An Interview With Joey Blanco and David Quintanilla From Zapier

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Zapier is an online automation platform that lets anyone automate their workflows by connecting the apps they already use on a daily basis. The best part? You don’t need to be an expert in coding language to do it. 

We chatted with Joey Blanco and David Quintanilla to learn more about Zapier University, the company’s popular training resource for both newbies and experienced users.

In this interview, you’ll get under-the-hood knowledge on creating courses. Plus, Joey and David offer inspiration and tips for those looking to start their own academy or university.

Kick back and get comfy, because there are a lot of gems in this one you won’t want to miss!

Hi David and Joey! Thank you so much for talking about Zapier with us today. So tell us about Zapier and what was the reason behind creating the university? 


Yeah, I can give you an overview of Zapier. We are the only no-code automation solution that makes it easy to create and automate your workflows. We’ve got access to over 4,000 different apps that you can move data across. So that’s kind of the TLDR of what Zapier is and who we are. 

With Zapier University, I think it all kind of comes down to supporting your customer. My career started in customer support where you’re talking one-on-one with people, you’re understanding how individual users are using a product. So you get to see that perspective of where they might run into trouble with the product, and where it’s not as intuitive as it might be for you, the person on the other side. So I kind of carried that mentality over as I moved into marketing teams and into content, and I got really focused on the customer.

We tested out some tutorial videos a couple of years ago. These tutorial videos were really straightforward, just how to connect one app to another app, but they were incredibly successful. And it showed us that there was a real hunger for a type of education where we’re showing people how to use the product and dive into it. 

That fed into the creation of our video team, and at the time that we were hiring for David’s role, we had a retreat in January of 2020, and there was a thought experiment posed to the marketing team that really stuck with me. It was “How do you market Zapier to someone who doesn’t know what automation is? What if automation is completely foreign to them?” 

And so that launched Zapier University course 101; this understanding of let’s start at that baseline. Let’s build a foundation of what automation is. Here’s how you see it in your everyday life, and then let’s apply it to your work. Let’s apply it to tasks that you do every single day. We saw that our customers wanted to learn more. They wanted to use the product more and we wanted to help them get there.

Very cool. And David, do you have anything to add? 


Yeah, so when I came on to help out the team, Joey had already started with a lot of the tutorials. The first thing I did was dig into the data and I saw that the engagement on some of the videos was huge. We’re seeing people completing entire videos that are sometimes 10 or 12 minutes long. And so we started talking to more customers and we realized there really is a lot more that we can do. 

We started with the basics, and then eventually we started expanding and really thinking about what are some of the other ways that we know Zapier can provide the most value? When someone has this aha moment when they’re using Zapier, like, what is that from? Is it because they’re saving time? Is it because they learn a new skill set, or is it because they can focus on something else? So we started from there and just started developing content.

Nice. Joey, I will start with you first. What does your role entail on a day-to-day basis? 


I’m a senior content creator here at Zapier, specifically in video. But day-to-day, I’m doing a lot of project management, and it’s honestly all dependent on the project. We work with pretty much every single team at Zapier, almost like a production studio. So if our product team is launching a new feature, maybe we’ve got a little video that’s going to go out with the email that announces it. Maybe learning and development wants to create a new education course, which is what helped launch Zapier University 101. 

Every single day is a little bit different.

That keeps it exciting – never a time to be bored. And David, what about you? 


Yeah, so right now we are really focused on trying to build and grow the team out. We’re hiring a new employee, and we’re also in the process of thinking about how our videos can have the biggest impact. 

So we’re trying to figure out how to take all these new assets and create something amazing. For me, I’ve been focused a lot on advertising. I’m working with agencies and freelancers and vendors to provide feedback, make sure they’re on track. So a little bit of what Joey mentioned as well, project managing a lot of these bigger initiatives.

And at the same time, starting to think about what happens each quarter. We’re always planning for the next quarter. What else can we focus on? When we look into the success of different videos, we’re always thinking about what we can learn from them. 

Never a dull moment! You have so much inspiration from your own team, which helps to never run out of ideas. 

So tell me about the people who take your courses.


When we had initially worked on creating 101 and 102, we tried to figure out what other places the content sort of fit, so we didn’t just want to create 30 videos and just have that be the end of it. Joey did an amazing job of talking to everybody across the organization to see what the appetite was for the content, not just for the education team, but also for the email marketing team, advertising, and product teams. A lot of those videos are repurposed everywhere.

