Letting his internet curiosity take over, Wade Foster built a global tech company to integrate apps right at your fingertips.
Wade Foster is living his best life. As co-founder and CEO of Zapier, he’s created a unique technology tool to automate the flow of information between apps to save you time, energy, and money. Foster is all about efficiency, and apparently, so are the millions of Zapier users. With the help of his friends, Foster built a multi-million dollar technology company that began from solid roots right here in Jefferson City
Foster grew up in Jefferson City with a supportive family of parents, sisters, grandparents, and cousins all close by. The family spent summers together trout fishing at Montauk and Bennett Spring state parks. During high school, Foster had a strong interest in music, playing saxophone in school and community jazz bands, but he wasn’t sure of his next steps when he graduated Jefferson City High School in 2005.
“After high school — I had always been a good student, but I didn’t have a crystal-clear picture of what I wanted to do,” says Foster. “I decided to go to Mizzou for the variety of options.”
Foster pursued a degree in industrial engineering at Mizzou because he loved the idea of productivity. While most of his fellow graduates went into manufacturing, Foster began exploring other options, but the financial crisis in 2008 made it tough to find internships or jobs. He eventually found a summer internship at Idea Works, a software company in Columbia, and it was a life-changing experience, exposing Foster to a relaxed space, structure, and shorts-friendly dress code.
“It was so cool to me that six or seven people could be in a house together making software and that people thousands of miles away could buy it. I knew immediately I wanted that as a career,” says Foster.
While Foster really wanted to start his own company, he didn’t know if he had the skills at 24 years old to make it happen. However, it was his next job, at Veterans United Home Loans, that set his entrepreneurial journey in motion. There, he learned from the company’s owner, who Foster describes as, “one of the smartest marketing people I know,” and reconnected with co-worker Bryan Helmig. Helmig grew up in Linn, and he and Foster met through the jazz program at Mizzou before starting around the same time at Veterans United. They began freelancing together in their spare time and constantly pitching ideas back and forth.
The big idea eventually came: connect all the technology tools people use so regular people can do it with ease. Then the hard work of building the software prototype began. Foster and Helmig also brought in one more friend, Mike Knoop, to round out the team. The three worked their regular jobs during the day and then would stay up until 3 a.m. each night for six months working on their dream. The software they created worked great, but the team also knew they needed additional help to run a technology company.
“We thought this idea had potential and people could really benefit from it.”— Wade Foster
“We thought this idea had potential and people could really benefit from it. We’re good at building software, but there was lots we didn’t know about running a company,” says Foster.
So the team applied to work with the legendary Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator, which works intensively with startup companies to teach them about running a technology business. They also bring in founders of other technology companies, such as Instagram and Pinterest, to learn what worked well and what they would do differently.
In 2011, Zapier was founded with what was then a rare work model of no offices and 100% of staff working from home, including the owners. Today, Zapier has 350 staff working in 35 states and 27 different countries all serving one mission together. They’ve also been intentional about building a strong culture in the company, clearly outlining the values they live by as a team and how they connect with each other both professionally and personally.
“We use a team chat tool where we allow off-topic discussion channels, such as gardening, books, or parenthood, for people to informally connect since we don’t do that in hallways or over coffee. It builds space for informal relationship building,” says Foster.
Foster, who currently lives in California with his wife, Chelsea, and new baby, also continues to connect with his hometown since both his and Chelsea’s families still reside here. They try to eat at all their favorite spots when they come home, including Lutz’s Famous BBQ, Arris’ Pizza, and Madison’s Cafe. While it’s good to be home with family, Foster appreciates the big world out there with so much information available at our fingertips, thanks to technology.
“Wherever you are, the internet provides a chance to broaden your horizons beyond the classroom.”— Wade Foster
“For me, discovering the internet, where you can learn anything, broadened my perspective. It let my curiosity take over. I was capable of learning new things. Wherever you are, the internet provides a chance to broaden your horizons beyond the classroom,” says Foster.
Even far away from Jefferson City on the west coast, Foster still shares his love for this community and how it shaped the leader he is today.
“I do want to give a shout out to the community. It does such a good job of providing a great foundation,” says Foster. “A big part of that for me was through school, saxophone instruction, and First Baptist Church in Jefferson City. It opened doors and provided me a chance to learn. I’m grateful for that.”