🎈Bursting the Bubble - How two Harvard graduates pioneered no-code into the mainstream

Haunting as it may have been, the idea of not having a path, but the journey becomes exhilarating when you don’t have anything to lose.
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Priyanshu Anand
April 19, 2022

Good things fall apart to make way for better things

The more we dig into no-code, the more fascinating it becomes. Alright, think about this for a second - founders who are building no-code platforms are essentially betting against their own jobs; they’re building products that are trying to make coding obsolete (less relevant might be a more fitting word though). Woah, that almost makes it sound like we’re off to a contradictory start but not quite. See, the right talent is already scarce in the market and the ‘crème de la crèmes’ are scooped up by shiny brands and fat paychecks. A handful that’s left behind either end up working on their own startups, or work at a startup until they can find their calling.

A rather provocative realization - shouldn't computers be learning our language instead of us learning theirs? A revolution lies in that one question. The one that toppled a unanimous notion we had about building products; the one which told you that you had to learn how to code before you can plunge your hands elbow-deep into the tech industry. The majority always has been (and always will be) a crowd that doesn’t know how to write anything technical, or at the most, have basic programming knowledge but not enough to get the engines running. This revolution of no-code tools is shaping a whole new era - the one which bridges the gap between a good idea, and feasibility for execution.

Back in 2011 when Joshua Haas, who was 25 at the time, quit his world of hedge fund management and moved to New York in search of a new meaning. Although he had graduated from Harvard with a degree in Philosophy, he found his life’s calling through coding. With a plethora of opportunities at his hand, Josh decided to do something on a whim - join a startup. He stumbled upon a website where you can connect with entrepreneurs who were looking for technical partners to develop products. The amount of technical expertise that was in demand was overwhelming for Josh, but finally, he met someone, Jody Apap.

Bubble meme

I know what you’re thinking, and no, Jody wasn’t the co-founder of Bubble, but definitely an instrumental piece of the puzzle. He was someone who had spent his life assigning keywords to images for online search engines. Albeit an extremely niche job, the upside of working a job like that makes you an expert. His idea was to somehow automate the process of keyword tagging, and Josh tagged along with this vision because he saw integrity and expertise in Jody’s idea. Together they built KeywordSmart, a tool that helped professional image managers and photographers better organize their photo libraries.

Given how niche the market was, the only people who were willing to pay a price for software like that were people like Jody who spent the majority of their time tagging pictures. This, of course, was a very thin crowd. Eventually, after a year of working through thick & thin, the overhead business constraints forced Josh to bid adieu to Jody. But you know what they say: sometimes good things have to fall apart to make way for better things. In the wake of all this, Josh thought to himself - what if there was a platform that allowed entrepreneurs like Jody to shape their ideas themself?

The internet makes it so powerful, so easy to start a business and deliver real value to people. When working with my non-technical founder, I kept thinking, ‘I wish he could have the means to do this himself. - Joshua Haas, Co-Founder of Bubble.

And there you have it people, the origin story of Bubble.

No-code? More like Bro-code

Meet Emmanuel Straschnοv, a French undergrad who went to China and worked as a management consultant before he finally got into Harvard Business School. There he experimented with everything, the search for finding his own meaning. He did everything from finance to fashion until finally making peace with tech. It was 2012, Josh had left KeywordSmart and was working on his newly developed project which wasn’t coined Bubble at the time.

A mutual friend recommended Josh to Emmanuel, and as history has it, they met at a coffee shop, hit it off for like 3 hours, and all it took was one meeting to turn this into a business venture. During this meet, Josh showed Emmanuel what he had been working on, and by then the prototype was already more than a website builder; it had workflows and database systems already intact which is still a core part of Bubble’s fabric today. After setting sail they finally decided to name their ship ‘Bubble’ which was, in fact, a slick reference to the tech bubble or the dot-com bubble of the 90s.

Bubble Co-founders Joshua Haas and Emmanuel Straschnοv
Co-Founders Josh Haas (left) and Emmanuel Straschnοv (right)

The price we pay for progress is change. The transition is doubtful, often a shot in the dark when you’re working on something that’s never been worked on before. Haunting as it may have been, the idea of not having a path, but the journey becomes exhilarating when you don’t have anything to lose. No-code wasn’t big back in 2012. YC fundings were more reliant on engineering teams than ideas. A good product is what sells (still).

Josh and Emmanuel spent more time in coffee shops than they did at home. Although the foundation was laid out, Bubble was still miles away from taking off. At first, Emmanuel was supposed to look at the business side of things, but there’s honestly no business to look at when you don’t have a viable product. So, Emmanuel picked up a book on programming and taught himself how to be a front-end developer.

