How a photographer created two additional income streams (and a new career) with no-code

Andrew Vernon was working for his family’s school photography business when he realised he could use the no-code tool Bubble.io to streamline their workflows. In doing so he not only created a piece of software he is now selling to other photography companies, he also discovered a love for no-code and changed careers to become a full-time Bubble developer.

Briefly introduce yourself

Hey! My name is Andrew Vernon and I’m a Bubble developer at Bubble. I’ve been on the team for a little over a year and a half now and love what I do. My wife and I, and our 3 kids currently live in Greenville, SC and I’ve been building on Bubble for around 3-4 years now.

Describe your career journey prior to discovering no-code

My family owns a School photography business, and prior to a career in no-code, basically all of my working life was spent in the family business. The plan was to work alongside my parents and eventually take over the business.
Honestly, I loved what I did for a living and was there for around 12 years. My favorite part of the job though was all the tech. School photography is an interesting mix of photography, automation and data and I had free reign to build any automations, apps or databases I felt would support the business.
This got me hooked initially on Airtable, Wordpress and Zapier, but I quickly found my way to Bubble while looking for a CRM that would fit our niche industry.

How did you discover no-code?

I’ve always been into automations and trying to build things that would enable me, or my family’s business to work more efficiently, but my first ‘a ha!’ moment was probably a base I built in Airtable.
At the time, we were photographing hundreds of high school seniors a year, across 7 or 8 high schools and I was running that side of the business.
We needed to be able to tell each school who hadn’t yet had their photos taken, and who had selected the photos that would appear in the yearbook.
Internally, we also needed a way to track everyone we’ve photographed, track what photos needed to be retouched and what had been delivered. I built the whole thing in Airtable and connected it with our website through zapier.
It’s probably almost 5 years old now, and my family still uses it to this day. That was my first glimpse at how it’s possible to build functioning systems without having to write code. And, I was hooked.

How has no-code changed your career trajectory?

For me, No-code has been such a surprising career change. I never imagined I would be working in the tech industry and certainly never dreamed I’d be at a funded startup like Bubble. My goal was to take over the family business and keep doing what I was doing.
Originally, Bubble specifically was the best platform I found to build the exact CRM we needed. I learned enough about Bubble to get an MVP working specifically for our team and we put it to work pretty quickly.
Word spread and soon I had some friends in the industry also using it. To me, it was mind blowing that I could create a functional app without code, that was dependable enough for others to use. It was a total game changer. But, I still didn’t imagine it would result in a career change.
But, as my interest was growing in Bubble and no-code in general, Covid hit, and it hit the school photography industry hard. Within a 2 day window, every single one of our remaining photoshoots for the school year were canceled as schools closed and like everyone else, we had no idea when things might return to normal.
We weren’t sure if the business would survive or how things would work out, so I took a part time coaching role at Coaching No Code Apps to lighten the load for my family and keep pursuing Bubble. Gaby is a freaking rockstar and I learned a ton about a variety of use cases, database structure, efficiency and more.
Their program is phenomenal and worth checking out if you’re looking to learn bubble quickly and get a powerful mvp off the ground. I was at CNCA for about 6 months before ultimately hearing about a remote role at Bubble and deciding to leave my family’s business to pursue it.
 

You currently have two micro-SaaS (software-as-a-service) products built with Bubble, can you tell us about them?

