Emmanuel Straschnov is founder and co-CEO of Bubble, a visual programming software that makes programming as easy as pointing and clicking. People have used Bubble to start companies without technical resources, and later gotten into YC, 500 Startups or raised multi-million dollar rounds. Born in Paris, Emmanuel studied computer science and mathematics at Ecole Polytechnique and received his MBA from Harvard. Prior to starting Bubble, he was a management consultant in China. He’s now based in New York.

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AMA Transcript

Tell us more about your background, and take us through the journey from the idea of Bubble to now.

I’m originally from France, though left the country 14 years ago. Did a lot of math in college in France, and had my fair time of coding as a teenager, but never thought i would be in tech

I started as a consultant in China before moving to the US for biz school, and that’s then that I rediscovered my interest in tech/software, leading me to meet Josh after school and partnering with him on Bubble. It was his idea initially, and I joined him a few weeks in.

Hey Emmanuel – Since Bubble didn’t raise it’s $6mm seed until 7 years after being founded, why did you finally decide to raise capital? Were you being hunted by VC’s?

The real question is more: why didn’t we raise earlier?… We felt the product development cycle was a bit too slow at first to have the user engagement metrics that VCs would expect. Early 2019 we felt things were different as the product was now in a place that would take faster growth.

We weren’t really hunted down by VCs early 2019, as no-code wasn’t really hot then… But now its quite different, I do get a lot of requests for coffees and catchup… Oh well…

Bubble is so open-ended that very few apps look the same, and it’s sometime hard to make categories. Overall though, I’d say 75% are customer-facing web apps, 25% internal tools.

And among the public facing web apps, it’s roughly one third marketplace of some kind, one third social networks of some kind (connecting people) and one third workflow automation/productivity tool on a SaaS basis.

Hey Emmanuel - I’m a big fan of no-code, have built, launched and tested a variety of projects and features with various tools in the past year or so. There’s definitely a lot of hardcore no-code fans who argue it will replace a fair chunk of projects created with code. Where do you see the future of no-code going?

I think (and my goal is) that in 5 years, no-code isn’t a thing any more, and instead is just the way people build things, and we get to code only when it’s absolutely necessary (similarly to today, only a few people use assembly language, most of the time you don’t need it)

So hopefully in 5 years people won’t know about no-code but they’ll use Bubble!

Hey Emmanuel, thank you so much for being here! Can you tell us more about your third party integrations strategy at Bubble? How do you attract and retain developers to extend your ecosystem? What’s the business model and payoff? (https://bubble.io/plugins). From what I’ve seen there are entire ecosystems and full time buisinesses being built on top of other no-code apps like Zapier, Airtable, and Webflow.

Our approach is to be as opened as possible with third party. Anyone can add APIs, elements and actions with code. Being very integrated in the stack is key to our strategy (probably more than other tools in the no-code space right now). it’s our way to make sure people aren’t limited by Bubble’s feature set.

We don’t approve free plugins, but commercial plugins go through a submission process. Plugin authors can choose the business they like, a subscription-based model, a one-time fee for perpetual license (these are app-based). and we take a 25% cut.

Don’t see Co-CEO title very often. Would love to know the backstory, how you determined this was best for the business, and tactically how you and your Co-CEO split responsibilities?

It was just the two of us for 5 years, and we’ve really built what we have today together, so we feel co-CEO is a better title as we do better when we work together (we complement each other very well).

It’s definitely not because we couldn’t pick a CEO… That’s something you may see at early stage startups, but after 5 years working together on this we’re beyond that stage.

In practice, Josh overseas product/engineering and I oversea Growth, Success, Operations and Design

This is quite fluid though, for very important decisions we talk (and have never not been able to reach an agreement)

When does a company get too big or sophisticated to continue being a good candidate for Bubble software? Is churn an issue when companies get to a scale where they need custom code or more flexibility than Bubble can provide? Is there a cap to no-code-tools ‘upside usefulness’ if that makes sense?

We did have some people leave the platform in the past, but the better we get the less it happens. That’s why our current focus is on performance and reliability. Overall, re building something from scratch with code is so costly that we have a very good chance to keep teams on us.

One company in Paris raised 3m on a Bubble-built software, scaling to $1m ARR on us, then hired an engineering team and build a custom solution, and raised $16m. Today, they just told us they’re coming back to us, as it’s much faster to build!

