No Code at Plato
PlatoHQ is an amazing product. They help engineers grow by giving them access to external mentors. As a by product they also regularly organize Elevate which is a cool conference for engineering leaders to exchange with their peers.
I have no affiliations with PlatoHQ other than being friend with Jean Baptiste Cogier who cofounded it. When I told him that I was starting geeking out on No Code tools he got excited and I quickly realized that he was pretty passionate about them. Next thing you know, we met up to see how they use them and honestly I was blown away.
Plato is what I believe is today the typical Retool customer. Heavily used by the engineering team to create internal tools: They rely on existing APIs or create new ones upon their needs. They managed a fairly exhaustive and complex list of queries in their query library (direct DB queries, Gsheet, APIs,...) Some of their pages are pure dashboards and a lot of them are pure admin tools.
Few things I found really interesting there:
- Retool was really flaky when they started using it. Which lead to two things. It made JB realized how much Retool had become business critical for their operations and that it was now a point of failure (Pretty amazing for Retool as a business). And it pushed the team to host Retool themself in order to control the releases. The extra overhead is still worth it compared to the issue generated by downtimes, but it got me wondering if they could easily go back to a hosted version.
- Started a few months ago (for Plato): Retool got version controlled. They have 2 environments - Staging and Prod, but also people can create branches. Which solves the pain point Fraser was mentioning.
Jean Baptiste spends his entire day in it and he was really really excited about the tool. To quote him:
Coda is probably not recognized to their true value yet.
From what I saw, Coda is Notion meets airtable. It was again the fun crazy startup story where they reached the limit of how many entries could go into their Coda table, and they had to spend a bunch of time with their support and engineering teams to figure out solutions. Seems like they use it so much that the Coda team totally loves them. An example of things they did was their public roadmap
Coda has a ton of templates on their website. JB been such a fan, he showed me how he basically rebuilt Mint.com using Plaid to pull his bank info details.
Another pet project of JB: Sharing all the books they love to read. As a non developper, he wanted to build a responsive and nice looking webapp for it. So he chose Bubble. But it doesn't seem that they used it much for other things.
The use case with Buildr was to empower the marketing team to build a page fairly independantly from the eng team. Ultimately the engineers were pretty involved: From setting up the domain, editing the stylesheet, adding the dynamic components. It seems that the eng involvment exceeded a bit the expecations. Noting that they had tried Webflow but it required to be more engineering minded apparently.
Ownership and Maintenance
Plato definetly derives a ton of value from these tools but it raises some questions: Ownership: How do you formalize ownership of the tools? It's not like a code base were repos can have OWNERS file. Maintenance and documentation: Who fix a broken tool when the original builder left? At Plato, engineers get pulled sometimes to fix broken critical flows and are weirded out about it.
It works to create MVP but it doesn't scale for some tools. When do you get away from it? If your thing needs to scale it probably won't work. So when do you know when to start going away from it.
Overall their team has built a lot of internal knowledge around No/Lo code tools and they are pretty geeky and have a strong culture of process optimizaiton. So when I asked JB if he'd use a team of Professional Services to help with these tools, the answer was: Unlikely. They would probably rely on their teammates.
However, I don't know if they are super representative and wonder if we are not going to see appear in companies a new personae of "No code engineers", specializing in process automation.
The next tools to look at: Jasper to help with SEO content generation.