Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And I’ve noticed something. When I started doing Mixergy, the dream in entrepreneurship was to create a software company, that was the dream. That’s why people like the founders of Wufoo were listening, that’s why the founders of Airbnb were listening. That’s what they were aspiring to do. That’s what they did.
But today I have to be honest, as I look around the world, people are no longer aspiring to become software entrepreneurs. If you’re listening to me, frankly, you’re kind of a weirdo. People used to admire you and want to be like you. Today they just think, “Well, it’s kind of, I don’t know, it seems a little remote, a little distant, a little weird to me.”
Instead what people want to be is the next Instagram star. That’s easier. It’s more approachable. It’s to hard to code. It’s too challenging to sit down and do it, which is why it’s kind of interesting that today’s guest is doing the kind of business that he’s doing. It’s his second appearance here. Emmanuel Straschnov is the founder of Bubble. Bubble allows you to program without code. It is one of a breed of new companies that says, guess what, you could build a tech company without getting so deep into code that you become a geek, which people used to aspire to be but they don’t anymore.
You could actually create a meaningful piece of software that changes people, maybe not changes the world, maybe changes the world, maybe not. But at least changes people’s lives without having to code. And the first time that I had him on I thought the guy was a weirdo, and I thought that . . . actually no, it’s not that. I was very dubious. I said this seems a little over simplistic and since then . . .
Emmanuel: Too good to be true.
Andrew: Too good to be true, that’s exactly it. And I think I spent 40 minutes with you, 30 minutes before we started talking to you. I did a bunch of research before. I felt good about having you on, but it just felt like . . . I don’t know. I don’t know. All right. We’ll find out how he’s done since then and how he’s built up his business, and we can do it thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first if you need to hire a developer, I wonder if Emmanuel hates this company because they have the best of the best developers or he thinks he’s going to put them out of business one day. We’ll find out. It’s called Toptal. And the second will let you host your website right. It’s called HostGator.
Emmanuel, good to have you here.
Emmanuel: It’s great to be here.
Andrew: Last time you were on I think you were doing a million dollars. It was about a year ago. What’s the revenue like now?
Emmanuel: We’re pretty close to $2 million now. On an annualized basis, it’s about 1.7 but then we have marketplace revenue, which gets us close to 2, so we think it can be doubled over the last year.
Andrew: What do you mean by marketplace revenue? What is that?
Emmanuel: That’s was a template [all plugins 00:02:31] actually. Like a plugin is a way to extend the platform, and so we have developers that build those plugins and you can distribute it for free on the [personal 00:02:38] basis or for a fee and then we take a commission for that.
Andrew: Got it. And then you get a percentage every time those are sold.
Andrew: And then how about the team?
Emmanuel: Yeah, just about those plugins, I was saying it’s actually very core because when you tell people you can build things without code, you always get the question, “Well, what if I’m limited?” And the truth is if you’re limited, you actually can write the code and that becomes the plugin. In practice it rarely happens, but that’s very important to the long-term vision because that means if you’re stuck in some ways, you can just go learn code and write some code.
Andrew: Got it. And the team, yeah, it was . . . look at this. It’s almost exactly a year ago that we recorded that first interview. And how big is the team now versus where it was before?
Emmanuel: So last year I believe we were five or maybe four actually. It think we were four people and today we have 10 people.
Emmanuel: All [organically 00:03:30] so far.
Andrew: I want to find out about how you hired and grew your team. But I went back and I looked at the transcript from our previous conversation. I feel like you were starting to say something to me that I didn’t dig into and that is I feel like there was a period, Emmanuel, where you and your cofounder just didn’t like each other, didn’t even want to be around each other because you were working together, only together for so long. You’re smiling. It’s in retrospect so let’s talk openly about that.
Emmanuel: I wouldn’t go that far. I mean we never had actually personal issues with each other. But we did talk about last year and we can dig a little bit deeper in it was the third year. The third year was tough not because of each other, just because the way we decided to build the company, bootstrapping building a very software-driven, deep software product takes a very long time and so by year three you basically end up yourself having written three years of code, I mean you were writing code for three years, had very few users, stuff like the press was talking about you every day, so nobody really cared about where you were doing and it’s just a ton of work.
You’re like, “Oh my god, I already spent three years of probably my best years, you know, like early 30s or something and this. Where is that going?” And so that was the challenge of year three. Instead of actually personal things, it was more like are we doing the right thing with our best years basically.
Looking back I’m glad we did it because today we are in much better shape. But back then it was tough.
Andrew: But you didn’t feel like . . .I know sometimes frankly when my wife and I are together for too long, we feel like all right, enough. Your little things just drive me freaking nuts. That’s not what happened?
Emmanuel: It does but the same . . . I don’t know about your personal situation but then you have a child and you come back to what matters and you have a child and you take care of it with your wife and then go through a difficult time. So we certainly have issues like that. I mean every relationship goes through . . .
Andrew: Be open. I’ll tell you . . . I’ll go first. I’ll tell you one of the issues that my wife and I have when we’re together for too long. I make very quick decisions very decisively to the point where it feels like I didn’t put any thought into it. Like think about dinner, where are we going to go for dinner? I name a place, we’re ready to go there. It doesn’t look like a paid any thought, attention to it but I did. I paid attention. She will spend a lot of time contemplating, researching, Yelping, Google, whatever and that to me feels like we’re wasting our time and I don’t want to be in that world. I want to be at the dinner. Those are the little things that drive me crazy. What about you and your cofounder?
