I’ve been using no-code platforms for the better part of three years now, including for building a profitable and growing business around a custom-built app without writing a single line of code.
But to be brutally honest with myself, I’ve been a “no-code coder” from the beginning. And by the beginning, I mean the 1990s, when programming was carried out in what was barely a visual GUI — let alone a drag-and-drop playground.
No-code has come a long way over that time, and today’s platforms allow almost anyone to build a working, sustainable, scalable business around technology without having to invest tens of thousands of dollars to get started.
But there’s a catch.
I’ve built, advised and even just admired a slew of successful no-code businesses lately, and there’s only one single common thread among them: If you want your no-code business to take off, you have to treat no-code as a tool, not a business idea.
The Idea Guy
Entrepreneurs frequently contact me for help. Not long ago, someone who I won’t describe as an “entrepreneur” emailed me out of the blue with a request for something I won’t describe as “help.” It was more of a proposal for a business partnership. Actually, it was one of those deals where I bring the experience and connections — and then do all the work based off of one of his several amazing ideas.
I hate those emails.
While this email was almost breathtaking in the sheer boldness of its approach, it wasn’t the first time I’d heard the outline of the plan he was laying out. See, he too had been playing with no-code for a while, and he was enamored with it. Fascinated, really. He was an idea guy (always had been), and after messing with no-code for a while, he had discovered several phenomenal things he could do with no-code that he was sure a business could be built around.
The plan was for me to help him build a startup around the best of his many ideas, standing it up within a month using no-code tools. Then the money would start rolling in.
No matter that I’ve got like five jobs already. But in all seriousness, I’ve been hating these emails since the 1990s.
No-Code Can Help You Turn a Great Idea Into a Business
I’ve always been more interested in what code could produce than how it produced it. The first startup I ever joined pivoted from being a custom software-development shop to a proprietor of custom-software frameworks that enabled quicker and more robust development. I’ve been hooked ever since, taking multiple business ideas from conception to reality and even to acquisition, in shorter and shorter time frames, raising or spending less and less money each time.
And yes, in my early days as a Steve Jobs wannabe, I would get all excited over what I could produce with code and easily imagine several great business ideas that the code could be used for.
But I always came back to this old sports analogy: “When you have two starting quarterbacks on your roster, you have zero starting quarterbacks.” What that means is a great football offense has one and only one signal caller. A great team has only one leader. A great entrepreneur works with only one promising business idea.
And that business idea is never about what can be done, it’s always focused on what should be done.
But No-Code Can’t Abracadabra a Mediocre Idea Into a Great Business
I realize I’m part of the problem.
With jokers like me trying to democratize starting up by making it about talent rather than about connections and secret investor handshakes, I keep telling people that there’s never been a better time to turn a great idea into a business. But some people tune that out a little bit and hear it as, “There’s never been a better time to turn an idea into a great business.”
Look, no-code is a revolution. No-code is also a cheat. In fact, we should call it cheat-code; it isn’t the invention of fire, it’s more like the invention of the microwave oven.
I blame myself and all the early adopters, including the no code platform I swear by: Bubble. As Bubble will tell you, you can indeed create a great startup using only no code. That’s the big billion-dollar question around the science and all the platforms. And in theory, yes, that’s totally true. In practice, however, no one has hooked the big fish, but a lot of us, myself included, are trying and already starting to see varying degrees of success.
But here’s the thing: The successful no-code startups aren’t building on no-code ideas, they’re using no-code to bring great business ideas to market more quickly and with greater reach.
A bad business idea executed quickly is still a failure.
No-Code Is Both a Last Resort and a Secret Weapon
Teaching Startup, my own no-code project, is coming up on two years old, with one year of that time invested into Bubble. I’d say I’ve spent 90 percent of my time building the business outside of the no-code platform and 10 percent of my time building exactly what I needed within the no-code platform.
In the old days of grepping, pulling requests and compiling, that used to be 20 percent of my time on the business and 80 percent of my time coding. And here’s the problem: When you spend only 20 percent of your time working on your business, the business is doomed to stagnate or fail. Now I spend 90 percent of my time on things like pricing, value, market fit, traction, competitive analysis, conversion and so on. And some days, even that doesn’t seem like enough.
No-Code: Last Resort or Secret Weapon?
- No-code is a last resort when you have a big, technical idea and coding it up before proving its viability would cost tens of thousands of dollars or more.
- No-code can be a secret weapon when you have any big business idea and you want to test viability immediately and go to market right after.
An idea’s failure to find traction isn’t no-code’s fault. There have always been founders rushing half-baked ideas to market with their own or someone else’s money and crashing and burning when the customer revenue test comes. No-code is actually helping avoid that scenario, and for that, it’s a game changer. Smarter founders can do more with less, and not only get in the game but change that game.
But that never starts with what someone can do with cool tech. It starts with a brilliant business idea that never would have made it to market otherwise.