No-Code Insights for Startups and Enterprises with Abhishek Nayak, Co-founder of Appsmith

Abhishek Nayak, Co-founder and CEO of Appsmith and Brian Ardinger, Cofounder of Inside Outside Innovation talk about the rise of no-code tools and some of the misconceptions and opportunities that no-code can bring to startups and enterprises alike. For more innovation resources, check out insideoutside.io.

On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Abhishek Nayak, Co-founder and CEO of Appsmith. Abhisek and I talk about the rise of no-code tools and some of the misconceptions and opportunities that no-code can bring to startups and enterprises alike. Let's get started. 

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Interview Transcript with Abhishek Nayak, Co-founder and CEO of Appsmith

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Abhishek Nayak. He is the CEO and Co-founder of a company called Appsmith. Welcome to the show. 

Abhishek Nayak: Thanks Brian. Really excited to be here. 

Brian Ardinger: I heard about Appsmith as we talk more and more about this no-code low-code space, that's developing in the startup and in the enterprise world. And Appsmith is an open-source framework that makes it easy to build and maintain internal custom business tools. No code for the enterprise if I'm correct. 

Abhishek Nayak: Yeah, exactly. Think of us like WordPress, but for building internal user facing applications. 

Brian Ardinger: I'd love to dig into how this got started, this rise of no-code technologies and that. Making it easier for the non-traditional technical person to build and create faster and that. So maybe let's take a step back and tell us a little bit of your journey of how you became a founder and specifically around, how did you decide to build a no-code app platform? 

Abhishek Nayak: Been an entrepreneur for a better part of the previous decade. Appsmith is actually my third startup. My first startup was in the space of offline logistics. We were doing cash and delivery. So, we had around 150 plus people. Lots of custom software built internally to manage them. And to run the business. 

My second startup was in the space of AI, where we were trying to automate customer support. And we used to have 10 plus customers and use to automate support requests for them. That again, we were building a lot of custom applications to train the data. Look at how a particular board or a particular model is performing. And just run all sorts of experiments and processes. That was my second startup. 

And all of these startups, I had the same co-founder and CTO Arpit Mohan.  And he actually got sick and tired of building all these tools. Our second startup didn't work that well. Our first one got acquired. Second one didn't work that well, and we had to shut it. 

But he actually started tinkering with the idea of building UI builder but for backend entrepreneurs. Because he was a backend engineer and he really disliked dealing with HTML/CSS. So, he started working on this side project. And this is why he was working at a different job.

And during this period, when he was working on a different job, I was working as an EIR at Excel partners. So, I was an entrepreneur in residence where my job was to meet new startups, talk to them about how to run their business. And just understand if it makes sense for Excel to invest in it. While at the same time, I was also looking at other ideas that I could start out with.

Now I couldn't find anything interesting. But I was helping my friend Arpit figure out if his idea for an open-source project had any legs. And during that process of helping him out, I started interviewing some of these startups that I was meeting on everyday basis. 

And I realized that almost every single startup had this problem. That they need to build a lot of custom business applications, maybe to run customer support or expose some data to the sales team. Have a way for the marketing team to maybe generate coupons. Or maybe look up some customer data.

And they never had engineering bandwidth to build what they needed. And that was a problem, right? That's when I started telling Arpit, hey, maybe this can actually be a business. Maybe you just don't need to think of it as a side project. Maybe we should start a business together and do this like a startup.

That's how it actually got started. It was my co-founder's idea because he hated HTML CSS. And then we started working together to build this out as a company. We also have a third co-founder Nikhil who heads product. And he again has been an engineer for a really long time. But he's a front-end engineer and he was just sick and tired of doing the same thing over and over again.

So even though he has skills in HTML CSS, and he loves working on front end, he just disliked the repetitive nature that these internal apps generally have. And that's why he was excited about this idea. 

Brian Ardinger: I love the story. Because you often hear entrepreneurs’ stories start with a pain or an itch that they have to scratch. And it sounds like that's exactly where you guys started. And it seems like the timing was perfect for this type of new tool. Because it's getting easier and cheaper to use multiple different tools and open APIs, et cetera, to make it easier to build and scale and test and try things than ever before. Talk a little bit about the early traction you got when you started the company and some of the early things you learned.

