An interview with the No-Code Life founder

Greetings! Please introduce yourself and tell us what you’re currently working on.

Hi, my name is Kieran and I'm from Norwich in the UK. My day job is co-founder of a social impact startup helping prisoners to stay connected to their families while in prison. I'm the only non-technical person on the team. In my spare time I’m an enthusiastic no-code maker, as well as a recent new parent. My main side projects right now are nocodelife.com, vidpops.com, and motimate.org.

Tell us about your background. What did you do prior to discovering no-code? What is your day job?

I started out my career as an accountant working in investment banks, which was a good learning experience but not something I felt passionate about. In my mid-twenties I left the banking industry to go travelling for a year and came back with a fresh perspective. I decided to apply for a volunteer fellowship with Kiva.org, a non-profit startup based in San Francisco. 

This turned out to be a life-changing decision - I had gone from huge banks in London to a Bay Area startup growing at a rapid pace. It was truly enlightening to see the workings of a startup at such an exciting time and it completely changed my horizons with regards to careers. I spent 9 months living in various remote locations helping Kiva with its field partners. After that I continued in the same sector with two more non-profit startup microloan platforms, one based in Paris and the other in Seattle. Working in such young organisations allowed me to get involved in everything from marketing to operations. The sheer variety of challenges and work was perfect for my personality.

In my spare time I was always playing around with websites and coming up with ideas for apps, but my technical skills never progressed beyond HTML and CSS. I tried learning to code several times but always got stuck. I found myself constantly Googling error messages and then copy-pasting a command that I didn’t understand into my terminal to see if it fixed a problem, not knowing if it would just kill my computer instead. I could never even get a straight answer on what language to learn first.

WIthout being able to code I felt frustrated. I had all these ideas and not being able to execute was depressing. I would put up landing pages, sometimes get some market validation, but then not know how to make it a reality. I tried hiring developers or convincing people to come on board as technical co-founders, but I simply never felt sure enough to commit serious cash or someone else’s valuable time to my ideas.

In 2015 I met my current technical co-founder and we came up with the idea for an app that lets families leave voicemails for loved ones in prison. I know it sounds totally random but we did some rapid market research and had an overwhelming response, so we went with it. It caught on quickly and the service grew from that first prison to about eighty prisons within a year, and is now in 115 prisons including one in Australia.

In my spare time I still have loads of ideas of silly things I’d like to make, and that’s where no-code comes in.

How and when did you first discover no-code, and how did it change your outlook?

I’ve been hacking together stuff without code for years but didn’t really realise it was a thing. I’ve used things like Wordpress and Google Docs with some add-ons to create basic automations of ideas, but they were always incredibly messy and limited in their scope. 

I listen to the This Week In Startups podcast and had heard mention of no-code a few times, but it was only in early 2019 that I properly looked into it. I discovered Glideapps first, which allows you to make mobile apps with a Google Sheet as the back-end. This blew my mind - as a former accountant I love Excel and have often said I wish I could build apps using it.

I discovered a more advanced platform called Bubble.io in October, and it genuinely blew my mind. Suddenly I feel empowered to build any and every idea I can think of. It’s slightly paralysing but in a good way. So I decided I would just build as many things as I can, no matter how silly, just to learn the tools and find out what they can do.

No-code tends to be a side project for most people, when do you find time for no-code making and what motivates you? 

I work regular hours for Prison Voicemail and then have my young daughter to put to bed, so generally I only get to work on no-code projects for a couple of hours each evening and at weekends. I enjoy the act of creating so much that I happily go to bed a bit later than I should and just wake up tired the next day.

What have you made using no-code so far? How did you come up with the idea(s)? How do you choose which ideas to go with?

I started out with a few small projects just to prove to myself that I could actually launch things:

Feministparent.com - a crowd-sourced list of products and content promoting gender equality, built in table2site and Airtable

Onedoneaday.com - a daily task-logging app to help people work towards their goals, built on Glideapps and Carrd

Lookingglassletters.com - ‘the mailing list for humanity’ where each day one person is selected to email the entire list on any subject they choose, built on Carrd and Mailerlite.com

Writetoaprisoner.co.uk - this enables people to send physical letters to people in UK prisons straight from their computer. Built on Carrd and Airtable, currently pre-launch.

I should mention that none of them have any traction yet as I haven’t spent any time pushing them… this is another downside of suddenly being able to build stuff.

I’m also working on some bigger projects:

Motimate.org - this is community site where people form small groups and help each other towards common goals. I’m building this on Bubble.io.

Vidpops.com - this is an app that helps businesses and charities to collect video testimonials from their users. I’m also building this on Bubble.io.

Nocodelife.com - this is a site all about my adventures into no-code, and will have lots of interviews with no-code founders. This is built on Webflow.

