Softr: Building blocks
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The burgeoning no-code/low-code movement is showing little sign of slowing down, with companies across the industrial spectrum looking for ways to increase productivity by allowing anyone to create software through visual dashboards versus traditional code-based programming.
One company that’s looking to capitalize on this trend is Softr, a no-code web-app building platform that launched a year ago, and which has gone on to attract more than 35,000 business and creator customers. The German company today announced that it has raised $13.5 million in a series A round of funding, as it sets out building what it calls “the world’s largest ecosystem for building no-code applications.”
Unlike popular template-based web building platforms such as Wix or Squarespace, which are more geared toward static websites, Softr is all about enabling feature-rich, interactive, web apps replete with CRUD (create, read, update, delete) operations and access controls around authentication, roles and permissions in business and consumer applications.
Using Softr, anyone can transform their business data and manual workflows into custom apps, spanning marketplaces, online communities, internal tools, client portals, directories, and more. But to do so, they must be active users of Airtable, the popular business collaboration tool that sits somewhere between a spreadsheet and a database.
Above: Softr can be used to build marketplaces for anything
In truth, there are already countless similar-sounding tools out there already, from the heavily VC-backed Webflow through to newer entrants such as Stacker, Retool, Appian, Google’s AppSheet, Amazon’s Honeycode … the list goes on.
So what is Softr’s core raison d’être, in a field seemingly overflowing with options?
“Softr introduces a fundamentally different approach to building custom apps,” Softr CEO Mariam Hakobyan told VentureBeat. “Its unique approach is the Lego-like building experience and out-of-the-box business logic — instead of creating the apps pixel by pixel, it lets you create it like Lego.”
Indeed, Softr constitutes building blocks, with each block representing a “logical piece” of the application. This includes frontend functionalities, business logic, and backend tools including authentication, payments, charts, lists, calendars, and more. The Kanban block, as you might expect, allows users to display Airtable data in a Kanban board layout.
Above: Softr: A Kanban block
With this approach, Hakobyan said that Softr has cracked “the golden middle,” making the web app development process easy without compromising on functionality.
“Any business user can build customer portals, internal tools and dashboards within 30 mins, with zero learning curve, powered by their data,” she said. “This approach also makes all the applications created with Softr automatically responsive and work great on mobile and tablet, which is a hassle in every other no-code platform and has to be built from scratch.”
But what if a company doesn’t use Airtable? Well, for now that would be a hurdle, but Softr is planning to become a “data source agnostic” platform, with support for additional sources such as Google Sheets, relational databases, Rest APIs, and more.
Show me the money
Founded out of Berlin in 2019, Softr had previously raised a small $2.2 million seed round of funding, and for its series A round the company has ushered in a slew of institutional and angel investors, including lead backer FirstMark Capital, AtlanticLabs, and Wunderlist cofounder Christian Reber. The company said that in addition to expanding its data source support, it also plans to extend Softr beyond its own platform by creating a template marketplace that enables anyone to create apps in the form of a template and sell them. Additionally, Softr also plans to launch a component marketplace for anyone to find and re-use third-party components built by the community.
On the surface, Softr and its ilk might seem best suited for smaller businesses with fewer resources, but the truth of the matter is that a broader engineering shortage means that even larger businesses have to use their talent strategically, which means enabling non-technical employees — from marketing through to operations — to create their own applications.
“We are facing a shortage of engineering talent, tech is moving faster than education and skills, and businesses need to digitize their operations and processes to be in par with the competition, especially during COVID-19 times,” Hakobyan said. “Engineers’ precious time goes into building the core product of the company, and business teams like sales, marketing, operations, customer success are left behind, and have no way to build and use the tools they need to get their work done internally or externally.”
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