No code Festivus
(For the Rest of Us)
Let’s get this Festivus started!
Airing of Grievances
Historically, the challenge with software development was creating a product that could be broadly applicable to a large enough market. Yet, in trying to build something for everyone, many companies end up building something for no one -- a bloated user interface, features you don’t need, and countless hours trying to fit the square peg application into the round hole of your workflow. Users were forced to adapt to the software rather than the other way around!
In this era, enterprise software was created to sell to CIOs at Fortune 500 companies. A top-down approach to product development and sales that focused on checking boxes for the CIO and not the end user.
In our blog “Revving the Engine” we proclaimed that the one word that describes modern enterprise software is “accessibility.” Today, software is built explicitly for the end users. What good is it if no one wants to use it? Consider how products like Dropbox and Slack were accessible for free to individual users who pulled them into the workplace because of their ease of use and effectiveness. This was the start of the “consumerization” of software. The sales & marketing approach for Dropbox and Slack focused on getting individual users and teams using the product who would then “pull” the product into their enterprise. The product (and therefore sales) focus was Bottoms Up vs Top Down.
Today, software is increasingly being built on the basis of fungibility. Meaning, applications provide a toolkit for users to create and conform the software to fit their specific use case. This software is for Makers -- the non-technical user who creates their own applications.
Feats of Strength
Let’s use the OG of no-code tools, Microsoft Excel, as a means for demonstrating this point. What is Excel? Well it's a spreadsheet of course, but what's it do? Ah, well now that's much harder to pin down. It organizes information, tabulates numbers, and creates graphs, but to what end? Well Excel could be your budgeting tool, sales pipeline, inventory tracker, time sheet, etc. You can create formulas to perform functions or even code macros to perform tasks. Whether you love it or hate it, Excel is the swiss army knife of applications.
A more recent example of software fungibility is Airtable, a product that combines the flexibility of a spreadsheet with the power of a database. Meaning not only does Airtable store data similarly to a spreadsheet but unlike a spreadsheet, it can also store the relationship between data points. This means that Airtable delivers a less error prone means for storing and analyzing massive amounts of data. Furthermore you have the power to integrate Airtable with other software applications through APIs. Just like Excel, Airtable can be a solution for all functions including Sales, HR, Marketing, Finance, Operations with an increasing level of power and capability yet with the approachability of a spreadsheet. The application provides the capability and the Maker provides the use case.
Shopify provides another specific example of this Maker software movement. Shopify gives any merchant or business owner the ability to set up a custom, online storefront in minutes. Merchants can choose themes and shopping widgets to create their ideal customer experience. No need to worry about buying servers, security, or web designers! This product has propelled Shopify into a company with over $4B in annual revenue.
The default position for most business owners is to just say “give me something that works.” Understandably so! After years of vendors overpromising and under delivering solutions you have every right to be skeptical. The strength of software’s attributes have helped it overcome its obvious weaknesses and the beauty of the technology industry is that it’s in a constant state of iteration and evolution. What once may have been only for power users eventually becomes available to the masses. Computers, email, smartphones (remember Blackberry??), and now even software development have become mainstream. Many applications today offer a choose-your-own-adventure experience so that Makers can create exactly what they need. No more, no less.
Airtable and Shopify are just two examples of a deeper focus on creating products for Makers. Whether or not these products solve a need for you, the evolution of software development continues unabated. Expect more products in the future that improve the ease of use, increase in capability, and broaden the access of their user base.
While it’s exciting to consider the future possibilities, the implications for business owners will be even more meaningful. Most traditional businesses had only one option when it came to implementing software solutions: BUY. Unless you were a software company, you had no choice given that the alternative was to make an expensive acquisition, hire expensive software developers, or attempt to hire unreliable (and expensive!) consultants. Most companies unfortunately lacked the capabilities required to scope the project, execute the development, and manage the longer term maintenance.
Software for Makers changes this calculus. No-code tools abstract away the most complex components of software development - no need to worry about implementing servers, storage, or security and you obviously don’t need developers! A web browser and a credit card are all you need to be able to take advantage of these tools. You may still think these products are too complex or don’t solve your problems -- that is probably true today, but we implore you to pay attention to this category because it will continue to grow and evolve. Having the power to BUILD vs buy could be transformational for your business. Solutions once only available to the savviest of technology companies will now be at your fingertips (literally!).
It’s a Festivus Miracle!