Emmanuel: So we actually . . . one thing that I think that has really worked well together is that we want the same thing eventually in our working process. You know, for instance do we spend a lot of time trying something out but we do it faster is actually very in sync. So that’s good. Now sometimes, you know, I would say the toughest thing we might have some time is the way we both handle stress, which makes us sometimes a little bit sensitive and not super pleasant to be around.
Andrew: Tell me.
Emmanuel: But, you know, it happens sometime and after 24 hours it’s fine.
Andrew: What do you mean? How do you handle stress? I don’t want to make this into a happy-go-lucky interview where everything has been going great since last year. Give me a little bit more color. What do you mean? What happened?
Emmanuel: Well, stress might be when we feel overwhelmed by the responsibility and by the amount of work we might have. On the other hand, though, and it might change whenever we raise money, but not having raised money means that you know what, if you really want to take two days off, you can. It’s actually tough if you have people that you report to. So the way that we would handle it is, yeah, we have times like and might be taking it easy for a few days and then come back.
It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. So the worst that would have happen is sometimes we’re in a very critical situations, it doesn’t feel working great, be both decide we’re like . . . the next three days even if it’s from a Thursday to like Wednesday, Thursday, Friday let’s not spend too much time at work, then you come back another day and you come back fresh. I don’t actually have recipes for those things. At the end of the day I would say as long as you want the same end goal, you’ll figure out ways to work it out.
Andrew: The first users came to you because you went to meetups and you talked about this and you promoted it and you basically evangelized man-to-man, hand-to-hand combat. The next batch came from Product Hunt. Again, I’m seeing this as a commonality with a lot of people that I’m interviewing today. Was it just that Product Hunt post ended up sending people to your site and then you converted enough that you could get 3,000 users?
Emmanuel: Yeah, pretty much actually. The trick is we waited a very long time so a lot of people were actually surprised, were not trained to go to Product Hunt or other, you know, TechCrunch or whatever it was earlier. We actually waited three years which is a very long time. And so we got there, you could argue, probably too late but the result is we converted very well.
Andrew: And it was like 20% . . .
Emmanuel: The plugin was at the level of the promise.
Andrew: Do you feel that was a mistake? I feel like Product Hunt is so powerful today that you almost want to jump on it before it loses it power and it then it goes to the next thing where people don’t care about it.
Emmanuel: [I used to 00:08:12] . . . but yeah, I would definitely, actually. Yeah.
Andrew: You would wait three years, get the product right before going to Product Hunt? You wouldn’t jump in before?
Emmanuel: Yes, I would.
Andrew: Really? Because?
Emmanuel: I would because . . . but it kind of specific for what we do. What we do no one takes it seriously until you have something real to show them, and so we wanted to wait to have something real to show them. And no, I could it be two years and a half? Maybe, but not one year.
Andrew: Because people wouldn’t have taken this seriously. You have one opportunity to say here’s what we’ve got, one opportunity to handle that load and still do well.
Andrew: Okay. All right. So that’s essentially where you were the last time we talked. Over the last year I feel like one of the things you started to do a little bit of is go outside of your group of people. You were always good at having your own community, right? If I go to Bubble.is . . . Isn’t that your website? Bubble.is . . .
Andrew: Don’t you guys have a really good online community. You’re good at handling customer service from people in public, right?
Emmanuel: Yeah. Our forum is very active. Yep.
Andrew: Yep. Oh, look at this, 2000, about a quarter million builders are in your forum, right?
Andrew: 200,000 apps. All right, I get that.
Emmanuel: [inaudible 00:09:25] posts, but yeah.
Andrew: One of the things you started to do to reach outside of your comfort zone or your bubble was do a Mixergy interview. How did that do for you?
Emmanuel: It did very well actually. The target audience was very . . . that was a great overlap like hustlers, people trying to build businesses and those people usually are the ones looking for software solutions and you can tell them, you know, if you [inaudible 00:09:48], you’ll get somewhere with Bubble. It resonated very well. So we got actually even today, we still have people after like 10 months or something reaching out back saying [inaudible 00:09:57], which is great.
Andrew: Has anyone listening to us right now done that? Gone over to the website because you heard Emmanuel here, you’ve heard about Bubble here? Let me know in the chat or if you haven’t, let me know too in the chat. I’m kind of curious about it. And so did you do more of that? I wonder what you did to go from one million to two million.
Emmanuel: So the truth is we didn’t do too much actually. So we were still very busy building the team. Like it’s a complicated software and so onboarding engineers took us time. It’s only recently that we started a little bit more like trying to push on PR stuff like when we find opportunities. We haven’t done [inaudible 00:10:35] evangelization yet. It’s really something we’re doing now actually.
Andrew: But then again, I see you were on Hacker Noon the Medium blog, right? You did an interview with them.
Emmanuel: We did a few blog posts but those things came to us actually.
Emmanuel: Those were people reaching out to us. Yeah.
Andrew: And so then what happened that allowed you guys to double your sales?
Emmanuel: So half of it was inbound traffic because people were still finding us through search engines pretty well mostly because of blog form because the form creates a lot of content will index by search engines. And the other half was expansion so the question was, can we scale on Bubble? And yes, and so when you scale, you pay and we have businesses that scale on this and so half of our increase in revenue of was coming from [ACC 00:11:18] users.
