4th time's the charm - Webflow's journey from 3 failed attempts to a billion-dollar empire

This is a story of a Russian immigrant who moved to America with his parents and has known inside-out what it's like to start over from scratch. Vlad Magdalin, Co-founder and CEO of Webflow, grew up in the United States, watching his dad struggle to make a living while trying to keep the family alive and afloat.
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Priyanshu Anand
December 20, 2021

Who knew that the fall of USSR could trigger the creation of something so masterfully unique that would be worth $2.1 billion 30 years later.

This is a story of a Russian immigrant who moved to America with his parents and has known inside-out what it's like to start over from scratch. Vlad Magdalin, Co-founder and CEO of Webflow, grew up in the United States, watching his dad struggle to make a living while trying to keep the family alive and afloat.

After high school, Vlad's father wanted him to follow the footsteps of his elder brother Sergie Magdalin (who later Co-founded Webflow) and study Computer Science. After a year or so, he realized this isn't his cup of tea, so he dropped out and went to Art School in San Francisco to pursue his dream of becoming a 3D animator.

That's right, his childhood dream was to become an animator and work at Pixar.

As it turned out, getting into Pixar wasn't a cakewalk and in the words of Vlad himself, "to get into Pixar, you have to be an incredible animator from the age of like 3".

Ironically, his love for programming was realized when he was still in art school. He used a software called Quickdot which was a communication platform he used to talk to his friends. But apparently, the app would constantly keep crashing. The next thing you know, he picked up a book on programming and started creating an exact replica of Quickdot. He ended up creating what he then called Chatterfox. In the process of doing so, he realized the potential programming has on impacting people's lives.

Like Romeo seeing Juliet for the first time, he fell in love.

Thus begins the journey of a lot of downs, and then a lot of ups 🙂

He went back to complete his Computer Science degree. It wasn't until Vlad started interning at a design company when he came up with the idea of building something that blurs the line between development and design. His creative and the recently explored technical side amalgamated into what later became the premise for building Webflow - a no-code software that takes away the element of needing code or programming lessons for building a website.

No-code solutions are the future. The global low-code/no-code development platform market size is projected to grow from USD 13.2 billion in 2020 to USD 45.5 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 28.1% during the forecast period.

Source - How Big is the Global Low-Code/No-Code Market and How Fast is it Growing?

Low code/ no-code solutions have the potential to reduce the development time by 90%. The average software developer salary in 2020 was more than $100K a year in the US. Though no-code solutions don’t fully replace a developer functionally, they help developers focus on more difficult projects and they cost significantly less than hiring a new developer. The need and use for no-code solutions have been exceedingly realized in the past half-decade with the fundamental idea of making technology easily usable and accessible to all.

Vlad knew this back in 2005 when he gradually started working on Webflow. In his first two attempts, the odds were stacked against him. Juggling between a family, a day job, and a billion-dollar idea - he was $60,000 in debt and had to push Webflow to the back burner, uncertain as to when he might be able to get back to it.

Fast-forward 6 years, he was back at it but this time with his brother and a colleague by his side. This is when they originally started working on Webflow with the hopes of getting into Y Combinator. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans and they were rejected in November 2012.

In March 2013, they posted a working prototype on Hacker News (screenshot below) and to their surprise, were greeted with tens of thousands of requests signing up for the beta program.

Source - Responses of people on Hacker News

Voila!

Overwhelmed by this unexpected turn of events, the founders quickly filed their application for Y Combinator summer batch 2013.

They got in!

We were so nervous, that we forgot to take the classic “here’s our team before the YC interview” photo next to the famous YC sign - Vlad Magdalin

And, they cleared YC with a series of $2.9 million funding.

In 2021, Webflow raised another $140 million in their series B funding and is today valued at a little over $2 billion.

As of today, Webflow has over 3.5 million active users and over 100,000 paying customers.

Source - Webflow’s usage statistics over the years

Now, that's what you call a success story.

Listen to Vlad Magdalin's podcast on the Startup Story.

But from 2014 up until 2019, Webflow built itself on top of a community that propelled them into becoming a billion-dollar company.

How you ask?

Well.

Here's how Webflow built its name using a community-led approach

Product development was completely internal at Webflow before a community was built. Initially, they had a private Wishlist forum on their website that was the primary source of any input from users requesting feature changes/updates.

This was manageable at first, but these requests were 10x higher in 2017 than they were in 2014.

Source - Building a community-powered product roadmap

Soon, it became clear that it wasn't possible anymore to give timely responses, understand duplicate requests, and manage the sheer volume of messages in general.