Early-stage startups and tech entrepreneurs were itching for a product like Bubble. And even though Bubble wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed at the time, the idea behind it managed to pull a lot of word-of-mouth traction. Everyone wanted a taste of the new no-code product in town and there was no stopping Bubble now. They pulled their first customer in December that same year for $50 per month.

We didn't even have any payment provider integration back then since we were still building our own user portal, so we took a check. I still have a photo somewhere. - Emmanuel Straschnοv

What Bubble really is and the ‘no-code manifesto’

This has been brushed upon earlier too but it’s just so foundational to Bubble’s existence that we’ve gotta dig a bit deeper. The modern world shouldn’t have to bend to the will of computers, it should be the other way around. This is one of the core beliefs at Bubble. We’ve come a long way since command-line interfaces. The Mac replaced that with visual programming interfaces which itself has evolved since the 90s and 00s. The overall pattern suggests that things are supposed to get more convenient over time so that more and more people can benefit from this.

Another one of Bubble’s core beliefs is that coding is not the same as programming. In a world with varying perspectives, people often treat coding and programming to be synonymous with each other. Emmanuel argues that coding is about putting code together to get output but programming is more about the logic of how an application should function. You should essentially be able to ‘program’ something without needing to write code for it.

He also puts up an example pointing out that when you post something on Facebook, you know the logic behind the button that says ‘Post’. You know when you click it, your post gets published on Facebook for the world to see. Now, knowing this logic should be enough for you to build a button, add color to it, and define its function. You shouldn’t have to learn how to code to be able to do that. That’s exactly what Bubble lets you do.

Working with Bubble

The understanding that innovation shouldn't be restricted to those who can ‘code’ what they already have the logic for. That was absurd for the people at Bubble. With this no-code behemoth, you can learn and build a running web application within a few months of starting from nothing. You don’t have to worry about the backend, about sending data to databases, communicating datasets, or anything that doesn’t directly concern the logic of what you’re building. All you really have to do is put the dots together. It’s really as simple as that.

In comparison with some of the tools that Bubble is up against, one of the key differentiators is how flexible Bubble lets you be with your app. It’s not just a drag-and-drop website builder, but a platform that lets you connect to APIs, define every action and corresponding results, and even interact with databases if you wanted to. You can build the next Twitter, Facebook, or Airbnb if you wanted to. In terms of limitations, well, there are none. However, more advanced programming involving something like recursive operations or logical decision-making can be difficult if you’re technically not very sound. The platform lets you add JavaScript plugins, so if you’re willing to write some lines of code to add a plugin, there’s nothing you can’t do.

Bubble plugins - source

Bubble believes that in the next 50 years a different technological landscape would’ve taken hold; the one that favors the idea of not having to code to build something. The future is where you can tell computers what to do and they’ll do it for you. Tech will become more intricate with human existence and there’s little chance that coding will be a pre-requisite for people to unleash their creative or even entrepreneurial potential. No-code is the future.

Bootstrapping their way to a $100M

At first, raising capital didn’t excite the Harvard duo as much as it should’ve. As new as no-code was for the world, it wasn’t quite so different for investors either. But in 2014, they were able to bag Dividend Finance as a customer, and by 2015, they had launched Bubble on ProductHunt only to get 3,000 upvotes overnight. Seeing that made them wonder if raising capital might just help them get to reach their goal faster. After meeting with a few investors and putting the thought of raising funds out there, there wasn’t much coming out of it as they weren’t able to see eye to eye on most things. Most investors wanted them to reconsider their approach and find a better product-market fit.

The founders weren’t willing to compromise on their mission. They knew going in that Bubble was going to be a 10-year project, if not more, with the core mission to make programming more accessible to people. Gradually it started making sense that perhaps this might not be the best option for them at the moment. Emmanuel also talks about how having more stakeholders would mean more decision-makers steering the ship, and that ‘raising money doesn’t come for free’. They decided they preferred freedom over money, and so decided to bootstrap their way forward.

bubble meme

They had bootstrapped Bubble to a point where they were able to build a team - of engineers and customer success professionals. It’s astonishing to know that they managed to generate organic revenue from the little money they put into it. By 2017, things were looking up. It had over 250,000 users and over $1 million in annual recurring revenue. That’s quite an achievement.

