Apr
13
2021
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Zoho launches new low code workflow automation product

Workflow automation has been one of the key trends this year so far, and Zoho, a company known for its suite of affordable business tools has joined the parade with a new low code workflow product called Qntrl (pronounced control).

Zoho’s Rodrigo Vaca, who is in charge of Qntrl’s marketing says that most of the solutions we’ve been seeing are built for larger enterprise customers. Zoho is aiming for the mid-market with a product that requires less technical expertise than traditional business process management tools.

“We enable customers to design their workflows visually without the need for any particular kind of prior knowledge of business process management notation or any kind of that esoteric modeling or discipline,” Vaca told me.

While Vaca says, Qntrl could require some technical help to connect a workflow to more complex backend systems like CRM or ERP, it allows a less technical end user to drag and drop the components and then get help to finish the rest.

“We certainly expect that when you need to connect to NetSuite or SAP you’re going to need a developer. If nothing else, the IT guys are going to ask questions, and they will need to provide access,” Vaca said.

He believes this product is putting this kind of tooling in reach of companies that may have been left out of workflow automation for the most part, or which have been using spreadsheets or other tools to create crude workflows. With Qntrl, you drag and drop components, and then select each component and configure what happens before, during and after each step.

What’s more, Qntrl provides a central place for processing and understanding what’s happening within each workflow at any given time, and who is responsible for completing it.

We’ve seen bigger companies like Microsoft, SAP, ServiceNow and others offering this type of functionality over the last year as low code workflow automation has taken center stage in business.

This has become a more pronounced need during the pandemic when so many workers could not be in the office. It made moving work in a more automated workflow more imperative, and we have seen companies moving to add more of this kind of functionality as a result.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that Zoho is attempting to remove some the complexity from this kind of tool.

“It handles the security pieces to make sure the right people have access to the data and processes used in the workflows in the background, so regular users can drag and drop to build their flows and processes without having to worry about that stuff,” Leary told me.

Qntrl is available starting today starting at just $7 per user month.

Apr
07
2021
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Berlin’s Bryter raises $66M to take its no-code tools for enterprises to the US

No-code startups continue to see a lot of traction among enterprises, where employees — strictly speaking, non-technical, but still using software every day — are getting hands-on and building apps to take on some of the more repetitive aspects of their jobs, the so-called “citizen coders” of the working world.

And in one of the latest developments, Bryter — an AI-based no-code startup that has built a platforms used by some 100 global enterprises to date across some 2,000 business applications and workflows — is announcing a new round of funding to double down on that opportunity. The Berlin-based company has closed a Series B of $66 million, money that it will be investing into its platform and expanding in the U.S. out of a New York office it opened last year. The funding comes on the heels of seeing a lot of demand for its tools, CEO and co-founder Michael Grupp said in an interview.

“It was a great year for low-code and no-code platforms,” said Grupp, who co-founded the company with Micha-Manuel Bues and Michael Hübl. “What everyone has realized is that most people don’t actually care about the tech. They only care about the use cases. They want to get things done.” Customers using the service include the likes of McDonald’s, Telefónica, PwC, KPMG and Deloitte in Europe, as well as banks, healthcare and industrial enterprises.

Tiger Global is leading this round, with previous backers Accel, Dawn Capital, Notion Capital and Cavalry Ventures also participating, along with a number of individual backers (they include Amit Agarwal, CPO of Datadog; Lars Björk, former CEO of Qlik; Ulf Zetterberg, founder and CEO of Seal Software; and former ServiceNow global SVP James Fitzgerald). The valuation is not being disclosed; Bryter has raised around $90 million to date.

Accel and Dawn co-led Bryter’s Series A of $16 million less than a year ago, in June 2020, a rapid funding pace that underscores both interest in the no-code/low-code space — Bryter’s enterprise customer base has doubled from 50 since then — and the fact that startups in it are striking while the iron is hot.

Bryter’s not the only one: Airtable, Genesis, Rows, Creatio and Ushur are among the many startups building “hands-on tech creation for non-techie people” that have raised money in the last several months.

