I write about no-code & marketing for startups. Also enjoy very loud music in a not-so-healthy way.
A few days ago, I was hanging out on a no-code Slack channel when I read a post that made me pause. Philippe, a freelancer specializing in IT recruitment, had shared a half-testimonial, half-rallying cry that stood out from the usual "how do you do this?” content.
His story, in short: "I'm a non-technical professional. I work solo. I don't have investors. I'm a creative person, and I have tons of ideas to help my clients. I believe no-code is a cool concept, but there's not much it can do for me today".
He went on to tell us, "I've been waiting for the advent of the no-code industry for the last 10 years. They look useful to devs who want to do what they do faster, but they’re still too confusing for me and my business."
The community's answer?
• "Do the work.”
• "If it's too hard for you, hire someone.”
• "It's easy enough as is.”
The conversation ended on: "We simply don't have the same definition of easy."
It was a real ‘aha’ moment for me. For a while now I've been wondering why no-code tools aren’t picking up faster. Behind the buzz word, the substance is there; a hyper-engaged community supports various editors, each with their own spin on a future where frontend programming is a distant memory.
And still, your friends and colleagues—the ones who don't start their day on Product Hunt—know nothing about it. If no-code is reaching maturity, how is it off the radar of so many digital businesses? Why are most companies and agencies still spending gobs of time and money writing code by hand like it’s the ‘90s—even abandoning projects due to resource drain—when one person can complete a project in hours or days?
The truth is that the burgeoning no-code sector still does a mediocre job at addressing professionals' needs.
The supporting community is diverse. It’s comprised of people from all backgrounds and skillsets. But a majority of them share common traits: they're makers, founders, and DIYers. Figure-It-Outers (™). People ready to spend hours on YouTube to learn how to build their own company websites, e-commerce stores, and app prototypes.
But where are the Graphic Designers? The Lawyers? Where's Philippe, the IT recruiter? Well, they're busy doing their job; dealing with deadlines, clients, colleagues, and bosses. They don't have time for steep learning curves or half-measures.
They also don't have time to bring clients and teams on board with weird solutions that nobody’s heard of before. They need solutions that can easily integrate with their current tech stack, in a secure and compliant way. They don't want to have to rationalize to their manager why their no-code build will be 5% shy of GDPR compliance, according to Owen88 from the community forum. That’s not a hill worth dying on.
Despite its promise, no-code is at a weird in-between stage. We have simplistic, template-driven editors that are not flexible enough for professionals or their sophisticated business cases. What works for your wedding website doesn't work for your consumer app or workplace automation platform. And on the far end of the spectrum, we have super complicated pseudo-frameworks and toolboxes that can be powerful, but require a programmer mindset and a ton of learning, trial, and error. The market opportunity is in the middle.
Here are a few numbers to think about:
• Shopify was doing $1.58B in revenue in 2019.
• They're on track to double that in 2020.
• 1.6M e-commerce websites are currently running on Shopify, and it just keeps growing.
• With ~$230B total sales made on Shopify and growing at an impressive clip, they're on track to become one of the top 3 e-commerce companies globally. It's already the 2nd largest in the US after Amazon.
Source: Shopify Q3 2020 Investor Deck
Just for comparison, Airtable, which we all love and that 100% qualifies as a successful company, made around $20M in 2018.
What Shopify does incredibly well is focusing on one job: e-commerce. It was made by people who used to sell snowboards online and understand what managing an e-commerce website means. Made by merchants, for merchants.
It helps you build everything faster: you pick your theme, use their existing PIM system, and enable payments in just a few clicks. Yet everything is customizable. As a merchant, you get to express your creative self and build websites that match your specific brands. Take a look at two famous Shopify stores: Allbirds & Kylie Cosmetics. They look nothing like each other.
Finally, Shopify takes care of the tedious, technical things that merchants don't want to manage themselves—like web hosting and payment security, which can be a black hole of galactic proportions. Or even POS; Shopify knows that many merchants must absolutely live both online and offline, and so they've created an omnichannel POS that allows the unification of in-store and online sales.
I’ve learned from Shopify that you can and you should go beyond your initial product scope if it helps your customers do their job.
We’re at a turning point for no-code. To actually change the way software is built, editors need to become both more powerful and more user friendly. The good news is: change is underway.
The new generation of no-code tools should adopt the following principles:
• Offer pre-configured use cases that minimize the time spent on things where their users don't have value to add.
• Be easy to customize and allow users to differentiate themselves professionally.
• Integrate with their users' technology stack.
• Comply with their users’ legal environment (HIPAA, GDPR, PSD2, Galactic Empire, etc).
This can only be done properly when you focus on solving problems for specific categories of professionals and know their environments inside and out.
For our part, we’ve built Designware, an editor that consolidates both app and website creation under one roof. The entirety of the coding, compiling, and publishing process is automated. Our offering is built specifically for creative professionals: the designers, agency managers, and entrepreneurs of the world, and we focus on providing them with extensive design options from the get-go. This enables outcomes that would normally need to be custom programmed by developers or contractors, but now they have direct, hands-on control of their builds.
To minimize the learning curve, we decided to adopt an editor interface that follows the same norms and principles of existing design tools like Sketch, Figma, or Adobe XD. We want our creative professionals—even those that aren’t technology or design savvy—to feel included, confident, and familiar with Designware from the start. This is also good for our business, in that it eliminates barriers to entry, speeds up adoption, and minimizes support tickets.
Beyond just the tooling, we believe a key ingredient to ushering in a successful no-code era is aiming higher than just being another solution for a paying customer. Rather, it’s about fostering ideas and inspiration between like-minded individuals.
Guides, video showcases, community forums, and other genuinely useful content should sit adjacent to a strong editor. When our users can become better informed and benefit from us and each other—and advance their own careers in the process—then we all succeed.
There's massive potential for the no-code industry—both economic and cultural—in a way that can significantly alter our way of business and life.
We need to reach out and cater to the Philippes of the world, who represent a not-too distant future where all software projects—even the complicated ones—can be produced with sheer creativity and minimal time invested. For those of us in the industry, our opportunity and legacy lies in being proactive enablers of that future.
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