There exists a company by the name of Zapier (rhymes with happier, Zapier makes you happier) that I've recently found myself admiring.
What is Zapier you ask? Zapier is a task automation company founded by Wade Foster, Bryan Helmig, and Mike Knoop that allows applications to talk to one another (for a good history see Zapier's own write up from 2012). It's "like the api of all apis". For the world of SaaS (software as a service) this allows you to share data between various applications for the purpose of automation, potentially freeing up considerable amounts of times increasing both personal and business productivity.
You can use Zapier to do something simple such as creating a zap (a blueprint for a task you want to automate, for me I'm always reminded of macros I'd use for MUDs when creating a zap and get a nice nostalgic feeling) that sends you a text message when you receive an email that meets a certain search query, for example say you are expecting an important email from Zapier you could set the search parameter '*@zapier.com' which will trigger any time you get an email in your Gmail account from Zapier (the zap runs once every 5 minutes) and then a text message is generated and sent to the number you have on file. Say you'd applied for a job and wanted to quickly get notification when you received an email, or you wanted to know ASAP when a high-priority client or customer has sent you an email.
You can also use Zapier to do far more involved things. Zapier has a good example on their blog where an ESL teacher to automate several steps of her customer management from adding new customers to her email marketing provider to sending an email when a customer's payment fails to remind them to make payment. Another a user saves 5 hours a week by using zap to schedule appointments, automating the tracking of customer purchases and even managing customer feedback to a Trello board.
While there are limits to what you can do with a zap, the point is you can automate repetitive tasks between your web apps. Think of this as a simpler IFTTT that requires far less technical knowledge that can get your web apps talking quicker and more productively. At first impression, it might sound like something that isn't extremely useful for some people but even for those that aren't business owners, there are many applications an easy example being the text message when you get an email meeting your search parameters that I gave above.
Alright, great, you can automate things. But why is this a love letter? Because Zapier is more than a service to me. Zapier is a company with an interesting culture. If you've ever read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh you're familiar with the culture at Zappos from the startup days until the time the book was published and if not that is alright as Zapier reminds me a lot of the Zappos culture. Let me explain.
First know that Zapier is largely a remote company, in fact, they've written a guide to remote work, This alone is still a fairly novel thing at the time of this writing. Older companies often balk at the idea of an employee working from home assuming that the employee will be watching television in their underoos doing eleven minutes of work each hour and simply refuse to entertain the idea. Zapier was effectively a remote company in their late infancy and opted to remain that way going forward. You can read extensively about this on their site in links I've shared above.
So why a love letter Ryan?
Obviously, the culture.
Everything I've heard and read about their work culture sings to me. Zapier really stresses their culture, they have an entire post about it in their blog. But Ryan, what about it calls to you? All of it. Literally all of it.
Zapier stresses developing a culture that allows employees to know one another, that focuses on working to work because you WANT to do the work not because you need to do the work just to get a paycheck.
They communicate. Zapier uses Slack as a virtual office space allowing folks to ask questions and get answers AND allows employees to use wholly off-topic rooms that are not at all related to work because they understand that you need to have off-topic conversations with coworkers whereas traditional employers would quickly put an end to any such thing citing company policy and waste of resources. You can't get good work done if you're miserable, I do not understand why more companies don't adopt a more social approach to work like Zapier and Zappos do. Zapier isn't afraid to be silly with gifs or emojis in their chat. They aren't afraid to have people from one department jump into the chat of another department to offer input or get help, you don't have to tell your team lead that then tells your manager that then contacts a manager in the appropriate department wasting an hour or more to get support or to offer a suggestion.
Zapier also understands you still need to see your coworkers face to face. So what do they do? They have company and team retreats of course! You get together, you do activities like a hike or play board games or have a Game of Thrones viewing party. And while they have fun doing these things, they still are productive and have hackathons where before the retreat team members will suggest projects to attempt to accomplish during the hackathon which then get voted on, those that have the most votes get compiled and everyone selects a few to possibly work on during the retreat. Teams form up and work on the projects to see if they can't have something not only developed but able to be shipped by the end of the retreat and present what they've done to everyone else.
Zapier gets it! Keep employees happy, keep communication channels open, bring people together in person to try and skunkworks up some new product or feature. They treat their employees like human beings, not serialized servants. Companies often think that the customer is what matters but companies like Zapier remember that the employee matters too.
I know this sounds like some ad-copy written by Zapier but this is genuine, this is from me, Zapier is simply a company I've found both interesting and useful. This could be considered an honest Zapier review if you will. In fact, I have previous applied and interviewed for a job at Zapier and not been hired but I still love them enough to write this post!