Levon Terteryan

@levon377

How We Bootstrapped Our No-Code Web Development Startup to a Team of 20 in 2 Years

TL;DR

This article is about how we bootstrapped Zeroqode in an absolutely new niche of No-Code web development. Using DIYs, wide community support, super efficient and affordable marketing we built our development shop from 3 people into a company of 20. The article tells how we are running 2 parallel brands of No-Code Services and No-Code Products. How we became global leaders in the no-code web development niche in less than 2 years, and what we learned along the way.

Background

From the age of 21 until 32 I was running multiple businesses, most of which were offline. At 32, I decided to take one year off, which in fact stretched over a few years. During this time I spent most of my energy on self growth and oriental practices, after which I decided it was time for me to do something real again :) .

In 2015, I had an idea for a niche social network but went on building what seemed to me a simpler product — a meditation app. I’ve spent about $50K building it with very little payback (read more about this here). Because of this bad experience, I never wanted to hire developers again in order to implement a startup idea.

How the Idea was Born

One day, I received a newsletter from Product Hunt which featured Bubble — an easy to use no-code app building platform. I was intrigued and decided to give Bubble a try. At first, I was put off by their high price. At the time, Bubble was charging per number of visitors. I thought to myself, if the app I intend to build becomes very popular, my monthly overhead will grow far too high. When I checked back a few month later they changed the pricing strategy. Their charging model was now per workflow and it became much more affordable. (Recently, Bubble changed their pricing again and now their monthly plans start only at $14/month.)

This is when I really started to learn the platform. I quickly went through all their basic tutorials and found the builder to be very easy to use. I completed my app in only one week, and most of the time I was polishing the UI rather than building the core functionality.

In doing this, I realised I was more excited about the process of building rather than the application itself. This is where the idea crossed my mind — it would be cool to build applications without code for others!

I was surprised to find out there were no other companies specializing on building apps without code. I reached out to Emmanuel Straschnov (co-founder of Bubble) and asked if they would be interested for us to become a Bubble partner and offer no-code web development services based on their platform. It turned out they were, in fact, going to launch their partner program shortly and it was the right time for me to approach Emmanuel.

I decided to build a landing page and, because my design skills were lousy (still are to be honest), I found a freelance designer who produced the drafts at the cost of $200.

I consider this to be the only investment I put into this business (well, plus the domain name). I called the company Bubblewits because I wanted to reiterate that we focus on web development using Bubble — I figured this would give a “newbie” company more credibility in the eyes of potential clients.

I started Bubblewits alone, but about 7 months later Vlad Larin joined me. We met at a coworking space we were residents of. Vlad and I were sharing a desk.

In my previous businesses I never had co-founders, preferring the one-man shows. This time, I learned it is great to have a partner you can rely on and share the responsibilities with.

At the beginning, we were focused on custom development services and only a few months later we built and published our first no-code app template, which became the foundation for Zeroqode.

Getting customers was a whole process within itself and we had to come up with innovative and inexpensive ways to find them. Here is where the official partnership with Bubble came in handy. A significant amount of our clients were referred to us from Bubble’s partner page. Also, we were always very active on Bubble Forum. We were helping other users by posting hacks and solutions for things that were complicated to build on Bubble and we were publishing updates about new products we built, like template and plugins.

We branched Zeroqode from Bubblewits out of the need for a better way to promote our products. Before Zeroqode, Bubble Template Marketplace page was the only place to show our products. As more templates were published by other users, the page became too crowded and therefore not structured to our benefit. We were looking for a better way to reach out to our customers and explain how the product works and why it is useful.

We launched Zeroqode by featuring our templates, then step by step more products (like plugins, no-code backends and web-to-native solutions) were added to our portfolio. Later on, we started featuring curated resources that teach how to build on Bubble.

All our products are built to help our customers develop their applications up to 10X times faster. No-code app Templates, for instance, are easy to set-up and affordable, they come with built-in functionality and reliable updates.These are not simply design mockups but finished, fully functional, responsive web applications, mostly recreating the functionality of well-known and proven websites or apps. The templates can be modified without code to launch any product faster and with way less costs involved. We have already published dozens of templates and keep building more — from templates that are similar to AirBNB, Linkedin, Instagram, Trello to Backend and Telegram Bots. The goal is to make Zeroqode for complex web applications what Themeforest/Wordpress have become for simpler websites.

