How to Build an App without Coding by fnMember Dave McManus

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7 min read

Recently, fnMember Dave McManus showed Founders Network precisely how to build an app without coding — a feat that’s quite remarkable and impressive in itself. As the previous founder of TukiEats and currently involved in DJMGrowth.com, Dave is experienced in all aspects of digital marketing, funnel optimization, business and web analytics and much more. In this post, he walks us through the many different options available to create codeless apps… no technical expertise needed!

Why Codeless Apps?

Being tech founders, we often have a tendency to “over engineer” our work, and pour everything into a minimum viable product (MVP) in order to have something more. Codeless apps are designed to give you that something more. With these types of apps, you’ll enjoy:

  • Lower cost and greater control 
  • A quicker iteration of your minimum viable product
  • The ability to prioritize key features
  • Improved training and experience in being a product manager

Moreover, having an MVP often becomes asticking point since you can’t raise money until you have something to show.

With codeless apps, you have a longer runway to create a minimum viable product without all of the fuss or expense.

By using a codeless app, there’s far less need to have a designer, a product engineer to develop features and so on.  The end result may not be flawless, but it lays the groundwork to create something that has meaning and the potential to show the power of your Vision. 

What Products Are Available to Help?

All things considered, codeless technology has been around for over 10 years. The very first products that went codeless were technologies that allowed you to build websites — things like WordPress.com, Squarespace and Wix.

With these types of services, you’re not at the mercy of your engineers or designers. You can put together a solid MVP with less time and less friction bringing your product to market.

Some may insist that you need a database and other types of technology. At the core, all you really need is the ability to capture email addresses to keep people informed. Even with a storefront, you don’t necessarily need to go all-out with databases and logic. Zappos, the well-known online shoe store, started out with just a storefront to take orders, and then they built onto it and improved it as they went along. It would be impossible to scale a business like Zappos today taking orders manually, but back then, that was how they started. 

Beyond websites, learn how to build apps without knowing how to code. Most people think of apps purely as downloads from the App Store or Google Store (also called native apps). Additionally,  progressive web apps are a more recent technology that came about in the last three years. You access the app from a browser, save it to your computer or your smartphone, and from then on, the app works almost exactly like an app downloaded to your phone. 

You have a variety of commercial options at your disposal to create these kinds of apps, including:

If you’re just starting out with codeless apps, Dave recommends starting with GlideApps. Not only is the interface clean and user-friendly, but it’s also very easy and straightforward to get started with. In fact, it pulls data directly from a Google Sheet, so you avoid investing a lot of time, money and energy in creating really complex and sophisticated databases. Want to build voice-powered codeless web apps for devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home? Use VoiceFlow, which lets you prototype voice apps. 

Understanding How Apps and Websites Work

Fortunately, you don’t have to get knee-deep in code to better understand how websites and apps work. Essentially, you have the front-end, the app or the website, which deals with data. Maybe you have a lead capture form or you want users to post to a forum or any other action where data is exchanged. That information goes into a database and from there the database fetches and passes relevant data back to the app, creating a constant cycle:

  1. Save data
  2. App calls data
  3. Server sends data
  4. Display data on the app or website

It’s As Easy As Glide Apps + a Google Spreadsheet

Fortunately, GlideApps is a great service to start building your codeless app. Glide has great sample template apps from which you grab and go, and they also have a variety of educational material to draw from as well. Using Glide, you can manipulate different areas on the app as easily as you can drag and drop components to build a website. Glide pulls information directly from Google Sheets: simply choose the field or section you want to pull from, lay out the front-end of your app (what the users see), and everything is created for you on-the-fly. If you want to add a hamburger navigation, footer navigation or a location map, simply drag and drop the relevant components into the Glide App builder. 

What’s Under the Hood?

In Glide, you have a data viewer which is essentially the brains behind the operation. Although it’s pulling from a Google Sheet, the data viewer essentially duplicates what you see in Google Sheets. Why have the same information twice? Although it looks that way, Glide’s data viewer is actually pulling information from that Google Sheet: grabbing information from a repository which you can then add to later. Additionally, the Glide Data Viewer lets you:

  • Execute advanced logic queries that normally would take a developer an inordinate amount of time to create and execute
  • Easily specify relationships. For example, if you want to see reviews from Dr. Smith’s patients, you can click on his name and see only reviews from his patients.

APIs: Parabola and Sheetsu

If you need to reference an API and pull data into a Google Sheet, Parabola is a great tool that gets the job done. Parabola pulls in data from an API using a drag and drop interface. You can then move data around, manipulate it and put it in a Google Sheet if you like. In short, it simplifies the process of getting live data coming into your Google Sheet in a timeframe that you specify. Do you want live weather data coming into your Google Sheet every five minutes? With Parabola, that’s possible. 

What if you want to turn your Google Sheet into an API? With Sheetsu, you can. For instance, let’s assume you’re working with partners who need access to certain data; simply put that information into a Google Sheet and give your partners an API token to access the API. You have full control over the Google Sheet, since you can add data in and take data out easily. 

Taking Stock of What You Have

Before you even start to build a codeless app, it’s important to do an audit of what you have, and what you actually need in order to deliver an MVP.

Think MVP: Resist the urge to get bogged down in features and other nice-to-have things that can always be added later.

The focus of using codeless technology is to get something viable out the door so that you have something to show in order to secure funding, build an audience or prove your vision. Take stock of what you have. Ask yourself if you have the time, resources, money and skill to pour into your idea. Be real about the expectations. 

Moreover, use codeless apps to take payments online and for e-commerce. There’s an amazing range of options; the money and time you save over hiring developers to create an MVP is enormous. As you start and continue creating codeless apps, your experience and knowledge will grow and you’ll be better attuned to what your audience is looking for and how you can develop an app to simplify and improve their life in some way. 

Fortunately, the good news is that with these services and Google Sheets, building an app without code is easier than ever to get started! 

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Read more by Founders Network

Founded in 2011, Founders Network offers lifelong peer mentorship to over 600 tech startup founders globally. Our platform, programs and high-touch service facilitate authentic experience sharing, warm introductions and long-term professional relationships. Additional benefits include over $1M in startup discounts and mentorship from 50+ Institutional Investors. Members are located in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, London and other tech hubs. Each month our Membership Committee admits a new cohort of full-time tech founders who are nominated by an existing member.