For your main project(s), tell us about the build process and the actual launch.

My main project right now is Vidpops.com. I actually only had the idea for this a few weeks ago while speaking to a woman who works for a charity that helps unpaid carers (those caring for a sick relative) to have small breaks, such as a night in a hotel or a meal out. She was saying how many amazing messages of thanks she gets from the carers, and we were discussing how powerful it would be if they could just record a short video testimonial. 

I got home that night and within a couple of hours on Bubble had a working prototype with the basic functionality I wanted: the charity can enter the details of the carer and the carer will receive a text with a unique link, they click the link and record and upload a short testimonial, which appears on the dashboard for the charity to view. 

Once I’d proven to myself that this was possible I spent the rest of the week building in extra features and working on the styling and layout of the site. Within a week, working only a couple of hours each night, I had a fairly slick web app which allows charities or companies to create an account, add their clients, send requests by text, receive video testimonials, and approve them.

It’s absolutely amazing that I was able to do all this in a week. If I’d had this idea a few months ago, before I discovered Bubble, it would have died right there on the spot, or at most would have become a basic mockup which would have eventually been discarded when another idea came along.

What stage is it at currently?

I'm still ironing out some technical issues before going live with the first real users. Because it's collecting videos, making the user experience of shooting and uploading the video is tricky due to file sizes. Apps like Whatsapp compress videos so that they upload faster, but it's more difficult to do this in a browser.

Over the last couple of weeks I've pitched it to a couple of wedding photographer friends and also the original charity that gave me the idea. They're all excited to use it so I'm hoping to have them on it early in January.

So it’s still pre-launch, but I do think there is potential to charge a monthly subscription for the service on a freemium model, and I will be testing that starting soon.

Can you tell us your rough costs and revenue?

The domain vidpops.com cost £11 for a year. Bubble costs $25 a month. Total time invested is probably about 20 hours so far. Revenue is zero at the moment.

What’s the business model and how do you find and retain customers?

I think a subscription model would fit well for companies that have a regular stream of clients. I intend to start with charities and photographers, but potentially expand to other markets later on.

What no-code tools have you used so far? Which are your favourites and why?

I’ve tried Carrd, Glideapps, Airtable, Table2Site, Webflow, Bubble, Integromat, Adalo, and Google Docs.

In terms of ease-of-use Carrd is a fantastic tool for launching basic projects, especially because you can quickly integrate payments and connect it to Airtable or other no-code tools. For more advanced projects Bubble just blows my mind on a daily basis as I realise its capabilities. I find it intuitive. Webflow also seems great but I haven’t spent as much time on it and find some of the layout a bit more confusing. Glideapps is also really easy to use but so far hasn’t really fitted with the types of projects I want to build. I've also just started with Adalo, which seems easy to use and powerful.

What does the future hold for your product?

For Vidpops I really think that if I can nail the user experience and remove the friction of giving a video testimonial as much as possible then it could be a real game-changer for any business or charity where the customers have a great experience and are willing to talk about it. Everyone knows that video content drives engagement, yet it’s so difficult for businesses to produce it regularly. With Vidpops I could see certain types of organisation getting a steady stream of positive and engaging, perhaps even moving, videos from their users, which they can then share on social media.

My short-term goal is to get a small number of businesses and charities using it to make sure the functionality is solid, and then find out which use-case is the most compelling and double-down on that.

The long-term goal is to turn it into a profitable and sustainable side-project.

What are your thoughts on the no-code movement as a whole?

I have so many thoughts on this, I could write a book (or really long blog post)!.

I think it’s going to democratise app-building in the same way camera phones democratised photography and film. It will empower huge numbers of people to start building apps, whether for fun, as a startup, or as part of their job, and will solve loads of problems which so far have been untouched by developers. I think programmers doing client work will find they’re being undercut and outpaced by no-code makers. There will be many more successful niche technology businesses, and many more terrible apps to avoid. Anyone who loves Excel - and there are a lot of people who do - will take it no-code making like ducks to water.

Are there any books, blogs, podcasts, communities or articles which have inspired you along the way?

I enjoy the This Week In Startups podcast - aimed more at startups hoping for VC funding - and the Indiehackers online community and podcast - more for people working on side projects.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into no-code, launch a no-code product, or even turn a product into a business?

I’m only just beginning my journey but I definitely recommend playing around and launching something small, just to prove you can. At the same time try not to get too distracted by all the opportunities (definitely something I’m guilty of) and focus on actually finishing things and getting them out there. Try to line up your first customer before you build the project, that will give you motivation to keep going and get it launched.

Where can people learn more about your projects and keep up to date on your work?

You can find me on nocodelife.com and @nocodelife or @kieranball on Twitter.

Written by
Kieran Ball