Andrew: You’re saying a lot of people ask a question, can I scale on Bubble? Can I actually grow beyond that hobby stage with Bubble?
Emmanuel: Yeah, definitely actually.
Andrew: That’s what they’re asking, that’s what leading you to get traffic?
Emmanuel: Yeah. It’s what seeding a lot of engineering time. A lot of engineering time we spend right now be that scalability and performance at scale.
Andrew: So look at this, Luka is listening to us right now says, “I’m only here because I want to . . . ” like I did four interviews today. Luka is only here with one big goal, “I want to know the potential . . . ” Luka believes the potential for Bubble if explosive and wants to understand what it is. Before we started, I asked you for an example. Give me an example of a product that was built on Bubble that is kind of accessible but shows the power of Bubble. So fairly easy to create but also powerful and doesn’t feel like just a static blog.
Emmanuel: Okay. I think it’s easy to create because it’s a pretty complicated web app. It’s a product that people will understand what it does, which is a good example. So we have this startup in San Francisco that started using us actually before Product Hunt and so that was in 2014. But that’s why I took [campaign 00:12:21] early because it’s a company that will go to scale because scale takes time to get . . . just because it takes time build things, to build businesses. So what they built is a fintech startup that basically sells to homeowners loans if they want to install a solar panel on the roof, and they basically build an entire web experience where and, you know, an installer will [traffic 00:12:41] with tablets, give you the tablet and you will fill your personal information, financial information to get approved for a loan, and the installers will set up the different specs of the solar panel you will have. You could calculate [inaudible 00:12:55] you will have.
You will get as a homeowner preapproved again automatically for your loan and then the installers go home and you have the CRM with all the different projects that he has to build basically and eventually reports the progress and gets paid to the platform. That’s a pretty complicated web product . . .
Andrew: What makes it complicated? So the basic stuff of filling in a form makes sense, you can do that with Airtable, right? You can do it with a lot different tools. What makes it complicated?
Emmanuel: Yeah, [inaudible 00:13:20] flow. Airtable will be great to enter data so you will enter the homeowner data but then, you know, pressing a button to preapprove a loan, if it’s approved, you mark the project as fundable so the installers know we can start working on it. If it’s not approved, you send an email asking for additional information to homeowner. It’s actually something that no other tool lets you build. It’s kind of like customized workflow where you have no permissions. If this works, then you do this. Otherwise you do that.
Also from a visual standpoint, Airtable will be fantastic if you’re happy with one of the prebuilt views. If you want to have something special that installers can see more visual ways of different projects he has to work with, work on, you wouldn’t be able to definitely control. And so talking about scale about that business, because they’ve been on Bubble for five years now. The process to borrow a billion dollars a loans and entirely on a Bubble built software, like they don’t have engineers working on this product.
Andrew: No engineers? Just regular people . . .
Emmanuel: Not they have a few engineers doing to [chats 00:14:19] and stuff but not the core web platform. The core web platform is entirely built on Bubble.
Andrew: I see and so you’re saying, look, we can actually do this whole thing just on Bubble. You can build a whole software company just on Bubble.
Emmanuel: Yeah. There is $300 million so again, processed $300 million of loans. It’s again, like we need a few more examples of this for people to actually really realize it is possible. The challenge is not every company gets to quickly scale and it’s not just about the software they are building, it’s also just about the business in general. Once we get more it will be obvious that it is getting there. But again, we’re working every day to get more people like that so that at some point becomes obvious.
Andrew: What’s the name of the company?
Emmanuel: Dividend Finance.
Andrew: Dividend Finance. Dividend. What’s an example of a small product that was built on Bubble?
Emmanuel: A small product . . . So there is product I like actually that is different. And again, you wouldn’t have any other tool that could do that. It’s not a business, it’s a personal product. I was doing a meetup in [Billion 00:15:21] last year. So that was after our interview last year. And this guy comes to me and says, “Hey, Bubble saved my relationship.” I was like, “Okay. Interesting. How did that happen?” and then he explains to me that he has this tradition with his girlfriend to give each other an event calendar on December 1st before Christmas. And it turns out it’s the year before we met that was like December 17 he had forgotten to buy an event calendar.
So we’re building one on Bubble over the platform on November 30 at night to his girlfriend and so she [would like 00:15:51] a tab of the different days and get a surprise each time behind one of those things. That’s the kind of simple web application that you would build, that does something. But it’s not necessarily a business necessity, but you don’t have any other way to build it today except the write code. That’s a small example. So it’s not something that makes money, but it’s actually a very important pain point for him inside his relationship that he would build in a few hours instead of writing some code. I suppose assuming [inaudible 00:16:18]
Andrew: You know, I kind of want to build something in Bubble just to get a sense of it. Jack, you’re listening to me. You’re saying you’re not the target audience for Bubble. Why did you try Bubble? We’re doing this live I should say. This is the first live event that I’ve done in years. I just wanted to have like a live audience to give me feedback and see what they’re thinking about this and why they were here. So I’m curious about Jack who’s . . . I think, Jack, aren’t you a developer? I wonder why you’re into this.
Let me talk about my first sponsor . . . I’m sorry.