Automation has been the bigger trend that has propelled a lot of this activity. Knowledge workers spend most of their time these days in apps — a state of affairs that pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic, but has definitely been furthered throughout it. While some of that work still requires manual involvement and evaluation from those workers, software has automated large swathes of those jobs.

RPA — robotic process automation, where companies like UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism have taken a big lead — has accounted for a significant chunk of that activity, especially when it comes to reading forms and lots of data entry. But there remains a lot of other transactions and activities within specific apps where RPA is typically not used (not yet at least!). And this is where non-tech workers are finding that no-code tools like Bryter, which use artificial intelligence to deliver more personalised, yet scalable, automation, can play a very useful role.

“We sit on top of RPA in many cases,” said Grupp.

The company says that business functions where its platform has been implemented include compliance, legal, tax, privacy and security, procurement, administration and HR, and the kinds of features that are being built include virtual assistants, chatbots, interactive self-service tools and more.

These don’t replace people as such, but cut down the time they need to spend in specific tasks to process and handle information within them, and could in theory also be used to build tools for customers to interact with services more easily, cutting down on the amount of time that agents are getting details and handling engagements.

That scalability and the rapid customer up-take from a pool of users that extends beyond tech early adopters are part of what attracted the funding.

“Bryter has all the characteristics of a top-tier software company: high quality product that solves a real customer pain point, a large market opportunity and a world-class founding team,” said John Curtius, a partner at Tiger Global, in a statement. “The feedback from Bryter’s customers was resoundingly positive in our research, and we are excited to see the company reach new heights over the coming years.”

“Bryter has seen explosive growth over the last year, signing landmark customers across a large number of sectors and use cases. This does not come as a surprise. In the pandemic-affected world, digitalisation is no longer a nice to have, it is an imperative,” added Evgenia Plotnikova, a partner at Dawn Capital.

Mar
15
2021
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Genesis raises $45M to expand its fintech-focussed low-code platform to more verticals

Low-code and no-code tools have been a huge hit with enterprises keen to give their operations more of a tech boost, but often lack the resources to handle more complex integrations. Today, one of the startups that has been building low-code finance tools is announcing funding to tap into that trend and expand its business.

Genesis — which has to date primarily worked with financial services companies, giving non-technical employees the tools to create ways to monitor and manage real-time risk, high-frequency trades and other activities — has picked up $45 million. It plans to use the funding to bring the tools it has already built to a wider set of verticals that have some of the same needs to manage risk, compliance and other factors as finance — healthcare and manufacturing are two examples — as well as to continue building more into the stack. 

This Series B includes a mix of financial investors along with strategic backers that speak to who already integrates with Genesis’ tools on their own platforms.

Led by Accel, it also includes participation from new backers GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Salesforce Ventures, in addition to existing investors Citi, Illuminate Financial and Tribeca Venture Partners, who also invested in this round. To give you an idea of who it works with, Citi, ING, London Clearing House and XP Investments are some of Genesis’ customers.

Originally conceived in 2012 in Brazil by a pair of British co-founders — Stephen Murphy (CEO) and James Harrison (CTO), who cut their teeth in the world of investment banking — Genesis had raised less than $5 million before this round, mostly bootstrapping its business and leaning on Murphy and Harrison’s existing relationships in the world of finance to grow its customer base.

Today, Murphy lives in and leads the business from Miami — where he moved from New York just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to gain steam last year — while James Harrison (CTO) leads part of the team based out of the U.K.

As you might imagine with so little funding before now for a company going on nine years old, Genesis was doing fine financially before this Series B, so the plan is to use the funding specifically to grow faster than it could have on its own steam. The startup is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

“We were not really fixated on valuation,” said Murphy in an interview, who said the funding came about after a number of VCs had approached the startup. “The most important thing is the future opportunity and where we could take the company with additional funding… this will help us hyper scale up.” He did note that the term sheets contained “some amazing numbers and multiples,” given the current interest in no-code and low-code technology.

Indeed, the vogue for no-code and low-code tech — other well-funded names in the crowded space include startups like Zapier, Airtable, Rows, Gyana, Bryter, Ushur, Creatio and EasySend, as well as significant launches from Google and Microsoft and other bigger players — is coming out of two trends colliding.