Here started the idea of leveraging users to help outline the problems of the solution, and start building a roadmap that is directly being formulated by what people want.

A community-powered product roadmap. What's better than having a group of people tell you what features need to be improved or added or refined.

This is what the folks over at Webflow realized, which lead to them launching a public Wishlist that allowed users to directly view a board of requests where they could vote and give feedback.

Over the years this developed into an increasingly dependable way for Webflow to improve their solution. A community started forming - people started engaging more and more as Webflow grew into a powerful platform.

Currently, Webflow has over 75,000 community members who constantly engage and contribute towards its improvement. Webflow encourages users to interact across platforms and organize events that allow them to Get involved (in their own words) -

from Webflow's community page

Across the globe, Webflow hosts events either directly, or in partnership with developers, designers, and even entrepreneurs. Interested folks can simply scout for events happening around them and sign up for it.

Attend online or offline events

There was a recently organized event in Shanghai, China, in the spirit of Christmas🎄, to build a beginners website for Santa Claus🎅 in 2 hours.

Beginner Workshop: Build a website for Santa Claus in 2 hours | Webflow Events

What's more? If you don't see events happening in and around your city, you can always apply to become a community leader and host events in collaboration with Webflow.

How cool is that? 😎

If you're an entrepreneur and have built your online presence on Webflow - you can work in partnership with the brand while hosting community events.

Adrien Lexington - a creative designer and a community partner, periodically hosts events to help people voice their ideas through Webflow as a platform.

Working on something with Webflow? They even encourage you to share your resources like maybe templates or elements you've made on the platform that can help out people who're just starting out.

An easier way to build websites

Although no-code solutions are a lifesaver by themselves, when it comes to website building, it can be difficult to know the hows and wheres right off the bat. No worries, Webflow has you covered.

There is a myriad of pre-designed templates to choose from in Webflow, both free and paid. Any newbie, non-technical, curious, or code-unfriendly person wanting to make a website wouldn't have to create everything from scratch. Just pick a template and go to town with it!

The paradox of choice is real, and it can get unnerving to put one foot in front of the other when there are so many things that you're unfamiliar with.

Say hello to Webflow University. A place that offers free courses and lessons on working with the platform. There's a little something for everyone - whether you're a beginner or a veteran website builder, this university has you covered.

Plus they have their native CMS so that's another thing you don't need to worry about. 🤷‍♂️

Lessons on the Webflow University
Some of the courses on Webflow University

Webflow stays constantly on its toes when it comes to community-building

Webflow’s approach in making a billion-dollar empire using a community-led approach
  • Webflow Meetups

Community meetups help cultivate better team efforts in helping build the future of web and design. Webflow allows you to organize meetup events and gather people for these meetups, and there are perks involved too!

Webflow gives:

  • Financial support for food and drinks
  • Perks for attendees
  • Early access to new and upcoming features
  • Access to their private Slack channel

And if your meetup group gets to 50 members and more, Webflow:

  • covers your Meetup.com costs
  • adds you to their official sponsor meetup list
  • covers your Pro Webflow account plan for as long as you’re an organizer

Sounds fun? here's a guide detailing how you can get started.

The meetup initiative was a tremendous success and Webflow saw a 4x growth in attendees within a year.

Webflow's community growth report - 2019

A glimpse of the Austin Webflow meetup 👇

  • Community spotlights

Spotlights are a big thing here. Webflow loves bringing attention to some of the creators on the platform that go the extra mile in doing something they believe in. How can a community not appreciate being appreciated?

It's empowering even, for people to start working on their dreams of becoming the Steve Jobs or Walt Disney or Michael Jacksons of the world.

Stefan Poulos - A creative designer and the founder of his own company, Poulos Collective, harnessed both his creativity and the power of Webflow to not just establish a website but begin his entrepreneurial journey (which seems to be working perfectly in his favor 🙂 btw).

Poulos used to be the Creative Director for the Discovery channel, putting out some of the most influential content ever in that genre. Ever heard of the shows Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters, Planet Earth, or Shark Week? Yeah, he's behind those.

Check out this episode of Community Spotlight for more 👇

  • The No-Code Conference

The No-code Conf is a big event hosted annually and is something Webflow has been doing for the past couple of years.

Here is the complete virtual conference introducing the latest expansion in Webflow's capabilities to keep up with growing numbers and unprecedented times.

Since our last conference, we’ve seen our community publish over a million websites. In 2021, we’ve seen 1 million users join our community — bringing the total number of Webflow users to over 3.5 million. And Webflow sites powered over 10 billion site visits in the last month alone.

