I grew up just west of St. Louis, in Wildwood Missouri, a suburban area that suddenly drops off into midwest forest and hills.
I was never particulary outgoing as a kid (though I played plenty of sports). I preferred to spend my time after school exploring my family's computer.
My interest in web development started in middle school when I was trying to build my AOL Instant Messanger profile. What started out as plain HTML quickly expanded in scope. I added CSS for styles then some interactivity via PHP and a flat-file-database comment system.
Around the same time, I became interested in TI graphing calculators through school. Though web development was pretty high-level, I got a chance to dive deep learning to write Z80 assembly for the TI-83+ (mostly games and utilities).
I carried my interests into high school. I also began to explore and perform magic (the “illusions” kind) as a way to force myself to be more social. It was a clever hack that I still do – conciously pushing my social-comfort boundaries.
I always thought I wanted to be an architect because I liked designing things. But when I actually had to decide a major for college I wasn't so sure (my art skills were pretty weak). I took a pre-engineering course by chance my senior year of high school and really enjoyed it. It was a great mix between designing and building. It was so compelling that I decided to major in Mechanical Engineering.
For years, friends and family would ask why I didn't major in something IT- or Computer Science-related, given my predisposition to it. I was afraid I'd hate the rigor and structure of a formal degree program and that it would ruin the enjoyment I got from exploring tech so freely while growing up.
The Facebook platform launched my freshman year of college (2007). I remember getting pretty excited about it and building a few fun small utillity apps. Even though I never had a huge hit personally, I stayed active in the developer forums and community, snagged a forum moderator role from Facebook and also began writing for insidefacebook.com.
Towards the end of my junior year of college, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, with respect to my Mechanical Engineering undergraduate program. I loved the coursework but was struck with a familiar decision: “what's next?”
I lightly applied to a dozen mechanical engineering firms that summer. But instead of seriously pursuing it, I took on a few freelance web development gigs for the first time and loved it.
I never seriously considered having a 9-5 after college (except for the occasional thought that I'd hate it). During my senior year of college, I spent a decreasing amount of time tied to the idea of a Mechanical Engineering career. I focussed on my side projects and freelancing. I never had a “lightbulb” moment about starting a company. At some point it just became what I was going to do. I was going to do my own thing.
I was fortunate. I have an awesome support network of friends, colleagues, and especially my parents who were 100% behind me.
Tactically, I secured a fully-paid research position to get my Masters in Mechanical Engineering which would allow me to keep working on side projects for the next couple of years.
In October 2011, I attended a Startup Weekend with Wade Foster and Bryan Helmig, both whom I'd met while working part-time at Veterans United in college. Over 48 hours we built and pitched the first demo of what is now Zapier. You can read more about this part of my story here and here.
The three of us kept working on it and things were going really well. We had a few hundred paid beta customers and a product close to launch. By this point I had stopped going to my graduate classes and was full time into Zapier. We applied for the YC S12 batch and got in!
We moved out to the Bay Area mid-2012 to keep building and growing the company.
I could never had predicted where I would be today. While I wear a lot more hats these days, it's exciting that I still get to do what I love every day at Zapier: build new things.
I'd love to hear from you. Whether it's about products, startups, Zapier, or whatever, you can reach me at email@example.com.
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