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The case for and against app builders (like Bubble)

The case for and against app builders (like Bubble)
By Aron Korenblit • Issue #62 • View online
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You can catch last week’s replay of No-code talk #2 with Connor Finlayson where we discussed what no-coders are missing in our tool kit, answered how to automate when working with multiple records and so much more.
Onto the update…

Bubble recently raised $100M with no word on its current valuation.
Back in 2018 when I first got interested in no-code, I dabbled with Bubble and created this absolutely disastrous landing page.
After hacking away for ages, I realized that what I needed was not an app builder but a simple landing page, so I switched over to Webflow.
Sidenote: it’s a little shocking to see this first attempt at automate all the things have such similar language to my current website?
4 years later, with 100M more in funding, and a wildly more developed no-code ecosystem, it’s fair to ask: where does Bubble fit into all of this? (Note: I’m going to use Bubble here as an example but I’d say this applies to “app builders” writ large. I’d even go so far as to say that it could apply to Webflow eventually.)
What is Bubble?
Bubble is a full stack application builder that aims to “disrupt the technical cofounder.” It lets you build everything without code: your front-end, your back-end, your business logic, authentication, file hosting, everything. Its workflow builder lets you create logic like page navigation, user redirection, or sending information to third parties like having users automatically sent to a Mailchimp list. It’s got it all.
You can check out apps built on Bubble here (they feature one a day).
Why Bubble matters
Technical talent is scarce. Extremely scarce. If you were at No Code Conference (which is coming back this November!) two years ago you probably remember Vlad centering his key note on the importance of making app building accessible. Vlad argued that when a field’s building blocks become more accessible, whether that’s making photography easier through smartphones or digital tools making instruments more accessible, you see an explosion in popularity. What’s holding us back from entrepreneurship, in Bubble’s view and Vlad’s, is a lack of technical talent. And it’s potentially a huge market. If Angellist can make money simply from investing in startups, imagine the market for literally building them! If someone was ready to pay for an engineer (which could be 100K+), how much would they be willing to pay for a tool that removes the need for that engineer? Thousands!
The case against app builders
Let’s assume for a moment that entrepreneurs are truly held back by an inability to find technical cofounders. Let’s further assume that they can build their business on Bubble and do! Two problems emerge: The first is that Bubble just doesn’t make enough from the business! A flat $475 is pittance if we’re talking about 30 simultaneous collaborators. Pricing changes (usually upwards!) and what is a better lock-in than “we own your whole tech stack”?
That brings me to my second, and I’d argue more important risk, is that churn of your most successful clients is near certain. There’s a point—revenue, headcount, clients—at which owning one’s infrastructure becomes important, whether that’s for IP reasons or a need for additional flexibility that Bubble just can’t provide. Bubble could churn its best customers because they are too successful. This is the opposite of what happens at Stripe and Shopify, who see large churn from unsuccessful entrepreneurs but bank on a few exiting through and paying for all the others.
On the flipside, you could argue that there are millions of small businesses (over a million realtors in the US alone!) that need software, couldn’t they be sufficient to fuel app builders’ growth? In theory, maybe. But that’s precisely the market of vertical saas tools! For every large enough market, there’s a myriad of tools vying for those same users—users (entrepreneurs) that for the most case don’t want to build/maintain their own software or learn a new mental model. You’re left with finnicky SME clients for whom existing tools aren’t sufficient and enterprise clients destined to replace you. 
Tough sell.
Internal workflows > apps
The total addressable market of entrepreneurship is indeed huge. Even taking a tiny slice like Stripe does is enough to build a massive company. It’s tantalizing to extrapolate and imagine the market of being the platform that everything is built on!
That said, at a certain size, you have to own your tech stack. But in the wake of that success there are hundreds of internal workflows that need to be figured out that are not proprietary. And that always feels to me like the larger and more important space. Maybe that’s where app builders will also shine.
We’ll see.
Note: Wix launched their own app builder while I was drafting this piece. I haven’t had time to dig into it but will cover it in the future when I’ve had a chance to play with it.
Airtable tip: Record list app
Not enough of you are using Airtable apps. Airtable apps aren’t only for visualizing your information in charts or pages, you can also append records from a CSV (CSV Import app), preview URLs and so much more.
In the lesser known but quite useful category I’d place the record list app. The record list app lets you show records from any view directly in your dashboard.
It’s perfect for when you want to update information in a record based on insights from a dashboard. Instead of switching from your dashboard panel to a specific view and then come back, simply add a record list and update on the fly.
A recent example for me was having to update a ton of thumbnails for my stream using Page designer. Instead of switching back and forth between my view and Page designer, I simply a record list of all streams that don’t have thumbnails!
Tool of the month
Paytable lets anyone monetize their Airtable bases without code. Instead of setting up Memberstack, Webflow and Airtable (+ Zapier!) to monetize your base, simply use Paytable and get all of that done for free.
Check out their discover page to see examples of Paytable in the wild.
From the interwebs
After Github’s copilot here comes OpenAI to help everyone write code. I haven’t dug dig but this seems different than Github’s autopilot in that OpenAI translates language into code (e.g. “make this larger”) whereas Github autocompletes based on the code you’re already writing (e.g. complete this post call)
Sam Altman
Today OpenAI launched Codex, which is an API that uses AI to write code from natural language.

There's a demo video here:
Softr released a big update. I previously streamed how to build a client portal with Yohei using Softr here.
🎉 Lots of news and updates from Softr!

🥈 #2 Product of the Month on @ProductHunt

😊 And we couldn't have been more excited to have @rrhoover use Softr to build one of his projects:

All the new features and design updates below 👇
I may not be a designer/engineer but this tweet described my approach to things
i like designers/engineers w big fuck around n find out energy
That’s it for this week. See you next week.
Until then, keep building!
Special thanks to both Stephen O'Grady (@orishnal) and Zoelle Egner (@zoelle) for reviewing this piece!
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Aron Korenblit

Weekly thoughts on the working smarter not harder using no-code tools + a weekly Airtable tip. Written by Aron Korenblit

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