Officially back in 2004 when I was working in an agency and had the original idea for Webflow — it was all about removing the need for a coder in the middle of a designer and the client.
I was working with an agency that had very large customers like Apple, HP, Quicksilver, etc. And one day, I saw the invoice for one of those clients, and it was so astronomical! And I thought, okay, there's an opportunity here where we can remove the barrier between what designers want and what actually ends up going live on on the website.
You know, for the longest time, when we started Zapier, no code wasn't a thing. Right? No code has really been a thing that as a “term” has existed since, what, 2018? 2017? Maybe it's fairly new and so we, you know, we started Zapier in 2011. And at the time, we sought out to solve what felt like a somewhat simple, but fairly pervasive problem, which is that there's all these new apps that are popping up left and right, and all the customers, all the end users of these tools, want them to work with everything else that they use.
Now almost a decade later and our job at the time was like, well, maybe if we just made it a little easier for the end user to be able to set up an integration between those tools that could be useful. And turned out over time, it's more than just useful because all these end providers, you know, the MailChimp, the Salesforce, the G Suite's of the world, it's really difficult for them to build a big ecosystem of integrations, it's just a hard thing to do. Even if you are a very successful business.
We realized that over time, Zapier had a much bigger value to play. It wasn't just helping with these like little simple one-off integrations, but it really acted as a bit of a workflow tool that helped folks connect these tools, but in a way that actually felt more like building workflows. It felt more like logic. It felt more like coding, in some sense. In some ways, even though most of the people who use Zapier don't know how to code, many of them don't know what APIs even are and so just the ability to help people connect the building blocks of the web together in a way that creates a thing has been something that I think when no code became a term and a thing, it was like, well, Zapier is the thing that provides all the logic for all these tools.
I started building without code in probably 2014. I had an idea for an app that was going to help people find an affordable art for their homes. And this was really before a lot of the no-code tools today. So my first experience building code was taking tools that were not intended to be app builders and kind of hacking them to create an app-like experience.
So for the app whenever someone signed up, they told us about what kind of art they liked, for example photography or like paintings. And then we would ask about their taste. But we would use the survey software to show and hide different things based on their previous answer. So that was my first no code experience — taking a survey and hacking it to kind of create an app-like experience for my customers, and using it dynamically show them art recommendations. People would actually email me back and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, your app is so cool!' We made our first $35,000 with that hacked together survey.
I think about six or seven years ago, just before I joined Product Hunt, I was trying to build stuff and trying to look for ways to build that without having to learn to code. And I was doing it a little bit with no-code tools. What I didn't realize was the thing that people were actually interested in wasn't the actual ideas I had, because they all sucked. It was actually the ability to build it really quickly, and make it feel like software. And it was all built without code. Everyone was asking how did you build these things without code? So I thought, okay, I'll just show you how to do it.
I believe that I've always been doing the no-code thing. Starting as an engineer, one of the things that I always tasked myself with was creating software and products that didn't require business operators to have to ping me all day for changes. So I believe as an engineer, no-code always stuck out to me from an architecture standpoint and a design and product perspective. So that way, technology can be more of an enabler. So I believe foundationally, I’ve had it since I started in e-commerce as an engineer dating back to 2009.
I got into no-code before no-code was nearly as popular as it is today. But that was back in 2017 and I really saw the rise of design tools with Figma, Sketch, and Invision — all those tools becoming really popular. But there wasn't really anything that took what you built and translated into a real product. So what I wanted to do is basically take that and build a product that let you build a fully functional mobile app, but not having to know how to code.
I've been doing some version of no-code for a while. I've worked in a lot of different industries, and in each we had some version of embracing no-code or low-code tools. And when you look back at when I was first getting into technology, I would building websites with Dreamweaver or Visual Basic.
We started building Draftbit after trying to build a different business — a mobile app. We were sort of just frustrated, even with great co-founders, at hard it was to get the first version of our mobile app out the door. We realized that we really were passionate about making it easier for us, or anyone, to get our first version out and iterate on it.
I think I got into no-code before I really knew what no-code was just by playing around with no-code tools maybe like five or six years ago. My intro was Zapier, the holy grail of integrations. I've always been at this intersection of technical and non-technical and I've always found no-code as a beautiful mix of those things.
No-code is really, really part of the tech stack that I use on a day to day basis and teach amongst even my own team, so I thought why not join a company like Voiceflow, who's gonna make a really big impact in the voice space and the no-code space?
In terms of getting started with no code, when it comes to design, back in the day Dreamweaver was my earliest experience with no-code.
I guess my excitement in the no-code space was sort of reinvigorated just more recently, obviously, as 8020, came to life. I got an opportunity to officially join and kind of steer the ship. Obviously getting back to scratching that itch from a design perspective has been great, but then also just kind of more broadly to start to help, along with everybody else, figure out a lot of what this means, is kind of the exciting part.
[Ben] I have a background in creating with code and started just by making my own sites, HTML, CSS, and then really got into WordPress and developing custom WordPress themes. And then I started working on a project where I had limited resources and I was trying to build a lot of sites and it's like, “There's gotta be a better way to do this. This is so, so tough” And so then I found Webflow, and I was like, “Oh sweet, let's give this a go!”
[Matt] In terms of Visual Dev FM, it was originally formed around the idea that Ben and I get coffee every Friday just to talk no-code, and nerd out, and it just started from us being like, we should — the most basic thought ever — we should start a podcast about this. And so we did, and then we met Lacey and the podcast got way better.