On one side, we’ve well and truly entered an era in enterprise technology — with the same trend playing out in consumer tech, too — where smart developers are taking sophisticated and complex services and putting “wrappers” around them by way of APIs and simpler (low- or no-code) interfaces, so that those sophisticated tools can in turn be integrated and implemented in more places. This saves needing to build or integrate that complexity from scratch and expands access to the processes within those wrappers.

On the other side, the thirst for tech knowledge has become well and truly mainstream and as a result is getting far more democratized. Working in a variety of applications, using different digital tools and devices and seeing the fruits of tech pay off are all second nature to today’s working world — whether or not you are a technologist. So it’s no surprise to see more proactive, non-technical people looking for more ways to get their hands on these tools themselves.

“You now have a whole citizen developer world, for example business analysts who understand the solution you want but might not know how to get there,” Murphy said. “We play to seasoned developers first but the investment will help us put more low-code and no-code tools into place to widen the tools out to them.”

Starting out in finance made sense not just because that was where the two founders had previously worked, but also because of the history of how different software tools were already being used. Specifically, he noted that the ubiquity of microservices — which themselves are collections of services as apps — laid the groundwork for more low-code. “We saw that if we could build a low-code entry point to microservices, that would be powerful.”

On top of that, investment banks, he said, have a history of wanting to build things themselves to tailor to their specific needs. “Buying off the shelf means you are at the mercy of the vendor,” he said. These factors made financial services companies very receptive to what Genesis was offering.

While a lot of the no/low-code players are coming at the concept with specific verticals in mind — no surprise, since different verticals have very specific use cases and needs — what’s interesting with Genesis is how the company is leveraging what it already knows about finance, and then looking at other industries that have similar demands, structures and rules.

Murphy said that Genesis will stay “very focused on financial markets for 2021” but that it’s identified a number of other verticals similar to it, and is actually already seeing some inbound interest from them.

“A number of people have already approached us from the world of healthcare,” he said, pointing out that these organizations, like financial services, face challenges around how to audit data and regulations around performing transactions. Manufacturing, meanwhile, has some parallels around the area of complex event processing similar to equity algorithmic trading, he said. (In short, this relates to how external events might trigger more transactions, not unlike how external factors affect manufacturing operations.)

The trend is one that analysts forecast will only grow in the coming years: Gartner, for example, says that by 2024, low-code platforms will account for no less than 65% of all app development activity.

“Low-code promises business users the autonomy to make their own technology usage and purchase decisions while enabling them to actually build their own applications without having to rely on IT,” said Andrei Brasoveanu, a partner at Accel, said in a statement. “By bringing one of the most transformative innovations in software development to financial services, Steve and the Genesis team are taking on a huge market of legacy vendors — and winning too — while delivering on the promise of low-code. The confidence they’ve gained from serving such large institutions is proof that there’s a real and urgent need for a purpose-built low-code solution for financial markets. We’re excited to partner with Genesis and support them in delivering this across the world.” Brasoveanu is joining the startup’s board with this round.

Feb
22
2021
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Rows, formerly dashdash, raises $16M to build and populate web apps using only spreadsheet skills

Spreadsheet software — led by products like Microsoft’s Excel, Google’s Sheets and Apple’s Numbers — continues to be one of the most-used categories of business apps, with Excel alone clocking up more than a billion users just on its Android version. Now, a startup called Rows that’s built on that ubiquity, with a low-code platform that lets people populate and analyze web apps using just spreadsheet interfaces, is announcing funding and launching a freemium open beta of its expanded service.

The Berlin-based startup — which rebranded from dashdash at the end of last year — closed a Series B round of $16 million, money that it is using to continue investing in its platform as well as in sales and marketing. The platform’s move into an open beta comes with some 50 new integrations with other platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram and more, as well as 200 new features (using known spreadsheet shortcuts) to use in them.

The round was led by Lakestar, with past investors Accel (which led its $8 million Series A in 2018) and Cherry Ventures also participating. Christian Reber has also invested in this round. Reber knows a thing or two about software disrupting legacy productivity software — he is the co-founder and CEO of presentation software startup Pitch and the former CEO and founder of Microsoft-acquired Wunderlist — and notably he is joining Rows’ Advisory Board along with the investment.