Another business in SF processed over a $1b of loans through a Bubble-built platform, so it really scales.

How important is ‘community building’ for Bubble’s growth moving forward? Curious to hear your thoughts as more and more SaaS companies start to think about community as a growth, retention, and moat-building mechanism as opposed to just simply product support.

Very critical, especially Bubble is very open-ended. Since it’s open-ended, you often have multiple ways to do things, and it’s good to talk to people about your choices. So a community is extremely valuable as people will help each other. it starts online at forum.bubble.io and then people gather offline in meetups, etc. That’s why we started a Pioneer Program to help our local vocal users.

I think we were earlier than many other players on the community side of things. They happen organically, and we’re putting things in place to assist them, but we can’t really drive them from here (except in NYC, come visit!). Assisting means providing examples of successful events, offering swags, communication, etc.

Gartner says that “by 2024, low-code and no-code application development will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity”. You were early to wave of no-code SaaS tools with Bubble. How has it evolved and where do you see this industry in 5 years?

5 years ago what was cool was to learn how to code, today no-code is cool. And in 5 years, as I said above, I hope we won’t talk about no-code, but no-code technologies will be the default solution to build things.

Hi Emmanuel, when it comes to your marketing efforts who’s your ideal customer persona? Are these developers, product managers, etc.?

They’re usually business people, tech-savvy but not technical, looking to build something. 70% it’s they own startup, 30% they’re building something part of a larger organization (for instance, marketing employee at a startup)

Curious how you think the ‘no code revolution’ will affect the demand for developers and engineers? Are devs learning no-code tools too?

Yes, we see more and more tech people using us. They are the ones with less experience usually, but it’s a real trend. Some people worry that engineers will be out of Josh, I very much disagree! There will always be a lot of demand for people that can write code.

And I would actually argue engineers should be working on new problems, instead of rebuilding the same thing again and again and again. Seeing thousands of engineers at Lyft and Uber is a bit sad, aren’t these product quite similar from a web app/ios app prospective?….instead these engineers should be working on solving new problems.

Have you looked at tools like Webflow? Do you think they are better able to serve no-code space because Vlad has raised so much or do you think that makes it harder for them to balance priorities?

I of course know Webflow (and actually know Vlad, no-code is still a small world). I can’t speak for him, but I think they’ve done a good job at being profitable and long term so far, so they should be able to keep this. I don’t know about investor pressure though…

We are on a different market/product.

Which is true for most no-code tools. Right now, no-code is very wide (basically don’t use code, which you can say about anything…). Bubble, Webflow, Airtable are very different products that server different needs. Though bubble is probably a bit wider in terms of use-case

Hey Emmanuel! Awesome to see you on here. Back in 2017 we built the first prototype for Weav.com on Bubble to bring on our first paying customers. Loved the product as it gave the ability to quickly validate our ideas. I’d be curious in what specific ways you’re looking to grow with new infusion of cash / connections. (You may have already answered this). How you see yourself growing / standing out as larger field of “no-code” tools mature? I know you’re working on a new UI for their app. It be nice to know when that might ship? And is that updated UX, just visual design or both?

Invest in growth, instead of waiting for users to find us, which has been the way things happened so far. It was great, but the market is now ready for faster growth.

Don’t believe people that say “building anything in a few minutes without learning”, it’s just not true!

It’s going to be mostly visual at first, as our current UI can be a little outdated which doesn’t convey the level of trust that people should have in Bubble. Once it’s live, we’ll start working on making the UX easier, though there will always be a learning curve.

We’re aiming for feature completion; we’re the only one focusing on this. Basically we want to say “you can build anything on top of Bubble, sometime using a little bit of code with a plugin, and you will never be having to move off us”. Which i think is quite a different value proposition than other players in the space.

Thanks for making the time Emmanuel (Bubble, Founder Co-CEO), close us out with your top three predictions for the future of No Code Tools

That was fun (though quite intense typing-wise, haha). I hope I answered all questions.

1 - A billion-dollar company will be built on a no-code platform in 5 years (hopefully Bubble!)

2 – People in high school will learn programming on no-code tools (we already have quite some high schools doing workshops on Bubble with their students)

3 – No-code will not be a concept any more, it’ll just be programming!

Bye guys, that was fun!