No Code Tools, The Tech Co Founder You Were Always Looking For
There is always a running joke in the start-up world - whenever there is an after-event party or socialising event, there are always one or two enterprising founders trying to find a TECH co-founder for their new idea/start-up. The whole world is swiftly gravitating to a new normal where any and every industry is getting impacted by the application of tech in some way or the other. Software is eating the world.
The Case of No-Code Tools
There are entrepreneurs outside of tech who have interesting problems in their industry and have no clue on how to use the technology to address the problem. And in the other side, some techies have a good grasp of tech and are in search of an interesting problem to solve with the use of technology but find it very difficult because they do not understand what are the challenges faced by different business and what kind of solution would help.
Also there is a huge demand for developers who can collaborate with entrepreneurs to build interesting applications and at the supply side, there is a constraint on the limited availability of developers and the cost of hiring them is a very expensive proposition especially if it is a new product and not yet achieved the product-market fit. To bridge this demand, there has been a mushrooming of coding boot camps that help people from other industries enrol in a booting camp to learn code and start making money by writing code. There are these 100 Days Of Code, Lambda School that helped to fix the supply side demand to some extent.
The No-Code Movement is a way to address this problem. It is all about empowering entrepreneurs who are not well versed with tech to build something new without coding or very little code. Over the last few years, this movement is slowly getting steam. There are a wide variety of tools that are being built to address the problem. It was just yesterday AWS launched a new service called HoneyCode. I would say that AWS is relatively late to the game. GCP has done the acquisition of a company called AppSheet that has solutions that address very common use-cases.
There are other tools in the market like Glide Apps. There is also Makerpad, an online platform that runs boot camps to help to learn and build apps using low-code tools. Indie Hackers is a good community platform to listen to various non-tech founders using no-code or low-code tools or using an existing tool or suite of tools to build and run their start-up.
What are good use-cases where no-code tools would make sense?
Building prototypes or initial version of the product as Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to test the product in the market before going big.
Common use-cases like Dashboard, Inventory Management, Basic Create-Read-Update-Delete type of use-cases where the information can be just updated and viewed, displaying the data in the form of Report from the backend.
In the case of enterprises, there is a need to build a lot of internal tools and for those use-cases, these tools can be really helpful. Retool is one product that is widely marketed for this use-case. Hiring expensive, quality developers to build internal tools and applications may not make good financial sense for larger enterprises. Another challenge is that many developers want to work on exciting new products and not super happy with building mundane tools. For many enterprises, the use-cases, integration patterns may be very similar to a very repeatable pattern and no-code tools may be a good fit.
In some ways, the low code tools are a more evolved version of Wix, but for a wide variety of use-cases. A decade back, there were attempts to build tools like this that were designed with drag and drop features for business and power users to build applications with little code. It needed a lot of customization and a huge amount of time and effort needs to be spent to get it to work the way we want. But the present-day requirement and context are very different. There is an explosion of digital devices and the proliferation of smartphones has resulted in new use cases around which business can be built. This coupled with the supply side constraint of developers has well-positioned the growth of the no-code movement.
Having said that, we must not be carried away with the hype of no-code/low-code movement being the silver bullet for all the problems. The tools are targetting a repeatable set of use-cases and are in no way a replacement for building incredible user-experiences of high quality.
Spread sheet as the Database / Datastore
One of the most interesting aspects in this movement is that most of the data is stored in MS-Excel Spreadsheet kind of tools, which has a very familiar interface and functionalities are well understood by almost anyone well versed with using desktops.
There are interesting use-cases that can be built with Spread sheets as a database. Airtable is also taking a similar evolved approach of using spreadsheets as databases.
What are the compromises then ?
Pricing is one aspect that needs to be properly considered. Most of the no-code tools have a free tier and once there is traction, a slightly higher subscription cost on a monthly basis could become challenging. Also, there is little flexibility in terms of branding and the level of customizations here are extremely limiting.
So moving from a no-code tool is going to be a complete re-write and hence the migration and associated cost of re-write need to be carefully considered. There is also the vendor lock-in that needs to be thought through.
Having said of all of this, there is an absolute market need that makes big cloud providers like GCP and AWS invest in the no-code tools and it should be interesting to how the no-code tool movement progresses in the next few years.
Software is eating the world, whether the No-Code Tools movement is going to eat software and developers lunch? Only time can tell.