The low-code and no-code market continues to heat up as more and more VCs pour money into the space. This trend is not showing any signs of slowing down either. Just a few weeks ago, Instabase, a low-code platform that enables both technical and non-technical users to build customizable apps, achieved “unicorn” status after raising a massive $105M in its most recent round. As enterprise tech investors looking closely at this space at Work-Bench, we are constantly thinking about what the next generation of development, automation and productivity tools will look like. More specifically, we’re interested tools that can transform expensive, time-consuming, and error prone tasks into automated and seamless processes that allow teams to be more productive.
What is all this fuss about low-code/no-code tools, you ask? We’ve engaged with our network and chatted with startup founders and subject matter experts to hear from them and widened our perspective on this topic. One thing is clear, there are several misconceptions out there about low-code/no-code tools, and in this post, we explain what the low-code/no-code movement is all about and debunk some of these myths. Without much further ado, let’s dig in!
Myth #1: Low-code and no-code platforms will displace developers
By definition, low-code and no-code platforms are tools that allow end-users, so called “citizen developers,” to create software applications by using graphical user interfaces and configurations instead of coding or programming the traditional way. While no-code platforms enable non-technical users to build applications regardless of their ability to code, low-code platforms support professional developers with the abstraction techniques required to simplify complex code and increase agility across teams.
Today, low code/no code platforms like by Salesforce Lightning, Microsoft PowerApps and Airtable are used by front-line managers and non-technical business users to perform operations around both front-end and back-end development. Low-code/no-code platforms typically incorporate software development best practices, allowing end users to focus on delivering solutions quickly rather than pulling in additional development talent. With the rise of data driven cultures, emerging low-code/no-code platforms such as DarkLang, Dagster and Retool provide the basic building blocks to provide more efficient ways for teams to record, process and analyze information and to free up core IT teams to focus on larger projects.
Given the proper tools, citizen developers can automate manual and repetitive workflows using drag and drop functions or by copying and pasting scripts. But when it comes to maneuvering complex and tedious operations like debugging a code when things go awry, users might need the support of a professional development team that can go deeper into the application infrastructure and fix what’s broken.
One of the main concerns with giving free rein to citizen developers is data confidentiality and integrity. How do we ensure that users are interacting with software without breaking and endangering things, or without exploiting data to gain unauthorized access to the system? The fact that low-code platforms require less code involvement than in high-code platforms doesn’t mean that low code platforms are more secure by default — anyone could be prone to making poor security decisions on the platforms. As a result, in-house developers will need to make sure that security is built-into these platforms and that end-users are trained accordingly.
Myth #2: Low-code/no-code tools let you build just about anything
Just how a programming language is never truly universal, no low-code/no-code tool will ever be all-encompassing. It is unrealistic to believe that citizen developers can build anything they want using a simple “drag and drop” interface.
Low-code/no-code platforms are designed to perform within a given set of predefined rules. Any customization that exceeds the tool expectations will need to be coded on top of the existing infrastructure by an actual developer, which can be limiting to the end-user. Not all applications are easy to customize. As more customizations are created around the existing product, the longer it will take to complete the software development cycle, which impedes productivity.
Unlike professional developers, non-technical users have a narrow understanding of how applications are built. The fact that they can experiment with no-code platforms and build and customize their own apps without having to write a single line of code is certainly a rewarding experience. Yet, for developers, one of the main problems with working with low-code platforms is that the restricted design is too constraining. Besides, these tools don’t always work well with traditional development workflows and may appear trivial for the pro user who is used to working with more complex development workflows.
Myth #3: Next-gen software will all be no-code
According to a report published by Forrester Research, $21.2B is projected to be spent on the low-code market by 2022, growing at approximately 40% in CAGR. Another report by Gartner predicts that by 2020, at least half of all new line-of-business applications will be created using low-code tools, providing strong evidence that the market for low-code products continues to grow. As large enterprises transition toward AI-enabled automation and augmented analytics to tackle the huge backlog of business processes, low-code solutions will be useful to empower front-line users to deploy customized business process applications on time. Yet, given the pace at which large enterprises are evolving, the next-generation of automation tools will be robust, complex and difficult to maintain, and low-code platforms alone may not be robust enough to handle the complexities around building and maintaining digital products.
