Bubble.io is a no-code app development framework that let’s you design, develop, host and scale applications without writing any code. Bubble currently hosts hundreds of thousands of web applications with millions of users, ranging from hobby projects and bootstrapped startups to Fortune 500 companies and universities. Bubble was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Small and Mighty Companies of 2021
But what is Bubble? How does it work? And how can it help your business or project?
Let’s first have a look at the core functionality that Bubble offers:
Using the visual editor, apps can be designed quickly and previewed immediately.
The workflow editor let's you assign actions and workflows to the elements on your page.
Your app comes with a unique, fully featured and customizable database already set up.
After designing your app, deploying it to a live audience is literally done in one click.
Keeping those four verticals in mind, let’s then see how they affect software development, and why it’s a big deal.
Bubble’s core mission is to help anyone build web applications without writing code. But while that makes for an easily remembered mission statement, it actually leaves out a big part of the story. The road from idea to the market is more complex than just writing lines of code. In traditional development you need a team of highly specialized experts working on specific segments of the app’s production, growth and maintenance. Think about it. What does every app need?
While that’s not meant to be an exhaustive list, the point is clear: Bubble replaces a lot more than just a developer. It offers all of these services in a visual and highly automated way that makes it possible, even easy, for a single person to manage everything.
While other (and earlier) no-code platforms have made attempts at replacing the writing of code in different ways, Bubble’s philosophy is to remove all obstacles it possibly can for an app to hit the market, taking care of everything from responsive design and animations to hosting, version deployment, security and database operations.
Perhaps the most important plugin in the store is Bubble’s own API Connector. As the name suggest, this let’s you connect to other apps and services and exchange actions and data. Instead of going through the techie stuff of how that happens, let’s illustrate it with some examples the awesome things API’s can do:
With the recent explosive interest in no-code, it may feel that Bubble is a recent invention, but it’s actually been around for some time. It was founded back in 2012 when Joshua Haas (a Harvard graduate in philosophy) saw the potential of solving a well-known challenge: how can we make it easier for a non-technical entrepreneur to create a a tech product? He met his co-founder, the french-born Harvard Business School graduate Emmanuel Straschnov, through a friend and the two talked about his vision. It wouldn’t be another website builder, but a platform flexible enough to create any kind of database-driven application.
According to their own recount of the early days, the workflow and data tabs were a central part of the early prototype – an interesting illustration of how true Bubble has stayed to its original idea. That dedication, ironically, in part also explains why they’ve hidden under the radar for so long. As the two got to work and started building the prototype into an actual working product, there were several discussions of raising investment money to fund the development and grow a team. Listening to investors wanting to influence Bubble’s strategy early on made the team make an unusual decision: rather than take the risk of a well-meaning investor watering out Bubble’s vision, they would bootstrap the development until their product spoke for itself.
Over the next years, Josh and Emmanuel worked to improve Bubble, slowly adding key members to their team supported solely by revenue from user growth. By the time discussions on raising money came up again, Bubble already had 250,000 registered users and $1 million in yearly revenue. As the saying goes, don’t go to VC’s as a beggar – go as a king. The team was now in a much stronger position to ensure that Bubble could stay true to its roots even with seasoned investors on board. You can read more about the decision not to accept money in this blog post (in itself an interesting insight into the company’s culture, being written back in 2015)
The coming seed round attracted attracted high-profile investors with portfolios including Facebook, Dropbox, Lyft, AirBnB, Notion, Behance and the Lean Startup.
Josh and Emmanuel’s own story is a highly recommended and interesting read, and the comment section of the post reflect the dedication of their early user base. You can also read more about the company and see the list of its investors on crunchbase.
One of the eternal challenges for a solo entrepreneur or small team is the chicken-egg question of needing to create the software in order to validate the idea in order to raise the funds needed to create the software in order to validate… you get the point. Without a tech co-founder or the budget to hire developers, most ideas remain just that. Most investors don’t invest in good ideas, but in concepts that have proven their value in the market and need funds to grow.
Bubble opens up the possibility to create the software yourself, quickly and at a low cost and test it with live users. Let’s have a balanced look at the pros/cons and different routes you can take to get there.
The first thing you can consider is to build the app yourself. A good place to start to learn Bubble is the official Bubble academy, where you’ll find the official updated manual, a long list of video tutorials and the very useful interactive courses. While they only teach the most basic features, I highly recommend them as the quickest way to get up to speed on how to navigate Bubble’s editor tabs.
It’s useful to keep in mind that while Bubble is relatively easy to learn, there’s still a learning curve. Plan for the fact that you’ll be making a lot of mistakes in the coming weeks, some of them requiring time-consuming corrections. Most professional developers agree that a fully functional MVP can be built in two to five weeks (depending on the complexity of the app). As a new developer, you should realistically plan for a at least double that.
In many cases it’s also helpful to make your first app a pure experiment, and not the actual app you’re investing in. Consider it a blank canvas that you can mess up as much as you like. As you learn to work with Bubble, you’ll find that going back and correcting the work you did yesterday is a lot slower than doing it right the first time – and no one does that without some experience. Youtube is also becoming a great source of tutorials and lessons and can sometimes provide solutions to highly specific problems. Overall, the no-code community – and the official Bubble forum in particular, is my favorite place to ask questions. You’ll be amazed at how helpful people are and there’s already a great repository of questions answered over the years.
Over time, many agencies have spawned and evolved into maturity around Bubble. Bubble keeps a list of agencies on their website, but it should be noted that this is not a curated or vetted list, but simply a catalogue of companies who have purchased a Bubble agency license. Most agencies today require a minimum budget size ranging between $4-6000, and you can expect most projects to land somewhere between $8,000 and $15,000 depending on the project and agency. Most agencies will also prepare a handover for the final app, allowing you to keep making changes to the original build. Amlie Solutions is in itself also a Bubble agency.
For smaller projects, hiring a freelancer can be an alternative to the more expensive agencies. You can post projects and find workers on the Bubble forum, but I recommend you instead check out a platform like Upwork. This gives you a chance to find workers with a work history and reviews, and takes care of payment in an orderly fashion, securing the interests of both parties in the process. In short, it’s the safer choice.
No-code greatly reduces the cost and time-to-market for new apps, and lowers the threshold for startups and SME’s to invest in custom software previously reserved for companies with deep pockets. While the idea of building MVP’s has naturally caught the attention of the startup scene, Bubble’s flexibility opens up for creative uses in a much broader specter than that. Within a few years, it’s likely that most businesses will leverage no-code to streamline, automate and organize their work.
Let’s look at some different scenarios where no-code can give your company a significant competitive edge:
Bubble can get an MVP from the sketch stage to launch in a few weeks, allowing you to test and iterate ideas rapidly with live users and actual transactions.
Why spend time on a business plan when you can validate your hypotheses in a live market?
The low cost of development gives every company the opportunity to supplement or replace off-the shelf software with customized systems.
Sell products, manage staff, handle inventory, solve problems and streamline processes.
Set up automations to replace manual work, gather data and communicate efficiently. Break down department and software silos.
With API connections you can trigger workflows and synchronize information across different systems.
Don’t think of Bubble as a new tool or technology: instead, think of it as a sudden, drastic reduction in price and development time of customized software. What kind of competitive early-adopter edge could that give you? New business ventures? Lower process costs? More efficient communication or project management? More actionable data?
Within a few years, leveraging the power of Bubble’s flexible no-code approach will not only be unremarkable, but mainstream. The power of creating fully-functioning, production-level apps at a fraction of the cost is not going anywhere. It’s here to stay.