About the Episode
We all have the ability to create better systems and processes within our organizations. Sometimes it just takes tapping into a new mindset or discovering new tools. On this special Future of Work episode, Ben Tossell, founder of Makerpad, discusses how no-code and low-code tools can empower anyone to become creators. Learn how to approach and solve problems in new ways and how no-code tools make it easier and more accessible to act on your ideas.
Meet Our Guest
Ben Tossell is an entrepreneur driven by his curiosity and need to constantly innovate. After dabbling in social media and community at companies like Sprinklr, Product Hunt, and AngelList, he now uses his talents to run Makerpad. Founded in 2019, Makerpad is the largest no-code education community in the world with 6,000 active members. As an advocate for the no-code revolution, he also runs a rolling fund of more than $1 million that invests in early-stage no-code and low-code companies.
Chris Byers: The future of work is being shaped by the advancement of technology and the evolving demands of talent. What changes could be in store for the workplace, the workforce, and the nature of work itself? On this season of Ripple Effect, we're introducing a sub-series called The Future of Work, exploring the answers to these questions.
Well I'm Chris Byers of Formstack and joining us today is Ben Tossell, founder of Makerpad. What started out as a side project while he was running a platform at Earnest Capital has turned into the largest no-code education community in the world with 6,000 active members.
He also recently raised a fund to invest in the no-code ecosystem. Before we talk specifically about the future of work, can you help our audience understand how you got into the no-code space?
Ben Tossell: Yeah, I think well, I used to work at a company called Product Hunt, which is where people launch their side projects. Big companies like Google also launched projects there as well, like a new app, for example, would come out through Product Hunt and so much Silicon Valley focused. So I was a Community Manager for Product Hunt and almost a victim of my surroundings. I think when I was there,over the time I was there, I think maybe it was two years or so, I must have seen about 80,000 product launches. So that happening around me just gave me the bug of I want to build something too, I want to build like a website that does something, anything. Like one day maybe I'll be a CEO of a large company, I want to just be able to, like, build something and see if people would buy anything from me.
But I couldn't code. The options were go and find someone technical and convince them somehow that your idea is worth doing for no money or have money to hire someone technical, which I didn't have, or learn to code, which I also have tried numerous times. But it just seems to be one of those things that my brain it doesn't quite click. It just can't translate the inputs with the outputs as well as I'd like to. And I didn't fancy trying to learn to code and take nine months to do something, not knowing if an idea would be any good or not, and then launching it and being really emotionally attached to something that I'd spent so long doing. I'd rather spin something up in a weekend, people tell me they love it or hate it, and then move on.
Chris Byers: I love that story. I think you're keying in on this idea that there are actually a lot of people out there who can see patterns and can see patterns of how to fix something or how to make something better. But either, to your point, either don't want to code, something about it just isn't kind of there in their DNA. But they know how to fix problems. And so we're starting to see these products that actually can help do that at kind of insane places. Is that kind of the experience that you have?
Ben Tossell: Yeah, I think it's actually similar. Maybe we'll get into this now or a bit later on where debugging something or fixing a flow of something is very similar. Whether you're using no-code tools or whether you're a developer using traditional code, you have to sort of write the thing or build the thing initially. You've got to test it. Does it work? If not, go to step one, rebuild the things, you have to sort of go through the steps and check. If you're using Zapier, for example, you can go and check all the task logs of what data went where and which was the right thing, which was the wrong thing. Where did it break? Go back, fix it, test it again, and launch it. But that process for me especially, was just so much quicker. The feedback loop of, OK, I can move this button to do this thing instead and that will fix it. And that would take me five minutes. Whereas if I had to code that or learn to code it in the first place, it would have taken me months to learn the basics. And then it was never the thing that I found easy enough that it felt like play. I think that's a very important point, is that it needs to feel like I'm semi enjoying the process of it so that I don't mind fixing stuff and figuring stuff out.
Chris Byers: And I think we will definitely get deep into this subject as we talk further, as you think about 2021 and kind of leaving 20120 behind, what do you think is going to be different this year, especially as it relates to kind of the future of work?
