In 2016, I was on the lookout for ways to create an MVP for a client that had an idea to expand their business. The client did not have a budget to get a full-scale app developed by a development team, and we were looking for ways to both validate the idea in the market and to pique the interest of potential investors for the project.
Our focus was to create a prototype, and we were hoping to be able to put together something more interesting and interactive than a set of Powerpoint slides. No-code was still a vague term that had been hanging around for as long as I had worked in tech, but was not considered a viable way to build any sort of complete software.
Simple databases like Microsoft Access, spreadsheets like Excel and Google Sheets, automations like Zapier and Integromat (now known as Make) were certainly starting to look interesting, but setting up applications with an actual customized user interface, isolated database, browser compatibility and complex workflows was still something that had to be left up to experienced designers and developers. Only a professional team could be trusted to maintain stability, security and performance and wrap it all up in a user-friendly interface.
To be able to set up a working application within the budget constraints of a small company was simply not feasible in most cases. It was left up to the bigger players or those who happened to have deep pockets: books like The Lean Startup were a success not only because it contained good advice (which it still does), but also because they address the very real constraint that small startups and SMEs could not realistically create much more than a Minimum Viable Product without accepting a break-the-company risk. Bigger companies could at least write off the loss of miscalculating a market need, but to smaller companies a losing bet could lead to closed doors and employees losing their jobs. The idea of the MVP was a brilliant way to soften the blow and still get the data you needed to pursue a business idea.
But not everything is a project that can go through several phases of limited viability before it reaches basic maturity. Some, like internal tools, are not awaiting market feedback, but are built to serve a purpose from the day it’s deployed. To a small company, that kind of investment is not necessarily available or requires substantial justification to greenlight. The cost of developing high-quality custom software was shaping the priorities of small and medium sized businesses all over the world, usually skewed in the direction of delaying it for another year.
While the last 20 years has certainly introduced interesting pieces of software coming from small, bootstrap companies, it’s impossible to calculate just how many software solutions never saw the light of day because they were scrapped long before they reached the development stage. It’s a severe case of survivor bias of huge statistical importance that we’ll never be able to explore, but to which a solution appeared unexpectedly and silently.
[…] it’s impossible to calculate just how many software solutions never saw the light of day because they were scrapped long before they reached the development stage. It’s a severe case of survivor bias of huge statistical importance that we’ll never be able to explore, but to which a solution appeared unexpectedly and silently.
During a late-night session where I was researching ways to set up our prototype in a more interactive way, I somehow stumbled upon the website of a small, bootstrapped startup called Bubble. They promised a way to build web applications without a single line of code and offered a free plan to try out its features.
I was not convinced.
I’d heard of similar projects, both startups and others launched by some of the world’s biggest companies, and they never managed to keep the promise of making application development, hosting and deployment truly manageable by one person. The limitations would usually become apparent within the first hour of testing and would cement my impression that no-code was still nothing but a typical tech buzzword: overpromising and under-delivering.
I’ve been dead wrong about internet trends before. I thought there was no room for Instagram, since it basically offered what Facebook already had. I vastly underestimated the impact Twitter would have as a political platform through short, public messages. History proved me wrong.
With Bubble I knew within half an hour of opening up the editor.
I placed a few input elements on a blank Bubble page, connected a button to a workflow that saved the information in the database and then refreshed the page. As I witnessed the information I just saved being displayed on the screen as a piece of dynamic data, I couldn’t take my eyes of the screen, and my initial reaction washed over me:
Holy crap. This will change everything.
For the first time, I was absolutely certain that I was witnessing a complete paradigm shift, and that to ignore it would be a shameful story of personal business failure that I would not forgive myself for making. Overnight, I changed the focus of my company from a successful startup and marketing consulting business to full-time Bubble developer.
Six years later, I have not revised my initial hunch.
The uphill battle of explaining no-code
I was completely confused at first by a simple observation. As every other person on the planet, I was long used to finding the answer to every conceivable answerable question on Google. So why on earth, when I googled questions related to Bubble, was I not able to find even a single StackExchange post, let alone an actual article that discussed anything having to do with the platform? There was this complete transformative technology, but not a single review, article, tutorial or YouTube video to dig up.
