In this month's interview series on NoCode we sat down with Michael Skelly (@skellystudios) , founder of Stacker, the No Code tool that lets you turn your spreadsheets into internal tools and customer portals.
Founded in 2018 with the aim of creating a tool that built consumer-quality products quickly and cheaply without writing a line of code.
Where Stacker’s competitors let you build apps from scratch, Stacker takes that pain away by automatically setting up a beautiful application, complete with your data and all of the functionality you need to help your customers out of the box.
During our interview, we discovered a great variety of businesses that could benefit from this tool and got a peek into how Michael’s past experience before Stacker and No Code tools allowed him to create the ideal tool to engage with your customers, empower your team and interface with partners.
Hey Everyone! I’m Michael, one of the founders of Stacker. Stacker is a No Code tool that lets you turn your spreadsheets into internal tools and customer portals.
Back in 2017, I had been running the engineering departments in several marketplace-type startups in a row. All of these startups were doing quite similar things: Bringing a digital version of a service to customers via the web and mobile and none of them were solving any really hard technical problems. In fact, most of what we were doing was very similar to what most companies building digital products were doing—linking a database to a user interface and adding some business rules.
That’s why I was amazed at how slow and expensive it was to build anything. This wasn’t a people problem: My teams of developers were some of the best I’d worked with. The problem seemed to be the way in which we were building these apps.
I had met my co-founder Sam many years before, working on an IT project in a finance company. We were stripping out all the old business systems and replacing them with something customized we were creating on the Salesforce platform. Back then, we were blown away by how quickly we could create these business systems without having to write a line of code.
It seemed clear to us that there must be a way to build consumer-quality products quickly and cheaply without writing code, in a similar way to how we were able to build these internal systems.
We’re really focused on making the experience of creating an app on Stacker as easy as using LEGO.
Customers start by connecting to their existing data. Every company has data that they’re using to run their business, and we use that data as the foundation for their app. It’s great, because it makes the app meaningful and relevant to them immediately, and it releases all the value that’s been locked away in that database, but with no way to access it.
They then piece their app by choosing the features they want. We’ve taken apart the fundamental bits common across all apps—the ones that teams of developers across the world are re-creating again and again—and packaged them up so that they can be used in any app.
Finally, they can customize their logo and colors. It’s so important that everything that gets made in Stacker looks and feels as if it has been made just for that company by a professional designer.
Of course, this isn’t the end of the journey. The real value is in being able to quickly change and iterate an app as the business changes and responds to new opportunities and challenges. I think that’s really where innovation happens.
We’ve just been blown away by the variety of businesses that are building apps on Stacker, and also by what they’re doing! Our first two customers couldn’t have been further apart—one was a collaboration platform for journalists to fight fake news, and the other was a social network for fashion!
Since then, we’ve seen all sorts—a small business offering trips in theAmazon, a startup drone photography, all the way up to Fortune 500 companies.We’re seeing businesses creating portals for their customers, internal products for their employees and partners, and even entrepreneurs building their entire products on Stacker.
We’ve now seen so many of these different businesses doing so many different things, that two things have become clear.
Firstly, it’s clear that companies of all shapes and sizes across almost every industry are finding that they need to create software to interact with their customers, engage their partners and empower their employees.
Secondly, it just doesn’t make sense that all these companies should become software companies in order to make this happen!
At the start we were very much a drag-and-drop app builder. It was very powerful! We created marketplaces, social networks, collaboration tools, all without code.
But we realized that even though you didn’t need to write code, you still needed to think like a programmer to succeed; and so it wasn’t accessible to the people we most wanted to serve!
Now anyone who can create a spreadsheet can create an app in Stacker. Nearly all our customers are totally non-technical people who’ve never been involved in making products.
We’ve seen COVID has made more companies have to think hard about their processes and find new ways to run digitally and remotely – so we’ve actually seen crazy growth in the number of companies using us, across all industries.
We’ve been really proud to be the technology powering ProjectN95 – the US’s national clearinghouse for PPE. We’ve also been helping out loads of individual community organizing projects all over the world. It’s been a real privilege to be able to give our technology to help out those doing amazing work in their communities.
We’d like to become the operating system for digital work.
There are so many new products and services out there. I think people are embracing the fact that they don’t need to find the one vendor that does everything they need, and instead choosing lots of different ones that work for them. We’d like to be able to be a hub that integrates with whichever other systems they’re using, so that they can give their customers, partners and employees a great unified experience.
So each employee can still use the tools that they love, like Google Sheets and Airtable, but have an easy way to turn the data from those tools into apps that their colleagues can use.
In the longer term, we see a new model emerging, both for software creation and ownership.
While there’s some software, like Word Processors for example, that any organization can use as it is, there’s a big gap between that and the really custom apps that businesses are creating today. Lots of these businesses are building completely custom apps, not because what they need is really unique and out-there, but because they need something that perfectly fits their business.
I think there’ll be a rise in what we’re calling “flexible software.” This is software that someone else has created to solve your problem, but they’ve created it in a way that you can modify every part of it to work how you want. When that happens, the line between “owner” and “creator” blurs, as people start customizing and combining the tools to create something totally new.
As that model becomes more prevalent, we’ll need new tools and distribution methods, and we’re already starting work on how Stacker can help facilitate that.