How the no code movement is going to impact entrepreneurship

Luke Smith

Partner + Investor

May 8, 2019

Low and no-code platforms are tools that allow users to create software visually, with little or no programming skill required. Some believe these platforms are ‘hyped’ but our view is that there’s huge potential for low and no-code platforms to impact early-stage startups in ways still to be realised. For example, these tools will enable cheaper builds and faster iterations, as well as democratise access to entrepreneurship. 

The Journey from Cables to No-Code

In 1946, the University of Pennsylvania introduced ENIAC―the world’s first general-purpose electronic computer. ENIAC was programmed by flipping switches and plugging and unplugging cables in an elaborate network of physical connections.

Next came binary code. Binary provided a way to tell the computer to make the connections itself. The series of 1s and 0s were originally punched into computer-readable stacks of cards, as you can imagine these were incredibly taxing for people to write.

In 1953, a researcher working for IBM had a moment of inspiration. They created a syntax using English language words and algebraic expressions.

The solution was dubbed Fortran, the first high-level programming language and it sped up programming by a factor of 20. AfterFortran came many other, often simpler, programming languages including familiar names like C, Python, Javascript and other languages popular with coders today.

The driving force behind developing new ways of programming has often been to make them more accessible and intuitive and to allow companies to innovate more easily through faster iterations.

The same impetus brought about the development of early low-code platforms like Microsoft Visual Basic and is ultimately what’s behind the wide variety of low and no-code platforms in use today.

The Low-Code and No-Code Boom

In the early 2000s, no-code platforms such as WordPress, Wix and Shopify changed the internet. For the first time users could create a website or online store in minutes instead of weeks or months, opening up the internet and ecommerce to many who had previously been locked out. These platforms now power hundreds of millions of websites and businesses.

Then in the 2010s, more powerful, dynamic and customizable tools such as Bubble, Zapier and Webflow launched. Rather than being limited to a simple website or store front, users could build web apps, mobile apps and more sophisticated automations.

Now in the 2020s, there’s not just a swath of tools but an entire ecosystem of accelerators, communities, hackathons and funds dedicated to the movement.

While the movement has been going on for some time, it has exploded in the last few years. In fact, Forrester predicts that the no-code development platform market alone will grow from $3.8billion in 2017 to $21.2 billion in 2022. 

A New Model of Entrepreneurship

Early-stage entrepreneurs stand to benefit enormously from no-code and low-code for three key reasons:

Fast - you can create software faster

Cheap - you can start with tools that cost a few hundred pounds a month or less, rather than hiring a team of developers

Easy - the learning curve is much shallower than learning to code.

This could be the beginning of a new model of entrepreneurship. When it’s so much faster, cheaper and easier to create and iterate a new product, it opens entrepreneurship up to more people, it’s less risky to pivot (and pivot again), and founders can also generate revenues sooner. Let’s discuss each in turn:

Democratizing Access. The creation of software products has for a longtime been limited to a small subset of the population: the 25m people worldwide who know how to code represent just 0.3% of the global population.
Vlad Magdalin, co-founder of Webflow, estimates the no-code movement could open up software creation to at least 10x the number of people who can write code today. This means many more would-be founders who lack the technical know-how can build and launch an MVP and start their own software business. 

The cost of entrepreneurship has often been a real barrier to entry for hopeful founders too. The lucky ones have typically relied on help from ‘family and friends’ rounds to get them started. Indeed, The State ofEuropean Tech report from 2019 shows how financially privileged many founders are, uncovering 81% of founders described their financial situation as ‘living comfortably with extra left over’.

If you’re not in this fortunate group, it can be prohibitively expensive to become an entrepreneur. Most people cannot afford to take time off work, let alone cover the cost of developers. No-code tools significantly reduce the costs of starting a business which means people can start up with little capital, and often alongside full-time work in the early stages. 

Reducing Startup Risk. The startup failure rate sits at an eye-watering 95%. According to CB Insights, the main reason startups fail- accounting for 42% of failures - is there is ‘no market need’ for the product. The second most common reason is new businesses running out of cash, accounting for 29% of failed startups. Sadly we still often see founders who have spent a year or two and thousands of pounds building their MVP only to realise there was no market need for their business.

No-code platforms offer founders of certain types of startups, such as apps, marketplaces or content-driven businesses, a lifeline for addressing the two most common causes of startup failure, which together are behind 71% of startup failures. Entrepreneurs can now use no-code tools to test their ideas rapidly and gain customer feedback to check (and check again)that people need what they’re building, and they can launch and iterate at little cost without burning through capital.

Side note: although you can use no-code tools for rapid MVP development and trial-and-error testing, they’re not a substitute for excellent customer research and customer development.

Early Revenue Generation. While Forward invests in founders at pre-revenue stages, the expectation in the wider investment ecosystem is that companies need revenues to raise seed funding: a study by Wing Ventures showed in the last 10 years the percentage of companies generating revenue at seed has gone up from 10% to almost 70%.  

Wing Ventures. Because no-code platforms provide a quicker and easier way to build and launch products, startups can start generating revenues much earlier and help increase a startups chance of success at fundraising.

The Business of No Code: Making The Most of No-Code

In future we’ll see more and more businesses built entirelyon no-code tools, and a number of them will be venture-backed. Mobile apps, marketplaces and content-driven businesses, such as edtech or social-driven platforms, are well placed to take advantage of no-code tools. For instance, Makerpad, an edtech platform teaching people how to use no-code tools, was created entirely using no-code.

Founders setting up enterprise-grade businesses, AI-driven companies or healthcare startups may find the no-code route more challenging, although players such as Unqork may be set to change that.

Many startups will choose to launch a no-code MVP before progressing to custom code once they’ve proven market demand. Others may choose a hybrid approach, combining low and no-code tools with custom code for greater flexibility.

While we’re confident no-code will help entrepreneurs overcome the many barriers to starting up, their primary challenge remains unchanged: getting customers and building something meaningful. Future startup businesses will be built by people who are able to do these things well, regardless of how they choose to do it.

Resources for no code entrepreneurs

If you’re interested in no code but not sure where to start here are some suggestions:

Build a beautifully responsive CMS-driven site using Webflow

Build a web app using Bubble, Boundless or Panda Suite.

Create more complex web apps by combining Zapier and Airtable.

Start a mobile app with Thunkable or Glide

Design a voice app using Voiceflow

Level up your internal reporting with dashboards and tools from Retool

There are also incredible resources out there for the creative no code entrepreneur. Here are a few we love:

Read Adalo’s thoughts on the future on no-code here.

Read the ‘Reddit of side projects’ IndieHackers and especially their No Code group

Check out WhizZoe blog- Zoe Chew shows how you can spin up no code MVPs in 24 hours

Try a no-code course at Makerspad, No Coder Tools, No Code MBA, NoCodify or NoCodery

Join a no-code accelerator such as We Are No Code

Female founder? Join Atto, the female founder accelerator and no-code school

Listen to a No Code podcast such as No Code Podcast

Join a no code community such as No Code Founders or Nucode

Take the 100 days of no code challenge

Share this article

Luke Smith

Partner + Investor

May 8, 2019

Luke joined Forward Partners from REV Venture Partners, a corporate VC, where he was responsible for deal origination, investment due diligence and portfolio reporting. He was previously a consultant with the strategy consultancy Oliver Wyman, where he worked across the retail, aviation, healthcare and FMCG sectors. Luke originally planned a career in science and he holds a PhD in biochemistry. His focus at Forward Partners is on sourcing and executing new investments.