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Episode #17 - Mike Williams - Building products and creating value with Buildlabs.
July 15, 2020
Podcast

Episode #17 - Mike Williams - Building products and creating value with Buildlabs.


Mike Williams - Buildlab - Stories Podcast-MP3 for Audio Pod...

Sun, 4/26 5:43PM • 29:16


SUMMARY KEYWORDS

code, zapier, api, clients, table, people, air, build, integra, spin, tools, big, space, scale, javascript, aws, point, coders, scalability, set


SPEAKERS

Mike Williams, Ben Tossell


Ben Tossell  00:00



Mike Williams  00:28

Well, thanks for having me. I was had an IT background I worked in consulting for a little bit when self employed probably like six, seven years ago had some


00:43

businesses in the event


00:46

ticket space. I started with a couple buddies and kind of as those scaled got introduced in the no code and for the last year or so, actually graduated from no code to more full code and low code stuff. And recently have been consulting and kind of exploring that realm of like, kind of consulting and agency work. I spun up a little agency build lab that's kind of my project right now trying to scale that up a little bit. Get some people working under me potentially designers devs. And so do kind of the hybrid of like code and no code stuff, basically.


01:33

Awesome. Was Yeah, quite a few things.


01:36

Talk about There


01:39

we go. Yes, we start with how you were introduced to no code you said, as your company was scaling you. Find no code if people suggest solutions. How did how'd you start hearing about it in that scenario?


01:55

Yeah, I mean, I think it was it's hard to feel like so long ago now but um, Basically it was like very transactional my business at the time, a lot of little transactions all throughout the day. So I got to the point where I was outgrowing Excel as a data source. You know, the workbook would take like 20 seconds just even open and I realized that wasn't going to work. I played around with an Access database for a while, which was kind of funny looking back, but I believe the first tool probably I ever found was the air table maybe. And this is when it was pretty new. I actually messed around with there was another one I think Caulfield book at the time, they ended up shutting down but I started started using air table just because I figured this was a good next step up, you know, more robust, like spreadsheet database hybrid. And so started putting stuff in there shortly thereafter, I probably found some appier I think was the next step and started I think started doing Text Parsing stuff from emails. That was the first big thing I did because I had no API and to my my sales coming in and it always frustrated me so the only thing I have is these confirmation emails. So I ended up using Zapier is parsing tool and started dumping stuff into air table and after that, I mean it you know, it's just down the rabbit hole really graduated a little bit into and we can like not to get too ahead.


03:42

scaled up like graduated to


03:45

Integra mat just for some heavier stuff just because of tasks limits and then eventually even outgrew air table had to spin up a sequel dB. And then last year, I've learned to fully code and do you like this full custom stuff and API. So that's kind of my journey there.


04:06

Yes. interested in that. Like, there's obviously this


04:11

seems like there's a divide of like, coders and no coders. But actually from like being behind the scenes, we can see, I can see that 25% of our community, our developers, lots of developers love new code and understand the benefits of spinning things up really quickly and not having to redo the same things over and over again. And I often say to people that like, well, I've built with maker pad and linking some of the things together with Zapier, I end up working with like web hooks and pulling in API's and like, then you start recognizing the patterns of an API or, oh, this thing connects to this thing. And actually, then you see the benefit of like, okay, I want to push that a bit further. Little bit further. And I think it's probably the best. One of the best ways to start realizing you want to learn to code, or just one of the best ways to learn to code. In the first place, what do you think about?


05:12

Yeah, I mean, API's are definitely a game changer once you start understanding those. Even no coders like, I feel like you have to learn at least API syntax at some point, just because and that's all you know, Zapier and Integra mat, all they're doing is wrapping API's at the end of the day. Yeah. So but yeah, that that was definitely like a step by took there and was kind of like, okay, there's a lot you can do here.


05:42

But, yeah, and then eventually setting up my own


05:47

API, like setting up a little Express server. That was one of the first I think code projects I did. I learned a little bit of JavaScript just to have an endpoint to do like real heavy stuff because I was even outgrowing Integra mat was getting price, a little price prohibitive? Because I was doing like 10s 10s of thousands of tasks a day. Well, I'm taking from an API and dumping in a sequel. It was, it was a really simple task. But it was just so many times a day that I figured this was probably worth me.


