How does the spread of Nocode impact traditional product development practices
Nate, born and raised in Savannah, GA, moved to Atlanta in 2009 to attend Georgia State University. His family was not wealthy, and Nate had to work hard to pay for tuition. But no matter how hard he tried, his efforts were not enough. His student debt grew fast. In 2014 things got really tough — Nate was out of college and lost his bed on campus. One night, tossing and turning on the backseat of his car, and browsing the internet, Nate stumbled upon Bubble — a no-code builder that helps non-techies create professional apps.
The tech fascinated Nate — he decided to try his luck and launch a startup, right there, from the back seat of his car. Bubble doesn't suggest a very steep learning curve, so in a couple of weeks the first app — a car-sharing service for long distance rides. It failed, Then was the second one — a dating app. Finally, Nate started coaching on no-code and joined the local startup community. That’s where he met his co-founder – Christian Zimmerman. Christian was great with finance but knew nothing about coding. But so did Nate. One day they had a friendly chat, and Chris described his idea — to build an app that would round up purchases and send some small amounts on the user’s credit account. Eventually it would help to close debts faster. Nate thought it was an awesome idea, because he still had his giant student debt to cover. He came back home and started building the app in Bubble, not even sure it was technically possible. In a week, a fully functional prototype was ready. Christian was so stunned that he immediately offered Nate to be his "tech co-founder" . They launched Qoins in 2016. And got their first customers from students they knew. A year and a half later they raised their first round $750K.
Qoins is still around and though they have a bigger technical team, the company grew using only the no-code platform Bubble up to the point when they started serving 5K users.
The spread of no-code tools
Now is probably the best time to build a startup even if you have no idea how to code. Most, if not all workflows your web-based startup might want to use can be covered with no-code tools.
What is No-Code? It’s more than tech, it’s a movement. It’s all web-based tools that allow non-technical users to build applications using visual blocks rather than code lines. Everything that you can drag-and-drop to create something on the web page would be a no-code tool. Most of them obviously deal with website building because this is the widest market and can potentially be used by billions. Therefore, the no-code products that can be classified as website builders, are the most numerous.
If you google it up you’ll find numerous services but these are the ones I personally used and can highly recommend.
Carrd – you can build a landing page or a personal blog in 5 minutes. Offers templates and free tiers
Webflow — a sophisticated tool for advanced users. I recommend using it only if you’re good with UI design and can put together a website design very fast. Or on the following stages of your startup founder when you already have a PMF. Webflow allows more flexibility, you can add animations, custom CSS, code embeds etc.
Wix — a very easy to use website builder (this website is built on Wix, by the way) that offers numerous templates and drag-and-drop UI elements. You can also add code embeds (for example, for GA and HotJar), input forms, etc.
Different services that are liked by those who are used to WordPress like Elementor and Divi Themes. Allows flexibility, customized CSS editing and many other useful options.
Another set of no-code tools that shows growing popularity — services that provide Notion-to-web integration. Notion was initially a productivity tool used by the US startups to track production, create lists, and add databases. Eventually it has become one of the most widely used (in the tech world) service to store any content. I use it to store my ideas and articles. I create projects for my customers in Notion. Basically, Notion can become a great backend if you don’t need complex operations with your data (Notion supports some basic math). If you have mostly text, audio, video or visual content, a limited number of inputs and a limited number of user interaction with it, Notion can become a perfect choice. It’s free and the learning curve is very short. You can use services like Feather.so or Potion.so that would turn your Notion-based pages into a fully functional website with SEO, custom domain and even a paywall.
Glide and Softr are less advanced than Bubble but they allow you to build apps on top of tables like Excel, Google Sheets and Airtable in a couple of hours. A table would be your backend. For example, you want to make an app that will show all local restaurants and allow users to review them. Restaurants and their parameters (picture, location, description, dishes) would be stored in one data set in Google Sheets. While reviews will be stored in another data set. Glide and Softs allows you to connect both data sets through tagging and display them on a web page.
Adalo does the same as Bubble which is perfect for web applications but for mobile apps.
Also I’m naming several options that are popular as backend. Google Sheets and Excel are great if you need some complicated math to be done on your data sets (for example, to calculate risk factors when purchasing an asset, or what would be the final price of a property if a user invests in it on a particular stage, or for loan calculation). Notion is great when you have lots of content but it’s kind of static. Trello is perfect for project-related apps. Xano is advanced and allows connecting ML or AI services to Bubble or Adalo.
There are numerous marketing, analytics and payment tools. One set of them allows you to create marketing automations (for example, send out transactional emails when you ship a new feature). Another one helps with collecting relevant data (what users are doing on your webpage, where do they come from, what page they bounce from). Probably the most important are payment tools like PayPal and Stripe that allow founders to receive payments from their web pages. Unfortunately, not all of them are global. Stripe doesn't work in many countries, PayPal has limitations. There are some local systems (for example, in China founders can get paid via messengers like WeChat). Check out the options that you have in your area.
When does it make sense to use NoCode?
