Hi! We’re Zapier - a 100% distributed company all around the world. AUA!

Hi everyone!

I’m Wade, co-founder at Zapier. Zapier is a remote team with 20 people scattered around the world. Every few months we get together to have a fun company retreat. Many of our teammates also travel a lot. :smile:

I’m joined by Alison Groves, Jason Kotenko, Lindsay Brand, Matthew Guay and Jess Byrne. Ask us anything!

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Howdy folks! Alison Groves of Zapier here, chiming in from Nashville, Tennessee. My father is in sales, and he spent my entire childhood traveling to meet customers all over the world and then working from home when he could. Guess you could say remote work and constantly being on the move is in my blood. :slight_smile:

I’m excited to share what I’ve learned over the years, and even more excited to learn from you too.

Hi everyone! My name is Jason Kotenko, coming to you from Miami Beach, FL, just for the winter. :wink:

I’ve worked remotely for several companies now, and really enjoy doing it again. I’ve lived all over the US, East Coast, West Coast, and in between, and I lived for over a year in the Philippines. Happy to answer any questions!

Hey guys, thanks for joining us!

Was the decision to work as a distributed team intentional one for you? How did you grow to 20 people working remotely?

And I’m always curious - what in your case are the most precious benefits of having a distributed team?

Thanks!

Guys so nice to have you on board. Thank you so much.

  • How you guys manage the payroll for a distributed team like yours? Are you all freelancers?

  • In which area everyone is located? More in America or in Asia?

  • Wade as a co-founder what do you feel about have a distributed team ?

  • Are you a flat organization like the Valve Handbook?

  • Funny question: Are you all happy ?

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Wade is probably the best one to tackle the growth question, but the best thing I appreciate about working on a distributed team is that I get to work with some of the smartest people in the world. We aren’t bound by geography to find people to join our team. Having global teammates also adds a great amount of empathy I think than you would get if you were all together.

With vastly different cultures and backgrounds comes a deeper understanding of not only our users, but learning about ourselves as well.

Do you ever feel lost or detached?

Working on my startup with all team members being distributed across the US and Europe, I sometimes feel detached and as a founder I understand how important is to battle this feeling of detachment if anyone on the team is feeling that way. Have you guys had this sort of things to tackle along the whole process?

Hi Wade and the Zapier team! Thanks for being on here :smile:

I know you’re doing company retreats with Zapier. As you know I’m working on http://startupretreats.com, although the definitive model of how to build a business around this is still unclear to me. How would you do that?

Do you think the retreats is a growing market? More startups going remote (at least part-time) and not wanting the struggles of individual nomadic life, they buy a “package”, somewhat like tour operators did with the travel market in the 1960s? Making it easy?

Good questions!

Was the decision to work as a distributed team intentional one for you?

Somewhat. Zapier started as a side project for Bryan, Mike and I. As a result we worked wherever we could. Then we got accepted in YCombinator and moved to the California and worked together for 3 months. After that, Mike moved back to Missouri to be with his then girlfriend, now wife and we hired a support person in Chicago. From there on we kept hiring remotely and solving problems as they came up.

How did you grow to 20 people working remotely?

We’ve written a lot about that here. The gist is that we made a conscious decision to commit to remote work and didn’t take anything for granted. We tried to over-communicate and we’re pretty forgiving when things failed. We blamed the system instead of people and then figured out how to fix the system.

What in your case are the most precious benefits of having a distributed team?

Being able to live wherever you want whether that’s with friends, family, or traveling on your own. Having the location of your job dictate your life seems pretty antiquated to me.

Hey Marina - Jess here! I have to say, Zapier is the one place I’ve worked where I’ve felt super in the loop! We have an internal blog we post in to inform each other of major changes/updates and we all post every Friday to tell the team what we worked on that week. Everything is also super transparent here. From Slack channels for each department/project to viewing activity in GitHub, to honing in on our Editorial Calendar and Hiring process through Trello boards, there is never a time where I feel like I don’t know what’s going on. We also hop on an option GoToMeeting each week to chat with the rest of the team and have weekly pair calls with one other team member to catch up or work on a mini project together. =)

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Good questions @atu!
How you guys manage the payroll for a distributed team like yours? Are you all freelancers?

For people in the United States we use TriNet which acts as a PEO. Outside the states we hire as contractors. As we grow in certain countries, then we’ll setup local entities.

In which area everyone is located? More in America or in Asia?

Most everyone is in the USA, but we do have people in the UK, Spain and Thailand.