ShootAssist is a CRM / Project management app built specifically for volume photographers. I built it after trying most of the photography CRMs on the market and keeping a detailed list of what I liked / didn’t like about each one.
The biggest problem was that most were built for wedding or portrait photography which is quite different from school portraits.
Most school photographers I’ve come across are using separate tools for the various things that ShootAssist does. Google sheets for client info, manual emailing for photo shoot communications, a separate app for employee scheduling, google calendar for actual photoshoot scheduling and then a task app of some kind.
The biggest problem is that most photographers haven’t integrated these tools so their process is to copy/paste photoshoot info from one tool to the other to keep everything up to date (error prone & labor intensive).
Or, they have to learn one of the existing photography CRMs well enough to adapt it to halfway meet some of their school photography needs. But, ShootAssist puts all of this into one app. Your client info, all of your photoshoots etc all in one database.
Because it knows your client and job data, it offers employee scheduling where the info is up to date and accurate, it can automate all of the pre and post photoshoot communications using email templates that the photographer writes using merge tags so the emails still feel personal, detailed and accurate.
And, photographers can setup workflow templates for each job type so every time they do a job of that type, ShootAssist knows what tasks need to get done (and when) and will help make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Shoot Assist school dashboard
Shoot Assist school dashboard
Shoot Assist workflow manager
Shoot Assist workflow manager
Code Return is another app for school photographers. Every student’s photo is individually passworded in online ordering galleries and many schools don’t provide contact info for parents, leaving photographers to have to send the password home on a printed paper with each student. But many of them get lost, thrown away etc.
So CodeReturn allows photographer to upload all their student data including passwords and it creates retrieval forms that parents can use to get their student’s password. If the info a parent types in matches what’s in the database, it delivers the password automatically.
So instead of the parent getting to the gallery only to realize they don’t have the password and then having to email the photographer and wait for a response: CodeReturn makes it likely to get the password to the family while they’re still at the point of interest/purchase. And, it cuts down on the number of support emails a photographer is dealing with.
One cool thing about CodeReturn is that it’s super simple, it only does that one thing, but does it really well and as a result it’s really low maintenance. I just recently pushed an update to put the internal pages on new responsive, but prior to that I hadn’t pushed an update in 9 or 10 months.
CodeReturn dashboard
CodeReturn dashboard

What were the biggest challenges to learning no-code and making the career change?

Probably the biggest challenge was time. Especially during the 6 months I was at Coaching No Code apps. I would work during the day at my family’s business, spend dinner and bed time with my wife and kids and then work from around 7 to midnight every night coaching Bubble.
Most of my learning and building in Bubble, at least up until my Bubble developer role, happened like that - outside of business hours and after my kids went to bed.
Aside from that, the biggest challenge has been all the other things that go hand in hand with learning no-code and building an app.
Like, how to avoid scope creep, how to talk to users, how to price your app, how to market your app, how to focus on the things that matter most etc. Building an app in Bubble doesn’t require just learning Bubble, but typically also requires a lot of learning in those areas as well. Honestly, I’m still learning in those areas.

What were your biggest lessons learned?

It’s probably obvious, but the biggest lesson was that it really is possible to build a fully functioning and powerful app, without code. That still blows my mind. It’s also super cool to solve a problem and have the solution be good enough that people across the country are willing to pay you for it.
Aside from that, my personal experience has taught me that you’re uniquely equipped to solve the problems you know and have experienced personally. For me, that was a CRM for school photographers.
There are many photography CRMs, but none specifically built for school photography which is much different than more common types of photography like wedding or portrait. I’ve gotten pretty decent at Bubble over the years, but ShootAssist has grown because of how it’s solving the problem and not because of how well I know Bubble.
That’s a competitive advantage that more founders and solopreneurs should lean into.

What’s your plan for the next 5 years?

Honestly, I love what I’m doing. I believe very deeply in Bubble’s mission and have personally experienced the way Bubble can be a game changer for someone who is willing to learn it and leverage it to build their idea.
From where I’m standing, I can’t imagine not being a part of helping to further that mission in one way or another in the next 5 years. But who knows… 5 years ago, I would have said I would be running a school photography business. ;-)

What advice would you give to others hoping to change careers the way you did?

Incremental steps can lead to big changes. I genuinely never had some master plan to join the team at Bubble or break into the tech industry. For me, I wanted to build a solution for my family’s business. That led to an interest in no-code and Bubble, which led to a side-hustle product and more interest in Bubble.
At each step, I just kept pursuing the thing that I enjoyed most. Even after joining bubble, I’ve continued to pursue the things I’ve enjoyed most and have been blessed to have worked on multiple teams and be given the opportunity to now pursue a building role at Bubble. Crazy… All from small consistent steps towards the thing I was enjoying.

Thanks for reading!
You can follow Andrew on Twitter.