It might be a five minute video, but we actually cut that into three. One was for an email, one is actually on the site, and one comes up as like a celebration when someone completes something. 

On YouTube, when we have our videos there, we’re seeing a lot of people engaging with our content. So we really wanted to leave it as open as possible to make sure that we’re reaching anyone who’s interested in it. Whether you are brand new in the automation space or you’re someone who is already very familiar and you want to learn new ways to expand your ability to automate your process.

Like maximum mileage, using a five-minute video in a ton of different ways makes it really valuable. 

And Joey, do you have anything to add?


I can just kinda piggyback off of that a little bit and say the aim when we were building these was very much “Let’s make this super accessible, but then let’s also not alienate someone who’s been using Zapier already.” So we wanted the audience to be as broad as possible without being too elementary for those folks who are already familiar, and without being too complicated for those who aren’t. 

It was a lot of fun crafting that and walking that line. Part of the appeal of these videos and the style that we went with was being able to repurpose and use some of the animations as gifts in onboarding emails. Not just using the videos, but using animation assets like that, where we can spruce something up a little bit, give it a little bit of a pop.

What do you hope people learn from your videos? For instance, after completing Zapier 101. 


When we set out to make this, we really wanted people to understand the power of Zapier. Automation can be kind of scary and a little intimidating. 

So we want folks to come away from that with an understanding that it might sound complicated, but actually it’s just connecting a couple of things together and then all of a sudden, you’ve just taken an hour out of your week because Zapier’s working for you. So we wanted folks to see Zapier as kind of like a skill that you can learn as opposed to just a tool.

And David, do you have anything to add? 


Yeah, I came from an ed-tech background, so when we were putting 102 together I was thinking a lot about how we could get people some quick wins so they could feel like they’ve been able to gain something. 

We have a lot of tools that we built and if people use these, they don’t even realize that they’re sort of just scratching the surface with how they can use Zapier. And so our goal was really encouraging them to create more Zapps. So I was thinking about how can you go from using it in one way for your job and now kind of expanding it, like maybe sharing it with your team or figuring out ways to improve your overall process. 

What’s next for Zapier University? 


That’s a great question. As Joey mentioned, we’ve spent the better part of the last two years building out a lot of the educational content that we found was super helpful. So next for us is really thinking about how we can focus more on creating specific roles. 

There’s so many different ways you can use Zapier. So we’re trying to build profiles around like, what if you were a marketer? We’ve been throwing around some ideas on how we could create a comprehensive Zapier course specifically for marketing professionals. 

So if you’re in marketing, here are all the things you might be using, all the tools you might be using in Zapier. At the end of it, someone that works in marketing is now able to automate their process and work a lot faster.  

For us that’s really exciting, because there’s so much opportunity. You can almost imagine working with all these different marketers and trying to figure out what problems they’re trying to solve and how Zapier can help them get there. So overall I think there’s a lot of exciting upcoming stuff with education. Our team is happy to jump in and help drive some of these projects.

Joey, do you have anything to add? 


Just a big plus one to everything David said, honestly. I look at the heavy hitters in user education, like HubSpot, and I would love to get after that similar format of, “Here’s a course that you can take as a marketer from the ground up,” someone who’s working at a mom and pop or someone who’s working at a 500 person company. Because marketing for those two people is going to be dramatically different. So how do you kind of tackle that, there’s so much for us to play with.

Do you have any recommendations for people who are taking Zapier 101 for the first time? 


Go slow, take your time working through it. We wanted to keep each video on the shorter side so that if you need to revisit it, you can, and it’s not going to eat up your entire day. So don’t be worried about needing to revisit a video once or twice. If you have to just go through it again, we have help docs that are linked out from these videos, so you can check that out too.

David, what about you? 


I would say find the things that are interesting to you. We didn’t make the course necessarily to be taken linearly. You can kind of jump in where you need to. 

And coming from that ed-tech background, a lot of people don’t necessarily watch a full course all the way through. They sort of hop around to the things that are important to them. So first try to think about what it is that you’re currently working on, and really think about what is your specific use case.

And we definitely have educational content that’ll help you figure it out. We’ve tried to leave the beginning very broad. For instance are you using spreadsheets? Are you moving a lot of information from one app to the other? Are you trying to automate a whole process? 

