The market for applications of all kinds, particularly smartphone apps, continues to grow at a breakneck pace. In the first half of 2020 alone, there were more than 70 billion app downloads from Apple’s iOS store and the Google Play store. There are so many success stories of startups launching all kinds of new software application products, even under current market challenges.
If you are considering building a business around an idea for a new app, you may be wondering how to convert your idea into a product. This will require deciding how to build it, whether that involves learning how to program yourself, hiring an internal software development team, or outsourcing the work.
There are several tools that allow even the most novice programmers to build sophisticated, full-featured apps without paying a programming team. Low-code and no-code tools are fast and simple to use, making it easier to progress in of product development and to market more quickly. But these tools do have limitations, and they can be less flexible than employing human programmers.
In this article, we’ll discuss your options as a new app developer and consider some of the criteria that can help inform your decision about whether to do it yourself or hire a programmer.
What is a no-code tool?
You might be skeptical that you can build an app without any code whatsoever, as the term no-code suggests. And you would be right. No-code tools still rely on code to build the app, but the code is hidden from the designer/developer. So, perhaps a better name for these tools would be no visible code.
No-code tools are geared towards citizen developers, i.e., everyday people with little or no programming experience. They rely on visual representations of functions to create application workflows, user interfaces, data models, and more. The app designer uses pre-designed and pre-coded modules by dragging and dropping them to create the application.
No-code tools offer several benefits compared to traditional application programming. For new app developers jumping into the hot app market, no-code tools provide a much faster path to get a working MVP (minimum viable product) version of their app in front of paying customers. No-code tools can also make it easier to change or update some existing applications, by simply adding or removing modules as needed, with the designer being reasonably certain that all new modules will integrate correctly with the existing ones.
This approach can leave a software founder with more time to focus on other areas of the business, such as scaling operations or raising seed funding. For some startups in particular, easing up on the technical side of launch can help founders to focus on the business or customer, or find product/market fit more quickly.
No-code tools are also far less expensive than hiring programmers. Experienced freelance software developers are in high demand and can be pricey, charging upwards of $100 an hour on average (and rightfully so).
No-code tools do have downsides, however. Most significantly, app developers using no-code tools must rely on the functionality present in their chosen tool. If you have a specific feature or workflow that you want in your app, but your no-code tool doesn’t have a corresponding module, you are out of luck. Perhaps you can work with your no-code tool provider to add a module, but then you’ve entered the realm of more traditional software development.
No-code tools are available for a wide range of applications. Those looking for tools that can create entire web applications should consider tools such as Bubble and Adalo. If you are more interested in building your website, you may already be familiar with tools such as Wix and Squarespace, but you can also consider Webflow or Universe to allow you to design your website on your phone. And for those looking to build workflows that bridge existing applications, tools such as Zapier are particularly effective.
How about low-code tools?
Low-code tools occupy a niche between no-code and full-scale software development. While they require some programming knowledge, they are still far simpler and faster than coding entire applications from scratch. As with no-code platforms, low-code tools use visual representations to help build applications, but some coding is often necessary to bring the application to full functionality.
Low-code tools share many of the same benefits as no-code tools - speed to market, reduced costs, and ease of modification and maintenance - although not at the same level. Instead, they trade slight drop-offs in these characteristics for added flexibility and configurability. If no-code tools don’t offer all the functionality you need to build the user experience you have in mind, then low-code tools may be a good alternative.
When using a low-code tool, assistance in learning and writing any additional code you may need is readily available. In addition to online tutorials, there is also a wide range of groups to help entrepreneurs and startups exchange ideas about the tools and strategies they are using.
If you are considering low-code options, look at platforms such as Genexus, Outsystems, Mendix, or Zoho Creator.
How do you decide which to choose?
When selecting between no-code or low-code tools and human developers, you must fully understand your needs and prioritize them. Among the considerations you should address are:
- What exactly is your design and development need?
- How quickly do you need to get to market?
- What is your budget?
- How complex is your app?
- How much time are you willing to invest in learning?
For example, if you need to quickly build a website or app front-end, chances are you can do it yourself using a no-code tool. There are a lot of tools and resources for beginners available, and you can start simple in your functionality. Realize, however, that you will have limitations in terms of what functionalities and workflows you will have available, and this might not work for more complex projects.
If you are less concerned about how quickly your app hits the market and you are willing to spend some time learning basic coding, you should consider a low-code tool. You will be better able to customize what your app can do while still getting a product in front of customers relatively quickly.
DIY is great, but sometimes you need help
With all features available in low-code and no-code tools, why hire a human developer? These tools, while incredibly useful, will never fully replace the ingenuity of human programmers. For example, if you have an app with a multitude of features and complex workflows, you may not be able to effectively build it using a no-code or low-code tool.
If you decide to hire a human developer, you have several options. Certainly you can hire a full-time development team if you have the funds. But for many startups, this is not a financially feasible option.
Fortunately, it is simple to outsource development as well. It is not difficult to find software development experts online, whether in established companies or as freelancers. If you are managing remote developers make sure you communicate clearly and regularly and set clear goals and deliverables to help the development process go smoothly.
Do what works for you
When it comes to app development, the right option is out there for you. Try to think carefully about time, goals, scope, and budget at the earliest stages, so you can make the right decisions for your development process. Whatever option you pursue, rest assured that entrepreneurial lessons learned in the fast churn of the current software startup market, will become valuable career experiences whether your next product is your big success or not.
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This guest article was written by Nahla Davies, a now freelance writer with a background in enterprise and government-level RegTech consulting, who focuses on content development for compliance and training, through technical writing, software documentation, and more.
Graduates of the Founder Institute are creating some of the world's fastest growing startups, having raised over $1 billion in funding, and building products people love across over 200 cities worldwide.
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