Emmanuel: Yeah, people used to think that it’s not for developers. We actually started seeing more and more developers on Bubble because even for developers a lot of the things they do is actually very boring. Like, you know, 88% of the software development today is reinventing wheel, you know, putting together UI elements on a page, writing to APIs, doing [inaudible 00:17:08], you know, trading and tracing the database, modifying them, deleting them, all the things are pretty boring and should be sped up dramatically. You have some programs that have made it better, but Bubble makes it better by a different order of magnitude because it’s just about dragging and dropping a few things. So that developers would actually focus on the right thing just write code, write [inaudible 00:17:26].
Andrew: Got it. And I could see Jack is saying I built my wife a present flow with jQuery in HTML once, now I use Bubble for that. I feel like that’s the place where I got really excited about WordPress, just by playing with it to just create something small for myself, and then it became a publishing platform that I respected enough to move Mixergy to and say I don’t need to code up my own CMS. I’ll just use WordPress.
By the way, anyone who is listening to me, quick sponsor message, who needs a website hosted go to hostgator.com/mixergy. When you do you’ll get a super low price for your website, and I like that middle option because it gives you unlimited domain hosting which means that you can come up with an idea today, launch an website for it within . . . not even an hour. I was going to say have it tomorrow but within an hour you could probably have it up and running. All you have to do is hit that one button, get WordPress up and pick a theme and start publishing and you got whatever you have.
I remember I had unlimited web hosting so I created a website for my wife too. It was . . .she said something about . . . Oh, I know, I asked weird question at dinner and I said afterwards, Olivia, is that inappropriate for me to ask it. She said no, it’s a little déclassé. So I copied a page from dictionary.com with the word déclassé. I put a picture of myself right next to it and I published it on [dictionharry.com 00:18:43], and I sent it to Olivia and made her laugh. It was kind of a fun thing to do.
And so through experimentation like that I decided that I was going to just create my own website, publish Mixergy content and move on. Before that, I hired developers, believe it or not, to publish on Mixergy. Not necessary. All right, if you’re out there and you want to get started right, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And if you hate your hosting company, go to hostgator.com/Mixergy.
One bit of advice, it’s inexpensive and at some point you might want to go and scale up. Notice that they don’t put that up on their website but they do have options to scale up with them. So you don’t have to start with that baby or hatchling plan or whatever they call it. You can always move beyond it as your site gets bigger and bigger. I know I did. Hostgator.com/mixergy.
What about hiring? Hiring has been an issue for me so much that I think the most popular interview that I’ve done in the last couple of years was with Cameron Herold about how do I hire a COO. Never updated people on that but I do. We have a VP of operations who’s actually listening to us right now. What’s been your challenge in hiring and doubling your team?
Emmanuel: So a couple of things. I mean finding the right people like sourcing and stuff. We’ve actually been pretty lucky with AngelList, AngelList in New York. I think it’s probably easier in New York than in San Francisco because you don’t have as many startups and you have a lot of people trying to jump from finance to startups. While in San Francisco it’s from startups to startup so you might have a great deal flow but then you lose people quickly because they go somewhere else. AngelList has been pretty good for us.
On the non-business side friends like a personal network has worked pretty well. Now the other challenge we have is getting people on board, you know, like we have a good base and controller getting people up to speed in time. It’s a challenge but it’s a challenge that we have to fix on [inaudible 00:20:35]. It’s not like there is a tool for that. It’s that we need to improve our implementation and stuff like this and we just do that. That takes a lot of time.
Andrew: Onboarding people?
Emmanuel: Onboarding engineers, yeah.
Andrew: What do you do to speed up? What’s worked for you? We don’t have engineers and even for us onboarding people is really important, and we don’t think about it except like whenever we onboard somebody and we see a mistake and then we forget about it for another six months.
Emmanuel: It’s mostly like improving documentation and improving a few processes around what do we do for the first two couple of weeks. We experimented with a few ideas, for instance, putting people in customer support. Customer support for us is fairly interesting because it’s not just about, you know, doing like repetitive work. It’s really about bringing two issues up to figure out if they’re doing things right or wrong, which is a good way to get people very familiar with the product.
By definition engineers, even though I said I want to have engineers using Bubble, so I know this is the target audience right now, so it’s important for our engineers use the product themselves, you know, otherwise they don’t know what they’re building or what they’re fixing. So we experimented with a few different flows like that.
Andrew: You’re saying that they’ll actually go into . . if there’s a tech issue, they’ll go into the actually product that your users are creating.
Andrew: What do you do that is special that helps you hire the right developers?
Emmanuel: So I think I wouldn’t say we do something special, but we do have something. What we do is weird enough. And not every engineer likes visual programming, and so we select people . . . people select us. We had a few different candidates emailing us saying, “Hey, I thought about that problem in the past. I’d love to get paid to help building it.” And so they will do that because . . . like a little different. Some of the engineers may not like what we do with and then we use them, so we kind of have the self-selection process which is just because of the nature of what we’re building but leads us to interesting candidates. We ended up hiring one of them actually.
Andrew: One of the things that a past guest today in our live session said that he recommends is working with a developer on a test project before you go all in. Do you guy do any of that?
Emmanuel: We haven’t done . . . We have like a case study, and we have two rounds of interviews. There is a phone screening that is fairly technical. First we haven’t tried doing this. It’s easier to do that when you are an open source-based startup because there’s no IP issue. I’d love to be experimenting in that. I can see a lot of challenges in that.
