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Interview: Emmanuel - Bubble Founder

Sam Dickie
2 Mins

In this months interview series on NoCode i’m joined by Emmanuel Straschnov — founder of Bubble.

Founded in 2012, Bubble was created with the goal of making coding obsolete. Bubble is a great example of a grass roots company which is bootstrapped and profitable. The Bubble community has grown to ~158,298 users, with more than 116,725 web apps built using Bubble to date.

Bubble has continues to be one of the most popular website builders on NoCode and is regularly suggested within the NoCode forum by it’s community members as the tool of choice for creating web apps due to it’s versatility and ease of use.

Emmanuel Straschnov

Emmanuel Straschnov founder of Bubble

​Hi Emmanuel, welcome to NoCode. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how Bubble came about?

Hello everyone, it’s great to be here. I’m originally from France and went to college there. It took me quite some time to figure out what to do with my life: I started my career as a management consultant in China before going to Harvard for business school. There, I experimented with a few ideas, from finance to fashion (yes, fashion!) and eventually started looking more at tech stuff around graduation. I was then put in touch with Josh who had started working on what wasn’t called Bubble yet and was looking for a cofounder. Believe it or not, but we decided to partner on our first meeting (I had an offer expiring the following day, so we had to move fast).

bubble banner

Josh came up with this idea through a combination of two main factors:

  • He was in New York, and everyone was asking him to be their tech co-founder to start a business.
  • He had created something during his previous corporate job that non-technical employees could use to build some simple custom software. Watching them build things was very rewarding to him, and he felt he could do this at a larger scale for general-purpose programming.

What problem is Bubble trying to solve?

Bubble is solving a few problems that all have the same root cause. Today, without Bubble, building technology is hard and expensive. This leads to a few problems. First, there are a ton of people out there that have great business skills but no access to technical resources or capital, whose project there never starts. We are offering these people a tool to launch their project faster for an extremely cheap price (it’s basically free until you launch, and then it’s about 16/month).

The second problem that we target in the longer term is the computer literacy issue. Down the line, in a few years, people that won’t be able to program computers will have a hard time to find a job and make a living. And we don’t think teaching everyone how to code is the way to go, as coding is tedious and too low-level for a lot of tasks. Bubble is our answer to this longer term, but very real, issue.

bubble example

Bubble workflow editor example


​​How does Bubble differ from other drag and drop visual website builders, for example Weebly, Squarespace and Wix?

That’s a question we get all the time. The big difference is how open-ended Bubble is versus these tools. These tools have some flexibility on the front end, but you cannot create a full web app with them. That’s where Bubble comes in: on Bubble, you control not only the interface to the pixel, but you also are able to to define what the application does action by action, connecting to APIs, saving stuff in the database, etc. Putting things very simply, you can’t build Airbnb on the tools you’re mentioning, but you can on Bubble!

Bubble Visual Design example

Bubble Visual Design example


​​In what scenarios can’t Bubble be used for as there must be limitations?

Bubble’s language is comparable in power to spreadsheet formulas: you can do a lot, but anything requiring recursive or looping operations on data (such as, for instance, writing a custom machine-learning algorithm) would be difficult. The good news is that Bubble is fully extensible via Javascript plugins. The Bubble model is to write the core website functionality using our super-simple language, and plug in Javascript to handle algorithms that are hard to build in Bubble. So if you’re ready to write the few lines of code that are necessary to add a plugin (if needed, most people don’t need them), there is basically no limit.

​What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced as a business? And how did you overcome them?

The hardest thing we had to face was the constant struggle between existing and new users. Existing users want more performance, features, etc while new users want a faster onboarding. Now we’re at a place where we can cater to both, but for a few years, it was basically impossible to do both, and we decided to focus on existing users as we wanted them to be able to build something real that did exactly what they wanted, without code. That was a way to prove our model, and also a moral commitment issue: they were betting their businesses on us.

​What do you believe is the future of visual programming?