A little detail about this Series B: CEO Humberto Ayres Pereira, who is based out of Porto, Portugal, where some of the staff is also based, tells us that this round actually was quietly closed over a year ago, in January 2020 — just ahead of the world shutting down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The startup chose to announce that round today to coincide with adding more features to its product and moving it into an open beta, he said.

That open beta is free in its most basic form — the free tier is limited to 10 users or less and a minimal amount of integration usage. Paid tiers, which cover more team members and up to 100,000 integration tasks (which are measured by how many times a spreadsheet queries another service), start at $59 per month.

One strong sign of interest in this latest iteration of the software is the lasting popularity of spreadsheets. Another is Rows’ traction to date: in invite-only mode, it picked up 10,000 users off its waitlist, and hundreds of companies, as customers. Currently most of those are free, Ayres Pereira said.

“Our goal is to have 1,000 paying companies as customers in the 12 months,” he said. That process has only just started, he added, with paying numbers in the modest “dozens” for now. He emphasized though that the company is very cash efficient and has, even without raising more funding, two years of runway on the money it has in the bank now.

The growing appeal of low-code

No-code and low-code software, which let people create and work with apps and other digital content without delving deep into the lines of code that underpin them, have continued to pick up traction in the market in the last several years.

The reason for this is straightforward: non-technical employees may not code, but they are getting increasingly adept at understanding how services function and what can be achieved within an app.

No-code and low-code platforms let them get more hands-on when it comes to customizing and creating the services that they need to use everyday to get their work done, without the time and effort it might take to get an engineer involved.

“People want to create their own tools,” said Ayres Pereira. “They want to understand and test and iterate.” He said that the majority of Rows’ users so far are based out of North America, and typical use cases include marketing and sales teams, as well as companies using Rows spreadsheets as a dynamic interface to manage logistics and other operations.

Stephen Nundy, the partner at Lakestar who led its investment, describes the army of users taking up no-code tools as “citizen developers.”

Rows is precisely the kind of platform that plays into the low-code trend. For people who are already au fait with the kinds of tools that you find in spreadsheets — and something like Excel has hundreds of functions in it — it presents a way of leaning on those familiar functions to trigger integrations with other apps, and to subsequently use a spreadsheet created in Rows to both analyse data from other apps, as well as update them.

Image: Rows

You might ask, why is it more useful, for example, to look at content from Twitter in Rows rather than Twitter itself? A Rows document might let a person search for a set of Tweets using a certain chain of keywords, and then organise those results based on parameters such as how many “likes” those Tweets received.

Or users responding to a call to action for a promotion on Instagram might then be cross-referenced with a company’s existing database of customers, to analyze how those respondents overlap or present new leads.

You might also wonder why existing spreadsheet products may not have already build functionality like this.

Interestingly, Microsoft did dabble in building a way of linking up Excel with some rudimentary computing functions, in the form of Visual Basic for Applications. This however reached the dubious distinction of topping developers’ “most dreaded” languages list for two years running, and so as you might imagine it has somewhat died a death.

However, it does point to an opportunity for incumbents to disrupt their disruptors.

Apart from those most obvious, entrenched competitors, there have been a number of other startups building tools that are providing similar no- and low-code approaches.

Gyana is focusing more on data science, Tray.io provides a graphical interface to integrate how apps work together, Zapier and Notion also provide simple interfaces to integrate apps and APIs together and Airtable has its own take on reinventing the spreadsheet interface. For now, Ayres Pereira sees these more as compatriots than competitors.

“Yes, we overlap with services like Zapier and Notion,” he said. “But I’d say we are friends. We’re all raising awareness about people being able to do more and not having to be stuck using old tools. It’s not a zero sum game for us.”

When we covered Rows’s Series A two years ago, the startup had built a platform to let people who are comfortable working with data in spreadsheets use that interface to create and populate content in web apps. It had a lot of extensibility, but mainly geared at people still willing to do the work to create those links.

Two years on, while the spreadsheet has remained the anchor, the platform has grown. Ayres Pereira, who co-founded the company with Torben Schulz (both pictured above), said that there are some 50 new integrations now, including ways to analyse and update content on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, CrunchBase, Salesforce, Slack, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as some 200 new features in the platform itself.

