Wade Foster of Zapier: When Computers Do More, Humans Create New Businesses

With all of us relying on more and more apps to do business today, it gets complicated to get things done if those apps don’t work with each other. But when these apps do work together, small businesses can not only be more efficient in how they operate, they also can be more creative in developing and implementing new business opportunities altogether.

Wade Foster, co-founder and CEO of Zapier, a platform that focuses on app integration with many of the most popular business apps, discusses the benefits small businesses gain when computers make it easy to use the apps they depend on. (This transcript has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the audio player at the end of this article.)

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app integrationSmall Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background?

Wade Foster: I had an engineering degree. I have a marketing degree as well. I started helping a lot of small business do a better job at online marketing and also just running their businesses more efficiently. I spent a lot of time helping local businesses use tools like Wufoo, MailChimp, QuickBooks, Google Apps and Basecamp.

Small Business Trends: On your homepage it says, ‘We’re just some humans who think computers should do more work.’ When did that really hit you? 

Wade Foster: One of the things we would always get asked is, ‘Hey, can you help me get my PayPal sales into QuickBooks?” Or, ‘Can you help me take this spreadsheet of contacts and upload them into MailChimp for me?’

So we were writing code to automate this stuff for businesses and we thought, ‘It would be really great if small businesses didn’t have to talk to people like us to do this – it would happen automatically.’ That was the genesis for Zapier.

Small Business Trends: App Integration can be like going to the dentist. You really came up with a unique approach to integrations. How did that come about?

Wade Foster: Going to the dentist is probably an apt metaphor for app integration. The nice thing is there’s a lot of new web services coming out with what’s called restful APIs which is like programmers words for “easy to use”. So we thought, ‘Hey, I bet if we could use these new APIs that are coming out, we could create a way that is a lot simpler for users.’

Small Business Trends: How many Zaps or app integrations are businesses using through Zapier?

Wade Foster: We have over 300,000 people on Zapier today. On a daily basis we’re doing tens of millions of API calls.

Small Business Trends: Can you give us an idea of how this has impacted your small business customers? How has it changed the way they actually run their business?

Wade Foster: Small businesses obviously don’t have huge budgets. A lot of them hire interns, but they come and go, right? He would send out shoppers. He would give the app to his customers. The customers would fill in a Gravity Form on their mobile devices with requests like, ‘I need eggs’ or ‘I need milk.’ A text message would then be sent to the shopper and the shopper would know the things they need to buy for their clients that week. He built this whole business on top of a few Zaps.

Small Business Trends: You have about 300,000 users using the platform. How quickly did you get to that number?

Wade Foster: We didn’t actually launch until the Summer of 2012. It’s been public for a little over two years now.

Small Business Trends: Can you give us an idea of what one of the popular Zaps is?

Wade Foster: One of the things I see small businesses do all the time is using form software. They use something like Wufoo, Gravity Forms, Formstack or Google Forms. They use that to collect customer contact information, ask questions, and then save it.

The most common places to save that information is in a CRM, an email marketing list, spreadsheet or project management tool. That’s something we see small businesses doing all the time. It really helps them automate that funnel.

Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more?

Wade Foster: We’ve put together a book, “The Top 101 Ways to Use Zapier” (PDF). If you go to the Zapier Learning Center, you’ll find it there. Our Zapier blog has a lot of posts about how to use these tools better.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.