No-code tools have unlocked amazing opportunities for anyone willing to try something new. Whether that's creating a website, building a marketplace, or automating a process – building software without code has been a game-changer!

Today’s story is about building a marketplace of buyers and sellers during the pandemic to help inspire people to shop local. The maker of this marketplace, Bryan Costa, shares incredible insights, learnings, and lots of helpful perspective along the way.

Here’s his story!

Hey! My name is Bryan Costa and I'm the founder of Piqup – an online shopping experience for customers wanting to buy from local sellers.

Although I was born in South Africa, my early years growing up were in Madeira, Portugal. Back then in university, I started a few side hustles, and soon enough discovered that:

  • I was strongly driven to uncover the "why" behind problems;
  • Solving real-world problems around people was extremely fascinating;
  • Using technology and learning new tools/principles felt powerful;
  • Being surrounded by tech and people that love technology in general was awesome!

After failing miserably trying to complete 2 different degrees (Computer Science and Interactive Media Design), I decided to drop out and do exactly that: use tech/tools to solve real-world problems that people face in their daily lives while collaborating with awesome people.

That decision lead me to follow an opportunity in Berlin, Germany which is where I now live.

From product manager to indie maker

Since 2015 I've always worked in the startup scene in Berlin. Initially as a UX/UI Designer, but early on I transitioned into product management (a better fit to my strengths) as I could easily bring the realms of design and tech a little bit closer to each other due to my experience, and passion in both areas.

After spending a few years as a product manager in a health-tech company digitalizing rehabilitation, in the end of 2021 I left my full time job to pursue my calling: Build a better experience for local shoppers and sellers using awesome no-code tools.

Piqup does not occupy 100% of my time though. I do take time to enjoy life, and do other things that are important to me.

I love to read and constantly learn new things in different areas, and enjoy quality time with my partner. Equally important, I focus on my mental health. Getting on my longboard and carving smooth asphalt for a few hours during a week, keeps my body and mind in check.

Connecting shoppers and sellers on Piqup

Piqup aims to provide a better experience for local shoppers and sellers. It’s a marketplace where regular customers place orders. Orders are then processed by local sellers on Piqup.

As a customer, all you need is one account to enjoy the convenience of online shopping, while still buying locally. There's no need for lots of different store accounts or credit card forms to buy and support your favorite local brands.

Other benefits include:

  • Cheaper shopping experience – customers pick up their own orders to there are no additional fees
  • Conscious customers can actively support their favorite local stores
  • It's an ideal way for customers to also discover new brands and products
  • Orders are paid directly to the store at the time of pick-up, which means better cashflow. Better cashflow makes it easier for local businesses to grow!

A pandemic-born idea

The idea for Piqup originated during the first COVID-19 lockdown here in Germany where shops/stores that were non-essential could not open. A close friend, who owns a local business, shared how this decision would affect his business.

This got me thinking. Customers couldn't go to his store, but if he offered order pick-up, that would be fine. Financially, the business was under hardships due to the devastating impact of COVID-19. Bills needed to be paid, and inventory was simply sitting around.

The problem to solve was simple: allow the store to list their goods, customers to place orders and be notified when orders are ready to be picked up and paid for.

I was driven to solve the problem for 2 reasons:

  1. Help a friend, and a local business that I love and have supported for years
  2. To have an excuse to use a no-code platform to solve a "real" problem;

This "excuse" lead me to uncover a lot of problems/opportunities around local shops/stores.

Problem 1: A lack of knowledge and resource to sell online

Running a local business is hard. Sellers put their heart and soul into their businesses. To offer their products online to their local customers, they need to rely on solutions which usually need to be implemented by someone else. They also need to invest a lot of time into these solutions – time that they don’t have.

There are shoppers who want to buy local. I personally love local stores. I want to buy more from them but I, like other shoppers, face a few challenges. Finding the time to go to stores is one thing. Second, often local shops that offer online stores have poorly configured sites with terrible UX. Outdated – and potentially even unsafe – shopping experiences are off-putting for the modern consumer.

Problem 2: Solutions can be pretty complex

Existing solutions to sell digitally are often complex, expensive with hidden fees, and require time to be integrated into their businesses. Furthermore many of these solutions have lost touch with how local businesses run, or have unsustainable business models with no intention of really helping local sellers grow.

Problem 3: Cashflow struggles

Many local sellers lack the opportunity to get large investment rounds, so cashflow is critical.

What's more, most tech solutions have monthly payouts. Selling a product then waiting 30 days to be able to use that capital makes business growth difficult.

Recognizing these problems led me to the following questions:

What if local shoppers had access to a single marketplace where they can find their favorite stores, and support them by making a direct purchase – with the added benefit of starting that journey online? How would that impact the consumer's experience?

What if sellers had access to a platform where offering their products digitally was as easy as using Instagram, saving them time and hassle? What if they could be paid directly, increasing their cashflow? Would this lead to better service and product offers?

