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?
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.
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.