Can you ship digital products as a non-technical founder?
Meet Kieran. He has made and shipped 17 products without writing code. What makes this interesting is he shares what he learns while he is doing it. Including his current product Community Co-pilot.
Following Kieran is a fantastic way to learn how to make and launch something. But aggregating some of the things he has learned is the hard part. It takes time and actually making things to get real experience and skills. But what I’ve felt helps along the way is learning from experienced Makers like Kieran who may be a few steps ahead of where you or I are today in our journey. The value of this interview is just that. Kieran shares his frameworks, learnings and advice about his journey so that we can all benefit and become better Makers.
Hi, I’m Kieran, based in Norwich, UK. My day job is non-technical co-founder of a startup and in the evenings and weekends I build things with no-code. I’ve been obsessed with the idea of launching tech side projects for about fifteen years and spent many hours trying to learn to code or trying to partner up with developers. In the end nothing came to fruition.
Discovering no-code in October 2019 was a game changer. I started churning out products every week. In the next 12 months I launched roughly 18 ideas! Since then I’ve calmed down a bit and started to focus more on a small number of ideas. I don’t regret any of the launches though, I learned a lot from each.
In July 2020 I launched an online community called Launch MBA which aimed to bring together makers who wanted to launch products and learn together. It was working well, but as the community grew, I found it harder and harder to keep track of the members. I would find it difficult to remember what they were working on, or sometimes who they were! I also knew that although the community felt really active, there were a proportion of members who were practically invisible. They had paid to join but then disappeared.
This gave me an idea: a CRM for community managers. I teamed up with another community member, Kevin, and we planned how it would work.
Community Copilot combines analytics, a CRM, and operational tools such as bulk messaging and emailing, member introductions, and surveys. It currently integrates with Slack and Circle.
There were a couple of reasons I wanted to go all-in on this idea. Firstly, it was solving my own pain point, which meant even if no-one else wanted the product, I wouldn’t have wasted time because I’d be scratching my own itch. Secondly, I’m a big believer in attaching to high-growth markets to get pulled along by the current. Online communities are currently growing fast so it made perfect sense. There are only a handful of other community CRMs out there, so I figure it’s a good space to be in.
The front end is built on Bubble.
The data is pulled from Slack and Circle using Python scripts and stored in a Hasura database (yes we use code on the backend, thanks to Kevin).
The landing page is built on Carrd.
Payments are handled by Paddle.com.
We chose to use Hasura and Python for pulling the data because we anticipated a large quantity of data due to the size of the communities we could potentially work with. The data is aggregated and analysed there before being pulled into Bubble once per day. This way we leave the ‘heavy lifting’ to code and let Bubble handle the user side.
Using Bubble is an absolute joy. The speed at which I can ship new features is insane… I think most people wouldn’t believe it if they weren’t relatively experienced with Bubble. If one of our users requests a small change, it can be live within minutes. If they want a new feature, it can be live that evening. If they want something bigger, it rarely takes longer than a weekend.
I think this is a major competitive advantage for any bootstrappers using no-code. The flipside is it’s easy to get caught up building features and forget to do any marketing. This is a trap I’ve fallen into many times.
Example: Do you have a suggestion for someone new to building with Bubble on how to approach it and begin using it? At first it may seem daunting…
User accounts, signup, login, logout, reset password is all handled in Bubble straight out of the box. It’s a breeze!
For payments we could have integrated Stripe using the Stripe plugin within Bubble, I’ve done this a few times and it’s super quick. But we opted to use paddle.com because it takes care of a lot of tax issues around selling to people in the EU, where you need to charge VAT according to their location.
My no-code journey has gone like this:
Late 2019 – I can build anything I want!
Most of 2020 – I’m building anything I want!
Late 2020 – No-one wants any of the things I’ve built
Early 2021 – I’m building things people want but they don’t seem to know about it
Today – I need to learn marketing
I fell into the common trap of working “idea-first”, meaning I’d come up with an idea which I thought was good, ask a couple of friends if they liked it, barely listen to their answer, build it and then launch it to no-one, and then do nothing to get it into the hands of my theoretical target market.
