Fear. Panic. Internal Agony. That’s me when I’m presented with Greenspot’s famous poutine menu. 27 different ways to clog your arteries with fried, cheesy, ooey gooey gravy induced deliciousness. It usually comes down to a three way tie between the “Ol’ Reliable” classic, the “I’m here to treat myself” hotdog bits, or “What you lookin at” Italian. But I wouldn’t be lying if I told you that my eye usually wanders down the list imagining the flavour secrets that could be unlocked with a forkful of the “chop chop” or the “chilli chilli bang bang”. Dan Brown missed a trick when he didn’t have Robert Langdon crack the secret of why a little bit of black pepper can turn the unassuming “Bravo” into the landmark “St-Henri”.
NoCode tools today really feel a lot like this menu. A gazillion choices to build a website, a gazillion^2 choices to build apps, and we probably don’t have enough theoretical gazillions to get started on simplifying data science with NoCode. Choice is everywhere - this really is the golden age of NoCode.
But with choices comes decisions. And that there is the crux of the problem.
What to choose, how to decide, and how to invest time and effort into learning whether potential benefits are worth trade offs in incremental pricing. Seemingly set not to provide value, but promote broken metrics and find funding.
At JMP Studios this choice inevitably comes up every few days. Errant pitches, product hunt launches, and even LinkedIn messages. New features, new integrations, heck even new colours, being used to push why certain visual development editors are better than others. We try to be open to new tools and practices as much as we can, but the value being offered needs to be clear before we can think about investing further.
When I started in NoCode development the choices between various NoCode tools were overwhelming, a lot more so than the humble poutine menu that’s served with a smile and hint of sadism. Here’s how I evaluated NoCode platforms then, and how we at JMP Studios evaluate them now.
We like knowing that NoCode teams care about their product and want to make it better. Cue Captain Obvious right? Well it’s surprising to see just how many NoCode solutions just don’t seem to get this.
Whether it be listening to feature requests, adapting to new needs and new trends that require building upon, SaaS of any type needs to keep getting better. Too many smaller projects with real promise tend to take their foot off the gas after raising a round of funding, leading to stagnation and the inevitable sale on MicroAcquire. Even worse when it’s a larger company providing the standard white labeled website builder because it’s the hip thing to do.
Softr appealed right from the start by directing clear messaging to their users on what they were doing to address concerns, and build upon their very popular dynamic website builder. Every few weeks you’re greeted to both a message on their website about what they’ve released, and why they’ve done it. Email messaging follows to keep their name fresh and your interested piqued. Tally makes it easy to follow their thought process with a product roadmap constantly updated to reflect their product vision and that of their users.
An engaging NoCode platform is nothing without an engaged user base. That’s why I prioritize looking into how users of a product are already interacting with it and if they actually like it. The two metrics I use are:
- Are users invested in helping and converting other users onto the platform and it’s capabilities? and
- Do the teams actually interact with their users?
Webflow and Glide are particularly great at this. Take a quick stroll down the Google search results on building websites or developing with Webflow and you’ll find countless articles and videos on how to make best use of the tool. Many have made respectable livings from building with Webflow, and teaching on it. That’s not just because Webflow makes it easy to make an incredibly powerful marketing website, but because those who use it want others to use it too. They want to spread this message because of how Webflow did a great job at solving the very real problem of NoCode builders not being designer friendly to real designers. Not the crowd of #Im_a_bit_of_a_ui_designer_myself_thank_you.
Spending quite a bit of time in it myself, the Glide community forums have quickly become a shining example of how NoCode platforms can invest in their users. You would be forgiven to do a double take on your water glass to make sure if it’s actually water or vodka that you’re drinking after seeing Glide CEO David take an active part in answering questions. Some may question why the CEO of a company that recently raised a $20 Million Series A round is trawling community forums, however this in it’s essence is exactly why Glide has become the rising star that it is. They listen to their users and lead by example. In addition, a veritable army of super qualified certified experts answer simple and complex technical questions in the matter of minutes and hours, not days or weeks. Great engagement leads to engaged users.
NoCode platforms rely on visual development to replace writing code. While code is being generated in the background, users often find that they don’t need to write code (NoCode really is an apt name for this, huh) or at most a little bit of rudimentary code.
Though in building their products, NoCode development teams tend to forget this visual nature of their products and their end users. When I first got into learning more about NoCode I focused on SAP’s AppGyver. This platform showed me that the very applications that used to be impossible to develop visually just a few years ago could be created within days. Heck, it even convinced me to quit my job! Though within a few weeks of stress testing, I realized that it was broken for me. The UI was clearly designed by developers who focused on translating code commands into buttons and horizontal drags. It didn’t prioritize how those who didn’t write code typically interact with builders and logic canvases. Now that’s not to say that it can’t be used, and loved by others, it just couldn’t be loved by me.
Carrd and Zapier are shining case studies in user adoption by user optimization. Carrd focuses on letting users create great one page websites. One page, those are the rules. With heavy use of sliders and containers, a couple of mouse moves are all you need to become a Carrd flipper.
