How to program if you’re not a programmer: no-code tools for entrepreneurs

Platforms for creating applications or automating tasks intuitively, such as Webflow, Typeform and Zapier, are paving the way for users who don’t have advanced programming knowledge to design simple digital products, launch prototypes or improve internal processes. Programmers can also use them to streamline their work.

“The future of programming is not programming at all.” With these words, Chris Wanstrath, co-founder and former CEO of GitHub, the largest open source software platform, predicted a few years ago that programming would become an increasingly automated process.

This is confirmed by the recent boom in no-code platforms, which make it possible to create digital products or automate certain processes without being a professional developer or having extensive technical knowledge. So, instead of needing to learn and employ specific programming languages to develop a functionality (like JavaScript, Python or C) and use code libraries such as those compiled by GitHub, no-code tools offer interaction with an intuitive and visual interface, dragging boxes and modules. One example of the rising popularity of no-code is the success of Webflow, a tool for designers to develop web pages without having to write code, which has reached a valuation of US $2.1 billion.

The tech giants also have platforms to launch websites and apps intuitively: Amazon has introduced Honeycode, Google has acquired AppSheet and Microsoft, which already had PowerApps, has just introduced an artificial intelligence functionality that transforms natural language into code.

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In addition to these tools, the number of initiatives offering resources, training and advice to the no-code community has shot up. They include MakerpadNoCode.Tech and Nocodehackers, which brings together courses, newsletters and podcasts in Spanish. “Some platforms have a small learning curve and our mission is to help overcome that first impact”, explains the founder of Nocodehackers, Alejandro Bernardo.

Sometimes companies make the mistake of creating tools from scratch when they could combine third-party tools to create a single product

Bernardo developed that website with no-code tools to “demonstrate the possibilities and empower” other users who, like him, did not know how to program and wanted to launch their own projects. This curiosity to devise technological solutions is also shared by those taking part in the BBVA Hackathon organised by BBVA Open Innovation, which this year will be held virtually between 22nd and 24th October. Participants include diverse profiles that may or may not have programming knowledge. Being aware of these platforms may also be very useful during the competition to provide inspiration for solving the twelve challenges put forward by the group, which they have to tackle within 40 hours.

So as a startup, how can you benefit from this movement, which no-code tools should you use for what, and what are their limitations?

From websites to chatbots 

Generally speaking, no-code platforms are SaaS (software as a service) with a subscription model, offering basic free options and more comprehensive paid versions. “There is no magic tool that will solve all your problems, but several that allow you to solve them easily,” says Bernardo.

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Entrepreneur Bosco Soler agrees with that vision: “Sometimes companies make the mistake of creating tools from scratch when they could combine third-party tools to create a single product”. Personally he has combined several to create no-code projects like SinOficina, an online co-working space for freelancers and entrepreneurs that he created in a matter of hours and that has more than 500 subscribers.

Both Soler and Bernardo advise exploring no-code solutions for different purposes:

  • Websites and apps. Besides Webflow, Carrd and Bubble also facilitate the creation of websites. For its part, Shopify is aimed at launching virtual shops and Thinkfic online courses, while GlideBravo Studio and Adalo streamline the creation of apps for smartphones. 
  • Internal applications. Airtable combines the features of a spreadsheet and a database with multiple uses. These include collecting information from websites behind the scenes, creating CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution templates, and designing dashboards to manage projects. Similarly, Notion facilitates collaborative work.
  • Online forms, chatbots and newsletters to communicate with customers. Typeform simplifies the creation of forms, visual surveys and chatbots (conversational interfaces that integrate with other websites). There are also alternatives, such as Arengu for forms and Landbot for chatbots. For email marketing, Mailchimp stands out.
  • Connectors. ZapierIntegromat and IFTTT act as the glue between different platforms and automate workflows between them.

To get started in the world of no-code, Soler recommends that entrepreneurs “start with the minimum and move on to another tool when they notice limitations” and “change the chip to everything being in beta”, rather than aiming to create a definitive product.

One way of stepping it up

Entrepreneurs like the creator of SinOficina have developed simple products entirely with no-code tools, but startups tend to use them to streamline their processes and validate prototypes or MVPs (Minimum Viable Products). “Many users work with Typeform to prototype quickly and cheaply – you don’t have to wait to hire a developer or for a developer to find time for you”, explains its CTO, Pau Minoves. The “quality and professionalism of the design” that these tools offer, according to the expert, add to these benefits.

One of the paradoxes of no-code is that anyone can use the applications, but at the same time they are very powerful for programmers

“A startup has to test a business model rather than develop a digital product. If the model can be tested in advance and at a lower cost using no-code tools, then why not?”, says programmer and entrepreneur David Bonilla. The expert launched Manfred, a talent management platform that focuses on supporting candidates, using tools like Typeform, Zapier and Airtable before developing their own technology.

No-code tools can also be used to “launch secondary projects” that “free up technical resources” and grant greater autonomy to other teams, according to the head of Nocodehackers, Alejandro Bernardo.

A future with and without code

Although no-code tools can be used by people who don’t know how to program, having at least a basic knowledge of web development, design or an advanced level of office automation will help along the way. They are also useful for more technical profiles.

Programar sin ser programador: herramientas 'no-code' para emprendedores

“One of the paradoxes of no-code is that specific applications are created and packaged so that anyone can use them, but at the same time, they are very powerful for programmers”, notes the CTO of Typeform, which has 120,000 customers ranging from the self-employed to big businesses. In fact, 83% of IT managers are planning to increase the use of low-code development tools, according to a recent Salesforce study.

No-code tools will democratise the automation of processes and simpler tasks, but more complex systems will still be developed from frameworks and libraries

However, these platforms still have limitations and room for improvement. According to Minoves, the fragmentation of the ecosystem “makes integration a challenge” and the cost of maintenance also increases as subscriptions increase. “There’s a race in the market for everything to be more integrated, more automated, and fewer skills are needed”, he claims. What’s more, for Bonilla none of these platforms “can reach the depth of a custom-developed product.” “No-code tools will democratise the automation of processes and simpler tasks, but more complex systems will still be developed from frameworks and libraries”, he predicts.

The no-code movement, therefore, will continue to coexist with traditional development, but will constitute a meeting point between programmers and professionals from other fields. Likewise, BBVA Open Innovation will connect multidisciplinary talent, from programmers to designers and business analysts from across the globe at the 2021 BBVA Hackathon, where they will seek synergies to solve the challenges posed.

Chris Wanstrath of GitHub also stated that “humans are not good at programming, at sitting down writing or dictating to a screen. What we do really well is think, solve problems.” Whether they use tools with or without code, or bring together the best of both worlds in their digital products, professionals with entrepreneurial spirit will keep working towards the same goal – shedding light on ideas to solve the challenges facing the society of today and tomorrow.

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