Ben Tossell: Yeah, I think no-code really took off in 2020. I think it will continue to do so. I think there's going to be a lot of big funding rounds. There's going to be a lot more capital going into the space. I think we'll see a lot more niche products. And I think acquisitions will start happening, whether it's at companies like Google and Amazon. I know they've got their own products and some acquisitions already. I think this is going to be a lot more focus on that. And I think having those actually will help the industry as a whole because we need buy-in from large companies who can spread this sort of framework and thinking across thousands of employees and other professionals. So, yeah, it'll be interesting to see, but I think it's just a lot more of the same that we saw in 2020.
I actually just sent a tweet to see what people thought the biggest obstacle was for no-code adoption in the workplace, because I think that's going to be the biggest area of impact is in the workplace. You hear about many different types of companies, even things like UiPath, which is helping large companies avoid repetitive tasks. And they do it through robotic processes. Think of no-code is a version of that. And I think internal tools, lots of areas there to build, and I think that there'll be many people who have been in a situation like me at Product Hunt where I'm saying, oh, this would be so cool if the developers just had like a little bit of time on a Friday to build this very small thing that would just help me and save me five hours a week. And obviously, developers are very sought after and needed for the big stuff, for your request to then get put through and be prioritized and actually get shipped, it takes a lot of time, takes a lot of money. So for me, with no-code, if I could build a small tool using a few of the tools at my disposal to get that thing done or like help me do my own job, that's a huge win for me, the company, the developers, everyone involved. So I think more of that will start creeping in. I think a large education movement needs to happen around what is possible.
Chris Byers: You're definitely touching on some important points there, that there are some barriers to low-code really getting adopted in an organization. As you kind of put that tweet out there, as you think about it, what are the challenges that you think will, those of us in the no-code kind of low-code space, will face in really getting the adoption that we'd love to see?
Ben Tossell: Some of the answers, were not really what I was expecting. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but a few answers were having approval. There's lots of steps of approval to go through with introducing new software or new systems into the workplace. So perhaps that's a barrier that just needs to be sort of loosened. I think when the Covid crisis hit everyone, there was for us in the UK, the National Health Service, they had a lot of procedures around what you could and couldn't do. But then they started easing things to allow people to experiment and build tools to help frontline workers and people being impacted. So I wonder if it's larger situations like that that will help push things forward. So obviously the large remote work movement, which is becoming quite common, will that then start allowing people at home to use their own initiative to sign up for an account on whatever it is to start doing their job better? And then does that all really contribute to what we're looking at here?
Chris Byers: Well, you know, the other thing I think about is frameworks. So within a company and even within low-code and no-code development, you need to develop frameworks for people to think about solving problems. Have you thought about how to...because I think it's yes, it's both approval of getting the software deployed in an organization. But when you're bringing a new process to the table, you need to have some sense of framework for like how does this company deal with problems or how does this company like to see software played out? Have you seen that come to fruition at all?
Ben Tossell: I think I've seen a few instances of this. And also what we see at Makerpad is people don't know what they don't know. So someone who is in sales may not realize that they could automatically scrape data from LinkedIn and then send emails programmatically through Google Sheets and things like that. That might not be front of mind with a salesperson doing their job day in, day out. So someone to take the time to think about what could we automate here, how would we automate things and how could we do things like that is also like another, that's a framework of thinking. My brain won't stop thinking of those things now because I've probably been in it so long that it's just that's my natural instinct is to do that. But I think teaching people, how do you notice when something is repetitive and could be improved? And how do you take a step back and realize what are the right tools for perhaps making this more efficient in the workplace, that would then allow me to step out of this spreadsheet of copying and pasting data here and there.
Chris Byers: That's great. And, you know, as we're having this conversation, I am realizing I think it's an important point for us to step back and say, ask this, we'll call it the broad philosophical question. Is it low-code? Is it no-code? Is one better than the other? I don't know, what are your thoughts on that?
Ben Tossell: This is like a topic of debate. And there's, I think there's a few sides of the argument, which is one of the sides is who cares? Like, well, why does it need to be called one thing over the other? And I think that's partly right. But I think some things need a name. And no-code is catchy. The marketing of it is just sort of happened. People know what that is in a very small circle, which is what that asterisk will be there. And for me, I think the no-code movement as a whole is actually, it's not like one of these fads. It's not one of these new things that's just like shiny and people pay attention to it now and then they'll sort of go off it. I believe that it's an infrastructure shift in how software is developed. I think it's just one part of that spectrum of software development.
Chris Byers: You've developed an education community and platform and so what did you identify there? What's the problem that you're trying to solve if in theory somebody can just kind of pick up the software on their own, where does Makerpad come in? What is it you're solving there?