Andrew: Okay. The other thing you talked to me about before we got started was building a movement, that’s some that’s important for you. What have you done there?
Emmanuel: So again, I mean what we’ve done is maintain a community and basically being pushed by the community. Building a better product that makes the movement more necessary so a little bit of a self-realizing prophesy. If the product becomes good enough and then they’re in the movement. If you start having movement about where everyone can build more [inaudible 00:23:20] tools aren’t there yet, it’s basically going to fail.
Andrew: I don’t know, Emmanuel. I’ve got to tell you. So I remember talking to Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, and one of the things that stuck out for me was I asked him how he got users in the early days and he said he spammed. And you can go back and see that in the transcript. I asked him what does he mean spam, I thought he was like collecting email addresses and mailing people out. He said no, I was just going to comments on people’s blogs and saying, you know, this blog would be better hosted if it was on WordPress.
Emmanuel: So I used to do that and I did that in the first two, three years when the product was not good enough. So that was good for Product Hunt and honestly didn’t lead to anything.
Andrew: It didn’t? But I feel like one of the challenges and we’ve talked before we got started, not just you and me but me and the people who are listening live, about the skepticism around Bubble. Yeah, it does kind of make sense that this software will work for building software without forcing you to code, but there’s enough skepticism about something new that it does feel like people need to be evangelized a little bit, need to see the founder a little bit, need to believe in it a little bit, need to know it exists and it really work.
Emmanuel: Very much so and if I were to look back on my past year, I wish I done a little bit more of that. I was limited by time and resources to be honest. It’s definitely what we’re going to start doing this year. I’m glad I didn’t try to do that in 2015, 2016 or 2017 because the product was not ready and so people would be like, “Okay, you say that but can I actually build this,” and “Yeah, actually that you can,” and then it backfires greatly.
This year I definitely want to do that. We did do that, did help because you know, Bubble is a community because that’s really what happened, helped so much with evangelization because at some point evangelization is where you say something and people believe in it. It’s when you know it’s something to one person and that person tells it to their friends or his friends. Like there is a little bit of social validation aspect especially for an idea where people are highly skeptical. In that sense we did a lot of the work there because we doubled the community.
I’m planning on being much more out there in San Francisco than I have been. Didn’t go to San Francisco at all last year. I already been twice this year. Like I’m trying to push a little bit more like being in the epicenter of things so that we start having . . . we brought in a few partnerships that should extend reach of what we’re doing so that next year when we talk, I won’t say we didn’t anything at all last year.
Andrew: You said scalability was an issue. What’s the issue with scalability and then how did you handle it?
Emmanuel: So scalability is an issue in the sense that our users start building on Bubble and then they scale on Bubble. So back to that Dividend Finance company, you know, when you start processing a lot of money, that means you have a lot of traffic and so we start seeing applications at scale having some kind of performance issues. Today we’re at the point where we are much better than bad, sorry, form web developers. We’re not very good web developers in terms of performance, and our goal is to basically get closer to like just being very good where things are snappy regardless of the amount of traffic you have, because at that point you can basically irrelevant to your developers industry and like traditional web developers and the speed we’re building.
How do we solve that? Honestly, by staffing up the engineering team. We have a long list of projects we need to execute on to make things faster. We know where the [inaudible 00:26:38] is coming from so we identified a lot of opportunities that’s [inaudible 00:26:42] executing on them. It’s actually something where you can solve another problem if you do it right.
Andrew: Okay. I’m going to come back. I don’t want a happy-go-lucky interview here. People are going to kill me. I’m going to come back in a second, and I’m going to ask you about one of the big challenges—the tension between existing users and new users. You and our producer Brian Benson talked about that. First, I’ll do a quick ad here and tell people about a site for hiring phenomenal developers. It’s called Toptal. Top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. If you need a developer, go to toptal.com/mixergy. When you go there you’re going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours. Emmanuel while I’m still on this ad, you said there is a role for developers within Bubble. How does that work?
Emmanuel: We extend the platform with plugins. We’ve already seen that a lot. So for instance if you were to build like a dating website. The whole UI, the whole flow when you’re signing up is all built in Bubble, but your secret sauce which is how you match people is something that you would write this code and if you want to be sophisticated, you’re going to say [question 00:27:40] algorithm, then you would hire a developer to build that.
Andrew: All right, if you need a developer for that or anything else, go to toptal.com/mixergy. T-O-P-T-A-L.com/mixergy.
All right. Let’s talk about that big challenge, existing and new users. What is the tension between the two of them?
Emmanuel: Well, it goes back to what I was just talking about scaling. It’s existing users because usually especially the ones that stick on the platform their businesses are doing well so they have more traffic and they performance of scale. New users, users that ask for more templates, content, learning lessons to make onboarding experience easier and there’s a conflict not because you can’t do both but because you’re already taking resources and that’s where we have to find the tradeoff.
Right now we’re very big on scaling because it confirms our vision. It’s important to make sure that to develop the vision. There’s also a moral necessity. We told people they could get real business down with [inaudible 00:28:40], but that’s why we are hiring people to try to do a little bit of both to start making sure that the top of the funnel where we start getting new people convert to actual like serious users because the platform is easier to use. However, if we have to decide between both currently, we decide for scalability and [inaudible 00:28:56].
Andrew: Really? Because?
Emmanuel: Well, because again it’s a moral commitment we made to our users.