And so I think go into it knowing a little bit about what your current role is, right? Really understand what it is that you’re trying to accomplish and then come in and see where you find the most value. We wanted to make it like you choose your own adventure type of deal. We do see some people going through the whole thing line by line, but at the same time we see people hopping around. So I’d say pick what’s interesting to you and sort of go from there. 

How can people enroll? 


Right now, you can go directly to our YouTube channel. On there you can check out the lectures and go through them automatically. 

Or when you sign up as a new user for Zapier, you’ll get sort of flagged to check out some of these lessons and get led to some of these pages that have everything there. 

So you don’t need an account, you can just log on and start watching. It’s a pretty seamless process.


Correct. We didn’t want to make people sign up for anything on YouTube. I think that’s a good place for people to start. 

I’m sure this next question will be helpful for people who are looking to build their own course. So, like we just talked about, you don’t need an account to sign up for the courses, you can just start watching the videos. How did you determine this layout?


We didn’t want there to be any real barriers to entry, especially for the first course when it’s just thinking about automation for the first time. We just wanted people to understand the basic concepts of what it is. 

We also planned for these to be part of an email campaign. So we thought about the easiest way an email can help with onboarding. Similar to the way we have block content, we have a lot of content there. Where it’s like, you can just come on and start learning. 

We wanted to be thought leaders in the space and keep pushing the automation. We didn’t want to say Zapier is the only way to automate something, but just that Zapier is doing a really great job of making this happen. And so we wanted to bring that to everyone’s attention.

Joey, do you have anything to add?


I can only add my perspective, which is if I’m a user of a product and I’m trying to learn something, and I find that, “Oh, wait, you need to sign up for this.” That is an automatic turnoff for me. I’m going to probably click away because that just irks me, especially if it seems like it’s something that’s a bit simpler like our 101 course. 

So we wanted to make sure that it was reaching as many people as possible and removing as many hurdles as we possibly could. Because if automation is a skill that anyone can learn and utilize, then we don’t want to block that off to just the folks who are using Zapier. 

The idea is if automation is permeating the workforce, we’re gonna get a pretty great share of those people because our product is fantastic. We’ve got the most apps that you can connect with. And we’ve got a really passionate team behind the blog, behind the product, and behind these videos. So let’s give them all the access they need.

What sort of organization do you think would have the most success in presenting their courses the same way that Zapier does?


I think any company that’s talking to users, which I think everyone should be. It’s about hearing where there’s a pain point, right? There’s a good opportunity to sort of think of it holistically. 

I don’t think you need to necessarily create an all-out course, but how we started was with tutorials. Start with something simple. Figure out if there’s an appetite and make sure you have good goals in mind around what you’re trying to accomplish. Is it getting the most views? Is it getting a hundred thousand people to watch it, or is it getting ten people to watch the entire thing and starting to build your audience that way? 

So I would challenge anyone or any company that is thinking about creating educational content for their users to really think about how to keep it simple in the beginning. You can start with a simple tutorial, like, what is your product? Are people watching it? And like we mentioned, this is a good opportunity for you to create content that can be repurposed across your full marketing funnel. 

So the same way we’ve been doing it. Those videos, we squeeze the most out of them. Even though you might have a lot of investment up front, you’re always thinking about how you can use that content more. 

So I’d recommend thinking about where are some places that you can give your users a quick win, and start there. If you have the bandwidth or the ability to build a bigger course, I think it’s always super useful to think of ways you can get your user from this stage to the next level.


I would say if you’re a SaaS company, you should probably be thinking about some form of user education. Not everything is super intuitive. So if your product is a tool, you should probably be considering how you can make sure that folks are using it in a way that gives them the most value.

How do you decide what topics to cover in your courses? 


This comes down to my favorite part about working at Zapier: the collaboration. I get to work with literally every team. We have a working group specifically around user education where a bunch of us from all these different teams can put our heads together. 

So there’s representatives in there from product, from support, from premier support, from user research and learning and development. Every team is in there because everybody at Zapier cares about making sure our customers know how to use this product. 

So I get to work with them and pull data to see, okay, these help articles are the ones that are viewed the most. Oh, someone’s getting stuck on our code step. Well, let’s think about putting something in there to help them. So I get to chat with support to pull those numbers, to see what topics show up the most. 

And the same thing with user research, where people are getting stuck, is there a specific step in building or creating a Zap where we see folks drop off, and if there is, let’s address it in a video, let’s walk people through that. So I get my information from everyone else. 