While people can import into Rows data from Google Sheets, he noted that the big daddy of them all, Excel, is not supported right now. The reason, he said, is because the vast majority of users of the product use the desktop version, which does not have APIs.

Meanwhile, Rows also has a number of templates available for people to guide them through simple tasks, such as looking up LinkedIn profiles or emails for a list of people, tracking social media counts and so on.

One of the most common aspects of spreadsheets, however, has yet to be built. The interface is still banked around rows and columns, but with no graphical tools to visualize data in different ways such as pie charts or graphs as you might have in a typical spreadsheet program.

It’s for this reason that Rows has yet to exit beta. The feature is one that is requested a lot, Pereira admitted, describing it as “the final frontier.” When Rows is ready to ship with that functionality, likely by Q3 of this year, it will tick over to general “1.0” release, he added.

“Humberto and Torben have really impressed us with their ambition to disrupt the market with a new spreadsheet paradigm that tackles the significant shortcomings of today’s solutions,” said Nundy at Lakestar. “Data integrations are native, the collaboration experience is first class and the ability to share and publish your work as an application is unique and will create more ‘Citizen developers’ to emerge. This is essential to the growing needs of today’s technology literate workforce. The level of interest they’ve received in their private beta is proof of the desirability of platforms like Rows, and we’re excited to be supporting them through their public beta launch and beyond with this investment.” Nundy is also joining Rows’ board with this round.

Aug
27
2020
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COVID-19 is driving demand for low-code apps

Now that the great Y Combinator rush is behind us, we’re returning to a topic many of you really seem to care about: no-code and low-code apps and their development.

We’ve explored the theme a few times recently, once from a venture-capital perspective, and another time building from a chat with the CEO of Claris, an Apple subsidiary and an early proponent of low-code work.

Today we’re adding notes from a call with Appian CEO Matt Calkins that took place yesterday shortly after the company released its most recent earnings report.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Appian is built on low-code development. Having gone public back in 2017, it is the first low-code IPO we can think of. With its Q2 results reported on August 6, we wanted to dig a bit more into what Calkins is seeing in today’s market so we can better understand what is driving demand for low- and no-code development, specifically, and demand for business apps more generally in 2020.

As you can imagine, COVID-19 and the accelerating digital transformation are going to come up in our notes. But, first, let’s take a look at Appian’s quarter quickly before digging into how its low-code-focused CEO sees the world.

Results, expectations

Appian had a pretty good Q2. The company reported $66.8 million in revenue for the three-month period, ahead of market expectations that it would report around $61 million, though collected analyst estimates varied. The low-code platform also beat on per-share profit, reporting a $0.12 per-share loss after adjustments. Analysts had expected a far worse $0.25 per-share deficit.

The period was better than expected, certainly, but it was not a quarter that showed sharp year-over-year growth. There’s a reason for that: Appian is currently shedding professional services revenue (lower-margin, human-powered stuff) for subscription incomes (higher-margin, software-powered stuff). So, as it exchanges one type of revenue for another with total subscription revenue rising a little over 12% in Q2 2020 compared to the year-ago quarter, and professional services revenue falling around 10%, the company’s growth will be slow but the resulting revenue mix improvement is material.

Most importantly, inside of its larger subscription result for the quarter ($41.4 million) were its cloud subscription revenues, worth $29.6 million for the quarter and up 30% compared to the year-ago period. Summing, the company’s least lucrative revenues are falling as its most lucrative accelerate at the fastest clip of any of its cohorts. That’s what you’d want to see if you are an Appian bull.

Shares in the technology company are up around 45% this year. With that, we can get started.

Jul
28
2020
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YC alum Paragon snags $2.5M seed for low-code app integration platform

Low-code is a hot category these days. It helps companies build workflows or simple applications without coding skills, freeing up valuable engineering resources for more important projects. Paragon, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 cohort, announced a $2.5 million seed round today for its low-code application integration platform.

Investors include Y Combinator, Village Global, Global Founders Capital, Soma Capital and FundersClub.