Ben Tossell: So education with these tools, most of them have their own education teams as well, and they have their own tutorials, resources, but they're very much focused on that specific tool itself. When you start combining these tools is when it gets really powerful. And that's where Makerpad really focused, we're the third-party, people called us the Switzerland of no-code, where we sit in the middle and we work with all these different tools, we bring them together, we connect one tool to another. That's something totally... A totally different use case would come out of it. We've seen that many, many times through our members and through the partners who we've spoken to. There's just all these different use cases and stories coming out of people using things in a way that they weren't necessarily intended to, but they still work in those ways.
Chris Byers: I'm curious how you see, if we think about this broad kind of education, especially a higher education problem in the world, where I think more and more people are looking at higher education, saying, wow, do I really want to spend the money on that? Is that going to produce, you know, as a young person, am I going to get the job that I want? How do you think about that? And what Makerpad can do, maybe as an alternative to that kind of traditional higher education.
Ben Tossell: I don't know. There's so many different opinions on this sort of thing. And I went to university. I didn't end up necessarily going to any classes or doing anything afterwards that was directly related to my degree. But I went there to learn life stuff, how to be a member of society and how to make friends with people who you would never meet before, how to look after yourself and all of that stuff, which I just think I would never have learned that otherwise.
And at 18, so in university here, I don't know if it's any different in America is 18 to sort of 21, 22. I had no idea what I was going to do. I didn't for a long time after that. It was just a way to spend time leaning into interests, whether it was going to be potentially business related or not. So I tried to do a few entrepreneurial things whilst at university, which just were nothing in the end, and that was fine. But it was all part of the learning experience. I think learning how to learn is also another thing that these higher education establishments can actually help you with. I don't know that it's... I don't know, you see lots of different options out there to learn things. And I think lots of jobs, software development included, don't necessarily require you to have a degree. And I think that'll be continued throughout. I don't think that anyone who ever hired me after university actually knew how old I was. I think at Producthunt, there was a thing going around Producthunt thatpeople thought I was like a 40 year old man with kids because in one of my profile pictures, I had my godson on my lap and they couldn't see my face, so they didn't know who I was. And I was like some 24 year old kid instead. So I think it's going to be similar to this creator economy. It is this what you can build and what you've done. It's going to be proof of work rather than proof of learning. It's proof of learning through the work that you've actually done.
Chris Byers: Yeah, well, you know, I think my experience is the same as yours, which was I learned some things at university, but I also it was the community, the growing up, all that that was exceptional. Well, as you think about what are your predictions for no-code going forward, how do you see it evolving in the future?
Ben Tossell: It was strange timing for me in the first place because I wasn't like, no-code wasn't really a thing, wasn't talked about like it is now. It was almost like I try to will it into existence. And I think we do have a job as this community, if I'm wanting a lot of people and a lot of different places to have a no-code skill set or no-code framework, that they can figure out things that can be automated and know to go to Zapier or know to go to a certain tool about doing their job, then we've got a big part to play in that. We've got to figure out how to reach the masses of teaching them this. Is it a bunch of workshops? Is it a bunch of big talks? Is it podcasts? Is it any of these things, like how do we really convince people that this is worth spending time with and it's really quick to do things. So I don't know how it's going to evolve, but it's just a lot of education is needed. So that's what we're focusing on.
I think some companies have said or some people have said that a no-code operator will be a job in the future. And whilst I sort of agree with that and I think maybe that will be the case, I do think that the bigger picture is the no-code skill set will be across multiple roles. So marketing operations, product operations, customer service operations, will be the person who can do customer service stuff and build things with that. Maybe it's a workflow, a workflow engineer or workflow developer of some sort. That is the person to do all the connecting pieces and teach that within the companies themselves. So I think there'll be a larger adoption of more and more people understanding what it is. And because it's so easy to change yourself, to play around with it yourself, I think we'll have more and more people sort of leaning into being builders in that way. I don't know how long that would take or what it will take to get there, but we're certainly going to try.
Chris Byers: Well, tell us what's next for Makerpad. What are you thinking about in the future?