Thankfully, I work with some immensely intelligent and empathetic people who have all of this information about what our customers need to know. And I get to just kind of piggyback off of all that work and craft a course around it.

David, do you have anything to add? 


Yeah, I would say kind of like what Joey mentioned. We had like, you know, a hundred things that people wanted us to cover. And then it was like, okay, what makes sense for this course? And we started to think about a course outline and how each section would work. 

We didn’t want to overproduce this thing, but we really thought about making sure we’re recapping things. We had a running Google doc of all the topics and then sort of started crafting them. There were things that we unfortunately weren’t able to include, because we didn’t want a course that’s just leading people in all types of directions. 

We wanted something that can get someone to the end step. So we gathered a lot of information and then made sure that we outlined it to create a great course. And then moved forward with actual production.

How long does it take from ideation to launch when creating a course? What does that timeline look like? 


So that question is a little hard to answer. I do love it though, but it’s only hard to answer because we are often working on several different projects all at once. So we’re not necessarily able to dedicate a full 40 hour work week to developing any one project at any one time. 

But I can give you kind of the general overview of course 102. I believe the initial ideation started in mid-February and that was literally, you know, the first conversations with folks, like what could a next course look like? 

And I believe we published it in mid-May, so maybe about three to four months. David, I know you’ve got the percentages in mind of how long we should spend in pre-production versus production and in post, but it’s majority pre-production just making sure that the material is as correct as it can be before filming.

Filming itself doesn’t take that long. You can crank out videos in a day or two, assuming you are good at lighting, which I’m not. So it always takes me a bit longer, but recording is the easiest part. 

It’s making sure the content is wonderful, that takes the most amount of time. And that’s the sort of thing, for someone new to this, make sure that the content you’re covering is accurate, concise, and that it’s easy to understand. 

You don’t want to use jargon or insider terms that your company might use, because does someone outside of your product understand that? So making sure you’re breaking it down using language that everyday people can comprehend is really important. 

David, what are those percentages? 


Any type of video, especially educational content, 70% of your time should be spent in pre-production. Always. Because it takes a lot of time, right? You need to write the scripts, you need to practice the scripts. So the reason why I say it’s so important to focus all your attention on pre-production is because it just makes everything so much easier and cheaper in the long run.

So if you plan it all out, you spend 70% in pre-production and 10% in the actual filming. And then, you know, editing is the next 20%.

We wanted to create a course that wasn’t just a talking head because that would’ve been pretty easy. We wanted to show people, how do you visually represent automation? And so it took a long time. We worked with our designers, we worked with an animator, and we were trying to figure out how to make it more interesting and compelling. We spent a lot of time in pre-production going through storyboards, really trying to create all these assets. 

We do table reads, which I think is the most important part of pre-production by far. I recommended it to everybody. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s just reading out loud on a Zoom call with someone else and the other person’s just underlining and highlighting things and making notes, because we write very differently than we speak. 

This is a good way to sort of trim down your script, remove all the things that aren’t really necessary. Like Joey mentioned, it’s about making it easy for people to understand – no jargon, just straight to the point.

What do you think has been Zapier University’s key to success?


I think for myself and as Joey mentioned, I think about how I consume content. And a lot of times, you know, there’s some people who I’m willing to watch a 15 minute video for like one snippet of knowledge, but it’s because they already have a big following or they’re funny or whatever. 

But if you’re just looking to learn how to do something, you just wanna get right to it. And everyone appreciates the YouTube video that they’ve seen where they’re like, “Oh, wow, that was actually super easy and I learned it right away.” They didn’t try to sell me anything. They didn’t try to get me to sign up. So I think our success stemmed from that. 

We’re looking at ourselves as the consumers of this product. I think especially with education videos, you’re competing for people’s attention. So you’re competing with them clicking onto Netflix, or looking at their phone. So make it quick, right? Make it snappy. 

We see how popular some of the reels and Instagram stories are, so there’s a place for that. And I think education can really benefit a lot from thinking about it that way; quick wins straight to the point. I think that’s what led to us feeling really confident and good about the content we’re creating, and knowing that people are consuming a lot of it. So that’s a big win for us.


To go in a little bit of a different direction than David, I think it’s the fact that the material we’re covering comes directly from our users by way of user research, by way of support, by way of seeing what tutorials people watch the most on YouTube, what videos get a lot of views, which articles get a lot of looks. So we’re going to our audience and looking at their behaviors and understanding what information they’re looking for.

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