Well-well, this all sounds fantastic. But what if you’re a tech founder? You’re proficient in JS, React, Python… you pick it. Does all these NoCode mumbo-jumbo threaten you? Or does it represent a great opportunity instead? Let me give you some examples of how nocode tools were used by the tech founders who know their drill better than anyone, and still they chose to go with NoCode. Here’s why and what it resulted into.
Case 1: TweetHunter
TweetHunter.io — used nocode tools on the idea validation stage. Both TweetHunter founders Tom Jacquesso and Thibault Louis-Lucas are talented engineers who also hold a degree in business (maybe that’s why they went with an economically feasible solution instead of jumping into building something straight away). What did they do? In March 2021 they used a landing page built on Webflow to announce the upcoming launch of their product. They used Twitter as the main acquisition channel. They started building something only after they achieved 100 pre-sales. Today TweetHunter has reached over $1M in annual recurring revenue.
Case 2: SwagUp
SwagUp though it is already an established business with over $20K MRR still uses nocode tools to simplify its operations and save on development expenses. Landing page is built on Wix, customers requests are captured via Typeform, order management automation is done through Zapier. There are some additional features that have been developed recently using JS but the founder’s approach is solid: don’t fix what works.
Case 3: FYPM
FYPM — a resource that helps influencers to get better understanding what brands pay to their colleagues and keep market rates competitive — has emerged from a simple AirTable database. The founder at first just sold access to the database as a one-time purchase. But later she realised that it can be turned into a recurring revenue stream and added customized interactive front-end using JS. The backend though remains the same. It did not prevent the founder from getting 5K paying users. f anything else, it saved her time she could invest in marketing efforts to find more customers for her business.
Case 4: Prelo
Based on several customer interviews run when the product was already functioning, the founder of Prelo decided to add sales email templates customers could choose from. The team of developers were still very busy debugging the core product and it did not make sense to distract them with a new task. Instead, the founder engaged the marketing team and copywriters to work on the templates to improve the quality of the content. Tech solution was chosen to be the simplest one possible — AirTable. The result? Customer satisfaction from the core product increased considerably while developers did not spent a single extra minute on adding new features.
Case 5: KatLinks
4 month after the official launch — and Roberto Robles, a founder of KatLinks, realised that customer acquisition was not his major headache. The churn, however, was. It’s actually quite natural for SEO-related tools to have a high churn as they are in general very tough for customer activation, and the time-to-value is very long (at least 3 months). That’s when Roberto started thinking about better onboarding. Again, he chose to spend more time on analytics and outbound marketing than on building new features for onboarding. Instead, he used a no-code service Driftly that allows to create onboarding tutorials and in-app guides for customers who just signed up. The result? Churn decreased, and with Roberto spending more time on customer acquisition — so did the recurring revenue.
Case 6: ITSMI
Let’s be honest — it’s always easier to launch a service that has already been tested on other markets. It’s easier to explain the idea to investors. But you also don’t have to educate customers. Just say “It’s like Uber but for NorthKorea” haha, and everyone would probably know what you mean. I will call this process “localisation” because in theory it should include not only blind copying of the workflows and the UI but also some integration with local practices and customer expectations.
Can you use nocode tools for this purposes? Absolutely! Why?
You’ll be able to ship the product faster and start getting customers before anyone else get the same brilliant idea
You will be able to make mistakes and find the best solutions in terms of features and workflows that are valued by the local customers the most much faster
You will be able to replicate the app using coding anytime
The example I want to refer — ITSMI.uk — a service that allows customers get a virtual business card. It replicates the experience of more popular global products like LinkTree and BioLink but on a local UK market. Using Bubble.io as a building platform instead of traditional coding ,the founder managed to reduce time-to-market almost 5 times!
What does the spread of NoCode means for traditional product development cycle?
Fine, I have not convinced you that NoCode is useful and you can leverage it in your product building practices? How about you just ignore it completely then? The problem is that you can’t. The sheer fact that NoCode exists impacts the way traditional tech products are being developed as well.
In what way?
NoCode shifts the focus from tech to execution. It’s been known for years that ideas come a dozen a dime. But for years the excellence in tech could guarantee a startup’s success. Founders who came up with better technology used to be in a better position. Not anymore. Because now a founder can take a product that has traction and localise it, using no code — and potentially grow it even bigger than the initial product.
NoCode makes the idea of “lean startup” a normal practice. Every new feature, every pivot, every new customer segment can and should no be tested using less expensive development practices. In other words, everything should be prototyped in no-code now.
NoCode shifts the focus from development to customer development. Founders get more time to engage with customers. As a result, the quality of consumer insights and the perceived quality of the product increases considerably.
The bad news is that with the spread of NoCode movement, the cost of customer acquisition also goes up. The entrance barriers get lower, more and more players enter the market, competition increases — voila, you have to pay more to get noticed in this army of copycats and products that solve all the same problems for the same customer segment.
All in all, ignoring nocode is not an option. The only reasonable way to deal with it is to adopt it and leverage to possibilities it is capable to offer.