No-code: why does it matter for developers?

🎓 What is it?

Software and services that enable you to build projects (or parts of projects) without writing code.

🤔 Why it matters

No-code tooling allows you to do more with less (or, as you might guess, none — in some cases) code.

That means that you can build things like a paid community by putting together a Notion workspace and a membership service, commonly by stitching together services using visual tools.

If you’re a developer, it also means that you can save time on the stuff you don’t want to code. Instead of maintaining a database and an API for user management, you can just use Auth0.

Instead of setting up a Slackbot for new subscribers to your newsletter, you can use Zapier to plug the two together.

Ryan Hoover covers this in “The Rise of ‘No Code’”:

Today anyone with a computer and access to the internet can build a website using tools far more powerful than Dreamweaver from two decades ago. But these GUI-based tools have extended far beyond static sites to fully functional applications. In less than an hour you can create a:

– Beautifully responsive CMS-driven site using Webflow
– Ecommerce shop with Shopify
Facebook Messenger bot for your shop powered by Octane AI
– Web app using Bubble
– Mobile app with Thunkable
– Voice app using Voiceflow
– Complex web app combining Zapier and Airtable
– Simple single page website with Carrd
– Paid newsletter with Substack
– AR/VR/3D experience in your browser with Scapic
– Online magazine hosted by Readymag
– Turn a Google Sheet into a website with Sheet2Site
– Internal dashboards and tools with Retool

Quick aside: Here’s a fun “in the past” take on no-code: the hugely influential game Myst was first released on Hypercard, Apple’s visual programming tool, in 1993. Ars Technica’s video “How Myst Almost Couldn’t Run on CD-ROM” is an incredible look at the process.

👶 Where to start

“Where to start” with no-code is probably a more interesting and results-based objective than any other issue of this newsletter so far.

The end goal of no-code is to build anything without code. Every tutorial — e.g. “Build your online store” from, or any of the 100+ tutorials at Makerpad have clear outcomes: you’re going to build X (a store, a newsletter, a membership site).

Because of that, you should think about what you want to build. Right now, I’m thinking about selling a physical product, which means I need to:

  • Collect emails
  • Reach out to potential customers
  • Accept orders (payment processing)
  • Fulfill orders (storage, shipping, tracking)

Instead of coming to the no-code space and saying “Okay, what is this whole thing and where to start?”, I can say “Okay, how do I use this for my e-commerce project”. The result is much more focused, and easier to wrap your head around.

As for what to start with — here’s Brian Luerssen, CEO of Draftbit, in a Fuel Capital interview:

I think we’ll see a lot of traction around individual usage – creatives and content producers are already starting to create apps for their followers, their podcasts, their YouTube channels. They use no- and low-code tools to build software that lets them own, monetize, and engage their user base in ways they couldn’t before. There is a lot of untapped potential there. I think the future for tools like these really boils down into a version of freedom. To solve your own problems, to form your own communities and platforms, and to build what makes you happy.

📌 Players

There’s no-code tools to fill in the gaps in almost every project. Here’s some of the most common categories, and some of the larger players in them:

Google Sheets of the future:

I’m tired of writing HTML and CSS:

I already wrote that code at work this week, can you just do it for me?:

Look, I made an app:

🙅‍ Criticisms

Anne-Laure Le Cunff covers the downside of relying on no-code companies as the basis of your products in “Should non-technical solo makers learn how to code?”:

While you do have control over how you design your product, you are at the whim of the companies providing these no-code products, many of them are fast-moving startups themselves. Should they decide to change the way their solution work, or their pricing, or to be acquired or shut down, you may have to change the fundamental structure of how your product works.

Saumitra Khanwalker thinks that the positioning of “no-code” is fundamentally wrong, and obscures the real challenge with larger projects in “No Code is going the wrong way”:

My fundamental problem is that most no-code tools out there say that their users will not need code at all. No, I am not referring to the term “no-code”. Many in the no-code community agree that that name is a misnomer. I am referring to what these tools say on Twitter, or write on their landing pages. They say you can build anything without any code at all. That I think is either a blatant lie or a delusion.

With no-code tools, you are simply putting blocks together. If you need a different block or if you are looking for smaller blocks than the ones that the tool provides, you are stuck.

Ben Tossell is the founder of Makerpad and an investor in no-code projects. In his Twitter thread “Let’s clear some stuff up about no-code”, he covers some common no-code criticisms and his take on them.

🙋 Who to know