Please welcome Emmanuel Straschnov, co-founder of Bubble, the easiest way to build software with no code.
Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on?
Emmanuel Straschnov: I’m originally from France, and I worked for a few years before getting into technology. I studied math in France before moving to China to work as a management consultant for a few years. I came to the US for business school and met Josh Haas through mutual friends. He had started a company a few months before (it wasn’t called Bubble at the time) and was looking for a co-founder. We actually decided to partner after our first coffee!
Bubble is a visual programming platform that lets users build web apps without typing any code, and then let’s them run their app on Bubble’s cloud platform without having to maintain servers, etc. It’s designed for startups and business owners mostly, as it helps them build their solutions (whether it’s customer facing or internal tools) for a fraction of the cost of traditional development, and gives them more control on their software.
We started building Bubble in 2012, and launched publicly in late 2015. We now have thousands of businesses that run on our platform, and have now more than 160,000 users.
What motivated you to get started with Bubble?
My co-founder Josh and I started building Bubble because:
1 — We want to empower everyone to create technology instead of just being a user. Most jobs and activities will require some programming in the future, but everyone can’t learn to code: it’s slow and tedious. There has to be a more efficient way to build things.
2 — Coding hasn’t really changed over the last 50 years. The languages have changed but the actual process has been the same since the beginning of the software industry. Creating software should be fun and visual. It’s similar to the jump that happened from MS-DOS to Windows. Before Windows, we had to type code to edit a text document. After Windows, we just double-click. Bubble does the same thing at the programming level.
After five years, I have to say that watching our users become makers themselves is one of the most rewarding things ever.
What worries you about the future of tech and how does tech help here?
I am worried that we, as a society, rely on engineers to build the tools that we use to live, work, communicate, etc. We’re turning these engineers into an elite class that run our world. If we keep doing this, major tech companies will control all aspects of our lives. Instead, we need everyone to have the power to create the tools that runs their lives. That’s what drives us at Bubble.
Another related issue is that some people are going to have a hard time converting to new technologies to find jobs. I’m not sure whether automation or AI will destroy jobs, but what is certain is that our brain’s ability to learn new technologies does not improve exponentially, unlike technological development. That’s a very dangerous trend. I’m not sure if universal income is the way to solve this, but we certainly need to think about the right solutions to this issue.
What went into building the initial product?
A lot of time, patience and talking to users. When you build something like Bubble, the interface is by definition quite complex, as you need to let people describe exactly what they want visually. You also need to build a ton of features as users will need their app to do a lot of things. And it’s easy to get the interface or the list of features wrong… That’s where talking to customers is super useful, I would even say critical. During the first year, I basically was spending 1 to 3 hours a day talking to users on Skype and screen sharing. This may sound too much, but I don’t think we would have been able to build Bubble till today had we not done this. Also, it’s a way to get a lot of love from users, which feels awesome and definitely helps with tough times!
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
Bubble’s business model is fairly traditional. It’s a SaaS (actually, it’s a PaaS — platform as a service) where we charge a monthly fee for some features and additionally provide the ability to add some capacity when a user’s app takes off. We also have a marketplace where users can build templates or plugins and get compensated for them. We had a few different models before the current one, but they weren’t as clear to our users. We started charging by user visits and then by workflow runs, but we’ve learned from users that server capacity is the best resource to sell.
Revenue growth has been quiet for the first 3 years as we were mostly building the product, and since then it’s growing quite nicely, on average 15% per month since our public launch on Product Hunt.
How did you get your first 10 users?
We recruited them offline, at meetups or on campuses. At first, something like Bubble seems too good to be true, especially as many before made that promise and failed to deliver. On the other hand, our users are betting their businesses on us, so it requires an extremely high level of trust. And this works best by in-person interaction when you’re still early stage. So we went to tech cofounders meetups in New York, and a lot of people were looking for tech talent to join them, and we would go to them and tell them what we were doing and how it could help them. The fact that they saw us in-person was I think important for them to know that while it seemed too good to be true, they would have a personal connection with the founders.
The second place where we found quite a few users was at Harvard Business School. I just graduated from there and HBS is a place full of driven people that want to start companies with tech resources. It’s a good place to find users. And here as well, we did thing offline.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome?
Managing the struggle between user experience, easiness of use and power is a daily struggle. Every day, we have users asking for more features, while having new users that need to learn the tool, and for whom too many features can be scary. The way we overcome this is by being smart with our UX, and hide the features that aren’t necessary at first, and show them to experience users instead. This took us a lot of work on the user experience research side, and that one of our strong assets.
If you weren’t building Bubble, what would you be doing?
I’m actually very happy with what I’m doing now! But I guess if I were doing something else, I would be teaching somewhere, either in a university or in a high school (I actually did this full-time for about a year in my early 20s). In many ways though, Bubble encompasses teaching as we’re explaining users how to program, though the medium is different!