In 2019, Bubble finally raised its seed round for $6.5 million from angel investors. Fun Fact: Nas was one of those investors, yes, the same Nas who made a generation-defining album. At this point, Bubble had over a million users on its platform and was able to double its revenue in 2018 without any marketing. In 2021, Bubble raised a massive Series A for $100 million. How’s that for Venture Capital.

A Community of Bubblers

Now, for the most important part, what did this do for Bubble’s community? Not raising funding in the early stages helped solidify the company’s core beliefs; going this route was a constant reminder of why they’re doing what they’re doing. Things like reaching profitable revenue organically, and having successful PH launches made them realize what they can achieve with a strong community. After all, they’re doing it for the people. Why not create a safe space for them to understand the concept of no-code, and together, build better products.

Bubble is a community-driven company. As our product requires a few hours to learn and is very open-ended, our customers often want to talk with others about their choices, and do this on our Forum. Today, this vibrant community is a very important asset of our company. - Emmanuel Straschnοv

They fostered a community where members went from just users to being an integral part of the company. In a way, the community became the stakeholders at Bubble and helped the platform evolve by helping make critical decisions like pricing changes and feature updates. After 7 years of bootstrapping, Bubble was finally getting emails from the community saying how it changes their professional life. They were now ‘Bubblers’.

Community Forum on Discourse

The community on Discourse is home to everything Bubble - you can share ideas, opinions, your work, requests, and even help influence how the product evolves, and with it, the company.

Bubble Discourse forum
Community forum

The first-ever post on the Community

One of the biggest highlights of the community is the monthly updates shared by the founders (mostly Josh). These updates open the company entirely to its audience. Everything that has been going on, changes that were made in that month, relevant numbers, and things that have been planned for the month ahead.

Monthly update Bubble community
Josh announcing the latest monthly update - April 2022

To better systemize the navigation of the community and foster healthy conversations, the forum is divided into categories, each serving a purpose. Here are a few -

  • Need help - Pretty self-explanatory. A category where you go whenever you need help with anything.
  • Questions - You’ve got questions? This category will help get answers.
  • Bugs - Came across something that doesn’t seem right? Post it here.
  • Jobs / Freelance - If you’re on a deadline, or if you’re working on a huge project you need help on, this is the category for that.
  • Showcase - Show off what you created with Bubble.
  • Idea - A place to share anything you might have that can help improve the platform.
  • Tips - Best practices around building web apps.
  • Plugin builders - Remember earlier in the case study we talked about Bubble offering an extension for developers to build external plugins? This one is for that.
  • Blog post - If you want to start a conversation about a blog by Bubble, this is the place to discuss that.
  • Announcements - Official announcements category.
  • Social/meetups -  If you want to organize online events or community gatherings, this is the place to talk about that.
  • Not Bubble - Anything that’s not related to Bubble.
  • Entrepreneurship - This category is for discussing entrepreneurship and the business side of the application.

Community events and meetups

One of the most remarkable things about the community is that people organically come together for events, meetups, webinars, fireside chats, and more. Bubblers get together and help each other out as a good community should.

aaand there are memes too 😄

The Immerse Program

Immerse is a 10-week long, fully-funded, hands-on virtual program specifically for Black and Afro-Latinx entrepreneurs where founders learn to build the apps for their users in 10 weeks.

This program has been designed as a pre-accelerator that these Founders, at the end of the program, are equipped with market-ready, quality web products. It features a rigorous course, with expert speakers and dedicated weekly 1-on-1s.

The goal is to  -

The Immerse program has been created by leveraging thousands of hours of Bootcamp and app-building knowledge into comprehensive strategies, tools, techniques, and best practices. It covers 3 core aspects of building getting from start to finish:

  • The Bubble core - The first 2 weeks are about understanding the intricate corners of Bubble. Learn optimal UI/UX and necessary backend data structures for building a viable app that you envisioned for your business.
  • The Product core - Focus on assignments, mapping out app architecture, and designing a fully deployable feature in the given 5-7 week period. This gives you the knowledge to be able to identify your app more intrinsically, understand priorities, and create a product roadmap that is best suited for your product.
  • The Business core - 90-minute speaker sessions from successful entrepreneurs, business leaders, and founders from the Immense Mentor Network. Through intimate conversations, the founders get a transparent view of your business idea and therefore are able to help refine your business approach.

The program culminates with a Demo Day Finale featuring all the apps and business pitches from participants. The most competitive, well-crafted demos receive:

  • Award for Best Pitch which includes a $5000 grant and 1 year of free Bubble professional subscription.
  • Award for Best Product which includes 1 year of free Bubble professional subscription.
  • Awards for being a Fan Favorite which includes 6 months of free Bubble professional subscription.

