In May 2023, I got on a phone call with someone I met on Twitter to talk about no-code startups. Since its founding in 2021, 86 no-code businesses were sold on Acquire.com. Over half of those businesses sold within the first five months of 2023.
Though many of these businesses were little more than basic Bubble pages with Stripe integrations and a little SEO, they sold for a couple of thousand dollars each. In extreme cases, people built these no-code apps in days and flipped them for pretty substantial exits.
I wanted to know more.
No-code is a movement towards building apps and websites without coding expertise. Instead, no-code tools and plugins manage the complexities of the code for them. You then only need to worry about how the platform looks and how its parts connect.
Though it has recently become overshadowed slightly by AI, no-code is still the talk of the startup sphere today. Type “no code” into the Twitter search bar and you’ll find hundreds of people building no-code products. Product Hunt even includes a special category for no-code products. And if you browse our startup acquisition marketplace, you’ll notice a growing list of no-code startups for sale.
Market research firm, Gartner, believes that by 2025, 70 percent of new applications developed by organizations will use low-code or no-code technologies.
There seems to be something particularly magical about no-code in the mergers and acquisitions sphere. I started asking to connect with people who build, buy, and sell no-code startups to discover exactly what makes it so appealing.
Why Build and Sell a No-Code Business?
Founders who’ve built and sold no-code businesses say they can exit earlier on no-code than most other tech stacks. Just as I’d seen on Acquire.com, people often sold no-code businesses when they were little more than ideas. Sellers didn’t need to generate huge revenues or profits to attract sales because they’d already created fully-functional platforms.
“No-code empowers ideas people,” says Harold Dijkstra, one of the instructors at a no-code training course called 100 Days of No Code. “I have the ideas. I have the domains. Now it’s easy to build these products and transfer them.”
I was introduced to Harold by a helpful Belgian founder named Katt who runs a site called No-Code Exits. Harold was the man responsible for turning her on to no-code. Together, they’d created a successful auction for no-code projects that were little more than ideas.
Harold is a cheerful and lightly bearded man in his late thirties (or early forties) with a slight accent. Before becoming a no-code guru, he’d founded multiple businesses, most recently, one that collects donations for Dutch amateur sports associations (the most common way the Dutch participate in sports). For each project, he worked with a technical cofounder. He liked his cofounder but found the process frustrating because every new idea needed his signoff.
“I always had to consult my technical cofounder whenever I had a new idea,” he says. “I was very dependent on him.”
One day, Harold stumbled across a no-code course called 100 Days of No Code, run by young British entrepreneur (and Charlie Ward’s Ramen Club affiliate), Max Haining. Max invented the 100 Days of No Code Challenge in 2020 while locked down in London during Covid. I talked with Max briefly too.
“I needed something to learn in my spare time,” says Max. “So I announced to my fifty-person Twitter following that I’d learn no-code for a hundred days and asked if anyone wanted to join. Around day fifty of my journey, I made it into a community, and from there, an educational business.”
Harold joined one of Max’s first student cohorts to see what no-code was all about. He loved the course so much that he chose to help run the program. Over the next year, Max and Harold taught hundreds of students, including Katt, to build fully operational web tools with no-code (and Max’s Twitter following grew from 50 to just south of 10,000).
Katt sold the business she’d created in class, a chatbot called No Code Guru, on Acquire.com (then MicroAcquire) for a small sum. The sale inspired Harold, Katt, and a third alumni named Miguel to create a “no-code garage sale”. They’d both been sitting on a growing pile of completed yet stalled no-code projects and realized they could sell these validated ideas for a second life elsewhere.
Harold and Katt talked to former 100 Days of No Code students and started their first auction with 26 no-code startups and a maximum price cap of $500. Half of them sold. The interest in these often half-baked startup ideas was incredible. Some of the students had almost paid off the course’s $700 price tag simply by selling the project they’d built in the class. Harold and Katt had more or less created a successful marketplace of ideas.
Google Trends data shows a big increase in interest for no-code in 2020.
I wanted more information from the seller side of no-code M&A. Fortunately, our founder, Andrew Gazdecki, had already interviewed exactly the type of founder I was looking for in his Startup Acquisition Stories Podcast.
I watched a video from November of 2022 when Andrew interviewed JJ Englert, a highly experienced Bubble (a famous no-code tool) developer. Burned out on creating VC-backed startups, JJ subsequently created an application entirely on Bubble called Jump Studios. He brought his project to the open market years later and sold it in under four months.
In his interview, JJ claims the greatest part about selling a no-code application was that all he had to do was sell buyers on the business. He didn’t need to convince them that his tech stack was manageable or that it wouldn’t drain company resources.
“I could tell people it uses all the latest APIs, it has an AWS server, and it’s easy to manage,” he said. “After a few hours of teaching you, you could run it yourself. You can respond to customer complaints or bugs instead of hiring an expensive engineer.”