We definitely are quite opinionated on that one, as our goal is to shape what the future will look like. We think visual programming will become the primary way to program computers and build products. That’s the important part: product. Code will still exist, but will become something lower-level, for tasks that cannot be done with visual programming tools. Code will be for algorithms.

So in the future, we see everyone (as everyone today that uses Microsoft Excel, for instance) building products and engineers will be working with code to add features, or plugins, to the mainstream visual programming platform, hopefully Bubble.

In other words, there has been a trend that made Assembly language from the main way to program computers in the 70s to a language that only a few people use to do specific things. We think the same thing will apply to Javascript today. People will use it when higher-level, more intuitive tools will not be enough. Our goal to make this vision true is to push the limit of what you can do visually.

​Bubble is a bootstrapped startup and is yet to receive any outside VC or Angel investment to date. This is very surprising given today’s norm where startups after initially launching and gaining some traction look to raise capital to scale the business. Why have you chosen to remain bootstrapped?

We decided from the start not to raise capital, as we felt the product development cycle would be too long for a traditional VC route. The way we felt about investors is that their incentives and our users’ incentives weren’t aligned. Investors wanted many new users every day, while our users wanted a better, more powerful platform. Today we can do both, but back then we couldn’t.

Josh and I both had enough savings from previous jobs to be able to live in NYC for more than two years (with a simple lifestyle…), and we didn’t start paying ourselves a salary until 2.5 years in.

​Bubble has created a host of small businesses off back of the platform. For example, Zeroqode which recently won the Wild Card content at last years TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin. Do you foresee other startups harnessing the Bubble framework to build business on?

We have seen dozens of startups, agencies and freelancers launch on Bubble. In fact, our ecosystem is what drives our growth, as we do not do paid marketing yet. What’s happening is that our users realize pretty quickly they have a very valuable skill in their hand, as they can build a real web app in a few days, where dev shops would take weeks, if not months. So they can charge a lower fee, but by the hour and perhaps make much more.

We now also see companies selling templates and plugins, which is awesome as they contribute to the product and make it better, every day.

Picture

Bubble Plugins example


​​How did Bubble I initially attract its first set of users to the platform?

We found our first paying customers very early, actually, late 2012, at a Tech Meetup in New York. A team was looking for a CTO and we went to them and told them that while we couldn’t be their CTO, we have a product that could make that requirement not necessary. It was very early on, and the product was in very early beta, but they still could get their product to the market and stayed on Bubble for 2 years!

​What went into building the initial product? What did the Bubble MVP look like at the time?

Surprisingly a lot of core functionality that we included within our first version of Bubble is still being used today: design tab, workflow tab and workflow-based programming and absolute positioning. It wasn’t very pretty, and quite buggy, but the spirit was there. Check out the demo below of our first version.

Bubble demo from Bubble on Vimeo.


​From speaking with the NoCode community regularly it seems there are three main misconceptions why more people don’t create their own websites: 1. Website building is difficult 2. Website building is costly 3. To build a website I need to be a developer. What’s your thoughts regarding these statements?

These statements are the reason why educating the market is hard and requires a lot of efforts. People have accepted the idea that building technology is hard and costly, but this trend is beginning to change and Bubble is at the forefront of this revolution!

​NoCode has some avid fans of Bubble within its community. What’s next for Bubble?

2018 for us is an important year as we see it as a transition from a startup mostly used by other startups and individuals to a business that organizations, large or small, can use for their IT operations. This means professionalizing our company in a few way: our visual identify, communication, platform performance and reliability, and support team. These are the 4 different axes for 2018. We’re actively hiring for this this year!

We hope to expand to the native space in 2019. This has been on our list for a while, but we want to be great for the web before tackling a new platform.

​Lastly, any advice for non-technical entrepreneurs with an idea for an online business that are put off by the fact they don’t have any technical skills?

You can now launch your online business using a host of no-code tools, whether it’s Bubble or thousands of others out there. So there’s no excuse, you can launch your idea now!

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