Decoding the no-code / low-code startup universe and its players

This is my first collaborative essay, and my collaborator is someone I’ve been following for a while: Ben Tossell. Ben is the founder of Makerpad, a website that teaches anyone how to build apps and websites without writing a single line of code. Earlier this week, Ben announced Makerpad’s acquisition by Zapier. He’s also recently raised a fund on the back of the massive community he’s built in the space: Ben Tossell’s Rolling Fund. (Go follow him on Twitter and come back).

10 years ago, most web and application designs on the internet used to depend on developers, who had to work day and night to make their code work.

Fast-forward to today, and anyone with a computer and access to the internet can build a website, app or internal tool using extremely powerful applications: no-code & low-code tools.

It doesn’t stop at websites and apps: people who don’t have deep technical skills today can run their entire company online, set up an eCommerce business, or even launch a bank!

For example, Nuage Stays — which recently reached $5M in annual recurring revenue — was built using low-code tools such as Airtable, Zapier and others to manage reservations, collect and store data, create calendars etc.

This new era of technology didn’t go unnoticed: multiple people wrote about the trend before and more and more folks seem to be catching on:

What does no-code / low-code mean though? It is a method and a movement of programming that does not necessarily involve writing code, but instead works with a Graphic User Interface (GUI), where people can use templates, drag & drop functions, conversational interfaces and logical sequences to bring any digital product to reality.

This emerging category is about the democratisation of software development, unlocking the potential that digitisation brings to anyone that has access to a computer or a phone & the internet.

Let’s be clear: no-code and low-code tools are not about eliminating code or engineers. They are about making life easier for coders, while opening access to everyone, making everyone a ‘citizen developer’. They are about abstracting away the complexity of code to focus on design and logic. It means no longer having to do boring, mundane, and off-project tasks.

Through such tools, sales / marketing / product / operations teams and founders anywhere in the world can build sophisticated workflows and applications without needing any technical knowledge.

The investment world seems to have noticed this trend too: in the last month alone (!), very large funding rounds were announced in the space: Zapier’s secondary at a $5 billion valuation, OutSystems’ $150M round at a $9.5B valuation, Creatio’s $68M first raise, Rows’ $16M Series B, Oribi’s $15.5 million Series B, and more… The momentum is so strong that some see it as a craze, comparable to the chatbots-, ICOs-, and cannabis-related explosions we saw in recent years…

Having worked with hundreds of tools within the ecosystem and the builders and makers using them, we normally see this category as segmented into:

  1. No-code: This includes (i) Tools with literally zero code, made for people who don’t know and never want to know how the software works. They just want it to work & look good. (e.g. Universe, Gumroad, etc.). These tools cannot be made more complex by design. Companies in this space feel like magic. You can build a website on your mobile phone in 15 minutes or bring Stripe billing to your product in a flexible dynamic way in minutes. They are generally simple to use, clients get lots of support and most of the companies have vibrant communities of non-technical people helping each other. The segment also includes (ii) Tools & Software for people who are good systems thinkers & know their way around an Application Programming Interface (API) (e.g. Airtable, Zapier, Webflow, etc.). These tools do have the ability to be configured as more complex and include code elements if one wants to go deeper. Not only is this segment interesting and already full of companies over the $100m valuation mark, it’s fast becoming a breeding ground of ecosystems. Think what Atlassian have done as an entire ecosystem, then apply that to the Webflow or Airtable ecosystems.

Digging deeper, what industries / verticals do these tools reside in? We’ve spent the last few months trying to answer that question, crafting a list of 145 unique companies and 12 categories that caught our attention in this space. Let’s get into it.

Our plan is to keep updating this post on a regular basis, so that it can become the go-to piece for the sector. If you’re building a company that you think should be included, drop it in the comments or ping us on Twitter!

145 Interesting no-code / low-code startups

Note 1: Many of the startups listed sit across multiple categories. We chose one for each for simplicity.

