Is No-Code Really a Viable Option For You?
How to figure out what you’re building and where to go next
The argument around the viability of no-code centers around the fact that there’s really no such thing as no-code.
I mean there is no-code as we know it, and I’m a true believer. I’m actually building a product around no-code — a viable, real, it-costs-money product.
I’m a believer because the promise of no-code is an entrepreneur’s dream, especially those of us who are also true-believers in minimum viable product, two-sided marketplaces, subscription models, and eService.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, and I’ve built dozens of viable, even successful products. I can tell you, through the lens of that experience, that no-code is finally a realistic option.
But I’m also a technical entrepreneur. I cut my teeth as the Internet went mainstream, and I sold the last company that I built from the ground up, coding everything myself.
So I can also warn you that if you want to build anything substantial, whether that’s a basic helper app or an entire company around a product built on a no-code platform, you’re going to have to get into coding mode. And the more elegant you want the final result to be, the more of a coder you’re going to have to become.
Here’s how to figure that out and where to go next.
The difference between low-code and no-code
Coding isn’t just mashing keys, it’s thinking logically and multi-dimensionally. This is the premise of low-code and no-code solutions, to take the mashing of the keys out of the thinking logically and multi-dimensionally.
I mean, technically, we’ve had low-code availability ever since the first visual interface in the early 1990s. Low-code and no-code are really just using point-and-click instead of tricky, fragile syntax.
The cost of all that ease, of course, is flexibility and scalability. I like to say that no-code is like using those big, thick Duplo blocks instead of Legos.
So the difference between now and a couple years ago is that we’ve reached the point in time where the code behind all that point-and-click is powerful enough to offer a lot more flexibility and scalability.
This means we can now think of low-code and no-code this way:
Low-code is shortcuts to do what you already kind of know how to do or could get done with a browser open to Stack Overflow. Low-code is going to require a stack, maybe one you don’t have to stand up and maintain yourself, but since everything else flows off that stack, you’ll need to know why it does what it does,
No-code is literally all choices over syntax. No-code can be a cobbling of services together: like Airtable for your data plus Auth0 for your users plus Zapier for your APIs. No-code can also be an all-in-one solution that handles all or most of those things, depending on — and here are those very important words — what you want to accomplish.
Do you want to go full code?
Yes. By all means. But there are three major reasons why every entrepreneur doesn’t just go full-code from the start.
Time. Look. I’ve been coding forever, and I’m kinda done. I do not look forward to getting all the Legos in place and fixing what I’m building a bunch of times because the thing I’m building now is more different from the last thing I built than I thought it would be. Business moves too quickly these days. I just want to fire up the laptop and go.
Talent. Anyone can code. Everyone should code. It’s easier than ever to learn to code. That doesn’t make coding less difficult. There was a video game a few years ago (Rocksmith) where you could plug a guitar into an Xbox and learn along with a very friendly computer guiding you. It was awesome. It did not suddenly produce wave after wave of Eddie Van Halens. There is art and science in coding that comes with time. Time we don’t have, see the last paragraph.
Money. Time is money and talent costs money.
But here’s the thing. Low-code and no-code are options to get you very far along without spending a bunch of time and a bunch of money. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen plucky entrepreneurs lay out thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars getting an idea built — and that idea should never have seen the light of day. Because it was awful.
At some point, every MVP or beta or prototype needs an overhaul. Low-code and no-code options have advanced far enough to kick that overhaul can down the road, or even delay it indefinitely. Think of it as on-the-fly hardening.
“Look, this thing works, it’s making money, let’s harden it and move on to the next part. Then maybe we can pay for the overhaul with profit instead of debt.”
Again — every entrepreneur’s dream.
The catch: You still have to think like a coder
Freeing the entrepreneur from syntax and limiting their options doesn’t in any way release them from having to think logically and multi-dimensionally.
In other words — If you don’t take the time to understand what you’re doing, you will build a really shitty thing really quickly. You will cut yourself off from flexibility and scalability and the UI will be ugly and clunky to boot.
Low-code and no-code options give you the flexibility to create your own syntax, or if you’ve got experience, relate what’s going on to what you already know. A chunk of the time you would have spent learning full code needs to be dedicated to understanding what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, what is happening when you’re doing it, and how to do it again, maybe differently.
You’ll also need to accept your limitations. Just like real coding, build slowly and with purpose, so you don’t back yourself into a corner, or make something too complex and unwieldy to extend properly, or load yourself up with no-code technical debt.
The no-code path to a billion-dollar company
Yes, you can probably build Twitter or eBay or maybe even Uber with no-code. But that’s not the point. The point is to build the idea that’s been locked away in your head because of lack of available talent, time, or money.
Here’s how to get that idea to reality and beyond.
Start with a hacked-together series of services to get the business basics in order. Every business has users (Auth0), data (Airtable), payment (Stripe), connections (Zapier) and actions (whatever your business does). Those are just examples in the parentheses, but if you can manually-plus-no-code these things together, that will give you some sense of business viability.
Then go to a no-code platform to put all of these things in one place and even replace some of them. To be transparent, I’ve been using Bubble.io and it does everything I need and I’m still on the free version. I’ve also messed around with Appgyver and a few others. Whatever you choose, the key here is to start generating revenue on your idea. Maybe not profit yet, but revenue. Real money.
Then move on to low-code for your most proprietary and complex functionality, and start replacing things piece by piece. Now, at this point you’re probably either jumping in and learning real code or you’re using some of the revenue from the last step to pay someone to code it for you. If the latter, consider jumping right to full code.
At some point, you have to graduate to full code when your business is real and the limitations in both flexibility and scalability start to work against you. At this time, there will be a conversion process that will be time consuming and expensive.
But here’s the killer secret. The more of your functionality that’s already low-coded or even no-coded, the less time and money it’s going to take converting it into something real. Not only that, you’ll have already proven the viability of your business.
And you didn’t take on tens-of-thousands of dollars of debt to get there.
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