“Paragon makes it easier for non-technical people to be able to build out integrations using our visual workflow editor. We essentially provide building blocks for things like API requests, interactions with third party APIs and conditional logic. And so users can drag and drop these building blocks to create workflows that describe business logic in their application,” says company co-founder Brandon Foo.

Foo acknowledges there are a lot of low-code workflow tools out there, but many like UIPath, Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere concentrate on robotic process automation (RPA) to automate certain tasks. He says he and co-founder Ishmael Samuel wanted to focus on developers.

“We’re really focused on how can we improve developer efficiency, and how can we bring the benefits of low code to product and engineering teams and make it easier to build products without writing manual code for every single integration, and really be able to streamline the product development process,” Foo told TechCrunch.

The way it works is you can drag and drop one of 1,200 predefined connectors for tools like Stripe, Slack and Google Drive into a workflow template, and build connectors very quickly to trigger some sort of action. The company is built on AWS serverless architecture, so you define the trigger action and subsequent actions, and Paragon handles all of the back-end infrastructure requirements for you.

It’s early days for the company. After launching in private beta in January, the company has 80 customers. It currently has six employees, including Foo, who previously co-founded Polymail, and Samuel, who was previously lead engineer at Uber. They plan to hire four more employees this year.

With both founders people of color, they definitely are looking to build a diverse team around them. “I think it’s already sort of built into our DNA. As a diverse founding team we have perhaps a broader viewpoint and perspective in terms of hiring the kind of people that we seek to work with. Of course, I think there’s always room for improvement, and so we’re always looking for new ways that we can be more inclusive in our hiring recruiting process [as we grow],” he said.

As far as raising during a pandemic, he says it’s been a crazy time, but he believes they are solving a real problem and that they can succeed in spite of the macro economic conditions of the moment.

Jun
24
2020
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Why AWS built a no-code tool

AWS today launched Amazon Honeycode, a no-code environment built around a spreadsheet-like interface that is a bit of a detour for Amazon’s cloud service. Typically, after all, AWS is all about giving developers all of the tools to build their applications — but they then have to put all of the pieces together. Honeycode, on the other hand, is meant to appeal to non-coders who want to build basic line-of-business applications. If you know how to work a spreadsheet and want to turn that into an app, Honeycode is all you need.

To understand AWS’s motivation behind the service, I talked to AWS VP Larry Augustin and Meera Vaidyanathan, a general manager at AWS.

“For us, it was about extending the power of AWS to more and more users across our customers,” explained Augustin. “We consistently hear from customers that there are problems they want to solve, they would love to have their IT teams or other teams — even outsourced help — build applications to solve some of those problems. But there’s just more demand for some kind of custom application than there are available developers to solve it.”

Image Credits: Amazon

In that respect then, the motivation behind Honeycode isn’t all that different from what Microsoft is doing with its PowerApps low-code tool. That, too, after all, opens up the Azure platform to users who aren’t necessarily full-time developers. AWS is taking a slightly different approach here, though, but emphasizing the no-code part of Honeycode.

“Our goal with honey code was to enable the people in the line of business, the business analysts, project managers, program managers who are right there in the midst, to easily create a custom application that can solve some of the problems for them without the need to write any code,” said Augustin. “And that was a key piece. There’s no coding required. And we chose to do that by giving them a spreadsheet-like interface that we felt many people would be familiar with as a good starting point.”

A lot of low-code/no-code tools also allow developers to then “escape the code,” as Augstin called it, but that’s not the intent here and there’s no real mechanism for exporting code from Honeycode and take it elsewhere, for example. “One of the tenets we thought about as we were building Honeycode was, gee, if there are things that people want to do and we would want to answer that by letting them escape the code — we kept coming back and trying to answer the question, ‘Well, okay, how can we enable that without forcing them to escape the code?’ So we really tried to force ourselves into the mindset of wanting to give people a great deal of power without escaping to code,” he noted.

Image Credits: Amazon

There are, however, APIs that would allow experienced developers to pull in data from elsewhere. Augustin and Vaidyanathan expect that companies may do this for their users on tthe platform or that AWS partners may create these integrations, too.

Even with these limitations, though, the team argues that you can build some pretty complex applications.

