In the internet age, technological innovation has largely been driven by a community of software engineers, web developers, and hardware hackers. Until recently, acclaimed startup accelerator Y Combinator only accepted founding teams with technical backgrounds. Furthermore, the most valuable companies of today are tech-enabled, so there’s been a focus on tech talent for future-proofing economies. Coding education provider Lambda School has raised close to $50M to close this skills gap and there are many other courses teaching the next generation to code.
But what if coding was no longer vital to success in tech? Enter the world of no-code development platforms (NCDPs).
Over the past couple of years, the rise of the no-code movement has started to change the landscape of tech. Ironically, Lamdba School itself is a product of the no-code movement, building its MVP (that has served 3,000 students) using a combination of tools such as Typeform, Airtable, and Retool. The no-code movement has also been called low code or visual development. The makers of no-code platforms are still discussing the best label for the movement but for now, I will stick with ‘no-code’.
John Everhard summarizes no-code software on Forbes as a visual integrated development environment (IDE). “Within this environment, users (aka the citizen developer) drag-and-drop application components, connect them together and create a mobile or web app. Using this software, staff can design and build powerful applications that can scale for any organization—without writing any code.” All in all, users don’t need to understand code to be able to create an app and therein lies its power.
Benefits of No-Code
When we were in the thick of product development for CloudPeeps, I remember how frustrating it was for our developers (and me!) when I needed to make any updates to our marketing pages or funnels. While I can happily edit HTML, having a custom-built platform meant deploying changes was limited to the devs. Prioritizing feature development alongside bug fixes and tweaks was a challenge. Progress was slow. We tried numerous A/B testing tools and moving some pages to popular CMSs, but the user experience started to suffer. While tools like Webflow existed then, they weren’t touted as mainstream solutions so we lacked the awareness to implement them.
Since then, the rise of no-code tools has changed the game forever – not only for tasks like marketing pages but also for full-stack apps, which people can now build end-to-end. In 2014, if you wanted to build a marketplace, you had to develop it from scratch. After that, offerings like Sharetribe came along with standard marketplace software in a box with an ongoing price tag. Now, you can build whatever marketplace set-up you like using no-code tools.
Evidently, saving time and money are two crucial benefits of no-code. Co-founder of Tiny product studio and indie investment fund Andrew Wilkinson recently tweeted: “I used to spend $25k-$100k building an app over 3-6 months. It was frustrating, expensive, and slow. Then I started using NoCode tools like Webflow, Bubble, Zapier, and Airtable. Suddenly I was able to build my app idea in days instead of months, at a fraction of the cost. Craziest of all, I could tweak and maintain it myself instead of hiring expensive devs.”. He likens ‘native-code’ to being a bulldozer: great to use when you need to build something sizeable and commercial grade. He compares ‘no-code’ to a pickup truck: powerful enough to help you get most simple and intermediate projects done.
The tech industry has been increasingly criticized over the past decade for its lack of diversity and inclusion. Silicon Valley has bred a generation of founders who look like each other, talk like each other, and solve similar problems – and as these people gather further wealth through exits and investments, the cycle of sameness repeats. Teaching people to code and funding different founders is creating slow change, but the no-code movement has the potential to exponentially change the face of tech. If you no longer need access to engineers or capital to launch a product, anyone can have a crack at their idea. Perhaps it is the demand for the democratization of tech that has catapulted the no-code movement into the now.