So my process now and for all future projects is kind of the opposite. I approach everything audience/customer-first, meaning I work out what customer group I want to solve problems for. Ideally I’m part of this group or closely linked to it. Then I identify a problem this group faces and come up with an idea to solve it.
At this point I would usually start building, but these days I do my best to validate first, and the best way to validate is to ask people to pay money for something that doesn’t yet exist. This really tests how much they want what you’re offering.
If I’ve got this far then I’ll go ahead and try to build the simplest MVP possible, get it into the hands of someone who pre-bought, and get their feedback.
I’ve realised that even if someone pre-purchases a lifetime deal for software that doesn’t exist, it doesn’t mean they will use it when you create it and it certainly doesn’t mean they’ll pay monthly for it. Some people just like buying lifetime deals. Validation never stops.
In terms of stacks I would use Gumroad or Sneak-Peek.io for my pre-sales, and then for the actual MVP I’d use Carrd as landing page and Bubble for the MVP.
This could be a high level thought/philosophy on opportunity with no-code. See anything that is interesting people are building with Community Co-pilot?
There is a huge opportunity for no-code makers to disrupt niche, unsexy industries which are currently starved of technological innovation. If you spend a lot of time on Twitter you end up in this bubble where everyone is talking about Clubhouse and automating their lives to oblivion. But if you go outside, walk down the street, look at all the small businesses or the industries your parents work in, nothing has changed. Everything is still being done on paper, or at best in a table in Microsoft Word.
To give an example, there’s a no-code maker called Andrew Vernon who I met on Twitter. His family runs a volume photography business, meaning they operate those big school photography sessions where all the kids get their photos taken each year. It’s a logistically complex business, but like many industries it was running on spreadsheets and emails.
Andrew found Bubble and set about making a tool to help his own family business. It’s a CRM and project management tool designed specifically for the exact workflows of a volume photography business. And of course he’s smart, so he built it as a SaaS product from the start, and now has 20 paying customers from the same industry who are saving tens of hours each month with his software.
There is a goldmine of opportunities out there for no-code makers to build profitable micro-SaaS businesses in niche industries. The less attractive the industry is to tech founders, the better. In these niches, lack of competition is generally a good thing, although this is balanced with the unsophisticated customers who may not be used to SaaS business models.
Community Copilot is aimed at community managers, so I joined a few Slack communities and noted the ones where I could tell the community manager was active and doing a good job. I didn’t just jump right in with a sales pitch, I took some time getting to know the community and adding value where I could. When I mentioned what I was working on and asked if it would be a good fit, they were willing to hear me out.
Jumping on a call and doing a live demo with these early users is a must – I’ve learned a huge amount from speaking to them.
There are many many small technical issues that tripped us up along the way. Every time I thought of a new feature and tried to build it, I would come up against something I hadn’t experienced before. But the process of solving all these small issues meant I had to learn new things, which is always a good thing. The way I see it, every challenge I overcome is another barrier in front of any competitor who follows behind me.
The biggest challenge for me is marketing, and that’s something I’m having to learn every day.
The only thing I really care about is providing value to our paying users, so the thing that excites me most is working out how best to please them. Right now we’re still a long way off the point where users couldn’t live without us, but that’s the ultimate goal.
If you’re thinking about building your own SaaS product and want to learn Bubble, a friend and I made a video-based course where we aim to take makers from zero to able to make almost anything in the shortest possible time: gum.co/bubblecrashcourse
Learn how to build in no-code and become a freelancer, build your own startup or change your career into no-code web development.Check it out
I started Side Project Stack to help Makers reduce the time and effort to make stuff with no-code.I launched Get Stackd. A former #1 Product of the Day on Product Hunt. It helps Makers find the best no-code tools to use to make something. It's a 100% automated web app built with no-code.
What's interesting about it? Get Stackd take's the data from over dozens and dozens successfully made no-code projects to recommend the best starting point of tools to use to make your idea. I hope that you try it out. It's perfect for just starting out.Ill be adding more to the no-code space.
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