Ben Tossell: Well, at the moment, we're focusing on making it as big as possible, making the membership as big as possible. We've got tool paths which we have right now that are essentially a number of tutorials in a sequence that takes a person from point A to point B, how to build a job board and let it bring in passive income. We need to do a lot more job focused ones, too. So we just want to tell stories of other people, find out what so-and-so person is doing at so-and-so company, tell that story, recreate it so it's easily consumed and can be replicated. We did one last year, I get lost in the years and the months now, but sometime last year we did Morning Brew, the financial newsletter. They have an awesome sales process. So I said, well tell me what you do. And we can create some no-code alternatives of how you can do this in a way more automated way and save a bunch of time, which would equate to dollars because it's sales. So we just went in and listened to what they said and come up with a different set of tools and workflows that they could do. I think having people do that, having people deployed across different companies and all over the place, just like doing this to people and showing off what can be done is a big focus for us. And we're going to see how we can do it on a much larger scale.
Chris Byers: You caused me to think about something that I want to jump back to, which is I mean, you are in the forefront of no-code. What does that mean in your company? Like what does that result in? Do you have no-code applications kind of popping up left and right because your team is so engaged in doing this every day, all day?
Ben Tossell: I think we have like, I can't remember the number of Zaps were, the number of automations that we had. There is quite a lot, as you can imagine. My go to-is, can I build something here? I can't not think of things like that. So even when there's a Google Doc that if it's a member needs an invoice generated because they want to... It happens all the time in Europe where they need to give it to their employer, there's a special invoice they need to have. So the first thing was build a tool, have a form that goes to a database that goes to a Google Doc template and then that emails them the template that they can just print off and send to their boss. If we see problems or people are asking things, then a lot of the time I go to, what can we build here that makes this easier? But I think that also leads to why do we spend so much time building something when it was just unnecessary. That happens quite a lot as well, I think, which is fine because it's not like coding something where spending a lot of time means months. It's usually, ok, I've spent far too many hours on this this week or something that wasn't necessary.
But we have a bunch of things that we've done. We're always trying to look at different processes. I'm basically obsessed with frameworks and processes myself. So anything we can do to do that is priority for me. But I've also made the mistake of doing the process first and doing the automation stuff first without actually running something. So if we had like a content creation process, I would spend hours crafting the best process possible. And then when the team are doing the content stuff, they're like, yeah, can we just do the process ourselves, like as it would happen? And then after that we look at it and automate it, which looking back it was the obvious choice. I don't know why I just took it on myself to do all that. But, you know, when you learn I think that's part of doing this, I think that's what we do now. We do that sort of say manual stuff first and then automate it after.
Chris Byers: Well as you think about kind of all the great things that have come out in no-code, what's the one thing that you're like, man, I really would love to see this come to fruition. It's not really out in the world yet, but would love to see it pop up.
Ben Tossell: I've not seen anything where you can build a Chrome extension with no-code. It's a bit niche, I don't know if it's necessarily needed, but there's a few Chrome extensions I just rely on that I think it'd just be awesome to play around and try to build them. But I really like the really simple no-code tools. There's one called Super, which just translates a Notion document to a website. So I really like the simplicity of things like that. Yeah, I mean, there's so many out there. I struggle sometimes to come up with one that I haven't seen or heard of somewhere.
Chris Byers: Definitely. And as you mentioned, and in full-code development, you've got 80,000 products launched on on Producthunt, which is a great sign of there is just a lot of activity around launching new things. And so as we wrap up, there's one question I've got. And so if people are listening and thinking, I would love to engage in no-code or I've gotten into it or I'm thinking or whatever, what is the one soft skill that you think is really important for people to embrace no-code?
Ben Tossell: Yes, so I think it's being technically curious, just like curious about technology and what it's doing and how it's doing something. Being able to look at something and think, surely there's a better way of doing this thing. I think that's one I think I definitely have. And also being able to just ask for help and explaining things simply. So having those three things, I think would be, you'd make a good, for lack of a better term, no-coder. I think that's how it was set, because we learn by seeing other people's workflows, other people's templates, and asking how did you do that, how did you do this? And then thinking, oh, maybe I could just do that and change it slightly and it would be, I'd be able to do this thing. Then taking a step back and thinking of the simplest version of what you're trying to do. And are you over egging it with 15 different tools? Can it be simpler, can it be simpler, and always thinking of can it be simpler? So those are three of the things that I think I'm definitely trying to practice as well.
Chris Byers: Well, Ben, thank you for joining us on this special episode of Ripple Effect on the Future of Work. To learn more about how people are reimagining their world of work and the future of work, head over to Formstack.com/practically-genius