Andrew: Look, if I committed to these users, build on my platform and I’m going to make it good for you, you want to take care of those users before you make it easier for new users to get on the platform.
Emmanuel: Yeah. If we fail, the business dies to be honest. And it’s also a self-serving thing because then we can go to the press, to you, or whatever it is and say this guy has built like $100 million business and he doesn’t have engineers.
Andrew: And put it on the showcase page of your website?
Emmanuel: Exactly. It will be a very great case study anyway. But it’s a long-term game.
Andrew: I’ve been kind of down on school lately, but I noticed that you went to Harvard. Did you get anything out of Harvard that allowed you to build this business? Was there anything useful there?
Emmanuel: Well, I met my business partners in the Harvard network so that was useful. I went to business school and been writing as lot of code out of school and I think that immediately useful. I did help me figure out what I wanted to do and from that standpoint that was a very good experience.
Andrew: Like what?
Emmanuel: I guess it was great. Well, because it’s two years I could do after you been to real life, after college for a few years and this school is a two-year program and I did the two-year program I ended up spending my summer in fashion because I had two years.
Andrew: [Father 00:30:10], right?
Emmanuel: Yeah, exactly. Which is really far from what I’m doing right now, and I’m glad I did it because it actually helped me figure out what I wanted to do because I tried it, it was fun, because I was looking, and that was very useful. How do my accounting classes help me today on a daily basis? Not too much but it’s helping.
Andrew: I feel like the accounting classes helped. I just did business as an undergrad. The classes helped. What else helped? The class I forget what it was called, some kind of finance class where I got to understand how stocks and bonds are priced. How I got to understand the connection between interest rate and price of a bond. That thing helped me. The accounting classes helped by far more than anything else.
Emmanuel: To be honest, it doesn’t help me at all.
Emmanuel: Well, I mean, it helps me if want to invest my personal money, but even if I try to raise money, like the price of the [gold 00:31:00] stock when I raise money, it has nothing to do with the stock market.
Andrew: Right. I do wish they spent more time on that. I wonder if there’s a place to go learn that because I sign these safe notes, I sign all these different agreements, I own LP in . . . I don’t know what, at least in Hustle Fund, maybe even in something else to that I can’t remember right now. I see the paperwork, I go through it, I read it, it makes sense. It’s all the standard stuff. I don’t fully understand it. All right, fine we’re good. I even gave it to Jack, our finance person, I don’t know if he fully understands it. I feel like they need to change those accounting classes.
Emmanuel: Yeah, or do what [Wessy 00:31:34] does which not have a standard so you know that it’s safe and actually the safe is safe because Wessy is just a thing so you don’t need to spend as much time on lawyers or legal [inaudible 00:31:45].
Andrew: Right. But I would still like to understand it better. I would like it if business schools said, look, the chances of you starting a public company are pretty small and then at that point you’ll enough people around you. Chances of you needing to raise money or invest in the company are pretty big. Let’s talk about how that works.
Emmanuel: To be fair, I think they do.
Andrew: Do they?
Emmanuel: I mean, my year at Harvard was a turning point because truly the startup thing started being bigger and they changed a lot of their curriculum after that so I think they are doing this. The problem is some of the practice in each case is a little bit different so there are limits to how much you can do with the class.
Andrew: Maybe NYU needs to be better, maybe that’s the challenge. I’m a little bit down on school. What do you when you’re not working?
Emmanuel: What’s that?
Andrew: What do you do when you’re not working?
Emmanuel: I spend a lot of time at home. I’m pretty domesticated now.
Andrew: Really? Just you and who?
Emmanuel: My girlfriend.
Andrew: And your girlfriend. Just the two of you sit at home. Really? You don’t even like . . .
Andrew: Entertain people? You don’t go out?
Emmanuel: I do a lot of drama personally, not me but I do enjoy the dram scene in New York, like where there is Broadway or opera shows. So I do a lot of that.
Andrew: Why? Just for fun, just to clear your mind a little bit?
Emmanuel: Yeah, exactly. It’s something very different from what I do.
Andrew: Did you eat dinners or anything lately because you’re in New York, there’s so many good entrepreneurs there.
Emmanuel: Yeah, the dinners would be more with friends or my girlfriend. I try to keep some safe space without work. If you have dinner with entrepreneurs except they’re all friends, great. Otherwise it turns out to be work.
Andrew: I tend to find that I don’t want entrepreneur friends. I compete with them or I think they compete with me or there’s a question all the time about what have you been up to since our last conversation. I don’t want to talk about that.
Emmanuel: Which I think is precisely the problem with San Francisco, yes. Everyone in San Francisco tends to be in the same industry as a competitor. In new York it’s actually very different. How do you compare an entrepreneur, and actor and a banker? It’s actually and a lawyer. [inaudible 00:33:39] themselves. It’s actually setting us now because we started seeing a lot of people want to leave SF from new York which is great because then we can get great talent.
Andrew: I was at my son’s birthday party, I was talking to the dads, they’re all in tech and it’s kind of cool, right? Because I got to see what this guy was working at Uber who’s not there anymore, I got to see the work that he was doing at Uber, that’s pretty interesting. Another friend of mine last Thursday I went out to dinner with him, he’s still at Uber. He was talking to me about the design decisions that they make at Uber about the future plans within reason. I thought it was really helpful but eventually you say well, maybe I want a conversation that doesn’t have to go back to tech. Maybe I just want to talk about our kids for a moment. It’s not going to happen. What do you see for the future of Bubble? How big is it going get and what do you see it doing for people in the future?
