“What I Wish I’d Known Earlier” Engineering Leadership Lessons with Zapier’s Co-Founder & CTO

6 min readSep 28, 2021


Bryan Helmig is the Co-Founder and CTO of Zapier, the no-code breakout company that provides “easy automation for busy people.” Zapier is reported to have eclipsed $140M+ ARR in 2021 and is valued at over $5B.

The fundamental idea for Zapier was born out of a two-day project at a startup weekend in Missouri and ever since the company has been famously efficient in its path to scale. Today, Zapier is a thriving unicorn with 3M+ users and is widely seen as the most pioneering company in the white-hot category of “no-code”.

Yet the journey has not always been a linear one for Bryan, Zapier’s CTO. As a first-time founder, Bryan had to learn multiple critical lessons about what it takes to build the product, team, and culture.

Recently, Bryan sat down with the FirstMark CTO Guild, a private community for engineering leadership from breakout technology businesses, to share his three most important lessons he learned along the way.

Lesson #1: Hire Your Executive Tier Earlier

One of the most common anti-patterns for fast-growing startups is to learn (the hard way) that you have waited too long to build your executive tier.

Bryan believes one of the biggest mistakes he made as a leader was to wait too long to hire an executive team. Zapier didn’t begin building its executive team in earnest until they had reached ~150 employees. In hindsight, he recommends starting this process when you hit the ~50 employee mark.

There are multiple compelling reasons to build an executive tier early. At a foundational level, leaders need sufficient time to get fully ramped, which is a process that requires time in the seat. They need to understand the company’s vision, product, and existing team — all while embodying the company culture, building out their own team, addressing any cross-executive misalignment in terms of leadership vision or strategy, and implementing the systems and processes their organization needs.

While there are a number of important consequences of waiting too long to build an executive tier, there are two that Bryan notes can be particularly tough to correct for…