Note 2: This is not an attempt at including every single company in these categories — we know we’re missing lots of them — but rather a selection of the independent, private, and often venture-backed ones we know and find interesting.

⚠️ If you’re more of a spreadsheet person than a «logo map» person, you can find the full list of 145 companies we looked at here. We included their backers / funding amounts and tried to personalise the description of each company to make it clear as to why it fits into its category️ ️️⚠️

Click to access the full spreadsheet

1. Website Builders & Enhancers

Building a website used to require significant knowledge of programming languages like HTML and CSS or a large budget for a web designer. Today, there are many different website builders and enhancers that allow anyone to create a beautiful site in a matter of hours, no programming skills or massive budgets required. Notable examples:

  • Webflow, Strikingly, Unstack, Squarespace: make fully fledged websites more easily and without the need to have technical knowledge.

2. App Builders, Mobile-first

After websites came mobile apps. Their use is increasing exponentially with every passing day. Whether it’s for personal use or business use, mobile apps are doing wonders in delivering exceptional services instantly without any hindrance. Traditionally, developing mobile apps was a big challenge with a lot of complexities surrounding it. Today, the task of developing fully functional next-generation mobile apps has become simpler than ever through no-code and low-code tools. Notable examples:

  • Dropsource, Thunkable, Draftbit, Adalo, BuildFire: drag-and-drop programming tools to allow anyone to make beautiful, native mobile apps without knowing how to code.

3. App Builders & Enhancers, Web-first

People today use dozens of web applications daily. These function like downloadable apps, but all from the comfort of your browser. Extremely powerful no-code and low-code tools emerged in recent years to help anyone build apps their users, customers and audiences can use without needing any technical knowledge. Think “public applications” such as an Airbnb-style marketplace, a Tinder clone, a social network for a specific community, etc. Notable examples:

  • Outsystems, Unqork, Betty Blocks, 8base: Low-code tools to develop, deploy, and manage apps, predominantly focused on serving large Enterprise customers.

4. Internal Tools & Internal App Builders

Some of the biggest potential of no-code and low-code lies in the internal projects and tools it allows anyone to create. In most companies, current workflows and processes are not optimised and many hours of productivity could be generated through the implementation of no-code tools. Sales, Marketing, HR or Finance teams can now solve their own problems by themselves, building custom-made internal tools. For example, if you realise that your team uses Google Sheets every day, but constantly needs to add certain pictures to each row, or link to external files, you may want to build an internal app that allows you to collaborate on Google Sheets with appropriate entries for pictures built in. Notable examples:

  • Retool, BRYTER, Forest Admin, Budibase, Flowdash, Jet Admin: Offering users fast ways to build internal applications and digital tools they can use for their daily work.

5. Workflow Automation Tools

This category is an extension of the previous one. When people think about automation, they often think about robots or AI… However, real automation starts with the every day workflows we all carry out, many of which are repetitive and we’d be happy to do without. Workflow automation has become important enough to convince a ton of incredible founders to build companies in the space; companies that connect all the apps that you use daily through some sort of ‘internet glue’: integrations. Notable examples:

  • Workato, Tray, Pipefy, Ninox, n8n, Zapier: Allowing users to integrate their software applications using powerful automated workflows. Users can easily build and streamline processes using a beautifully designed visual workflow editor. Example: “When I get a new email in Gmail, copy the attachment from Gmail to Dropbox and then alert me on Slack about the new Dropbox file”. All of these companies can serve both SMEs and Enterprise customers. Another great player here is Integromat, which was recently acquired by Celonis.

6. Data & Developer Productivity

As we said before, no-code and low-code tools are not about eliminating code or engineers. They are about making life easier for coders, while opening access to everyone. Combining the mastery of no-code tools with programming knowledge could actually make anyone absolutely essential and indispensable for any company. Many great tools have been built in the last few years to help developers and data teams with their daily tasks. Notable examples:

  • Parabola, Gyana, Chartio, Intersect, Obviously AI, Above: all quite different from each other, these tools help users analyse and track their critical data through intuitive interfaces.