06:19

You know, taking a day to like, learn how to set up a server.


06:23

Awesome. So yeah, I guess you had the need for it. And then how long did it take you to learn to learn to build out them with code?


06:32

Um, I mean, the initial stuff just like the Express server. So I started on Code Academy, by the way, for anyone who is kind of curious, that's just like a pretty cheap, easy way to kind of get your feet wet. And they cover express in there and making like API calls and stuff. And, you know, surprisingly, that was pretty early when I was still kind of an idiot with the code stuff, but I think I set up the Express server in like a day. So surprisingly easy. And that that really opened up a lot of doors because I could push some real heavy stuff there. And, you know, not have to pay by the task kind of thing. And there are some alternatives to that server list is a big thing. And we can talk about this a little later. But stuff like Firebase functions, and AWS has lambdas. I don't know if you've, you've worked with those. And those are kind of a cool intermediary where if you don't want to spin up your own server, I think I've provided those for a few heavy clients that I found those to be a real good combination with no code stuff as well.


07:45

Yeah, well, so what's what is your guess? What's your take on that? The seemingly no, the code this is no code or like the fine line between each of the types of people who end up using these things? I mean, I did a podcast on it ages ago. And it was like a debate one, but there wasn't a debate. Really. We both just sort of agreed. Yeah, we're all trying to build something


08:11

that was that. Was that on indie hackers, I think Yeah. Yeah. Who are you debating? Again? I was Sahil dum, dum row guy. Right. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, so the way I see it, I definitely don't see it as a vs thing. Just because of my journey. It was I wasn't coming from like a coder space where I was like, Oh, this no cuz stuff, stupid. And I wasn't really firmly in the no code space, either. I was just like, I need tools to do these things. And yeah, I mean, it's for my own business. So I don't care about like other people's opinion. I just want the best tool, you know. So I just gradually started to realize that you know, a hybrid of these conditions. Very, you know, very easily be the, the ideal setup. And especially working with clients, you know, I have, they really run the gamut on, you know, I have some small clients who need just like the simplest little Integra mat thing. And then I have big clients that I'm setting up full custom apps like front end, back end API, all that and everyone in between. So definitely from a time and cost perspective, I might not want to set up a server for some client who just has a three hour budget and say, you know, I might want to maybe do some Firebase stuff with them. Or a bigger client, I might, you know, not, I might tell them right out the gate like, hey, let's not do air table. I think you guys are going to outgrow it too quickly. So I've seen in the real world, you know, not on just like Twitter arguments. You see that it's not so much of a black and white thing where it's just one is better than than the other. Yeah, there's times and places for both. And I think they're both powerful. You know, I don't think codes going anywhere. There's a lot of cool developments happening in the code space. And with the serverless stuff, which is kind of low code in between. So I've never I've always seen some of those arguments on Twitter. And I've kind of rolled my eyes at it, people arguing back and forth, because I feel like they're actually working with both, they wouldn't have such a like divisive attitude, just because they're both so useful, you know?


10:32

Yeah, exactly. I think sometimes people just see works, I'd build a simple one and think that's no code. And then they look at other really code heavy things and think that's code. And then there's no like middle ground. But really, there's like a real big sea in the middle of these intricate things that you can pull things together and change stuff around. So yeah, I guess I'm quite interested in the fact that You do both? And is it with clients, I suppose as an agency? Is it a case that you promote no code is the way you build stuff to do it cheaper, quicker? and things like that, and then recommend against it if the client's needs sort of going that way? Or is how does how does that conversation go with a client?


