Do you really need developers to build applications?

Q&A: Quick Base promises to let companies build applications without writing code. CEO Rick Willett explains more.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

Quick Base says its application-building platform can help companies to create the business tools they need without writing a line of code, helping them to speed up application development and delivery and cut IT costs.

ZDNet spoke to Quick Base CEO Rick Willett about the future of no-code software development.

Where does the company come from?

It was started by a couple of kids out of MIT in 1999. They had this amazing vision of building a platform for rapid application development on what we know today as the cloud. A subscription service on a per use basis. You can imagine how visionary that was.


Quick Base CEO Rick Willett: 'The ability to automate and improve processes really empowers the people closes to the work.'

Photo: Quick Base

It was acquired by Intuit and it grew at a 35 per cent clip for 10 or 15 years. Intuit was hyper-focused on SMB, and their view of SMB is really home office, small clients.

Almost by accident, far from being aimed at small business, Quick Base's business is nearly 73 percent enterprise. Large companies - we have half the Fortune 100. So, it really made sense for Intuit to divest the business and I was part of the team that bought Quick Base in April of 2016. I'm an operating partner of the backers, investment bankers Welsh Carson.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF)

We have done a lot to re-position the business. We have almost doubled - if not tripled - the re-investment rate back into the company and the product. We believe this will be a one or two-billion-dollar company in the near future.

On what do you base that idea?

I think that we've got a running head start. We've got nearly 6,000 clients that are using us on their digital transformation journey. We are, effectively, the most Agile of development platforms.

We eliminate the need for a developer - a coder - and we allow people closer to the work to solve hundreds, if not thousands, of the problems of digitising manual work processes. Or unstructured workflows with spreadsheets around them to very complicated apps.

We have clients using us as their CRM. We have some using is with so many processes it's their ERP. It's a very, very powerful platform that eliminates the need for coding to build and solve fairly simple or very complicate automation scenarios.

So is it a code generation program or more than that?

It's not a code generation program. The entire infrastructure needed for an application comes with the product. We have the database. We have all of the workflows. We have all of the integrations and all of the other applications for those database. That is all pre-built into the product.

So someone doesn't need to publish some code someplace and then run that code. There is no code involved at all.

For very complicated integrations and some complicated workflows there is the ability to write some code to enhance that app. But the vast majority - the 95 percent plus - of our apps are done by folks who have no coding experience whatsoever.

Now we've got use cases across every function. We have just as many finance applications as we do HR applications and as we have sales enablement applications.

The ability to automate and improve processes really empowers the people closes to the work.

For example, we have three to four hundred public companies using Quick Base today. And the average Quick Base client grew revenue 28 percent faster than the S&P 500 and their stock price appreciated almost 35 percent faster last year.

However, if they had more than 10 percent of their employees as Quick Base users, their revenue growth rates were almost 2x faster and their stock performance almost 40 to 50 percent faster.

SEE: How to build a successful career as a DevOps engineer (free PDF)

Clearly there is causation here, but I really think we are seeing faster growing, more profitable, higher stock price appreciation companies where the culture is embracing empowering automation and empowering continuous improvement with the people closest to the work.

That is what a no-code platform really allows. It allows people closest to the work to be able to continuously improve their process, to improve their workflow and improve their ratio of satisfied customers.

What is it in the software that is making this improvement possible?

I think it's that the software enables people that really understand their process to continuously modify the software to meet the different processes and different needs. Almost 60 to 70 percent of our apps are enhanced on a monthly basis. They are adding something to that app every month.

Now that's formidable. If you did that in a traditional application, or even in a low-code application where you go to someone to change a screen, change a form, change a process, change a look-and-feel for a user on a monthly basis it would be very expensive and very none-Agile. It would also be very slow.

So how is it working without code? Presumably it's an easy to use system?

Yes. If you can use Excel then you can use the Quick Base app. There is some training involved. The success of our first time builders is greatly enhanced with four or five hours of training. So there is some training needed but a lot of it is how to think in the mindset of building relational databases and the linking of tables.

So there is some database architecture, some process mapping that not everybody has intuitively.

People will need some training on some of the process mapping skills and some of the structure and relational tables to build a more complicated app. We're trying to have more training embedded in the product but that's a developing opportunity for us.

So is it a low-code app or not?

It's not at all low-code. Low-code looks to me like a completely different market. Low-code for me is kind of a 4GL - the ability for programmers to build stuff way-faster. And that's a good market among professional developers.

Ours is completely different. We give the developers the entire infrastructure they need to build more than a platform-as-a-service or software-as-a-service. We give them the infrastructure-as-a-service. We give them the database layer. We give them the application layer. We give them the tools for some of the no-coding ability to build fairly complex apps on the run.

And there are edges of our platform where code can be used - particularly for integration. We are constantly adding that low-code capability to our platform.

So every week we are trying to enable three key things for our platform. One is that there has been no investment to manage hundreds of apps before. So we are giving them new administrator tools to manage an eco-system of hundreds of apps. And that's together with some of the security fundamentals that will be needed.

That's why we are wildly endorsed by CIOs as the solution to shadow IT.

Number two priority in the road map is increased simplicity so that we reduce the amount of training needed. For that first app - when from four to 10 hours of training might be needed - we are able to bring that figure down. That means that people can be more successful on their own.

The third thing we are doing is increasing the complexity of the apps you can build with Quick Base. That means more complicated integrations, more complicated many-to-many relationships, more complicate workflows, more complicated automation.

All of that is the third area we are investing in and we have tripled the investment we are making in the product there.

You're a US company so what about spreading out internationally?

I think the plan for us is to keep growing until we are in the tens of billions [of revenue] so I think we've got a lot of runway in the United States.

I have steered my own companies to go internationally but there are a couple of things I would like to see happen before we do. One is the cost effectiveness of brand building and leading platform deals.

Today we typically deal with a single use-case pain point. And then we are dealing with wild fires as they spread out across the business. That model is extremely low cost, but it just takes time.

Now we are able to go in and talk directly to a CIO and tell them that this is the platform to reduce their backlog. To help them eliminate shadow-IT and improve security.

Are there any other areas that I haven't covered?

I think there are some interesting areas around the basis of work. That's a broader, macro-trend.

I fundamentally believe that the workplace is going to change quite a bit as we have more people that grew up with computers in the workforce. When I look at the Millennials today they simply don't tolerate the inability to customise things and to personalise their software.

Additionally, they are so much more computer adept than the generation before them. I fundamentally believe that the lions share of digital transformation, or automation, of application development software are going to be done by folks who don't have a coding degree but who, fundamentally, are very adept at the continuous personalisation and customisation of the software experience every day.

I think that is what's going to drive a good chunk of software development in the future.

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