Bootstrapping Effect on Zeroqode

Bootstrapping was never a planned approach. In our case, it was more like a circumstance — it happened naturally. When I thought about resources needed to start the company (landing page and domain name), I realised I only needed a couple hundred dollars and I knew I could afford the costs myself. I wasn’t sure the whole idea would work, so it was just an experiment which turned out to be very successful.

None of my previous business were bootstrapped. My first startup was an IT company selling computers and providing IT services. In order to finance the operations, I got a loan from my parents and later a bigger one from a local bank. My other two businesses were related to long distance calling provider through callback and clothing retail operations. For both, I went through the same process. So bootstrapping is new to me.

Bootstrapping allowed us more flexibility and freedom in the decision making process. We were able to focus on taking the company toward the goals we set together as a team. When raising funds, often investors will blurr your goal with their own vision for your business.

Bootstrapping was an effective way to satisfy our hunger for doing business right. It pushed us to come up with quick and innovative ways for efficiency. It motivated us to get good at what we are doing in a minimal amount of time. We had no extra resources to waste on mistakes. When we failed, we learned so much more out of it just because it was way more painful. For instance, when you receive investment, you have enough funds to hire a team almost immediately. We hired the first employee only 3 months after launching, in May 2016. Our first employee was Anna — a great designer who never did any programming or coding. She learned the platform quickly and is now one of our most proficient Bubble designers/developers.

We were the first company in the world (and still are) who train designers to build functional apps without code. In this way, one person can build everything — design, database structure, workflows, APIs, etc.. We hire very carefully and only when we can afford it, but as our business has grown, we’ve been able to grow from a team of 2 to a team of 20.

Another relevant example is marketing. The main challenge of any startup nowadays is marketing and promotion. Startups that get financing can allocate significant marketing budgets. Since we couldn’t afford it, we had to look into guerilla marketing alternatives that wouldn’t cost us much.

Our Guerilla Marketing Strategy

They say you need to spend money to make money, and in most cases this is true. But when you make a decision to bootstrap your startup, there is often a very limited budget to spend or spending money on marketing might not be an option at all. With this being our case we were pushed to be creative and come up with efficient and on budget marketing solutions.

When I was working on building Zenify — the meditation application, I learned launching on Product Hunt was a very significant source of traffic and new users. So, we launched Zeroqode on Product Hunt as well. The launch was successful and we got the #3 Product of the Day badge, which gave us significant traffic boost (read more about How we got 800+ upvotes on Product Hunt). We also launched our new templates and side projects on Product Hunt to gather feedback and let the community know about our news. One of the most successful side project we’ve built was Postman Collections which is the biggest library of API collections for Postman tool. This project was built on our Product Hunt clone template in 2 weeks only. We also launched our new products on Designer News and Hacker News for extra traction.

To focus our audience’s attention even more, we launched two “Best Startup Idea” Competitions, where we gave away templates for first, second and third place. We announced the competition on platforms like Indie Hackers, Reddit, HackerNews and our forum.

Showcasing your startup in an international conference is also a great way to let the world know about yourself. We were able to get sponsored by a local support organisation to exhibit at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. At the conference we won an award called “Wild Card” which gave us the opportunity to get interviewed for TechCrunch’s news portal and get worldwide exposure (read what TechCrunch wrote about us and learn more about How We Won Wild Card at TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin).

Another conference we attended is STEP in Dubai, which allowed us to enlarge our audience even more, and connect with potential clients and partners from a totally new and unique region.

Future of Zeroqode Development

When analyzing where the company should go moving forward, we decided to stay committed to bootstrapping. We do not require big budgets, unless we choose to spend a lot of money on marketing. Fortunately, our guerilla strategy is working well for us. At the moment, raising investment would distract us from running the business, forcing us to deal with all the formalities and procedures required to get funded. Also, we don’t want to release control of the company and decision making process.

Yet, we will be revising our business strategy when we reach the next level, and make new decisions based on the situation at that moment in time.

Lessons Learned

Bootstrapping is not applicable for every startup out there. The decision to bootstrap does not have to be the only way and there is no ideal capitalization structure for growing a company.

Some companies start off bootstrapping and later fundraise. Some never raise funds, while others don’t stand a chance without investment. If you have a huge opportunity of disrupting the industry and fast execution and capital are core to your possibility of success, then seeking investment is probably the only way. Bootstrapping fits the opposite.

While determining whether to bootstrap or seek investment, consider your priorities, opportunities, and your market dynamics. Then, make an educated choice that fits your scenario. We made ours, and it has been working great for us so far.

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