I’m a relatively technical (undergrad in Computer Science - grad school at MIT) and moderately successful (bootstrapped to > $500k/year revenue) entrepreneur, who’s looking to change gears a bit.
I’d like to help indie-hackers/teams/companies build (or replace) automations (between apps and services) similar to those that can be built with something like Zapier. Except we'll use code instead of no-code.
It turns out that while Zapier and similar no-code tools are great to prototype many automations, there are a number of reasons one would want to move to a solution based on custom code:
While Zapier does offer a free tier, if your automation (called a “Zap” in Zapier) runs more than about twice a day you will exceed the 50 free tasks per month and have to upgrade to a paid plan costing a minimum of ~$240/year (if paid yearly or ~$360/year if paid monthly).
On the other hand, cloud providers like Google Firebase will run your tasks (called “serverless functions”) using pretty hefty free plans. For instance Firebase allows for 2 million “task” invocations per month (and costs only $.40 per million after that) so in many cases you will only get charged about $.0026 (less than 3 cents) per GB of data used to store your serverless functions.
Here’s a screenshot of the monthly project cost to host an automation I built, that runs every time a commit is pushed to a Github repo:
As you can see, I pushed 111 commits last month, so assuming I could have built this integration in Zapier, it would have cost $29.99 just to test it. If I then released the integration to 7 more users with similar GitHub usage of ~110 commits per month, that would exceed Zapier’s “Starter” plan and the cost would go up to $73.50/mo for the “Pro” plan. Scaling to 500 users and I’d already be at the $898.50/month or $10,782/year price point ($7,188/year if paid up front). Whoa!
Takeaway 1: It seems pretty silly that you’d even want to automate something that happens less than twice a day, so Zapier's free tier is all but useless. But with Google Firebase Cloud Functions' 2M free tasks per month you can automate a whole lot.
The second reason to move away from No-code automations is flexibility. Remember I said “assuming I could have built this integration in Zapier?” Zapier does offer a Github Integration so if all I wanted to do was something simple like getting an email every time a commit was pushed, price would be the only issue. But this particular integration could not have been built with Zapier’s simple “when some event happens - do some action” logic. While Zapier recently added if/then branching logic (called Paths) to the Pro plan and higher ($73.50+/month), you are often limited in what data is even made available to use in your conditional logic.
When authoring automations in code, we always have access to the full API made available by the company in question (Microsoft in the case of GitHub). Zapier integrations only expose a small subset of this API to its users.
Takeaway 2: sometimes tools like Zapier are better for thinking about what you would build with them if they were a bit more flexible, rather than actually trying to build with them and hitting the limitations of what you can’t actually do.
While there are many more reasons like response time (Zapier automations will not be run more than once a minute and even that will cost you $3,588/year for the luxury) I’d be interested to hear from some of you about what limits you’ve seen when working with no-code automation tools like Zapier.
Beyond that, any feedback on what you would consider insanely cheap to build such automations that customers would then run for next to nothing on a cloud service like Google’s Firebase?
I’m thinking both in terms of a low-cost fixed per-automation price and a low-cost monthly service* where you could request unlimited new automations and modifications/maintenance to automations built previously through the service.
*Inspiration for the unlimited monthly model comes from Brett Williams who is absolutely killing it with DesignJoy by the way.