Wade as a co-founder what do you feel about have a distributed team ?

The best thing is being able to work with people anywhere and not losing teammates when they have to move for reasons outside their control.

Are you a flat organization like the Valve Handbook?

Since we’re only 20 people we are still fairly flat, though we do have some hierarchy. I don’t suspect we’ll go the truly flat route like Valve.

Funny question: Are you all happy ?

I certainly am! It’s the most fun company I’ve ever worked at.

[quote=“marinajaneiko, post:7, topic:766, full:true”]
Do you ever feel lost or detached? [/quote]

I don’t think you can completely escape this sometimes. Wade and the other founders are all located in the same area, so I know they get together pretty often, so I’m sure that helps for them.

For myself, the main things that help are video calls with team members, knowing that the next retreat is coming up, and the fun conversations and gif-sharing moments we have in Slack.

Good question. Sometimes I do, but not very often. The retreats come a couple times a year and I’m always excited to see folks in person. One thing I think is important in a remote team that people have a strong non-work network. That could be family, friends or local community, but if you’ve always relied on work for your social life, then a remote team might be kind of tough for you.

Startup Retreats is a great idea.

There’s a couple things that are tough for us:

  1. Finding a location that can host everyone we have. Retreat planning was much easier when we were smaller.
  2. Booking flights and car rentals. It’s tricky to get everyone to the airport and roughly the right time so that everyone has transportation and doesn’t have to wait too long.

If there was an easy way to pay someone to do both 1 and 2 for us, we’d certainly pay a good amount of markup for you to do all the booking. You also may not need to do all that much of markup if you can setup referral fees for airlines and lodging. I know that’s how travel agents traditional make all their money.

In addition to what the guys said, as someone relatively new at Zapier, I feel pretty well integrated already.

Being a newer team member means I have lots of questions, and I often jump on a Google Hangout video chat with Micah.

I’ve worked in a couple of remote positions now and I personally agree with Jason that it’s video calls that reconnect you. A little facetime makes a huge difference!

  1. Running a remote startup might be relatively easy and maybe even kinda obvious when you’re small with a few team members. But how do you deal with it when your team grows? Do you get any particular scaling issues once you reach 20+ members? Do you think it’s harder to manage than a traditional non-remote company? And if it is, how do you deal with that?

  2. How do you see remote as an option for more companies? Will the companies that do remote now as its foundation (like Zapier, Buffer, Groove) have an advantage over companies that “plug it in” later on (like e.g. Microsoft)?

  3. What’s your favorite places to go work from in the world? Except your hometowns?

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I did two weeks in Cape Town last August, and it was life changing. The rest of my family lives in Houston, Texas, so I get to go there frequently and spend quality time with them, including being there for the birth of my niece. That’s the truly amazing thing remote work offers you.

Thing I’m most excited about as it relates to seeing the world? I now have teammates in countries I’ve always wanted to visit, and instead of having to see them as a tourist, I can now see them through the eyes of a local. Look forward to seeing Bangkok and Barcelona at some point in 2015.

@wadefoster what do you look for at a retreat besides touching base with the team? I know startups that prefer remote locations in the nature, ski/snowboarding locations, beach time, some of them just visit a new city together. What kind of retreats your team prefers?

I think it’s definitely an advantage to be 100% remote, not mixed. I worked at eBay before this, and if you were in a satellite office, so not even remote, but far away from HQ, you were at a disadvantage. It was hard for those folks to get their ideas adopted and gain traction on things.

I’m really excited to see how it scales for Zapier, as we’re still growing. So far I’ve only seen it work in small companies, but I’ve never been exposed to a company that grew while being remote.

1 How do you scale a remote team?

Right now, we tackle the challenges as they arise. In my discussions with other founders I’ve heard that scaling gets harder as you hit 25 or 30 people whether it’s remote or not. Communication starts to get harder and it’s impossible for one person to know 100% about everything that’s going on. So a lot of what we do is apply tried and true management techniques but with a twist for remote teams. Things like good training or manager 1-on-1s are always helpful. The Hard Thing About Hard Things and High Output Management are two great books that help with these things.

2 How do you see remote as an option for more companies?

Definitely. Companies like GitHub and Automattic have been able to scale to hundreds of companies while operating entirely remote. I think this shows that it’s possible and now other companies like Zapier, Buffer and Groove are following suite. We’ll start to see bigger companies that have always been remote emerge.

3 What’s your favorite places to go work from in the world? Except your hometowns?

Honestly, I love a good kitchen table with a window.