Myth #4: Low-code tools are ready for the Fortune 500 today
While it is true that low-code platforms are seeking to bridge the gap between businesses and IT departments, an enterprise-wide adoption of low-code tools may be a lot harder than most would think. Legacy systems such as Microsoft Active Directory and Oracle may be too rigid and complex to integrate with next-generation platforms and fold into new technology. On the other hand, concerns around data security with low-code platforms might make it harder to sell to the enterprise, especially given that security is a key consideration when building enterprise-grade mission-critical software. While enterprise-grade low-code tool such as Zapier, OutSystems and Tray provide connectors that require users to implement integrations with little to no programming, hand-coded integrations with legacy systems are still necessary in some cases, and there is always a chance that legacy code could react unpredictably when introduced to new features or updates.
Take Home Points
While there are some use cases when selling to SMBs, we are still in the early innings for the Fortune 500 utilization. Multiple departments in large enterprises spanning across sales, finance, marketing and legal teams will see the most adoption for low-code/no-code platforms to automate their day-to-day operations, but we still have a long way to go for adoption across IT. That said, the emergence of low-code and no-code platforms will most definitely unlock a new breed of non-developers turned developers but we are not necessarily moving toward a codeless future. Ten years from now, we will certainly not be coding in the same way that we code now — less technical users will be able to create an app writing little to no code at all. However, enterprises will continue to rely on professional developers for building out high-value and mission-critical applications. Here at Work-Bench, we’re very interested in this developing field and excited for the next-generation of low-code productivity tools that will redefine the future of work.
Here’s a selection of low-code/no-code startups funded in the past 2 years:
Clay.run raises $2.6M led by Boldstart Ventures, Abstract Ventures and Others
Integration Platform • Seed • San Francisco, CA
Dark raises $3.5M co-led by Cervin Ventures and Xfactor Ventures
Programming Language • Seed • San Francisco, CA
Prodly raises $3.5M led by Shasta Ventures
Automation & Testing • Seed • San Francisco, CA
Voiceflow raises $3.5M led by True Ventures
Voice Application Builder • Seed • Toronto, Canada
Internal raises $5M led by Craft Ventures
Data Management • Seed • San Francisco, CA
BRYTER raises $6M led by Accel
No-Code App Builder • Seed • Berlin, Germany
Bubble raises $6.3M led by SignalFire
Visual Programming Language • Seed • New York, NY
Appcues raises $10M led by Sierra Ventures
Product Management • Series A • Boston, MA
Notion raises $10M co-led by First Round Capital and others
File Management Tool • Seed • San Francisco, CA
Transposit raises $12.2M led by Sutter Hill Ventures
API Composition • Series A • San Francisco, CA
AppSheet raises $15M led by Shasta Ventures
Business Process Management • Series A • Seattle, WA
Immuta raises $20M led by DFJ Growth
Automated Data Governance• Series B • College Park, MD
IFTTT raises $24M led by Salesforce Ventures
App Connectivity • Series C • San Francisco, CA
Engineer.ai raises $29.5M led by Lakestar and Jungle Ventures
AI-Powered Development • Series A • San Francisco, CA
Webflow raises $72M led by Accel
Web Development • Series A • Boston, MA
Unqork raises $80M led by CapitalG
Sales Enablement Platform • Series B • New York, NY
Airtable raises $100M led by Thrive Capital, Benchmark and Coatue Management
Productivity Tool • Series C • San Francisco, CA
Instabase raises $105M led by Index Ventures
Business Process Automation • Series B • San Francisco, CA
OutSystems raises $360M led by Goldman Sachs and KKR
Low-Code Application Platform • Private Equity • Atlanta, GA
Retool raises an Undisclosed Amount led by Paul Graham, Patrick Collision and Others
Low-code Building Blocks • Seed • San Francisco, CA
Siemens acquires Mendix for $700M
Low-Code Application Platform • Acquisition • Boston, MA
Microsoft acquires Lobe.ai for an Undisclosed Amount
ML Model Builder • Acquisition • San Jose, CA
If you’re a startup founder building in this space, we’d love to talk. Shoot me an email or tweet at me!
Kudos to Vipin Chamakkala for his tireless efforts and thoughtful feedback on this post!