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No-code founders are on the rise. Are they making money?

Last week I talked about how lockdown and the recession have spurred more people to start online businesses. No-code products are a big part of this story since many of the newly unemployed are coming from non-technical backgrounds.

But not all no-coders are in it to make money. @Tom_UK_Designer's no-code site The Edinburgh Lockdown Economy was growing exponentially when I interviewed him for last week's article. But when I asked him about revenue, he told me he had no plans for monetization and sought instead to build a social following and grow his mailing list.

This got me wondering about the money-making mood among no-coders at large. I posted the following poll on Twitter to get a feel for the big picture:

Nearly 70% of the actual no-coders who answered the poll said their end-game was to build a business. This number is insanely high. Just imagine the same being true for coders: that 7 out of every 10 programmers you spotted at developer conferences or in the engineering departments of larger companies were really only making ends meet while starting their own businesses. If anything, I'd bet it's closer to 3 in 10 for programmers. Which makes no-coders a uniquely entrepreneurial bunch.

They also face unique hurdles. Ben Tossell's the no-code founder behind Makerpad, an education platform that teaches people how to use no-code tools, including the very tools Ben used to build Makerpad itself. Ben stopped sharing his revenue numbers after raising an angel round from Earnest Capital, but we do have a snapshot of his first year or so of growth:

Makerpad revenue year one: up and to the right

I asked Ben about the challenges no-coders face building revenue-generating businesses, and here's what he told me:

Both [coders and no-coders] see similar hurdles to making money, [but] no-coders see more as they can’t as easily offer software as the product itself.

Ben's distinction here is subtle, but crucial. By definition, every online business uses software in some capacity, but for software to "be" the product, the software itself has to be the main thing customers are paying for. Substack, for example, is a software product, but the paid newsletters built on Substack are information products.

Since software products tend to be powered by sophisticated codebases, most of today's thriving no-code businesses are either selling connections to people (e.g. online communities, coaching and mentorship programs, virtual conferences and meetups, etc.), access to information, or some combination of the two.

These businesses can become massively successful. In a recent episode of the Indie Hackers podcast, Ben was quick to set his own example aside and point out that the coding bootcamp Lambda School, now valued at $150 million, was built with no-code tools.

Lambda School home page

I spoke to several no-code founders over the weekend, and the twin themes of education and human connection showed up in nearly every case:

And we can expect a lot more where they came from. Not just because the economy is producing more no-coders, and not just because no-coders are so business-minded. But because the no-code ecology as a whole is evolving.

Many popular no-code tools like Notion, Parabola, and Substack have only been around for a few years, and resources like Makerpad and Michael Gill's no-code automation book Maker Minions are newer still. Founders like Gonçalo Henriques of NoCodery are even building profitable job boards for no-coders, because larger companies are beginning to recognize no-code as a skill worth hiring for.

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  1. 11

    I'd say one of the challenges of no-code tools breaking into the realm of solving the more complex problems traditionally addressed by "real software" is around the maintainability and performance of the no-code tool(s) as the complexity of the app/system increases.

    No-code is great for early stage products, MVPs, etc but over time the scale and/or complexity of the app will start to strain the duct-tape + chewing gum + no-code + API infrastructure it was built on. In order to solve the more challenging "software" problems, you have to find a way to last long enough to get the customer feedback you need to make those iterative changes to your product. But each feature you make you're incurring more "no-code technical debt" that you'll have to pay off later, which is a fun catch-22.

    Running a no-code agency I hear the question of "how long with this product last" all the time. Usually the answer is that the early version can get along just fine as it's simple (and should be). For those who want to evolve their product over time, eventually you'll face a series of important decisions on how to maintain an app that has no automated tests, little documentation, and all the other things that make traditional code apps hard to set up in the early days.

    An answer to this maintainability question (in my opinion) is that while "no-code" tools are great for prototyping, if you actually want it to last long enough to evolve into something customers actually love, you have to treat it like software from the beginning, which can be tough for those without a technical background and exposure to software development best practices.

    1. 2

      Great insights. btw you have typo on the link, .com is written twice.

  2. 8

    No-code founders are on the rise

    Do you have any data about the rise of the founders as opposed to the term describing them?

