learn more about sap
00:50:10here Samper dot com with just one P. about page has some cool photos of our retreats in the past check it out where once remote we got job listings if you're curious about coming to work at sap hear anything like that blog is also really great resource to
00:50:27if you're looking for various apps the isn't trying to think about the work clothes you're running your own business so I definitely check that out too alright well thanks so much for coming on the show it awesome thank ceramic Orland by do you enjoy listening to this conversation
00:50:43and you're looking for a way to help support the anti hackers podcast then it you should subscribe on iTunes and leave a quick rating and review it only takes about thirty seconds but actually really helped get the word out and I would personally appreciate it very much in
00:50:56addition if you are running an internet business are but something that you'd like to do in the future should join me in a whole bunch of other and entrepreneurs on the any actors dot com form is basically a community of like minded individuals just giving each other feedback
00:51:09and helping out with ideas and landing pages and marketing and growth and other internet business related topics that's W. W. W. dot and the actors dot com slash form the sea ice there

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I'm Courtland Allen, and on IndieHackers.com I've interviewed hundreds of developers about how they've built, marketed, and grown their side projects into profitable online businesses. The Indie Hackers Podcast dives even deeper into the strategies and tactics behind making money online. I'll be speaking with the founders of businesses both big and small, from people working a few hours a week on side projects that generate $500/month, to CEOs who've grown their startups to millions of dollars in annual revenue. Whether you're currently running your own business or you're an aspiring entrepreneur, you'll learn by example the fundamentals behind coming up with valuable ideas, testing the market to see if they'll work, finding your first customers, marketing and growing your business, and becoming a financially independent indie hacker.
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65 episodes
since Feb, 2017
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