Zapier changed the game when they decided to democratize web automation at a quaint startup weekend in Columbia. Their focus on connecting APIs together that were previously split apart without code to connect them became a big hit. They focused relentlessly on making it as easy as possible to automate routine tasks that used to take many hours to complete. Gmail to Slack? Easy. Twitter to LinkedIn? Say no more. And all of this, with a user facing builder that came with it easily digestible instructions and clear labels. You could now click away your frustrations and open up your calendar. All because they understood that their end users were those that had great intentions but needed support to get to their expected outcome.
You can only go so far alone. Ask any olympic marathon runner or tour de france cyclist and they’ll say the same. While at it’s core these sports are individual sports, only one can break the finishing ribbon after all, the key to success is working with others. Following a pace setter, or riding in cleaner air, you need to rely on others to not get too far ahead of yourself and burn yourself out, or drop behind and lose motivation.
NoCode platforms can only do so much on their own before needing to integrate with other products. It’s far too much effort to create a NoCode platform that can be all things to all people and fit every single situation that is demanded of it. That’s why I give extra points to NoCode tools that make it easy to connect with others. Softr relies on Airtable to host dynamic data allowing Softr to focus on making it really easy to make awesome dynamic websites. They don’t need to be Airtable, the fully featured web database, because Airtable is already Airtable.
Open API access also means expanding possibilities. Using tools like Zapier and Make, NoCode platforms open themselves up to integration with other NoCode tools. Very quickly it becomes possible to make really powerful applications.
"Pricing is actually pretty simple...Customers will not pay literally a penny more than the true value of the product." - Ron Johnson, Former CEO @ JC Penny.
Value, value, value, what is the value I get from this NoCode product and does it justify spending finite resources. There’s a vast assortment of NoCode solutions out on the market today with just as many pricing strategies to back them up. The range of prices are broad going from Free for Life to “May have to sell your kidneys, corneas, and first born to back this up” expensive. AppGyver for example offers their solution completely for free for indie designers. Essentially everything you would ever need is completely free, their commitment to ensuring brand adoption and sway more corporations to pay for use. Bubble, their direct and chief competitor on the other hand starts their personal plans at $0 but progressively increases them higher to unlock capabilities that you need once you get serious.
Having pricing that makes sense for both personal use, and for clients at JMP Studios, is an important differentiator for me. Does your offering make sense, is there value in your product at the price that is being paid. Can there ever be a return on investment on these plans? The easier it is to demonstrate and understand value, the easier it is for me to believe that NoCode platforms can be trusted.
Showcase and Templates
To truly appreciate NoCode solutions you have to see what they can produce. Take them out for a spin, kick the tires, sip the free coffee, that sort of thing.
Having a strong showcase of apps built on the platform fosters credibility and provides social proof. Show me what you can do and convince me that what I want to get done can actually get done on your platform. Far too often NoCode founders forget this crucial step - trying to use big brands that supposedly love their platforms without actually showing what they’ve done.
Templates as well are a good starting point to get familiar with the nuances of how a particular NoCode tool handles particular development situations. When starting a new project I like to find a use case very similar to what I want to build to have a base to then go further. Glide pays particular attention to this with their app store, providing both free and paid templates for a variety of different use cases. If you’re looking to build your own Glide apps feel free to check out a collection of free templates created by JMP Studios here.
Why do you matter. Why you. Why me. What does your platform offer me and my clients that should get me to invest in you. My time, my effort, and with both time and effort, my evangelization.
Cue Spider Man Meme.
Yes, you’re powerful. Yes, you’re easy to use. Yes, you’re the darling of silicon valley. But what’s in it for me and why should I ditch what I already use to be a part of your ecosystem.
If a NoCode platform can sell me on this quickly and thoroughly, they’ve got my attention and my vote. The JMP Studios stack is built on tools with the following value:
Glide: Make amazing Web and Mobile applications with fast turnaround and scalable architecture
Softr: Transform static database data into a fully fleshed out website that can handle abuse
Carrd: Create one page landing pages at an affordable price. That’s it. And that’s all I need.
Zapier: Link a large variety of different tools together to automate work.
Make: Like Zapier but much cheaper and without as many integrations.
This stack gets me to where I and my clients need to go the vast majority of times. Yes there are other platforms out there, and of course if the situation arises I will use other platforms, but for now and in most cases, this is the value that I need and receive.
What ticks your boxes?
With all of the NoCode options out there, it’s important to have a way to figure out what makes sense to use. After all, time, attention, and money aren’t cheap. The above is what I use for both myself and JMP Studios to figure out what works. Your methodology could be different - it all comes down to what you value. What’s important is having a way to cut through the noise and start building. After all, you didn’t choose a NoCode builder to use a NoCode builder. You use one to build something with it.
If you’re looking for NoCode development for yourself or your company, check out JMP Studios at JMPStudios.xyz where we develop Unlimited NoCode Applications, websites, and automations for one monthly subscription.