    I've known a ton of "no-code" founders of various levels of success over the past 15 years. Most of them were using WordPress, but many others built on ClickFunnels, Kartra, Shopify and other tools. This may be because of my non-tech background, but it's always seemed like programmers have made up a small fraction of the online business market.

    The term "no-code" sure is getting popular but is it actually much of a different ratio of the market than in past decades?

    1. 3

      You're right, no-code is one of those gray-area terms. @sahil pointed out in his "debate" episode with @bentossell that Adobe Dreamweaver all the way back in 1997 allowed people to build sites without code. And true: "no assembly required" e-commerce apps are also technically no-code businesses.

      But in general, the new crop of self-styled "no-coders" I'm describing here build products by integrating different 3rd-party apps like Airtable and Zapier.

      1. 1

        Zapier is one I saw a lot years ago, too. WP + a bunch of plugins, sometimes huge WP sub-ecosystems like Member Mouse, and often Zapier and similar services.

        I'm sure AirtableMakerpad users are up by an enormous percentage though, since that didn't exist until recently 😂

        Edit: To my surprise, Airtable is only one year newer than Zapier! For some reason I knew about Zapier about five years sooner, so it just felt like different eras

    2. 2

      That's a fair question– do we actually know that no-code founders are on the rise? Or are we just giving a new name to something that's always been around?

      That being said, this generation of no-code tools definitely represents something new in the history of "no-code" tools. For example, Webflow is a fundamentally novel approach to no-code— nothing like it has been done before. 👀

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        Nothing? It's a template-based website builder... There have been loads of those in the past. It may have new features, or a slightly different approach... But there's decades of precedence.

        Would love to know why you think it's fundamentally novel.

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          Sounds like you already have your mind made up. 😊

          (But if you're genuinely curious this video explains my thoughts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ce_FyE5sttk)

          1. 2

            That's a great description. So, from that description, the novelty is essentially in the comprehensiveness of the tool – i.e. the number of options – balanced with the appropriate level of complexity – i.e. the learning curve actually gives you enough power compared to more "templatey" competitor – and it eases integration with certain services like CMS / Commerce that would be hugely difficult to reign in on other platforms.

            Correct?

  3. 2

    I agree with you, the no-code community is growing bigger and we can see some making really good money. But if any of the coders and no-coders here no longer wanna run their products, they can list their products here.😁 Some people might wanna acquire them.
    Check out my site https://www.saasmeerkat.com/ for saas acquisition. Thanks all!

  4. 2

    No code, in my mind, is a product that lets you customize a software solution without a coding background. It's assembling Ikea furniture instead of becoming a Carpenter/woodworker.

    There's still a lot of people that need finished furniture fully assembled, how you get there can vary.

    When you're using a no code solution, you're hoping the parts you assemble are good enough to last.

    I've bought an Ikea couch that lasted a year and we upgraded that style to a better made product. I agree that's going to happen when a no code product matures. But for cash and timestrapped founders, no code products make software development accessible to the masses

    1. 1

      Yeah, the actual power of SaaS to me is very similar to the DeFi (decentralized finance)--these products are super composable. I first no-code product I encountered is Zapier, it feels like playing legos with technology pieces. Totally agree, while these are far from perfect, all tech products keep evolving, too, so should the no-code. At some point when the product has enough unique offerings, you probably will be able to raise money or have sufficient cash flow to have an engineer to customize it.

  5. 2

    I tend to build ONLY in order to monetize.

    However, things always turn out in a different way as you expect.

    I made a free app for restaurant owners still open (through pick-up or delivery) in Mexico City, with Glideapps (which I'm a Certified Expert).
    https://comecdmx.glideapp.io

    It got picked up by news outlets, the City Tourism Board added the app as part of their strategy, we got thousands of users, and it ended up getting sponsored by American Express a few weeks ago.
    https://www.indiehackers.com/post/my-glide-app-got-sponsored-by-american-express-4a03f0a352

  6. 2

    no-code businesses are either selling connections to people (e.g. online communities, coaching and mentorship programs, virtual conferences and meetups, etc.), access to information, or some combination of the two.