Bubble Academy

The Academy is a place that offers the right guides on building Bubble, starting from navigating the interface to expert features.

Learn from videos, manuals, and bootcamps

Videos - Learn from tutorials, crash courses, and expert tips.

Video tutorials

Manual - End-to-end bubble documentation starting from basic to customization and deployment.

Bubble documentation

Bootcamp - Attend elaborate Bubble bootcamps that offer 3 courses: Jumpstart, Build and Launch, and Professionals. You can also choose from a panel of expert instructors to learn from.

Check out more on bootcamps

There are also interactive lessons that lets you learn the basics Bubble in the editor itself through 12 guided walkthrough sessions.

Interactive lessons

And then you have the ‘How to Build’ series which offers you a guide to help build any kind of app using no code. There are lessons to build apps like Instagram, Discord, LinkedIn, and more.

How to build

You can also learn Bubble using community-built apps. The Bubble Makers Newsletter, for instance, is a personal newsletter of Pablo Heredia Pastor, someone who has built and shared 12 products in 12 months and also has published 2 video courses on working with Bubble. There are so many more such resources to explore and learn from, all within the community.

What’s more? You can get templates and plugins to expand your app capabilities, hire expert coaches to directly connect and learn Bubble from, and hire agencies to help execute your vision on a grander scale.

No-code Hustle podcast

Bubble does other events like the No-code Hustle Podcast featuring the journeys of entrepreneurs and founders who’re making an impact with their products.

Check out the first-ever episode with founders Josh and Emmanuel kicking it off with their incredible story of going from nothing to where Bubble currently stands.

Bubble Blog

Resources and articles about the stories at Bubble. A recent addition to the blog has been the App of the day series which features every day (you guessed it) a ‘rockstar’ app that stood out from the crowd.

App of the day series

A Community that keeps giving

The story of Bubble is very much the story of our community, and how you’ve helped answer each other’s questions, helped us improve the technology, and built out tools and content for each other. - Team Bubble (source)

No-code made people go from “what the hell is that?” to “how do I start?” within a decade. Bubble has pioneered the epoch of no-code evolution; two guys who set out with an idea made no-code a revolution. Well, it isn’t over yet. The $100 million capital has given the company yet another means to an end. The end is a global movement towards and acceptance of no-code as a part of the future. The plans are to make no-code mainstream, and for that, Bubble needs to grow one thing more than everything else - its community.

The founders realized that the one thing that got them here was the values that inspired them to begin in the first place. It was a heartfelt desire to help others, a vision to make tech more accessible, and a vision to build a community of people who are changing the world using Bubble as a platform to break the barriers of technology. Community is what brought Bubble to where it is, and it will be what takes them further towards its goal. A goal of universal adoption.


To Summarize

Good things fall apart to make way for better things

  • The advent of no-code and what it means for the tech industry.
  • Joshua Haas left corporate behind to find meaning.
  • Stumbling upon an opportunity and pursuing it.
  • Not quite successful but hence was born the idea of creating a no-code product.

No-code? More like Bro-code

  • Emmanuel, a Harvard Business School student meets Josh through a mutual friend.
  • They connect on the idea of Bubble.
  • Very early days of Bubble and making some noise in the market.

What Bubble really is and the ‘no-code manifesto’

  • The argument is that computers should bend to our will and not the other way around.
  • Coding is not programming.
  • Bubble lets you ‘program’ your application without the need for code.
  • Innovation shouldn’t be restricted to those who code.

Bootstrapping their way to a 100 Mil

  • The conflict with raising capital was because they didn’t see it fit at that stage.
  • Bootstrapping the company and achieving organic growth.
  • Reaching a quarter-million users and $1 million in ARR.
  • Raising VC on their own terms - a whopping $100 million in Series A

A Community of Bubblers

  • Bubble’s realization of the importance of community.
  • Community Forum on Discourse - Bubble’s community on Discourse
  • Community events and meetups - Community-hosted events and meetups.
  • The Immerse Program - A 10-week long program to help Black and Afro-Latinx entrepreneurs build better apps and a business.
  • Bubble Academy - Everything you need to learn about Bubble, in one place.
  • No-code Hustle podcast - A podcast highlighting budding entrepreneurs who are building their businesses on no-code.
  • Bubble Blog - A blog dedicated to Bubble and its community.

A Community that keeps giving

  • A company that put the community at its centre and built a world around it.
  • The future is, obviously, community.


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