Makerpad’s acquisition, an well-known infamous success story in the indie hacker world, started with a tweet.
Ben Tossell, who founded the no-code learning community in 2019, tweeted about the tools his members were using to create no-code projects. Airtable and Zapier were at the top of the list, which inspired another user to tweet: “one of them should buy Makerpad asap.”
Wade Foster, Zapier’s co-founder and CEO, heeded the call almost immediately. He emailed Tossell a link to the tweet and wrote, “Did you see this? He’s not wrong. Let’s have a chat,” Tossell recalled in an interview with Indie Hackers.
Six months later, in March 2021, Zapier acquired Makerpad for an undisclosed amount.
Makerpad had more than 10,000 members and was making about $400,000 in annual recurring revenue pre-acquisition, Tossell told They Got Acquired. The startup raised $350,000 from angels and the Calm Company Fund, where Tossell was employed before going all-in on Makerpad.
Although he wasn’t looking for a buyer, Tossell recognized the value in the opportunity. “It allowed us to do bigger things without keeping tabs on whether we were going to survive the next month,” he said.
Makerpad’s community is made up of people eager to build no-code projects and businesses, which makes it fertile ground for Zapier to find new customers. “Zapier is the glue binding no-code tools together,” Tossell tweeted after the acquisition announcement. “Makerpad is the education and learning community that brings people together.”
Makerpad’s journey to a successful acquisition
Makerpad is not Tossell’s first venture. In fact, it’s an offshoot of a company Tossell founded and folded in 2018.
In that screencast business, newCo, he recorded himself building apps using no-code tools. Unfortunately, he explained in a Medium post, he tried to do too much at once, which meant his focus was spread too thin. As a result, the company’s growth stalled, and Tossell decided to close the business in its first year even though it was making $6,000 in monthly recurring revenue.
Tossell took the lessons from newCo and applied them to Makerpad, which he built with a specific focus on education, offering no-code tutorials and resources to his customers. Within months, Makerpad had made over $100,000 in revenue.
But even though the company was thriving, Tossell knew he was going to need help to turn it into “what it could be,” he said in an interview with Indie Hackers.
“I don’t want to necessarily go and ask for VC money, pretend I’m trying to build a billion-dollar company and that I’m the person to do that,” he explained in the same interview. “What I need is a long-term partner that’s going to help guide me through some of these steps and let me screw up a couple of times, and guide us through the good stuff too.”
When Zapier’s CEO reached out to him about a potential acquisition, Tossell listened, but he was methodical in his approach.
“Is Zapier the right home for us? What can we do with them? What do they want us for? What do we want to go to them for?” Tossell asked himself when Foster came to him with a deal, he recalled in an interview with Creator Lab. “All of those things actually take a big part of what is worth it for you to be acquired by a company,” he added.
In Tossell’s mind, alignment in mission and vision plays a crucial role in an exit. “If @zapier didn’t share the same vision as Makerpad and we had to sacrifice our operating principles to join, I wouldn’t have made the deal,” he tweeted.
Luckily, Tossell and Foster share the same vision for the future of the no-code movement. Tossell was also lucky that one of his best friends is an M&A advisor who was able to walk him through the process, he told Indie Hackers.
His biggest lesson was the importance of keeping communication lines open, particularly when lawyers are involved. “Lawyers are thinking of what happens in the worst-case scenario in this deal,” he said on the Indie Hackers podcast. “Wade and I having conversations really helped […] we’re the ones still really excited and we’ve got to work together after this. So as long as you stay on that level, keep reminding [yourself], ‘this is just lawyers talking to lawyers.’ [You] don’t need to worry about it so much.”
Tossell has continued to lead Makerpad, which operates as a separate entity from Zapier. This is Zapier’s first acquisition.