Emmanuel: Practically right now we’re pretty aggressively hiring. I think we’re going to double raise at the end of the year. We want to saturate our current market of people starting companies on Bubble and scaling. Once we get to that point, it think we can start to looking more at enterprise and the existing business space, so we’re trying to switch, get people to switch to our system.
There is a huge need and very logical operations for like no code tools because especially for internal tools because what happens is large companies they have money and money is not any issue for a large company but it’s slow to get things in motion and usually they would put their engineering resources on external facing stuff. So basically teams have to suffer with old software to solve internal problems, and they can’t get it built because engineers working for external facing tech. And I think Bubble has a great potential there.
It’s not something we’re going to do this year. We already have a few large companies that use us and they reach out. We actually push them away and say sorry we can’t service you, deliver what you would expect at an enterprise level, but I’m hoping we can show that next year. And then down the line once, you know, we have starting companies on us that we can migrate people on us, adds an indication angle which is the third thing in our strategy to having schools using Bubble as an educational support to [ditch that program 00:35:39] thinking. We have to serve them I think we’ll be close to where we want to be otherwise which means everyone will use us. So that will be great. It’s a few years away though.
Andrew: And the reason it’s a few years away is because you don’t have funding, because you decided at least for now, are going to bootstrap. But I’m sensing from you that you’re ready to start raising money.
Emmanuel: Yeah. Things might change pretty quickly, yeah.
Andrew: Are you now raising a round?
Emmanuel: We’re thinking strongly about it. So yeah. We’ll see.
Andrew: Okay. And VCs are already contacting you there? Right?
Emmanuel: Well, yeah, we got into TechCrunch last year so when that happens you get a natural flow of people, so yeah. But then it’s about finding the right partner. You need to find people that really buy the vision. It’s a pretty disruptive . . . actually thinking about what I learned in business school, I learned a lot about disruption because disruption was the developed at Harvard Business School. And Bubble is truly a disruption to the software market in a low-end disruption. Something that is not coded as easily much cheaper, and at some point becomes good enough that everybody uses it, hopefully. And so not all VCs I think like that so you need to find the right partner to that really buys in the vision, the time horizon that implies and then the team obviously we need to like each other.
Andrew: What do you thin about . . . I mentioned WordPress. WordPress now will host just about any site but in the beginning they were focused on blogs. Do you feel like being an anything development platform can maybe make it harder for you to explain to people what you’re for and to find that group of people who are ideal?
Emmanuel: Say that again, sorry.
Andrew: I wonder if the fact that you can build so many different things on Bubble might be an issue, might be a challenge for you guys.
Emmanuel: It is. It’s unfortunate because it’s the truth. I’m not lying when I speak in [delivering 00:37:21]. But it is true that it is a challenge. I think the way we’re going to fix that is by targeted content strategy not necessarily or in templates to some extent because our users build templates but I think increase our producing content. Airtable does a great job of that. Airtable is a very opensource product. It can do a lot of things on it but then they have content for specific use cases. I think it’s useful for things like this that will help a lot so you don’t have people telling them, hey, you can build anything on Bubble because if someone says, “Hey, you have creative agencies that needs to create enough together creative ideas. Here’s how you would build that on Bubble.”
Andrew: And have the surprise of you can do so much more one you get started there.
Emmanuel: Exactly, yeah.
Andrew: I feel like Airtable is a good model. That Airtable for a long time and even today sells itself primarily as a spreadsheet with some super powers but it’s really not. It’s more of a database than a spreadsheet, but a database is scary. A spreadsheet is where people do everything anyway, so you might as well say look, a spreadsheet with a little bit more power. You’re bumping up against the wall. We’ll clear that wall. We’ll make it easier for you.
Emmanuel: Exactly. I think I don’t know if we made a mistake. Starting with a statement that you can build anything. I was glad we decided to build the product that way though. Because it’s important to build the product that’s very open-ended. And then because it’s easier to go from open-ended to use cases and to narrow to open-ended. So I’m glad we did it that way. Our communication certainly should be refined to specific use cases for it.
Andrew: Right. Where you’re saying Airtable will have these different pages just focused on the template. I was using Airtable . . .
Emmanuel: Yeah. This has this [Airtable 00:38:52] university and those things. Yeah.
Andrew: And then they have pages that almost make it look like the one thing you want to build is the one thing that Airtable was meant for. All right. The reason I’ve got that is I found myself with so many different notes from books and I said I would love to put them in a database, and I tried a bunch of different things and then Airtable kind of fit and it looked like they were built just for that. And so I built on them.
Emmanuel: Yeah. That’s something we need to do.
Andrew: You know, let’s close it out with this. I talked to Josh the founder of Baremetrics today and it seems like he’s created so many different things. But one thing he created over and over that didn’t seem to have taken was a community. Your community is active. Your community is growing. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to build a community around their product?