11:24

Yeah, so it's a case by case and I've kind of I've hesitated on branding myself as like a no code agency quite yet because I don't I kind of don't want to pigeonhole and also like, there's just gonna be situations where you realize you can't do it all with no code, at least right now. Mostly scale wise. So yeah, like for example, I had one client who wants wanted just kind of database setup and potentially he was looking at AIR table and I said, you know, how many transactions do you have? And they it was, you know, 200,000 or something. Then a year. So I was like, Okay, well, you know, you're going to get three months on air table before you grow out of it. Yeah. So those people, I just go right to a SQL DB. And there's a lot of really cheap, easy ways to do that. Now, you know, Digital Ocean, lets you set up a managed DB pretty easily. And, you know, Google and AWS both have their own versions of that. So it's not even the code route is not always a big deal, you know? No, so it's really a case by case. Just talk about volume. You know, cost is a thing, obviously. Um, but, you know, there's plenty of tools for kind of every use case, which is, but the good news,


12:40

yeah. Do you think some of these bigger players, Google and stuff are going to make thing take I suppose Google is taking notice of no code by acquiring apps and things like that. But I wonder if we're gonna see more of a bridge between, like, how do I set up your own database and it's more of a no Code a way of doing it and it's a bit more friendly. I know it's it is simple if you know what you're doing, but maybe there's more of the different UI that's that may be needed. I wonder if you think that's gonna happen soon? Or maybe quite a way away or no, not at all?


13:18

Yeah, I don't, I definitely think that gaps gonna get bridged gradually. That's kind of a lot of this serverless stuff that's really big. I mean, AWS and Google are obviously have like, huge volume in that space. Now. I think part of that is, you know, the whole reason for that is people don't want to set up set up their own server every time potentially. So it that's kind of a no code move towards the no code direction. Yeah. So so they're definitely moving that way. And I am interested because there is still kind of like a gap


13:55

between


13:57

I think that the even the serverless stuff and the no code That maybe Google, I can't speak for him. But they could be maybe moving a little bit further down that road to the point where, you know, I've always thought it'd be cool if you had some sort of kind of app scaffolder, where you just say, Alright, hey, I want to Zapier back end air table dB. I want to do a little bit of JavaScript on these endpoints, and, like, go scaffold that out for me, and because there's a lot of things in the code space that kind of do that, where you'll pick a dB, MySQL or Postgres, and, you know, JavaScript or Python, and then you pick a front end framework, and it kind of spits out some code for you. Yeah, nothing like that really exists in the no code space yet. Although I definitely think that that's gonna change. So yeah, it's interesting. Google and Amazon. I think they're definitely focused on that the code stuff for now, but Who knows what they're you know, they're always up to something.


15:03

Yeah. So it's funny you say that having the sort of the template thing or the almost like, here's all components. You want a database joining us Google sheets or air table, you select one. And then you say, I want Zapier or Integra mat for the Lincoln services. That's something I thought of building. I mean, I couldn't build it. I would have had to find some to build it. That's something I thought of building must have been a year and a half ago or something before. Before maker pad. That was like one thing I thought, I think I saw someone do it for Yeah, for code Anyway, you can just like spin up some of these things. Just select a bunch of stuff. And then it's already like, created for you. It's got you started and I really wonder how how people could do that now with with some of these no code tools.


15:57

Yeah, and I'm happy to help if you want to spin that back up.


16:00

Yeah, well, yeah, maybe idea. I'm not sure we've got the time at the moment. But yeah, it would be an interesting project for sure. Do you think there's going to be like, a huge push of people who can develop and understand the nuclear push, and sort of build stuff to help? No coders realize that, okay, maybe I will get to a point where I need to move off air table and I'll need like a service or a product to help me do that. Or even if it was like, What are tables record, like the record limit for a basis like 50,000 or something where it starts breaking. I wonder if there's like space for some developers to come in. And then as you get to that stage, you just have duplicates the base for you and then like, brings in all the same stuff and then doesn't break your workflow site near Zapier things. I wonder if there's like going to be like intermediate In the middle of products or


17:02

something that kind of auto scales, kind of like, kind of have these cloud providers, I guess that's the big benefit to AWS and you know, digitalocean, and all them is that they kind of just scale up for you. Yeah. So yeah, that would be interesting. You know, maybe you could just be constantly sync an air table it with an offline, you know, no SQL or SQL DB. And maybe there's something there. I don't know. That's, that'd be an interesting thing to figure out. You have


17:30

to show. I'll leave it to you and anyone else who wants to, wants to figure those things out. But that's, yeah, that's w request to me. I'd definitely be interested in having that. I mean, even for backup sake, right. It's like, it's always nice to know that you have everything in backups other than just on the tools. Do you think people are right to be worried about the scalability of no code at the moment or?


