The story of how Zapier got its start is not dissimilar to that of many other startups. The company, which offers app integration and automation services, began when its founders started noticing a distinct trend in their previous work.
Before Zapier, founder Wade Foster and Brian Helmig were doing freelance work, and they were running into the same problem over and over again.
"Often times we'd get asked to build integrations for small businesses to help them with various tasks like get PayPal sales into Quickbooks," Foster said.
Most companies just don't have time to build these kind of integrations, so Foster and Helmig would routinely whip up small scripts to handle them for customers. One day, Helmig came to Foster with the idea of building a tool that could handle these integrations out of the box for young organizations to set them up on their own without coding or understanding APIs.
The pair met their third co-founder Mike Knoop at a Startup Weekend in Columbia, Missouri where they built out the initial prototype. The company was officially founded in late 2011. For the first nine months they were entirely self-funded working out of Columbia. After gaining traction, the team applied to Y Combinator and went through its summer 2012 session. After completing Y Combinator, they raised $1.3 million from various investors. In early 2014, Zapier became profitable and has been self-funded since that time.
Zapier uses public APIs to make the service work. When something happens in an app, like getting an email or having a note created in Evernote, users can set up Zapier to do something else automatically. For example, a user can tell it that if an email is received with an attachment, that it should automatically save the attachment to Box or Dropbox.
Rob Shapiro, the director of product strategy at Muck Rack, said he uses Zapier to save developer time and management resources.
"In a matter of clicks, I can connect APIs, create event-based actions, and do work that previously required extensive development knowledge," Shapiro said.
Seemingly, the biggest competitor to Zapier is automation startup IFTTT, which also uses APIs to integrate and automate apps. However Foster said that the similarities stop at the user experience.
"Zapier powers about 500, almost 600, apps and IFTTT has I think around 250 in their bank the last time I checked, but most of them are different," Foster said.
While IFTTT offers more consumer integrations and a focus on IoT, Zapier is focused more on the B2B space, with app integrations such as PayPal, Asana, Hubspot, and GoToWebinar.
As the app economy continues growing, one trend that has definitely played out in Zapier's favor is bring-your-own-application (BYOA).
"There's a lot more empowerment for the frontend employees to pick and choose what they want to use," Foster said.
Left to their own devices, employees tend to gravitate towards best of breed applications that do one thing really well. The problem is that these apps aren't typically designed to work together. That's where the Zapier comes in—they want to be the connective tissue between those apps.
The proliferation of apps presents a big opportunity for the company. It's easy to get an app off the ground, and many developers are thinking about APIs from the get-go, Foster said, which is a good thing for Zapier. Although, that can be a double-edged sword.
"Zapier's ecosystem of API endpoints has grown enormously over the past few years, but the biggest challenge is still and always will be adding more relevant, useful API integrations and triggers," Shapiro said.
The fact is, APIs don't always provide tons of functionality. To counteract the limiting nature of some APIs, Foster said Zapier focuses on advocating for more powerful APIs.
It's free to get started, but users will eventually need to sign up for a monthly or yearly subscription for the service. Zapier also has a concierge service that provides an assistant to help with your Zaps—their name for connections made between apps.
Moving forward, Foster said Zapier is working on ways to set up different workflows, or add more actions per trigger. Additionally, they want to make it easier to get started on the platform.
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Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.