    A lot of businesses are indeed not selling the software itself but something thanks to the software. All users generated content platforms and creators platforms are among them. Substack is seeing a great growth exactly because they enable these businesses. I hope to fulfil the same need for job board creators with RoleUp.

  7. 2

    My opinion is that there is too much focus put on the tools that get the job done, instead of getting the right job done. Using no-code tools, or hiring a developer to do it, both should lead to the same outcome: a functioning MVP.

    I don't think No-Code tools are limited to non-software as a product. On the contrary. If you take any product out there unless we're speaking about developer tools, it's a combination of different services.

    I'd do this exercise:

    1. Browse through the last 2-3 batches of YC startups
    2. Browse through VC portfolios (at least 50 of them).

    Then make a list of those platforms that could have started using no-code. The focus should be reaching to PMF, where the funding constraints is eliminated and funding can be raised to hire a team.

  8. 2

    I have to admit, I didn't know that "no-code" scene is so popular and that so much services/companies/founders is around, I prefer to learn what is needed to learn and make my own sites, scripts, web software necessary for the business, without 3rd party services.
    For example, what happens if some crucial service that you use in your app or software shut down for some reason? Are you shutting down your business, too? Or crippling services to some basic function, trying to find the equal or better option to replace that crucial service? Having total trust in 3rd party services is not a long term solution, in my uneducated opinion. Even if I go through that route, I would invest heavily in coding the proprietary equivalent of that service, to be on my own after a while.

  9. 2

    Excellent points here in your post. Having been a non-coding user for 15 years I find that no code isn't new but it is rapidly evolving into a broader scope of use.

    Those who lean toward 'no code' potentially have a higher risk tolerance, willing to be more entrepreneurial, make/design/break/redesign/launch/relaunch more frequently than a coder therefore getting more visibility. This type of personality brings more visibility in the current market to the no code makerspace and often a perspective that is willing to break norm, think beyond and create uniquely.

    Sarkis 'Sako' Buniatyan has been a catalyst in this recently with his no code challenges that have developed into some unique new products by the respective participants. In collaboration with Codeless Ventures (@gill_works), the Nocode Rumble, a 3 month product hackathon began, which myself, @Stevenjhilario, @coreyhaines, and 5 other product makers were selected to participate. 15+ sponsors including Jetboost (@cspags), Memberstack (@naitik), Nocode Founders (@Joshua_Tiernan) and others. It will be an annual event. Voting opens soon on these 8 products.

    In participating, we at InsuredNomads.com, are developing systems through no code including SuiteDash, Webflow and others. It's been liberating to create a great solution without the required heavy investment often required for our industry but yet being better than what is offered many times.
    https://insurednomads.com

    Yes, do address your question, some are making money but they are the ones willing to stick around for the long term, redesigning and modifying as the times change.

  10. 2

    Great idea. The best sum I've ever seen.

  11. 2

    Great article! I would also add that besides just products, no-code is giving more people the ability to build a successful freelancing or agency business.

    Two examples:

  12. 2

    Great content idea for our website. I'm going to include the No-Code as a skill and opportunity for stating an online business.

  13. 2

    Great sum up. It was great sharing my views on the no-code environment with you.

  14. 1

    I've interviewed 20+ no-code founders making money with their businesses at https://nocode.mba/interviews - might be helpful for anyone interested in seeing more examples of profitable no-code companies!

  15. 1

    As a designer who only ever dabbled in "real code" I never felt comfortable building. In fact I stopped trying and focused on design and UX.

    I've also been intrigued by what seems to be a rise in no-code tools, startups who are betting on it from day one and designers who are now able to offer new services to their clients.

    While a relative new kid on the block, I've been using Dorik to build out websites. It's soooo damned easy. Off the back of that I decided to launch my own service aimed at No-Code startups. I'll be offering design and No-Code "development" on a subscription basis. Just launched and there's already interest so am excited to see what comes.

    In case anyone is interested or has any feedback, the site is https://getsocialdesign.com/

  16. 1

    Totally on you, No-Code Software is the industry disrupter you should pay attention to ;)

    Good article to read: https://techcrunch.com/2020/07/07/no-code-will-define-the-next-generation-of-software/

  17. 1

    great read , am actually new in the coding arena but this article was a great eye opener of some opportunities out there, looking forward to more of such.
    best regards

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