This staggering growth not only speaks to the power of Webflow, but clearly shows that no-code is the future — regardless of whether you’re an agency, a marketing team, a small business, a major enterprise, or a freelancer.

Source - No-Code Conf 2021 highlights

  • Webflow World Tour

Webflow also did a World Tour event in 2020 which spanned 3 weeks and had 9 events across 8 different time zones.

Here's the complete event that happened in New York City (for example), that talks about everything from new Webflow features to building empathy with us (the users) and helping non-profits build their brand through Webflow in these difficult times.

  • Q&A sessions with Vlad

And, not to mention Webflow's quarterly live Q&A sessions hosted with Vlad himself, where he answers the top burning questions raised by the community members. I don't think anyone of us is oblivious to the impact Q&A sessions can have on binding a community together, let alone have the CEO himself on the answering throne.

Here's the recent session hosted by the one and only Nelson Abalos Jr. :

Community deep-dive across Webflow's discussion channels

Webflow has its own forum which allows you to connect to the community more intricately, ask questions, give answers, and learn. The forum is further compartmentalized into sections like - general information, design-based discussions, features, SEO, integrations, and a lot more.

Webflow forum on discourse

They also have a discord channel with 6K+ active members where people share their work and talk about everything Webflow. This close-knit group of Webflow enthusiasts share events, websites, problems, you name it.

Oh yeah, and there's memes too -

via webflowmemes on their discord
via webflowmemes on their discord

A hopeful future

Webflow sure does know a thing or two about keeping up with the times.

What else can I be referring to other than their latest Webflow TV initiative, the first installment for which will be released early next year, recently announced by Mischa Vaughn - the Director of Content at Webflow. With this, the company wants to share motivational stories of people who leveraged the power of creativity and eventually took a leap of faith that very few people dare to even consider.

Generation No-code - the first of a series of intimate real-life stories aim to bring people face-to-face with the realities of the world we live in and show them that we're all in the same boat. Webflow aims to perpetuate the idea of no-code solutions for the future, and hope that people draw inspiration from success stories that caused a stir.

Check out the trailer:

They're pretty big on their socials too

The official Webflow Facebook page has over 85K followers and their private group has 20K+ members as of now.

They're just as active on LinkedIn and Twitter with 57K+ and 85K+ followers on each platform respectively 🤯

Webflow’s YouTube channel has 111K subscribers.

Phew! That's a lot of followers.

They try to keep their socials as engaging as possible - from asking the real questions:

and whimsical anecdotes:

to throwing light on things that matter -

Webflow does it all.

Nothing feels better than a community that loves what you have to offer.

And you gotta love them back!

Congratulations Webflow, you made it

We're not crying, you're crying 🥲


To Summarise:

4th time's the charm - The incredible true story of Webflow

  • A tragic line of events and Vlad's early life.
  • Going to art school to follow his dream of becoming an animator.
  • Founding Chatterfox only to discover his love for programming and finally go back to get his computer degree.

Thus begins the journey of a lot of downs, and then a lot of ups 🙂

  • His struggle with trying out Webflow led to his first 2 failed attempts.
  • Getting on board with his brother and colleague and applying for the first time to Y Combinator in 2012.
  • Now, at 3 failed attempts but somehow still going strong 💪
  • Getting inspired by the response from Hacker News with thousands requesting a beta product.
  • Finally clearing YC in 2013 with a series $2.9 million funding.

Here's how Webflow built its name using a community-led approach

  • How Webflow started public Wishlist to leverage the power of community as the driving force for product improvement.
  • Cut to today when they have a 75000+ strong community for whom they consistently organize meetups and events.
  • Webflow’s innovative approaches to keep the community well engaged:
  • Webflow meetups
  • Community Spotlights
  • 2021 No-code conference
  • Webflow World Tour
  • Live Q&A sessions with Vlad himself
  • Webflow community forum on discourse where people indulge in questions, solutions, and help out one another.
  • 6K+ members on the discord channel.
  • The launch of Webflow TV will introduce inspiring stories of developers, creators, designers, and budding entrepreneurs.
  • 85K+ followers on both Facebook and Twitter, 20K+ members in the closed Facebook group, and 57K+ on LinkedIn.

Webflow - leading the charge into making no-code solutions the future of technology

  • Webflow’s plans of building no-code solutions as an indispensable piece of the technology puzzle through community-building efforts.


About Threado:

Threado is the command centre for your online community. Signup for the waitlist and get access to our first drop - Community OS, which ended up being the #1 Product of the Day on Product Hunt! We also have a cool new community drop brewing up for December - stay tuned! 😉

If you are a community-led organization and would like us to share your story with our subscribers, just holler! 🙂

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