Abhishek Nayak: So, the first six months of app Smith was just building the product out. And we actually started pitching it to users and convincing them to use it. But nobody actually converted. Nobody wanted to use it. And that's when we began to question is the product quality low? Do we not have enough features or what's happening here?

When we started digging in deeper, we just realized that the standard style developers have for a product like this is really high. And we just had to go back and improve the quality. And add a lot more features to the product. For it to be ready. 

So, after our first launch which failed, you know, we had this pivotal moment where we had to decide, should we start building this for a different audience. Because developers don't seem to like this. Or should we just continue to follow our vision and get this right?

So, I'm glad that we actually decided to continue following a vision, but just improve the quality and add lot more features. Because when he lost a year later, you know, one and a half years have gone by, since we actually started, it instantly took off. Like within the first week, I remember we had about 30 plus teams using us.

And the only thing that we had done was write a blog post announcing that this is live. We did not actually do any sort of sales or any sort of cold outreach to get the users. And we honestly weren't putting in that much effort because we launched, expecting completely failure. Because that's what we had experienced, you know, like a year ago when we had tried to launch. But this time we were pleasantly taken aback by the reaction the market had.

And that's when we realized that a product like this just takes a lot longer to build versus a SaaS product. And the quality that developers expect is just a lot higher versus today, we have around 5,000 plus companies that use us every month. And tens of thousands of people who use us every day. That's a different story today.

Brian Ardinger: When you were going through the process of determining which features to add, or which ones to improve, how did you work with customers or how did you determine what to build in that environment? 

Abhishek Nayak: So, most of the early features that was very much decided by my co-founders because they had been engineers for a really long time. And we really just relied on their intuition to decide what should be built. And this is where I think we broke a lot of start-up rules. When a customer asked us to build this feature, if my co-founders disagreed, we would not build it. 

And what that led to was the product ended up being simple enough for most users. And the base features that my co-founders were sure were important, actually turned out to be quite successful. And the product ended up not being so bloated. 

Today of course it's a different story because now we do listen to customers a lot more and we actually end up executing it. But in those early days, it was so important to just stay focused on what we were sure they would use. I think the most amount of waste occurs in a startup is when you build something that nobody uses, and nobody wants. So, by just being hyper focused on the vision that my co-founders had said, we actually ended up getting to a product, which a lot of people really like. And it was high quality. 

Brian Ardinger: Then of course, having co-founders that were in that customer segment and really understood because they were themselves customers. Or trying to scratch that itch. Probably helped immensely. So, let's talk about no code itself and sometimes it gets a bad rap. Especially in the enterprise. You see a lot of startups using it as they're testing or building out new things as a way to grow and scale and meet their own customer demand. What are some of the misconceptions about no-code that you've run in to?

Abhishek Nayak: The first one is that no code is only for business users. In my experience, the fastest adopters of tools like Zapier, Bubble, Backflow, were actually developers. They love automating work that they do not like. So I don't think no code as we know, put developers out of jobs. 

Instead, developers love it. And they'll actually be able to focus on more custom and more complicated tasks. The second misconception about no code is the fact that you cannot build complicated things. I actually don't think that's true. What I believe is 80% of the software that the world needs is actually fairly straightforward. You need a simple, but something that works all the time. So no code is really good for that. 

But I also see the fact that no code products like Bubble, Zapier, or Indi Nomad. They actually have evolved so much that you can actually build really complicated things on those. It's still very early days for most no-code products. Therefore, when you look at them, you might think, okay, these can only be used for building simple tools.

I cannot build something sophisticated on them. But the fact is all of these tools are going to evolve. And they're just going to get much better achieving complicated tasks. And at some point in time, you're not going to have full-time developers or professional developers working on these kind of applications, which can be completed by no code, because it's just going to be a waste of their time.

Brian Ardinger: So, talk a little bit about some of the applications that you see are driving no-code today, and maybe some applications you see being on the forefront tomorrow. 

Abhishek Nayak: With Appsmith, we see that the most common applications are generally applications with dealing with customer date. So it could be, you're looking at customer data or you're trying to do a customer support workflow, or you're trying to do a sales and marketing workflow. Most no code and low code apps that are built today, generally tend to be very close to serving our customer. Because those are the highest priorities for any entrepreneurial, small to medium sized business. 