Over the next few weeks as I started frequenting the official Bubble forum, I slowly learned to my surprise that no one seemed to know about this silent revolution going on. The forum featured a few hundred members, a few power users that provided most of the more technical responses and a couple of Bubble team members who turned out to be the company founders, Emmanuel and Josh, answering both technical questions and quickly implementing requested features.
The grassroot nature of the no-code movement didn’t deter me one bit. Quite the opposite: the more I learned, the more I became absolutely convinced that I had stumbled upon a radical change in how applications will be built from now on. In the brilliant words of Dr. Dre as Steve Jobs showed him iTunes for the first time: Man, someone finally got it right. I dove deep into it, working extremely long hours to maintain my existing business while making the pivot that I knew would change my company forever.
The first couple of years was filled with discussions with potential clients that I thought might benefit from having access to software development at a low cost. Discussions were two-fold, even from my own perspective: I was talking after all with a network of clients that had developed a trust in my advice over many years, and I was careful to present Bubble as what it was rather than to let my eagerness blind me to the downsides that my client needed to know about: the fact that Bubble was a startup, the lock-in, the performance bottlenecks that were known at the time, its effect on SEO – low-cost, fast-paced development is a hugely important factor, but it’s not the only factor after all.
Forcing my company to present a balanced view to clients who trusted my advice was the start of a way to process Bubble’s platform that has helped me immensely over these years. By performing a series of due diligence processes for clients of all sorts I tried hard to fall out of love with Bubble and see it through the eyes of companies with different needs and requirements than my own.
Bubble’s initial underdog success was not just that they were able to build a fantastic product, but they understood early that to succeed they would need a vibrant community of loyal power users. Josh and Emmanuel’s active presence in the forum and their willingness to listen closely to their most dedicated Users set the tone for the forum as a place for sharing questions, ideas and advice. As I found that early adopters were going to great lengths to help new users get up to speed, I felt a similar urge to help other users out by contributing as I learned. The early perspective of wanting to maintain a balanced view of the pros and cons combined with the sense of community that encouraged sharing your learnings led to thousands of forum posts, some long-form ones, and eventually to redesigning our company website to focus purely on Bubble in the form of tutorials and advanced articles.
To this day, Bubble still has perhaps the most active and helpful community I’ve encountered online, and a long list of incredibly generous, resourceful power users are sharing creative problem solutions, tutorials and plugins every single day.
Over the first few years, clients were understandably cautious. Bubble was a young company with a peculiar name that locked you in for life – not every client was willing to jump down from the fence and take the lead, even with the major upsides it could provide. Still, some of my clients either shared my view that this was the future, or they trusted me to make the decision and pick the tech stack for them. A few early adopters set up incredibly interesting projects in those early days and others moved their entire platform over to Bubble and remain there today, sometimes having gained major advantages over their competition as a result of being able to leverage technology quickly at a low cost.
The group of early adopters was small, but dedicated. Convincing clients to switch to Bubble was definitely a sales job: it required presentations, research and reports and often ended with the client saying that they were happy to join as soon as someone else had successfully taken that first step.
That hesitation would soon evaporate.
The tide turns
Over the next three years, Bubble’s small community of a few hundred members started to grow substantially as indie hackers embraced the new way of building. In 2019 Bubble had reached a quarter of a million registered users as the news went public that the platform had raised $6.25 million in a round led by SignalFire and Neo, along with a group of individual investors.
With that initial seed round and the media attention that followed, our sales inbox started being flooded with clients looking for an experienced agency to set up projects of all kinds. Over the next years we set up everything from inventory management, CRM’s, eCommerce apps, business automations, project management systems, employee feedback platforms and various niche software ideas.
All the while, even as we hired and trained freelance developers to cover the explosive growth in incoming leads, we had to turn down a lot more than we took on.
www.amliesolutions.com, which used to be a sleepy website born out of necessity to have an online presence at all than an actual sales channel grew from about 200 visitors per month to tens of thousands of monthly visitors that read articles, buy books and book coaching sessions. Bubble opened up a network that would have been hard to dream up just a few years earlier, having done bootcamps and coaching sessions with interesting people ranging from eager startup founders to famous billionaire tech CEO’s and investors.