17:55

Yeah, at the moment, I would definitely say that's the biggest weakness there. And I'm seeing at the moment, you know, who knows, that might change, and I expect it to. But in my case, that was always the limitation for me that that's why I moved into code. That's why I moved into SQL. That's why I set up a server, you know, because I just got to the point where it was no choice, I would have been paying, you know, hundreds, if not 1000 a month for, you know, if I was paying by the task, just because I was doing some heavy data stuff. And that's really going to depend on your business. You know, in my case, I had a lot of small transactions. So my air table filled up with like, some of them were $3 transactions, right? If you're a lawyer, say like, I've worked with a few clients in law, and you know, each line in there at their table might be a $15,000 engagement, right? So, by the time that guy maxes out our table, he's doing pretty good, right? Yeah, he probably doesn't have to worry about that as much and I'll help him move to a, I'm happy to help him to do a sequel dv when he gets to that point. So it all depends. I've always been kind of jealous of businesses like that, that were less data heavy that because I knew they could stay in the no code space longer. Although it was nice, it was a good excuse for me to learn to code. So I guess I don't regret that. But yeah, scalability. To answer your question that that's definitely got to get up a little bit. You know, like we just talked about the air table example. I think even now they have a it's five per second as their API rate limits. So if you were backing up, even if a 550 k base, you know, I don't even know how you would really do that in a time effective way. So there's just little stuff like that.


19:47

Yeah. I do wonder the


19:51

some of the conversations around scaling a bit premature in the often it's the people who aren't quite there. Like not at the point of needing to worry that they're worrying about scalability of like having 10,000 users doing something on their platform where it may be not built yet or launched. And I think, yeah, one of the superpowers of mil code is, it's certainly it's okay to build something on one stack first and get to your hundred thousand 10,000 customers. And then you've got money, time, and an idea of how the product works on the back, as well as the front to be able to go to a developer and not just say, I'm thinking of building like a social site. It's like, Okay, this is the site, this is how it works. These are like the past for everyone to take. We have 10,000 users, we need it to work because it breaks on these things. I think that's a really, really big, valuable piece that maybe gets overlooked but I don't know whether it's happened enough for these stories that I come out and talk to you about them.


21:00

Yeah, so And I'd say you just pointed out there. Whereas I say, scalability is probably no codes biggest weakness at this point. I, I'd say the setup is definitely its biggest strength. Like you mentioned, yeah, there are people who probably should just be spinning up a web flow. And I mean, I'm kind of guilty of that with some of my smaller stuff. I just really like coding now. So and doing I've been working with this front end framework. It's called felt kind of this hip new framework and, and and tailwind CSS to Adam, why then? I don't know. Yeah, yeah. So he's a coding with those two, they're kind of optimized for developer experience. It's just really a nice experience to code it and kind of saves you a lot of, you know, boilerplate. So I just kind of like it and I'll reach for code probably admittedly too much. You know, there are probably some times where I should just spin up a card or a web flow? For small things like that, and I think you brought that up in your debate was that, you know, learning it, knowing how to code could maybe even be a weakness in some of those points where you might be a little too tempted to reach for it, when maybe you shouldn't. And I'm probably guilty of that at time. So, yeah, that's, that's definitely a strength.


22:24

Yeah, I think sometimes it depends on who the person is and what the project is. Because if it's like, a side project, for me, if I was doing any side projects at the moment, like, part of the thing that I like is building that landing page and that user experience of how these things end together how this stuff link with Zapier, how can I test it? How can I build like a new feature? Like that's the stuff I love to build and like, play around with do that stuff. It may not be the most productive but not everything has to be right like if you enjoy coding, and you put the spinning up some side project stuff. Like, we should always be happy of how that we're fine with it. Like, it's not so much that, oh no, you did the wrong thing that you should have done that. So I think people have to realize, do what you like to do with the tools that you'd like to do it in the way that you want to do it. Like, do all that stuff.


