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Why automation is a ‘critical tool’ for small businesses’ ability to compete: Zapier CEO

Wade Foster, Zapier CEO, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the state of business automation.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Workers have long feared automation would take their jobs, and COVID-19 has only intensified those worries. But despite that common belief, our next guest says automation is really not stealing human jobs. Here to talk about it is Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier, which is out with its report on the state of business automation. So Wade, good to see you here. I guess talk of a robot revolution has been greatly exaggerated?

WADE FOSTER: Certainly for small businesses, automation is a critical tool for them to be able to compete. When bigger companies like Amazon have all these resources, they need a mechanism that allows them to be successful. And for a lot of them, they face immense challenges over the pandemic to stay relevant, to run properly and efficiently. We had a customer who, overnight, almost lost $3 million in revenue because they ran a museum tour business. But through automation, they were able to pivot their business and now are employing over 100 people focused on online team-building. And that was through the power of automation and software that they were able to build quickly.

KRISTIN MYERS: But Wade, I still want to ask you about this concern that so many folks have, which is that automation, frankly, is going to go out and replace their jobs. I hear what you're saying, that it helps these companies innovate, it helps a lot of these companies stay afloat. But is automation going to take the place of a lot of workers?

WADE FOSTER: That's not what we tend to see. Most-- typically what happens is automation augments jobs already. Knowledge workers report-- 94% of knowledge workers have manual, tedious work that prevents them from focusing on tasks that really matter to them. So through automation, they're able to spend time on higher-value tasks and focus on doing work that means more to the business. And so yes, it changes the color of the job, but it tends to make it more impactful. And through that, more jobs are created, often.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And what are you seeing in terms of industries? Where is automation sort of prevalent right now, and were there any surprises for you in terms of which companies are using this automation and in what way?

WADE FOSTER: Automation is being picked up in a lot of places right now. Marketing is very prevalent in any job function across any industry. Real estate agents are adopting automation more than we thought prior. Obviously, technology is a place where automation is used a lot. We're starting to see it across a wide swath of industries.

KRISTIN MYERS: And I'm curious to know, Wade, just where is it creating some of the biggest opportunities, since this is such a huge opportunity-creator going forward?

WADE FOSTER: Yeah, I think a lot of it is around moving commerce to the internet. You know, one of the things we saw with the pandemic is that we can't shop retail, we can't go into restaurants. And so a lot of our customers took businesses that-- you know, restaurant businesses that were doing curbside pickup now. Those were powered through online tools that allowed folks to order online, pick up-- and then come pick those things up. And so being able to do those-- build those types of experiences, particularly if you're a small business that doesn't have access to technology, becomes really, really critical for them to be able to be agile and adjust their business to a constantly changing environment.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier, thanks so much for being with us and sharing the results of that survey with us. Thank you.