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From JC to Silicon Valley

From JC to Silicon Valley

Native son Wade Foster hones an entrepreneurial spirit

October 2nd, 2017 by Philip Joens in Local News
Jefferson City native Wade Foster is a co-founder and CEO of Zapier

Jefferson City native Wade Foster is a co-founder...

Photo by Submitted

Right now, Wade Foster's Silicon Valley tech company hires new employees faster than he can remember.

The company's website lists 80 employees, but Foster, the company's CEO, said 110 people across the globe work for the company.

"We can't update the site fast enough," Foster joked.

A Jefferson City native and University of Missouri alumnus, Foster and two other MU alumni created Zapier in fall 2011. Today, Zapier provides web automation services to companies and customers that connect apps like Dropbox, Gmail and Slack together. Since its launch out of Startup Weekend Columbia in 2011, Zapier experienced rapid growth, which continues today.

Zapier connects about 900 apps and allows people to build integrations between them. Zapier designed the service to make it easier for users' apps to work together and also for businesses to be more productive.

"A lot of customers are doing stuff with Zapier that they could never do before," Foster said. "They don't have developers on staff. They don't have IT resources, so with Zapier they can set up these automations within minutes, which is something they never would've had before."

Foster described what the company does this way for people who've never heard of it.

"Every time I get an email between them with an attachment, it automatically saves the email to Dropbox," Foster said. "Or every time I post an Instagram photo, it posts the image to Twitter."

As a child and teen in Jefferson City, Foster loved playing the saxophone and performing in the Kapital Kicks band, the River City Saxes and other local orchestras.

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His mom, Karla, said he loved sports as a child, too. Swimming in particular became important to him throughout his youth and middle school years, and he only stopped because of the lack of a swim team at Jefferson City High School.

"It was an individual sport. He was very independent," his mom said.

Foster's love for tech came later.

Even through high school, his mom said, computers didn't particularly interest Foster. He graduated from MU in 2010 with a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering and master's in business administration. While there, he quietly developed an interest in tech on the side.

During his college years, in the midst of the Great Recession, Foster found it hard to find internships and jobs. So he taught himself to code.

"The fact that you could build this cool stuff and reach people anywhere in the world over the internet was super compelling," Foster said. "That's when I started to learn the things you need to do to run a business like that."

Foster made the connections that would change his life when he met eventual Zapier co-founders Bryan Helmig and Mike Knoop at MU.

Startup Weekends pack a semester's worth of entrepreneurship classes into 54 hours. Head-in-the-clouds entrepreneurs like Foster, Knoop and Helmig go through the entire business cycle — from pitching ideas to working through problems to soliciting investments — all in one weekend.

Often the weekends serve as long brainstorming sessions for entrepreneurs to come up with ideas, refine them and learn how to sell them. Foster, Helmig and Knoop, though, built a working prototype of Zapier.

Foster said the brainstorming approach is fine, but people ultimately may not get as much out of the weekend. Zapier's founders used Startup Weekend Columbia in fall 2011 to set themselves up for the future.

"Startup Weekend, to have that 54 hours, that's enough to get the ball rolling," Foster said.

He said the idea now is more or less the same, just much more sophisticated. Zapier's big break came shortly after Startup Weekend Columbia when Foster, Helmig and Knoop moved to Silicon Valley the following spring to participate in the famed Y Combinator startup accelerator.

The company reached a huge milestone for tech companies in 2014 when it became profitable. It grew from 35 employees at the beginning of 2015 to 70 employees at the beginning of 2017 and 110 employees now.

As of Friday, Zapier also had nine job openings listed on its website. Zapier allows engineers, marketers and other employees to work from all over the world.

With the company now six years old and in a high-growth phase, Foster said it maintains the agility of a startup but feels like something bigger. Like many tech entrepreneurs, he's enamored with the way his company's technology could continue to change the world.

"I feel we're in the bottom of the second inning," Foster said. "There's so many companies out there that are just now learning about cloud software and how these apps can help them run their businesses. As more and more businesses discover what these tools can do, they're going to need to connect them together. We're the company that does that."

Foster met his wife, Chelsea Brzchalski, as a child at West Elementary School in Jefferson City. His mom, Karla, said he comes home as often as he can, but it's usually only a few times a year.

As he often does, though, Foster will return to Mid-Missouri on Wednesday to mentor people at this weekend's edition of Startup Weekend Columbia, again helping Mid-Missouri techies turn their Silicon Valley dreams into reality.