No-code tools have quickly become powerful building blocks for both technical and nontechnical creators alike. They're especially helpful for quickly and inexpensively standing up web-based or mobile applications.
But can a nontechnical founder use no-code tools to create an entire tech-based startup?
The answer is unequivocally yes. And I know, because I did just that.
Earlier this month, I wrote an article calling for teaching no-code over preaching "learn to code." I got a lot of feedback asking for a broader overview of no-code options.
But rather than just write up a list of vendors and links, I'll provide some insight into how I created a product and a startup without writing any code.
Why build a company using no-code?
You might not have the coding skills, and the people with those skills are pricey to hire. However, that's not the only reason or even the best reason to opt for no-code. I'm a software developer from way back, and I've built everything from prototypes to companies that have been acquired.
Speed is the primary reason to use no-code -- to get new ideas into the market with a viable product that serves real customers. As it turns out, no-code can actually get you way past viability and all the way to profitability.
Teaching Startup is my project to innovate how entrepreneurs are educated and advised. To show our members that launching a business solely with no-code can be done, I decided to build the company's product -- a web-based application -- and all of the company infrastructure without writing a line of code.
I'm also chief product officer for a venture-backed mobile, on-demand vehicle care and maintenance company called Spiffy, where we've spent more than six years coding world-class software to do business in about 30 major metro areas.
Given my past coding experience and those two completely different businesses, I have a unique perspective into what works and what doesn't.
And, hundreds of paying customers later, I can assure you that the no-code works.
Your platform is your HQ
Whether you go no-code or low-code or even mix in some real code, you'll need a base platform to tie it all together in a public website or a mobile app.
If your technology is complicated and requires a lot of processing power, there's probably no escaping the eventuality of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or another cloud computing service. Amazon's Honeycode and Microsoft's Power Apps offer low-code options as a bridge to that unlimited processing potential.
However, low-code options still require a bit of a learning curve. For nontechnical folks, that bridge can be crossed later, and starting with a true no-code platform might be a better option.
If your app needs native mobile features, like integration with the mobile device itself, there are no-code options available. Flutter from Google blends real code and no-code into a single architecture. A new offering called Branded App by Wix, lets you build native mobile apps using no-code.
But not every app needs to be native mobile, and platforms like Bubble -- which is what I eventually chose to build Teaching Startup on -- make web-based apps that act like a mobile app on a mobile device.
The great thing about any of these platforms is that there is plenty of help available, even from third-party producers.
I actually chose my platform last, because I was already building a patched-together monster of a product and a company --with paying customers -- using only helper apps and third-party services.
Helper apps are your eyes, ears, and hands
How does a small company act like a big company? Automation. The more manual tasks you can eliminate, the more your company is able to scale.
Early in Teaching Startup's development, whenever a customer purchased the product, I used Zapier to communicate with a number of third-party applications, including a primitive database on Airtable. When customer issues arose, those issues went through Slack to real-time support.
This work still required a lot of manual labor before I moved it all to Bubble. But it was quick to set up, easy to use, and allowed me to act like a "real" company without having to spend a bunch of time and money building out a real company infrastructure.
I used that time and money to build a better product -- which was a relief, as my product was originally built on a bulk email provider, Mailchimp.
Third-party services let you fake it until you (literally) make it
I bent and broke every feature of Mailchimp, so that it acted as a user interface and a database, and I even used it to manage some basic application security. It did all of these technical tasks in their most primitive form and in a most manual way. I used Stripe forms to handle payments, and I hosted it all on a static web bucket on AWS.
See, before I built a real product and a real company, I wanted to test whether my vision had real market merit.
Third-party services allowed me to go to market without reinventing wheels. And, sure, maybe those wheels were kind of misshapen and a little flat, but they let me discover that what I intended to build was worth building.
Now I've taken a lean, profitable, scalable product from its auspicious beginnings as a bunch of third-party services held together by helper apps, to a no-code platform that serves hundreds of happy, paying customers with almost zero manual tasks. I figure I can scale this by 10x or even 100x before it starts to underperform. By that time, I'll have the revenue to either add more servers or produce real code to replace the no-code.
And I won't go broke or kill my margins doing it.