It wasn’t just the verbal handover that was easy. The physical handover for Jump Studios took very little time as well.
“We handed over access to the Bubble app and three to four different APIs,” said JJ. “After the transfer, we ran an hour-long training session, and then I cleaned up everything a bit. In fact, the hardest thing I had to do was create a P&L sheet.”
The Benefits of Buying a No-Code Startup
No-code apps have always been easy to build and easy to transfer. But it’s taken buyers a little longer to see no-code as an opportunity. Buyers once skeptical of no-code’s capability and IP limits have only recently changed their minds.
“People used to say, ‘This is a no-code thing so I’m not going to buy it,’” says Nathan Wadhwani, Acquire.com’s senior product manager. He frequently speaks with customers who sold businesses to talk about their experience. Nathan is convinced something has changed recently in peoples’ perceptions of no-code.
“There was a perception that no-code platforms didn’t have any intellectual property,” he continues. “Now, it’s definitely changed. People recognize they are buying a validated idea.”
The other reason buyers want no-code platforms?
No-code acquisitions benefit first-time and small-time buyers who lack coding expertise but want to start SaaS businesses.
“I bought a raw PHP-based website in November or December of 2022,” says Shlomo Freund, a serial entrepreneur who recently purchased a no-code SaaS called Nocode Hub. It’s a WebFlow-based website linking customers to no-code products like a remake of Civilization Six entirely on WebFlow or a financial management application constructed entirely on Bubble.
Before purchasing Nocode Hub, Shlomo had bought another SaaS business but couldn’t get the support he needed to run the business properly.
“When I had problems, I’d go to a PHP dev community but they wouldn’t know my specific problems. In fact, even after hours of calls I still work with the seller of that project to this day because only he understands it.”
When buying Nocode Hub, Shlomo noticed immediately that everything was easier.
“With this site, I only needed one session with our seller for one hour to learn how to use it,” he says. “It was easy to start and maintain, and there are no-code communities I can go to that know a lot about how these things work.”
At the time of our chat, Shlomo did little of the day-to-day work on this project. He’d hired a virtual assistant who upskilled himself on the process in a matter of weeks.
“When I bought it, I knew nothing about the applications it was using,” he says. “I told my VA, ‘Let’s dive in and learn this together.’ The VA had some experience with Airtable, but since January, he’s been teaching himself with YouTube tutorials.”
What the No-Code Platforms Think About All This
I’d talked with Acquire, I’d talked with a seller, and I’d talked with a buyer. Now I wanted to know what trends some of the no-code companies had noticed. There are a handful of major players like Notion, Airtable, Webflow, and Bubble.
Of the no-code apps out there, Bubble is perhaps the most comprehensive. The people at Bubble have been working since 2012 to create a one-stop shop for anyone with a product idea and knowledge of site building to create a working application in days.
I got on the phone with Theo Goldberg, Senior Ecosystem Associate at Bubble. He agrees there is a rare synergy forming between online M&A marketplaces like Acquire and applications like Bubble.
“For years, exits were something very elite and obscure for most people but now we see people in our ecosystem making these small wins frequently,” he says. “On Bubble, you can build a business quickly to a run rate of a couple thousand dollars in ARR and then exit.”
He also believes no-code makes the most sense when validating an early-stage idea.
“In the early stages, you shouldn’t build your code,” he says. “You’re better off building quickly with a tech stack that’s easy to hire for and maintain like with Bubble. It makes the value proposition so much stronger when you sell.”
Many no-code detractors say using platforms like Bubble introduce a new type of risk to building tools. Bubble charges a premium for its services if you’re running a paid website. It could theoretically raise prices at any time, completely shutting down profitable businesses on its platform.
Theo says that while he understands these concerns, he believes the benefits of building in the no-code ecosystem far outweigh potential platform costs.
“We know it sometimes makes sense, at a certain point for some apps, to add code into the picture, but Bubble should be the basis,” he says. “We want it to be the next evolution of programming. Also if you want to edit your code through normal languages, changing developers is difficult and expensive. Moving between Bubble devs is much faster, and you can oversee their work even as a non-technical founder.”
What appears to have happened between no-code and online M&A is a perfectly timed interplay between two separate trends.
No-code tools allow ideas people to create and validate their ideas quickly on the open market. The simple tech stacks and assets of no-code startups make them extremely desirable in M&A, often in (but not limited to) the mid to lower market which has exploded due to new M&A marketplaces like Acquire.com.
Once on the market, they are frequently bought by non-technical founders who know how to build and market products but are easily daunted by complicated coding languages. It’s a trend that is causing both industries to flourish.
No-code and online M&A may just democratize how we create startups and online business ideas in general. At Acquire.com, we’re excited about the prospect and hope this helps other founders get excited about it too.