Emmanuel: I don’t know. It happened organically. The way we did, I did it, because it was really me, was to be extremely aggressive about pushing feature, but to be forcefully to be fair, to post on the format first and it did backfire a few times. You know I had this safe reply in our ticketing system where people would email me with a question and I would have a safe reply, “I’ll answer if you copy paste on the forum.” I was say 10% of the time people get annoyed and use them. I consider that not a problem because at that time you couldn’t serve anyone anyway because the other night you can say, all right, he’s a founder, [inaudible 00:40:10] founder. He’s doing support so clearly they don’t have a staff for that so fine. I’m going to copy paste that on the forum.
And then as a founder as a community manager you have to deliver which means you have to answer immediately. So I was like constantly at least when I was away on the forum that when someone would post a question after me sending that reply, I wouldn’t send immediately so they wouldn’t feel that they would lose time. If you do this, you do this for a few months, it is tiring. You’re basically on call constantly but once you got . . . It’s a little bit obsessive so it’s dangerous for your mental health, but after a few months and people start seeing that they get faster answers on the forum than they get by email and they start answering each other, it’s all set. You don’t need to do anything. Today like we went into the forums make sure there aren’t wrong answers to go on too long. But I have users now basically monitor the forum for us they do that part of the community and we have nothing to do with that. A fantastic asset.
Andrew: I’m looking for that to try to understand who these people are and what their incentive is. What do you do to incentivize people to be active in your forums and to lead it?
Emmanuel: So we use these scores. These score . . . social platform we get hearts. Like likes on Facebook. I actually think being seen as a valuable member of the community is a big incentive for them. There probably is a little bit of a financial incentive because we have some users that tend to sell some training services on Bubble and so if they see people that are providing good answers, it leads to good business eventually. Which I’m totally fine with by the way.
I don’t want people to advertise their service too much because that tends to perform into the marketing marketplace and it’s [not great 00:41:43], a commercial marketplace. But if you help people more so people know that you’re knowledgeable about Bubble, you’ll naturally say, “Hey, book me for an hour here,” it’s totally fine. So yeah, it’s a combination of both. Actually I want to believe, I don’t know if they are, but I think we have a lot of users that just enjoy being seen as power Bubblers helping other people. Because it’s not until you get people thanking you. It’s actually people are sensitive of that. And by the way, it’s the same things that drives through your Facebook, you know?
Andrew: Right. Right. All right. For anyone who wants to check it out, the website is Bubble.is, and I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. And you know what, the next guest I’m going to have on is the founder of GMass. He has this plugin for Gmail. Could that be built using Bubble?
Emmanuel: Yeah. I mean, that’s very much the kind of things you could be doing on Bubble.
Andrew: Wait, wait. I could do that? I can actually say plugin for Gmail . . . a Chrome plugin can’t be built on Bubble, can it?
Emmanuel: It’s not that you can’t. Sorry, I take that back. So business logic is something that very much can be built on Bubble if I imagine what the plugin does. The way you would build it in Bubble to be fair is the plugin itself would not be built on Bubble. But the API you would use to connect to a service to start doing some custom logic would be built on Bubble. We have some users that use us only for the backend for instance.
Andrew: Got it. So the front end which is the actual connection from Chrome into Gmail, that he built in something else and we’ll find out what he built on that.
Emmanuel: I know he built on whatever Chrome tells you you should be using to build plugins.
Andrew: Got it. And then the stuff that holds. And then what happens in the backend for that that you guys would need to . . . that you would use Bubble for?
Emmanuel: Depends on what you’re trying to do but if you’re trying to . . . if you have a backend where you save some information and you want to find the right relevant information based on whatever was seen in an email, then all of that would happen service side and then you return it.
Andrew: Got it. Like the templates that he might use for his Gmail plugin, like the database of who opened up and what. Got it.
Emmanuel: For instance, yeah.
Andrew: All right. I keep wanting to . . . all I want to do is ping you from time to time via text and say, “Hey, I just saw this cool thing. I have this great idea. Could that be built in Bubble?”
Emmanuel: Please, yeah.
Andrew: And I feel like there’ll be one of two responses. Either go ask in the forum or number two, the answer would just be like a yes for everything. Yes, we can find a way. All right, Bubble.is . . .
Emmanuel: Honestly, asking on the forum is the best way because if I tell you where you can build, you might not believe me. I’m selling something. But if you go to the forum . . . which is by the way, back to evangelization where I said social validation is critical is really the thing. If you asked in the forum and someone else says yes, you can build it, you’re not going to doubt it.
Andrew: Right. You know what, I’m even going to suggest that don’t go Bubble.is, they don’t go to your community. It think the best place to start is Bubble.is/showcase. I think once you see what could be built, then you start to really get it and especially since you guys just don’t describe it, you link me to the site where I can go experience it. I thought that was helpful.
All right, I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first will help you hire phenomenal developers. It’s called Toptal. Check them out at toptal.com/mixergy. And the second, what is the second? Oh, the second will host your website right. It’s called HostGator. Check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy. And since my goal this year is to run around the world and do interviews everywhere.
Do you know this, Emmanuel, I’m going to do seven marathons in seven continents one year. I did the first one. Chile is going to be the second. I’d love to go to Eastern Europe. If somebody out there knows how I can go . . . I want to partner with someone who has access to a lot of startups if I can in Eastern Europe. I’d love to fly out there and do a set of interviews there and of course run my marathon. If you want to follow along with this whole journey, go check me out at . . . what is the website? Runwithandrew.com. Emmanuel, thanks so much.
Emmanuel: Thank you.
Emmanuel: It was great being here.
Andrew: Bye, everyone.