No-Code: A Way to Build Your Next Product

Feb 22, 2021

This is a complete guide to building with no-code tools

In this in-depth guide you’ll learn:

  • What is no-code
  • Why you should research no-code
  • What are no-code tools
  • No-code best practices
  • Plus lots more

So, if you’re ready to go “all in” with building with no-code tools, this guide is for you.

Let’s dive right in.

No-Code: The Next Big Thing in Software Product?

If you’ve got a big idea and you’ve been searching the web for ideas on how to get started, you’ve probably run into a number of ads and search results for “no-code” and “low-code” tools to help you get your product built and into users’ hands fast. 

Like most marketing and advertising efforts, though, this isn’t 100% true. The reality is a little more complicated. Let’s take a look.  

What is a No-Code Tool? 

No-code tools are exactly what they sound like. Creating products with these tools generally requires no code (or very little code) and is quicker and easier to get set up and running.  

Tools like Retool and Bubble are making waves these days, but those aren’t the only examples of no-code options.  

Remember our piecemeal MVP? These often qualify as no-code products, too! 

When you use off-the-shelf software and string it together with tools like Zapier, you’re creating an MVP that doesn’t require much, if any, coding, and is capable of delivering value to your users.  

Who Should Use No-Code Tools? 

At AppThink, we think it’s best to consider no-code and low-code tools expressly for MVP-stage products. In fact, we’re big fans of this approach for this kind of use case.  

Remember, when you’re building an MVP, your focus is on learning, not revenue. Revenue, in this case, is a data point. It answers the question, “Will people pay for this product?” and potentially even, “Will people pay enough for this product to make it sustainable?” 

By using no-code tools or off-the-shelf products to build a Piecemeal MVP, you can get started answering these questions faster and cheaper than if you were to build custom software.  

Who Should Not Use No-Code Tools? 

As magical as no-code may sound, however, it’s not a good approach for everyone. Here are a few examples of when to look elsewhere:  

A concept that isn’t validated 

These tools may be easier to use, but they still cost money and time, so best to be sure your concept is ready for an MVP before you invest in them.  

A product that depends on strict IP protections

Call us paranoid, but when you license someone else’s tools to build your product, you should be suspicious about data and intellectual property integrity. 

If your concept works in highly regulated environments or requires a large number of unique processes and knowledge, you may want to consider a custom build for your MVP.  

A product that’s already been validated and is ready for prime time  

Look, if you’re at this stage, just go ahead and build the custom software. Even the best low and o-code tools won’t be able to give you the stability or handle the scalability your product needs if it’s ready for active sales and marketing efforts.

No-Code Tools and Techniques

It’s important to remember that these tools can’t and likely won’t replace custom software or fully-integrated systems anytime soon, but they can be super helpful for proving a concept. Just remember, custom builds can take a long time, so be sure to factor that into your product roadmap.

As promised, we’re going to tackle some specific tools and techniques that can help you leverage no-code and low-code tools in the right way. 

MVPs

First up, our old friends, the trio of no-code MVP techniques. 

 Looking back to our Minimum Viable Product post, we’re reminded that a concierge MVP is defined by: 

1. Entirely human implementation: You are doing the work. 

2. High degree of flexibility: Make changes quickly and with little friction to reflect the learning you’re gaining from customers. 

3. Low degree of scalability: There’s only one of you, so there’s a natural cap on how many customers you can serve in this way. 

With a concierge MVP, you deliver the steps needed to implement your solution by hand. A great example of this is Stitch Fix. You can’t get more no-Code than that! 

A Wizard of Oz MVP is really similar to the concierge MVP, except we’re substituting some of the human interaction with digital interfaces in an effort to hide the human. 

For example, sticking with Stitch Fix as an example, we may create an online survey to collect qualitative data for shopping, ship the clothes instead of delivering by hand and use a service like Stripe to collect payments and issue refunds. 

Much of this process remains manual just like the concierge MVP except, in this case, we’re hiding as much of the human interaction as possible. 

This isn’t as no or low-code as the concierge MVP, but pretty close. You only need to use a simple website editor and a few off-the-shelf products to make this happen. 

Finally, with the piecemeal MVP you’re going full digital, but using off-the-shelf products strung together either manually or with the use of a tool like Zapier. 

Piecemeal MVPs get you pretty close to a fully-digital experience with only a few exceptions where you may have to click a button or otherwise manually move the process along from one step to the next. 

In this case, you’re still very low or no-code and you’re learning a lot not just about your user’s acceptance of your solution, but how they will or won’t enjoy interacting with the solution digitally. 

One thing to note about piecemeal MVPs: there may be a temptation to try and scale these systems. Do not fall for this temptation. Off-the-shelf products all have their own release and update cycles and services like Zapier will never have a 100% success rate. 

Use this kind of MVP to test the digital delivery of your solution and move quickly to build the real thing to avoid scaling problems and poor user experiences. 

Specific Tools

Finally, we’ve arrived at the specific “no-code” tools being designed and sold to help speed up the building and delivery of software products and services. 

Tools like Bubble and Retool are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. Their drag-and-drop app builders are really impressive and, while they do require some code, it’s usually nominal and you can even find the snippets you need with a Google search. 

In our opinion, these kinds of tools replace the piecemeal MVP mentioned above and that’s about it. Why don’t we think these tools should be used to scale a product or solution? 

First, the company who built the interface–well–owns the interface. When you use a tool like this, you sacrifice some of the integrity of your intellectual property. You didn’t write or contract the writing of the code being used, after all.  

Second, you leave yourself vulnerable to business failure. If Bubble goes under, what happens to your product? If you scale your solution at all, you’ll need full control over if and when your app is down. 

Third, and finally, these tools still rely heavily on integration with off-the-shelf products and APIs to work. In today’s environment, this is unavoidable to some extent, but also leaves your product vulnerable to API changes and service outages.

Wrapping it Up

We’re huge fans of the low and no-code movement. The tools and techniques being employed are helping so many founders build and test their products and solutions, truly democratizing the entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

But they aren’t substitutes for building your own product. They can’t replace the IP security you get from hammering out your own codebase and they can’t replace the control and reaction times afforded by custom software development. 

However, if you’ve got a big idea, you’ve validated the problem and solution, and you’re ready to see if the market wants what you’ve got, these tools and techniques are an excellent place to start. 

Have you heard about Foundations by AppThink?

Interested in learning how to turn your idea into a real business? Check out Foundations by AppThink, a cohort-based course that will walk you through validating your idea, testing your idea, and executing on a Minimum Viable Product. 

Foundations is perfect for an entrepreneur with an idea but who is unsure of the steps to take to attack the problem and build a business. Do you have questions before you join? Send us a message, we’re happy to help. 

article by Trevor Newberry

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