And so the idea for Piqup was born.

Piqup is built on no-code tools

I've been really fortunate to be able to leverage different tools, as I learned and adapted the product over time.

The MVP was built using Glide Apps. My database was an actual Google Spreadsheet (which seems odd, but taught me so much about structuring my database, which eventually made building in Bubble later a breeze!).

I needed to notify users about their orders and respective status. Since I couldn't offer push notifications, transactional emails came to my rescue! MailerSend was my tool of choice. To make this work with Glide (specifically the Google Spreadsheet), I used Integromat (now Make).

For analytics I used Google Analytics since I all I needed to do was follow documentation and copy a string.

And since my database was an awesome spreadsheet, to generate some metrics, I just connected it with Google Data Studio and designed some really ugly looking dashboards!

I also used Typeform for a survey which failed tremendously – but that's a tale for another day (great tool though!).

The second iteration of Piqup

For v2, I went with almost an entire differently tool stack. The second iteration was built entirely with Bubble, which is an outstanding no-code tool. I still use Google Analytics.

I also user other 3rd-party services worth mentioning:

Onesignal for push notifications, Firebase for push notifications in Android, Google Forms for waiting lists, and Mapbox for shop locations. A lot of these tools seem a bit intimidating, but thankfully there's a lot of help out there on how to integrate them, which made my life easier.

For anything design related, such as logos and assets for the App Store and Google Playstore, I use Figma.

For support documents, I use Notion. This is where we keep our knowledge base for Piqup Partners.

The landing page was made with Carrd.

Choosing to continue working a job vs Piqup

In the very early days of Piqup, I could only invest my free time outside of working hours as I was employed full-time. Eventually I saw potential in the idea and wanted to legally register Piqup as a business. For legal reasons I needed permission from my employer.

This was hard for several reasons but mainly because, in the end it became clear that I was facing a huge obstacle and would have slim to no chance at all in getting permission.

So I had to decide between keeping my job or pursuing the opportunity at hand with all the hardships that come with it. I'm comfortably happy with the decision I've made.

Making it work vs fresh start

Fresh out of a job, I started to dig a bit deeper into the work I had done to make the Piqup MVP with the intention of rolling out new features to improve both the marketplace as well as the partner app.

All of a sudden reality kicked in: Glide was an awesome platform to build a PWA mobile-first app, but the key features that I needed to offer to my users where either extremely difficult if not impossible to implement. Furthermore, building a marketplace type app, was not really what Glide was built for (at least back then).

So what were my options? I had exactly 3:

  1. Try to make the impossible work with Glide, knowing very well that I already had so many work-arounds in place to keep things somewhat functional, adding a bit of impossible functionality didn't seem like a smart choice at all!
  2. Start from scratch and learn a new tool, do some research, and rebuild Piqup.
  3. Give up. Cry. Get another job!

For option one, I had all odds against me. The third option is still my worst case scenario. All things considered, getting a job is not the worst thing to happen to me. Second option seemed exciting and I love a challenge.

Plus if all things failed, at least I'd learn a new no-code tool.

While I was contemplating which platform to use, I received the Makerpad newsletter. In the particular newsletter someone used Bubble, built a product, made users happy and got funding – decision made!

Right then and there, I opened a new tab, created an account and 6 months to this day, I learned how to use Bubble and build Piqup.

Here are a few things I'd like to share with the no-code community

  1. Solve real problems

If you have an idea to solve a certain problem and you're starting a new project on a no-code platform.

It's more important to:

  • Understand the problem and see if others are affected by it
  • See if people affected by that problem are willing to use your idea, and hopefully pay for it
  • Figure out if the no-code platform you choose can handle the number of potential customers you generate
  1. Be persistent

I've seen a few people that start the no-code journey with the intention of having an impact either by solving a particular problem, or by mastering a no-code tool. Everyone who reached their goal had one thing in common – not giving up.

No-code makes a lot of things easy, but it's still hard. Ask Ben Tossell! I've seen more evolution of NewCo and Makerpad than many products I use combined.

  1. Be kind

No-code empowers so many different people from different backgrounds, skillsets, etc. Be kind to those who are starting with you, be kind to those are yet to start and most importantly – be kind to yourself. We're all on this journey and so we all start somewhere.

  1. Build in public

Putting yourself and the things you work on out there is probably the hardest thing for many (was and still is for me at least). Best thing I've ever done though.

You're doing good things, so put it out there. The world needs to see it. If anything, at least I'd like to see what you're working on. I definitely need the inspiration and moral support!

  1. Have fun

No-code is awesome and should be fun. So just have fun! Explore, try different tools, develop different ideas - learn, learn, learn.

If you want to follow my journey building a better experience for local shoppers and sellers, and see me fail spectacularly (but constantly learn), or just want to say hi, you can reach me on Twitter!

Also: Even if you don't end up using Piqup, please support local sellers near you!

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