“We’ve been talking to lots of people internally at Amazon who have been building different apps and even within our team and I can honestly say that we haven’t yet come across something that is impossible,” Vaidyanathan said. “I think the level of complexity really depends on how expert of a builder you are. You can get very complicated with the expressions [in the spreadsheet] that you write to display data in a specific way in the app. And I’ve seen people write — and I’m not making this up — 30-line expressions that are just nested and nested and nested. So I really think that it depends on the skills of the builder and I’ve also noticed that once people start building on Honeycode — myself included — I start with something simple and then I get ambitious and I want to add this layer to it — and I want to do this. That’s really how I’ve seen the journey of builders progress. You start with something that’s maybe just one table and a couple of screens, and very quickly, before you know, it’s a far more robust app that continues to evolve with your needs.”

Another feature that sets Honeycode apart is that a spreadsheet sits at the center of its user interface. In that respect, the service may seem a bit like Airtable, but I don’t think that comparison holds up, given that both then take these spreadsheets into very different directions. I’ve also seen it compared to Retool, which may be a better comparison, but Retool is going after a more advanced developer and doesn’t hide the code. There is a reason, though, why these services were built around them and that is simply that everybody is familiar with how to use them.

“People have been using spreadsheets for decades,” noted Augustin. “They’re very familiar. And you can write some very complicated, deep, very powerful expressions and build some very powerful spreadsheets. You can do the same with Honeycode. We felt people were familiar enough with that metaphor that we could give them that full power along with the ability to turn that into an app.”

The team itself used the service to manage the launch of Honeycode, Vaidyanathan stressed — and to vote on the name for the product (though Vaidyanathan and Augustin wouldn’t say which other names they considered.

“I think we have really, in some ways, a revolutionary product in terms of bringing the power of AWS and putting it in the hands of people who are not coders,” said Augustin.

Jun
24
2020
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AWS launches Amazon Honeycode, a no-code mobile and web app builder

AWS today announced the beta launch of Amazon Honeycode, a new, fully managed low-code/no-code development tool that aims to make it easy for anybody in a company to build their own applications. All of this, of course, is backed by a database in AWS and a web-based, drag-and-drop interface builder.

Developers can build applications for up to 20 users for free. After that, they pay per user and for the storage their applications take up.

Image Credits: Amazon/AWS

“Customers have told us that the need for custom applications far outstrips the capacity of developers to create them,” said AWS VP Larry Augustin in the announcement. “Now with Amazon Honeycode, almost anyone can create powerful custom mobile and web applications without the need to write code.”

Like similar tools, Honeycode provides users with a set of templates for common use cases like to-do list applications, customer trackers, surveys, schedules and inventory management. Traditionally, AWS argues, a lot of businesses have relied on shared spreadsheets to do these things.

“Customers try to solve for the static nature of spreadsheets by emailing them back and forth, but all of the emailing just compounds the inefficiency because email is slow, doesn’t scale, and introduces versioning and data syncing errors,” the company notes in today’s announcement. “As a result, people often prefer having custom applications built, but the demand for custom programming often outstrips developer capacity, creating a situation where teams either need to wait for developers to free up or have to hire expensive consultants to build applications.”

It’s no surprise then that Honeycode uses a spreadsheet view as its core data interface, which makes sense, given how familiar virtually every potential user is with this concept. To manipulate data, users can work with standard spreadsheet-style formulas, which seems to be about the closest the service gets to actual programming. ‘Builders,” as AWS calls Honeycode users, can also set up notifications, reminders and approval workflows within the service.

AWS says these databases can easily scale up to 100,000 rows per workbook. With this, AWS argues, users can then focus on building their applications without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure.

As of now, it doesn’t look like users will be able to bring in any outside data sources, though that may still be on the company’s roadmap. On the other hand, these kinds of integrations would also complicate the process of building an app and it looks like AWS is trying to keep things simple for now.

Honeycode currently only runs in the AWS US West region in Oregon but is coming to other regions soon.

Among Honeycode’s first customers are SmugMug and Slack.