7. Spreadsheets on Steroids

People have been using spreadsheets for ages. In the last couple of decades, they’ve even started building applications on top of spreadsheets. In fact, arguably users of spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1–2–3 are the original citizen developers. With this in mind, delivering new no-code and low-code applications that have a spreadsheet-based interface could help minimise disruption by minimising the amount of time it might take for end users to master a new application. Some great founders are following this trend. Notable examples:

  • Airtable, Rows, Actiondesk: Spreadsheets that can be used as databases, letting users build various types of automations, such as importing and refreshing data and more.

8. Numbers, Finance & Modelling

As we just saw, spreadsheets can be incredibly powerful. However, when it comes to financial modelling or scenario planning, spreadsheets like Excel can get rather complicated quite quickly, and require significant technical training or financial knowledge to operate. This is quickly changing, with a new breed of no-code and low-code software tools assisting anyone wanting to do complex calculations and build comprehensive models on the fly, or connecting with all the tools one already uses to make data collection seamless. Notable examples:

  • Jirav, Canaree, Causal, Abacum, Pry: Financial modelling and financial planning software tools that make it simple for companies to manage their budget, hiring plan, financial models, cash runway etc.

9. Payments & Transactions

One of the sectors in which we’ve seen some of the most powerful no-code and low-code applications is B2B payments and transactions: from tools to allow anyone to build a bank, to Zapier-like connectors orchestrating payments etc. Notable examples:

  • Solarisbank, Mambu, Swan: Banking as a Service (BaaS). Through these tools, pretty much any business can become a banking provider with nothing but a few lines of code.

10. Checkouts, Subscriptions, Memberships & Commerce

How not to address the elephant in the room, the ‘Creator Economy’, or ‘Passion Economy’: most people with access to the internet today can ‘scale themselves’ and monetise their unique skills online, or launch their own business online. Similarly, any eCommerce business today can run completely online. Who powers this? In large part, it’s low-code tools that automate the most technical or mundane parts of the job: building checkout pages, allowing someone to charge their customers via recurring payments, building membership management tools and powering commerce at large. Notable examples:

  • Commsor, Circle, Memberstack, Geneva: Helping community builders and creators bring together their discussions, memberships, and content. Some of these (e.g. Commsor, Memberstack) are focused on back-end, while others (e.g. Circle, Geneva) are more focused on front-end.

11. Low-code Analytics & Dashboards

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” — Peter Drucker. Tons of startup founders seem to agree with this statement, and spend a lot of their time tracking key metrics of their business (e.g. User Retention, Monthly Recurring Revenue, etc.) and constantly thinking of ways in which they can improve them. Tools to do this have existed for a while, from Mixpanel to Amplitude, but they generally require some degree of technical knowledge to implement and manage. A new breed of analytics and dashboards tools have emerged, allowing for very granular analyses with little to no code. Notable examples:

12. Form Builders

When — as a user — you open a new app for the first time, the very first window you will see is often a sign up form page — a must-have element of most apps. There are many different reasons to use online forms. If you are a business selling a product or service, you may want to find out what your customers are thinking. Marketers need forms to convert visitors into leads, and students can use them to collect qualitative data for research projects. Today, very few people build forms from scratch, as there are special tools specifically designed to simplify sign up form creation without code. Notable examples:

We believe that these 145 companies are only scratching the surface when it comes to the power of automation and the future of ‘citizen developers’. Hundreds more of these fast growing startups will emerge in 2021 alone and ecosystems will develop around the biggest ones. For example, as we said before, independent apps will be built with the sole purpose of adding power and specific functions to existing ones like Webflow, Airtable and others. Watch this space 👀. If you’re a founder building in it, reach out to us!

Are you a fan of market maps like the above? Check out the ones I wrote about the Future of Work and Climate Tech Software, or the one my friend Hugo Amsellem wrote about the Creator Economy.

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First cheque investor @Stride_VC with @fdestin & @HarryStebbings | x-@_TheFamily | I hate coriander 🌱