Employee #1: Zapier


Micah Bennett is Employee #1 at Zapier, a tool that connects the web apps you use so you can easily move data between them and automate tedious tasks. He joined as a Support Lead and has since helped scale the team. Zapier now has over 400 employees working remotely in over 24+ countries.

Can you tell me what you were doing before Zapier?

Prior to Zapier I worked at the headquarters of a couple different retailers doing inventory management. That involved managing the distribution of a certain type of product to various stores to ensure they were in the right place at the right time in the right quantity. Big chunks of that role were building and tweaking spreadsheets, working with data to illustrate different things that were happening across the products I supported. I also briefly worked in a planning function, which was about understanding how much product we needed to order from suppliers/vendors, at what time, and to the appropriate warehouses. I did this for Payless and later for Sears before joining Zapier.

Did you have some sort of interview & what position did you join in?

I joined Zapier as our first hire in customer support. Wade and I knew each other going back to college, and he knew I had done moderation for some online forums, so he reached out to me to see if it was something I'd be interested in. Once I confirmed I was, I had an in-person interview with two of the founders(Wade & Bryan) in California. Later the third founder Mike(who was living in Missouri at the time) flew out to have a similar interview where I lived in the Chicago area. Since Wade already knew me, this gave the other two founders a chance to get to know me and hear about my background, as well as hear more about their vision for Zapier.

Was there anything in particular about the founders that wanted to make you join?

Having a pre-existing relationship with the CEO is a big one, you're obviously entrusting a lot to a company's leadership as an early employee, so knowing Wade and his skills and values went a long way. That extended to Mike and Bryan as well. Like me they were from outside the Silicon Valley ecosystem, and a lot of their expertise was self-taught, which you can see in the DNA of the company and product. We've focused on helping people do more through automation that doesn't require a developer's skillset, and that value leads to a product people pay for so the company can grow without the hazards that come with being unprofitable or taking on large outside investment.

Did you see it as risky?

Not really. Part of that was my own naivete, but also it was a time in my life where the consequences of that risk were low. We don't have kids and didn't own a house at the time, so the worst case scenario was less scary. However, the biggest thing was that I had previously learned that there are no sure things in your career.

I left what I thought to be a more stable company in Payless to go to Sears. At the time I knew the risk was greater, but also I trusted my own abilities to overcome any circumstances that would come up. Turns out that within a year of my departure from Payless, the CEO left and the company was on the precipice of being sold, which reinforced that stability I thought I had was an illusion. With that in mind, while Zapier was far from a sure thing, I knew that my current role and company aren't etched in stone either. That made pursuing a role and company I was really interested in all the easier.

When you joined Wade, Bryan, and Mike, were you guys working out of an office? Someone’s apartment? And I know Zapier is obviously really big on remote, asynchronous work. Has that culture been ingrained since the start of the company? When did you go from office to remote (or did you straight away start remote)?

Mike was already working remotely from Missouri when I joined, and the expectation was always set that Zapier was going to be a remote company. Wade flew out to Chicago to do some in-person onboarding my first week, and after that we carried on remotely. The new hires that followed came from Missouri and Nebraska to further cement that remote identity. We also started our tradition of doing in-person retreats early as well, the first of those happened with a team of 7 within my first year at Zapier. Those retreats are crucial for relationship building and camaraderie in a remote team, and are the source of some of my favorite Zapier memories.

As Zapier has grown, you’ve had to hire people, manage a team, and your role has likely changed. How have you managed this shift in responsibility?

My first few years at Zapier were heavy on individual contributor work, supporting tens of thousands of customers who wrote in, helping with the development of our help docs, etc. As the team grew that evolved to being a manager of folks on the team and then a manager of managers. Ultimately, my main goal in any role is to have as big an impact as I can, and leading the team was the best way to do so.

A couple years ago, with the Support team approaching 50 people, we reached an inflection point where the role had evolved to proportions that weren't really best aligned with what I do best and the work I most enjoy doing. At that point we found a VP of Support to take over those responsibilities of the tip of the spear, and in the time since my role has been in Support Operations, refining our staffing model for Support, working with our data team on Support data challenges, and serving as part of our Support leadership group.

From having read about Zapier’s culture, you guys place a big emphasis on customer support. And every employee (developer to marketer) has to do some. How do you assess a potential hire on their customer support skills? Is it a deal-breaker?

For hires outside of support, the fact that someone getting hired means they are a fit with Zapier's values and are a strong enough written communicator to be able to fit into a remote org. That combined with the training we offer helps ensure folks assisting in All Hands Support are able to contribute at the standard we expect from Zapier Support.

For building out hiring within support, we started with the values and traits of people we found would be most successful helping Zapier customers. Things like an ability to communicate empathetically, a strong intuition when it comes to working with technology, and the ability to power through ambiguity. We made sure the hiring process was oriented around demonstrating those values and traits in practice, instead of relying on past experience or other external validation. That process combined with the ability to hire from a remote candidate pool meant we were able to grow the team with talented folks from diverse backgrounds and build a strong support culture.

What advice do you have for others looking to join a very early stage startup?

In terms of being a valuable early employee, I think being able to think in terms of systems and their relationship is a big one. Especially in a small company there can't be any silos and your work will constantly intersect with others, so being able to see and anticipate the consequences of various decisions makes everyone's life a lot easier. The other really valuable thing is being able to spot opportunities, prioritize them, and execute on them quickly and without specific direction. In an early startup there will always be things that are broken or not as complete as you'd like them to be. Since time is scarce, knowing where to spend it for greatest impact makes a big difference, especially if you don't need specific plans of action spelled out to you.

In terms of evaluating an early stage startup to join, I think you have to evaluate both the company and the people. On one end, the best business model in the world may still be a crummy work experience if the people and the environment they create aren't aligned with your values. Products change and companies pivot, so remember you're signing up to work with those people more than you are signing up to build a specific feature. That said, evaluating the company on its business merits is important too. Getting to work on neat things with good people means less if the company can't find traction or needs to change drastically to survive.

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Software Engineer, Finance Automation