But those are the commonest use cases. In case of Appsmith, we see customer support as a huge use case for us. I am personally a big user of Zapier. And what I find is Zapier is great when you have to just do some of these quick and dirty sales and marketing workflows. Maybe I want every time there's a customer, who's signing up from a company with more than a thousand employees, I want to get personally notified on my slack. Or, you know, anytime there's a customer, who's at risk of churning out, I want to be notified on Slack. 

For some of those things I found it incredibly easy to use Zapier for. And it has an immediate revenue impact because if I go act on those deals or act on those customers that are about to churn out, I can either rescue that revenue or I can generate more revenue. I think those are probably the commonest use cases.

Now over time, I do think there'll be more adjusted use cases, which are not linked with revenue to come about where you might be doing something let's say for HR or for internal financial processes. Some of those things. But as of today, I believe anything that's any process that's close to customer will probably be the first one that's used by users.

Brian Ardinger: Do you see a big difference between developing no-code internal tools versus no-code consumer-based tools or front facing types of technologies? 

Abhishek Nayak: Yes, I do. There are quite a few differences when it comes to building customer facing tools, using no code. These generally tend to be less data heavy. And there are a lot more focused on visual design and look and feel and UI. Versus when it comes to internal facing applications, they tend to be more data heavy. And they tend to be more security oriented as well. 

So, you're going to have rule-based access control, SSO. Some of these features which are necessary when you're building like a internal tool. Versus when you're building something that's customer facing, you're not going to focus that much on security. Because it probably doesn't deal with that much sensitivity. 

Brian Ardinger: The last topic I want to talk about is this role of community. I know that Appsmith's done a really good job of building an active community. You've got a Discord page, and a number of folks that follow that on a regular basis. Can you talk about how you built community as part of your startup? And how important is that to continuing to build a business. 

Abhishek Nayak: Community has been very essential for the success of Appsmith. But the way the community grew was, they basically first needed support for using Appsmith. So, they started joining our Discord because they needed help using the product. And over time, the number of users and our Discord grew so much that even when we were sleeping and there was a question, another community member would go on and answer it. 

So, the shared love that people have in our Discord community is the love for the product. And that's what binds people together. And over time we've seen people create like different language communities. As well as there are freelancers and entrepreneurs who build apps for other companies using Appsmith. They've actually started talking to each other and helping each other out. 

So we are still in the very early days, but I believe like for you to start with the community, there needs to be a shared common interest or a shared love for a product. I think it's really difficult if there is no common interest and all you have a product, which is actually not love. If you focus on the product first, it's possible to get a community going. 

Brian Ardinger: If people want to get involved in the no-code movement and that, are there particular resources or things they should turn to, to learn a little bit more about what's going on in the space? 

Abhishek Nayak: The biggest set of resources are really available on YouTube. Because low-code, and no-code tend to be easier to understand and use when you watch a video. So, I would just highly recommend, you know, looking up YouTube tutorials instead of reading an article about it. 

Some of these tools just sound very complicated when you're reading an article about it. But when you actually see somebody build something using it, it just clicks a lot quicker. That's the way I learned how to use Zapier and Indi Nomad. And that was a lot easier, than this reading of blog posts. Third, just highly recommend just looking at these YouTube tutorials. 

Brian Ardinger: I highly agree with you on that. And quite frankly, just learning and playing with the tools themselves. A lot of them are not necessarily self-explanatory, but if you get in and you have a use case scenario, a lot of them, you can figure out yourself, even if you're not a developer. 

Abhishek Nayak: Exactly. And there's always some YouTuber who's addressed that particular use case before. I'm not really found it to be the case that you can't figure it out after seeing what YouTubers were doing.

Brian Ardinger: So, Abhishek, if people want to find out more about yourself or more about Appsmith, what's the best way to do that?

Abhishek Nayak: So, the best way to find out about Appsmith is go to www.Appsmith.com. And we also have a YouTube channel that gets a lot of hits. So, if you want to just see the product before signing up. You should just check out our YouTube channel. And I'm on Twitter. You can just find me by searching, for Abhishek Nayak. You should be able to find me there. 

Brian Ardinger: Well, thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Really do appreciate your time. And love hearing about all the new things that are going on in the world of innovation. And I'm looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Abhishek Nayak: Thank you so much, Brian, for having me. I loved this conversation.

Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

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