Just two short years later, Bubble’s 250,000 users had grown into a million registered users just as Ryan Hinkle of Insight Partners led a $100M Series A Round, leading again to a massive media coverage in major publications like TechCrunch, Business Insider and Reuters.
Bubble opened up a network that would have been hard to dream up just a few years earlier, having done bootcamps and coaching sessions with interesting people ranging from eager startup founders to famous billionaire tech CEO’s and investors.
By that time, I’d released my first book The Ultimate Guide to Bubble Performance and was working on the release of the follow-up The Ultimate Guide to Bubble Security. Those releases, along with the huge Series A Round again led to an explosion in incoming leads wanting project development, training and one-on-one coaching, to the point where we had to close our contact forms with an apologetic message that we simply couldn’t hire fast enough to even respond to everyone.
Ironically, most of our time was still spent on our existing client base as they kept scheduling follow-up projects to extend the functionality and automation of their own growing businesses. Having to reluctantly turn down incoming business proposals on a daily basis was a strangely awkward exercise that went against every nugget of business sense I had collected throughout my career.
Still, it was clear by this time that my hunch had been right and my bet on Bubble had already paid off in multiplying my company revenue many times over and granting us a war chest that allowed us to make another pivot into exploring interesting projects of our own, betting months of development time on business ideas that we believed in. We’re currently in the middle of that second step in Amlie Solution’s Bubble evolution and leaving a large portion of new client work over to other agencies that we know and trust while we work with existing clients and extend our own portfolio of products with a scalable recurring revenue stream.
Our story is not unique. With the advent of any important new technology, a culture of businesses that leverage the new opportunities always bloom, sometimes creating even bigger businesses than those that invented the new technology to begin with. The invention of microchips led to the growth of behemoths like Apple and Microsoft and as the internet spread around the globe, giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook sprouted and grew.
Everyone knows the big five, but not everyone is aware of some of the other major forces that have shaped the internet. WordPress silently powers a whopping 40% of all the sites on the web, and website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and Webflow collectively powers tens of millions of websites and Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento and others covers the same volume on the eCommerce side.
None of them are in the unique position that Bubble is in. Bubble’s unique feature set and the completeness of its approach to handle design, workflows, hosting and database means it offers a way to to build the full Venn diagram of websites and applications, cutting out the need to keep multiple databases in sync and setting up manual automations across different platforms.
As small businesses move away from clumsy off-the-shelf solutions and implement their websites with tailored custom no-code software to get new leads, handle incoming orders and automate their business processes, spreading the Venn diagram across multiple providers makes poor business sense and introduces needless complexity. If Bubble can handle the full spectrum of web services that a business needs and it takes just one person to set up and maintain, why would you choose anything else?
Now, I’m not making the argument that every other service is doomed in competition with Bubble – the internet is an enormous and growing universe that has room for plenty of service providers. Bubble’s lock-in strategy, security compliance limitations, lack of proper enterprise-level support and a host of other structural details can be perfectly good reasons for a company to pick another tech stack or put it on hold for the time being.
What I am arguing is that Bubble is in the unique position of being a single service provider that can cover almost every conceivable software need a business might have, from website to ERP, and keep them unified in a single database or easily connected databases across apps.
Bubble spent nine years to get its first one million users, and then one year to get to two million. Where there used to be a shortage of inspiring, serious projects built on the platform, there are now a plethora of VC-backed projects and services that are handling millions of data points and are processing hundreds of thousands of dollars from paying customers.
This development has alleviated many of the concerns that potential users had just a few years back. Bubble has gone from grassroot upstart to a serious and well-funded online presence in just a few years. With a $100 million investment from well-known investors, a 2022 partnership with Microsoft for Startups to aid founders and entrepreneurs from idea to exit and millions of registered users, Bubble is here to stay.
For small and medium sized businesses, this is a major opportunity that we’ll explore in part 2 of this series.