23:23

Yeah, definitely at the end of the day, your best tool is going to be the one you enjoy using, you know, if you if you hate webflow or you hate, you know Squarespace or whatever. And you like coding then do that, you know, you're going to be better off. Because if you hate using something, it doesn't matter how easy or quick it is, you're never going to use it. So yeah, just got to find that. That's another reason why I just there's no need really for versus notice space. It's so it's so user specific.


23:57

Yeah, sure. One of the like, one of the names To see what other interesting examples you've seen of no code, and maybe you maybe you're more specific and that you can give us an insight of like no code, looking to get closer to code. Like, I wonder if there's any more examples of, of that you think?


24:18

Yeah. Well, one that stands out is retool, I'm sure you're familiar with three tools. So that's, that's very interesting to me, especially because, you know, it's kind of like, hey, if you know how to code go nuts, because they let you do you can have, you know, cost some sequel, attach any data source, including air table via API, if you want. JavaScript, you know, you can put j s anywhere you want on the form any kind of logic which I've had to set that up just because I had some clients using air table where they wanted kind of conditional logic, which is something just air tables not built to do yet at least. So So So I that's always been retooled has been really interesting to me is kind of a one stop shop for have, you know, giving you a front end because that's a big thing most people need as a front end, right? Because and that could that until recently was you know, a lot harder to spin up I think for more app like stuff, you know, Squarespace wasn't built for apps Really? Yeah, it's for portfolio sites and whatnot.


25:30

So yeah, retools one I've noticed


25:33

there are a few others. I'm blanking on the names, but I've seen some services that are basically like Zapier Integra mat where they have all these modules, you know, slack air table, but they basically scaffold out the API code for you and then you can just inject node j s in there. So it's kind of like a Zapier but for coders kind of thing and I know Zapier has a JavaScript module as well is that Standard Library. Standard Library is one of them. There's another I'm blanking on standard library. I haven't gone back and play with these in a while. The ones I would was playing with I was a little, they didn't have too many integrations yet. It seemed like it was kind of early in the game. So I kind of abandon them for now. But I do need to go back around and kind of check on them.


26:25

Yeah, yes, Tom has always done. Auto code has been the latest one, which, yeah, just like spins out the actual code. So you can see it just does quite an interesting thing that I mean, I need to get more time to play around with projects. Because, yeah, I want to get deep into retooling standard library, both of which are made by partners so we want to do more like education pieces there. So maybe we should take you up on helping us out with some of the resource stuff.


26:52

Yeah, I'd be happy to. to work on actually don't have any clients doing real retail right now. So kind of been dying to play with it but haven't had. Unfortunately, I just can't seem to get a client who wants to who's like building something in there yet, so I'm definitely looking for an excuse to play with it.


27:12

Awesome. Yeah, we'll definitely do that. And is there anything else you want to wrap up with?


27:19

Um, no, I don't think we covered most of it. appreciate you having me on. It was good talk. Again, I think that the space is exciting both on the code and no code side and, and in that middle ground that I think is going to start getting filled in a little bit. So that's the good news is, is I think we're going to see a lot of innovation all over the place. Yeah.


27:45

I agree. Yeah. I really appreciate you coming on. Just tell people where they where they can find you and everything else.


27:53

Yes. So company sites build lab.co


27:57

and williams.co is my personal site and then On Twitter, I'm at Mike, though th gh. I'm not very active on Twitter yet I've like no posts, I just read stuff on there. Although, you know, DMS are open, feel free to reach out if you're working on something cool. I definitely do want to start being a little more interactive. And that's why I'm kind of happy to be getting involved with maker pad and some of these other communities. Just because I've been a solopreneur for so long, I'm kind of just, you know, locked up in my office most of the time haven't been as interactive as probably I should be. and hoped to maybe even put out, you know, some content one day. So maybe in that low code, hybrid space that obviously you haven't plenty of contact content on the new code space, but maybe there's a place I could contribute there. So


28:53

yeah, we'd love to have you help us with that. Sure.


28:57

Huh. Yeah. Thanks, man.


29:00

Well yeah first chatting soon.


29:02

Thanks so much for listening. You can find us online at maker pad.co or on Twitter at make that we'd love to hear if you enjoyed this episode and what we should do next.



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