Have you ever gone behind your IT person’s back? Be real, this is a safe space.
I’ll go first: I have. My communications team and I wanted to create a real-time news blog where we could share updates about our brand, and our IT team took way too long to make content updates on our main site. So, we purchased a separate platform that integrated with our website to create the newsroom we wanted.
The truth is, this kind of behavior isn’t unusual. Technical and software engineering teams are often backlogged, so many internal teams take things into their own hands and purchase their own software. This workaround can be problematic and cause issues down the line. That new software could pose a security threat or it may need to be integrated with other tools at a later time, which could cause headaches for your technical team.
And these challenges can be especially damaging if you're part of a startup that needs to move fast to attain profitability.
That’s where no-code and low-code platforms can help. The beauty of these platforms is that your IT person, software engineer, or tech team often has a hand in choosing the no-code or low-code software, so it’s fully sanctioned. Technically savvy people on other teams—known as citizen developers—can then use the software to create their own internal or external applications.
To get an idea of how many startups like yours are already taking full advantage of low-code or no-code platforms, we ran a survey in February 2021. Here's what we learned:
Sixty-three percent of surveyed startups use low- or no-code software applications to make it easier for all employees to develop software applications (read our full survey methodology at the bottom of this page).
Additionally, more than three quarters of those who use low-/no-code platforms find them either very valuable or extremely valuable to their business. That makes sense, as startups can use low-code/no-code software to help illustrate a minimally viable product (MVP) or to launch an early version of a new idea (among many other uses). We’ll share more in this article about how you can do that, too.
In this guide, we’ll walk through what low-code and no-code platforms are, how startups are using them, and what you can do if you’re interested in learning more about—or even diving right into—this type of software by answering some common questions.
Let’s discuss low-code platforms first. Low-code software is a broad term that encompasses many use cases. Users of this software generally have the ability to use building blocks or widgets for app development. As far as target users go, a low-code development platform can be geared toward professional developers as a faster way to create apps or toward those who don’t have the coding skills to create an app from scratch.
In terms of technical skills needed to operate these tools, low code can really run the gamut. This means that depending on the platform, you may still need a professional programmer to implement this software. Because of this wide variation, it’s important to ask software providers questions to understand who their tool is suitable for.
No code usually means less coding skill is needed than with low-code software, but it's worth noting that a “no code platform” can also be a marketing term rather than official terminology. This makes it even more important to ask software providers for specifics on what technical knowhow is actually required for their product so you don’t end up with something your team can't use.
Even if no coding is required, you likely still need some technical skills to use no-code software. Ideally, no-code platform users should have a basic understanding of software development and an understanding of how app development works.
With low-code and no-code software, technically savvy people with good data literacy can put an app together without needing advanced coding or software development skills.
Gartner predicts that use of low-code and no-code software will dramatically increase over the next five years (full content available to clients). One of the main contributing factors is a huge demand for engineering support for app creation paired with a shortage of skills. Low-code tools are attractive to startups because they allow non-engineering staff to create their own apps.
The benefit of low-code or no-code development is that teams can be much more efficient if they’re empowered to create their own apps without having to rely on tech support.
A no-code or low-code platform is best used for internal business apps, or to create a prototype for a new external app idea. In fact, many startups used low-code or no-code platforms to get ideas off the ground. Scott’s Cheap Flights started as a Mailchimp email list, for instance.
In GetApp's February 2021 survey, we identified the most common ways startups are using low-code and no-code platforms:
The right software for your startup will depend on what industry you’re in and what you plan on using it for. If you already have a specific use case in mind for low- or no-code software, it's a good idea to check out reviews from other users or ask software providers on your shortlist to share examples of how their tool has been used by other startups.
It’s highly unlikely. There’s a huge demand for professional software engineers in application development roles (especially externally facing apps). If an application is important enough to a company’s core business, they will typically create this software with an in-house developer so they have more control over features and optimization.
Rather than replacing existing employees, low-code platforms primarily help bootstrapping individuals and startups who don't have these developers on staff. But even these startups will likely want to create a more customized version of a platform as they grow, and may ultimately need more granular features or data that out-of-the-box or low-code tools don't have. So while low-code platform use will likely keep growing, don't expect them to totally replace developers.
If you need some extra development help with your startup but aren’t ready to hire full-time employees, explore hiring freelance help where you have gaps in your team’s skill set.
Saman Mehryar, founder and CEO of the language coaching platform ChatterFox, said he did just this when getting the startup off the ground and needed help adding plugins to their low-code marketing tech platform.
“We easily hired freelancers on Upwork for a couple hundred dollars to help us fix technical issues,” said Mehryar.
While Mehryar recommends startup owners learn the basics of coding so they can be more tech-savvy, freelancers can easily help you with targeted fixes when you need it.
While many applications can be built using low-code or no-code platforms, it’s a misnomer to say those applications are built without coding.
The difference between low-/no-code and developing something from scratch is that with low-code platforms, much of the coding has already been done to create specific building block use cases that can be mixed and matched. Those pieces aren’t being coded from scratch every time. Instead, users can take advantage of a What You See is What You Get (WYSIWIG) or drag-and-drop style interface.
It’s important to feel comfortable with your low-/no-code platform, so once you build a shortlist of products you're considering, ask software providers for free trials and/or demos so you can test out the interface before making a monetary commitment.
A citizen developer has technical skills but isn’t a professional software developer.
As low-code and no-code tools proliferate, it may increase the number of citizen developers within a startup. For instance, you may encounter a technically savvy marketing manager who creates an application for customers to participate in a rebate program to earn cash back on certain products. Or you may find someone who works in the legal or compliance department who creates an app to ensure other teams are filing paperwork correctly and meeting their deadlines.
If you’re interested in software geared toward people not in programming roles, browse low-code and no-code platform user reviews on GetApp to find out what real users have to say about specific tools.
If you want to test drive low-code/no-code platforms, here are a few examples of apps and databases you can create with these tools.
As shown in this example from Microsoft, teams can create an internal app for tracking construction projects and inspections using a drag-and-drop format similar to how they create a slide presentation in an app like PowerPoint.
In this example from Invision, you can see how a low-code platform with a drag-and-drop user interface makes it easier to create a high-fidelity prototype. You could use a low-code tool like this one to create a new mobile app, such as a proprietary mail or messaging system.
This example shows how you can create an artist roster using Airtable’s database functionality. Low-code databases allow you to store and search for information, and include metadata tags so users can easily find products or information.
Low- or no-code software can help your startup become more efficient, so you can stay hyper-focused on your goals, whether that is building an effective online presence, a marketing campaign to increase engagement and active users, or anything else.
If you want to learn more about citizen development, check out our article: Really, we come in peace: Invasion of the citizen IT leaders.
GetApp’s 2021 Marketing Technology Survey was conducted February 18-25, 2021 among 238 respondents in the US to learn more about the use of marketing technology tools by startups and small businesses. Respondents were screened for leadership positions at startups in healthcare, IT services, marketing/CRM, retail/eCommerce, software/web development, or AI/ML.
Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.