3 questions startups should ask about low code/no code

In the past, founders with no coding experience faced a steep learning curve when it came to updating their software or building an app. They often relied on hiring full-time programmers or expensive industry consultants. However, in recent years, low-code/no-code (LCNC) development platforms have exploded, allowing users with little or no knowledge of traditional programming languages ​​to build and test applications using templates or drag-and-drop capabilities.

These tools have been particularly popular with young companies with limited resources. Gartner has predicted that LCNC usage will grow from around 25% of applications in 2020 to 70% in 2025.

It’s difficult for founding teams to ignore the successful LCNC case studies that are popping up across various industries, especially given the ongoing talent wars for experienced software developers. (It is estimated that the US engineer shortage will surpass 1.2 million by 2026). But in the midst, some have questioned the tradeoffs between easy innovation and scalable development. After all, things can break when you’re moving fast, and using LCNC applications still requires careful consideration of your existing infrastructure, strategic priorities, and all associated development costs.

Here are three key questions startups should ask themselves before dipping a toe in the LCNC pool:

1. What does your startup offer and what kind of digital experiences do you create for your customers? There are many solutions that promise that LCNC can be used to develop an MVP (minimum viable product), but startups need to take this with a pinch of salt. LCNC applications are not a silver bullet that allows you to just click a few buttons and create an MVP without any IT involvement. This is especially true if you are a startup and the end product you are selling is software.

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While low-code and no-code are often lumped together, they are different approaches with different applications. It’s true that a startup can integrate no-code tools as part of a general tech stack to build an MVP, but no-code, by definition, has its limitations. To scale the application you need traditional IT/developers/engineers to reach the finish line. If you’re a tech-centric startup, you really can’t use no-code to scale.

The founding team of a startup often includes developers or engineers. If yours doesn’t, you need to outsource the full development of an MVP and market-ready application to traditional developers. Even if you work with a digital engineering company that works with an LCNC vendor, the software is not developed entirely with LCNC.

The reason for this is simple: customization. For any startup, it’s the user experience (UX) that sets an offering apart, and if you’re limited to the template framework of an LCNC application, creating a differentiated product will be almost impossible. This shouldn’t put startups off the LCNC path, but it does help to have an honest discussion on how to go beyond the basics to make your product stand out.

2. How far are you in your startup journey? When is a startup no longer a startup? That depends, but it usually comes down to scale. In the beginning, it is helpful to establish the state of the IT skills and resources in your company. In these early days, you may not have the resources to hire an army of developers, and this is where low-code can play an important role. For example, if you can’t hire a full-stack developer, you can hire a backend developer who can leverage low-code tools for frontend development.

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Defining and building a corporate culture from the start is important for any startup. Some of this comes from the founders defining the company’s mission/vision/values. Other parts of the culture are defined by creating systems early on that allow founders to track and transfer knowledge and processes as the startup scales. Low-code can play an essential role in this, enabling the development of tools that standardize the way the company works (work management, internal approvals, etc.).

3. Do you take a “build” or “buy” approach to your digital architecture? Successful startups understand the importance of operational sustainability, and part of that is establishing core systems that can be automated over time. These core systems need to evolve, especially as you grow sales, marketing and customers in your prospect pipeline and start managing them. This usually happens after you reach 50-100 employees.

For most startups, their core competency is not building their own core systems, so the focus must be on developing the product they will sell. This means buying/investing in core systems like CRM and other specialized point solutions for internal processes (communication, task management, project management, etc.).

But beware: Due to the ease with which SaaS can be implemented, the software costs can quickly add up. This includes the time and resources required to manage and fully optimize the return on investment (ROI) of all those investments. Low-code can really help startups here by allowing teams to easily prototype and create solutions for internal processes and operations that are tailored to their company and their team.

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Once you scale to a certain size, you definitely need to invest in core systems (cloud resources, ERP, data platforms), but for internal operations, low-code can still fill the gap.

Low code, high stakes

As with all good things, LCNC for startups is best used in the right context. There are some things it is good for and others where its inherent limitations need to be understood and considered. For any startup today, competition has never been greater, and in the current economic environment, startups must be smart to balance speed, market and capital efficiency. This is true whether you’re looking for venture funding or you’ve already completed a venture round and are trying to scale up. The stakes for startups are extremely high. Knowing where and when to deploy LCNC solutions is crucial to avoid missteps.

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