The classic challenge of a nascent startup is the old chicken/egg problem: I can’t get funding without a product, and I can’t develop a product without funding. Of all the entrepreneurs I speak to, this is one of the issues that come up the most.
And who can blame the investors? Funding is a risky business, and an idea is worth much less than you think. The recipe for an investor is not complicated. They want you to show them:
- that you have a working product
- that it’s making money
- that there is potential for growth under your leadership
That’s it. But to many, that’s a big ask, and understandably so. Building an app like Uber, even at an MVP level, costs tens of thousands of dollars at a minimum. You need developers, a place for them to work and large quantities of Red Bull – this is expensive stuff! Even if you are a developer, the project might simply be too big to handle yourself.
Bubble is a relatively new platform, founded by Emmanuel Straschnov and Josh Haas, two Harvard graduates with a big vision. They wanted to create a tool that was easy enough to use for any non-coder to develop a web app, yet advanced enough to take on the established programming languages. Bubble is a point-and-click tool that lets you build advanced, database-driven applications in a visual interface, without a single line of code.
Design with a visual editor
Every part of your app is designed with visual tools in a WYSIWYG interface. You can insert text, buttons, images, videos, icons, input fields, dropdowns, checkboxes and more or less any element you would need in your app, shaped and placed with drag-and-drop movements. By tweaking the different settings on each element, you can also determine how it should behave relative to its surrounding elements as the screen size changes, opening up for responsive sites.
Set actions with visual workflows
Events in Bubble are handled with two different tools: actions and conditions. Actions are used to specify what should happen when a user does something in your app, such as push a button or fill out a text input field. These actions range from simple tasks, such as navigating to a different URL or save a piece of information to the database, to complex calculations, API calls such as payments and transactional emails and output of information on the screen. Conditions are used to change an element’s appearance or behavior, based on any criteria on the page. For example, a button may be grey instead of green if a form is not yet completely filled out.
Hosted in the cloud
Another interesting point about Bubble is that it’s hosted in the cloud. You do not have to set up a domain, host anything or install any packages. From registering your email, you can start designing your app within five minutes. The pricing structure is set up for a low entrance, to allow you to build your app with very low cost. You will be sharing your server capacity with the thousands of other users, resulting in an app that may be too slow to go live, but perfectly fine for development and testing. As you launch your app, and the number of queries increases, you can buy more processing power for an increase in monthly payments. The brilliance of this is that you can make a small app for your team that runs at a low cost, or design an app that scales to, in principle, millions of users in the span of a few months, and just add capacity as needed with no roof.
A growing plugin ecosystem
Bubble recently opened up for third-party plugins, that allow you to extend Bubble’s basic functionality. Already there are hundreds of plugins that allow for payments, social media login, analytics, CSS tweaking and API queries and it’s likely that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of what this can enable you to do in the future.
What’s staggering – bordering on revolutionary – with Bubble’s approach to programming, is the overwhelmingly advanced applications you can build with very limited resources and programming experience. Want to build the next Twitter? It will take you a few hours. Tinder? Take one vacation day, and it’s done. That’s not to say that the development of an advanced app will not take weeks or months, but that you might do it with a sixth of the resources normally spent on development, scaling, and design.
What Bubble is not for
The Bubble approach does have limitations. From a design perspective, Bubble cannot yet match the flexibility of traditional web development languages. You can’t resize or move objects freely and would struggle to play around with effects such as parallax and dynamic animations. For game developers, Bubble simply isn’t for you. Bubble is very much built around database management, which makes it great for SaaS products, but not so much for rich multimedia experiences.
Bubble is also a browser-based app system, which means you cannot develop native apps for Android or iOS. Bubble are working on an export feature for iOS, which is likely to be a wrapper around your website. This is not impossible to get around even today though: solutions such as GoNative and PhoneGap can already wrap your website into a native app, but it does have its limitations. It requires that you are connected to the internet, cannot do background syncing and you risk exposing that it’s a web app if you get a connection timeout, and a regular Chrome error message with your URL will be displayed. All of these things can be rectified, but not without traditional coding.
Learning Bubble is easy. By following the lessons and videos, you will quickly pick up the basics. The Bubble forum has a committed community that have already answered thousands of questions, and are ready to help you get your project off the ground. Building the app itself is actually kind of addictive, a fact several members on the forum have brought up.
That’s it for the first step in building your startup MVP. Next we will look into how you can bring your app over to Android and IOS.