“We’re excited about the opportunity that Amazon Honeycode creates for teams to build apps to drive and adapt to today’s ever-changing business landscape,” said Brad Armstrong, VP of Business and Corporate Development at Slack in today’s release. “We see Amazon Honeycode as a great complement and extension to Slack and are excited about the opportunity to work together to create ways for our joint customers to work more efficiently and to do more with their data than ever before.”

Feb
27
2020
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London-based Gyana raises $3.9M for a no-code approach to data science

Coding and other computer science expertise remain some of the more important skills that a person can have in the working world today, but in the last few years, we have also seen a big rise in a new generation of tools providing an alternative way of reaping the fruits of technology: “no-code” software, which lets anyone — technical or non-technical — build apps, games, AI-based chatbots, and other products that used to be the exclusive terrain of engineers and computer scientists.

Today, one of the newer startups in the category — London-based Gyana, which lets non-technical people run data science analytics on any structured dataset — is announcing a round of £3 million to fuel its next stage of growth.

Led by U.K. firm Fuel Ventures, other investors in this round include Biz Stone of Twitter, Green Shores Capital and U+I , and it brings the total raised by the startup to $6.8 million since being founded in 2015.

Gyana (Sanskrit for “knowledge”) was co-founded by Joyeeta Das and David Kell, who were both pursuing post-graduate degrees at Oxford: Das, a former engineer, was getting an MBA, and Kell was doing a Ph. D. in physics.

Das said the idea of building this tool came out of the fact that the pair could see a big disconnect emerging not just in their studies, but also in the world at large — not so much a digital divide, as a digital light year in terms of the distance between the groups of who and who doesn’t know how to work in the realm of data science.

“Everyone talks about using data to inform decision making, and the world becoming data-driven, but actually that proposition is available to less than one percent of the world,” she said.

Out of that, the pair decided to work on building a platform that Das describes as a way to empower “citizen data scientists,” by letting users upload any structured data set (for example, a .CSV file) and running a series of queries on it to be able to visualise trends and other insights more easily.

While the longer term goal may be for any person to be able to produce an analytical insight out of a long list of numbers, the more practical and immediate application has been in enterprise services and building tools for non-technical knowledge workers to make better, data-driven decisions.

To prove out its software, the startup first built an app based on the platform that it calls Neera (Sanskrit for “water”), which specifically parses footfall and other “human movement” metrics, useful for applications in retail, real estate and civic planning — for example to determine well certain retail locations are performing, footfall in popular locations, decisions on where to place or remove stores, or how to price a piece of property.

Starting out with the aim of mid-market and smaller companies — those most likely not to have in-house data scientists to meet their business needs — startup has already picked up a series of customers that are actually quite a lot bigger than that. They include Vodafone, Barclays, EY, Pret a Manger, Knight Frank and the UK Ministry of Defense. It says it has some £1 million in contracts with these firms currently.

That, in turn, has served as the trigger to raise this latest round of funding and to launch Vayu (Sanskrit for “air”) — a more general purpose app that covers a wider set of parameters that can be applied to a dataset. So far, it has been adopted by academic researchers, financial services employees, and others that use analysis in their work, Das said.

With both Vayu and Neera, the aim — refreshingly — is to make the whole experience as privacy-friendly as possible, Das noted. Currently, you download an app if you want to use Gyana, and you keep your data local as you work on it. Gyana has no “anonymization” and no retention of data in its processes, except things like analytics around where your cursor hovers, so that Gyana knows how it can improve its product.

“There are always ways to reverse engineer these things,” Das said of anonymization. “We just wanted to make sure that we are not accidentally creating a situation where, despite learning from anaonyised materials, you can’t reverse engineer what people are analysing. We are just not convinced.”

While there is something commendable about building and shipping a tool with a lot of potential to it, Gyana runs the risk of facing what I think of as the “water, water everywhere” problem. Sometimes if a person really has no experience or specific aim, it can be hard to think of how to get started when you can do anything. Das said they have also identified this, and so while currently Gyana already offers some tutorials and helper tools within the app to nudge the user along, the plan is to eventually bring in a large variety of datasets for people to get started with, and also to develop a more intuitive way to “read” the basics of the files in order to figure out what kinds of data inquiries a person is most likely to want to make.

The rise of “no-code” software has been a swift one in the world of tech spanning the proliferation of startups, big acquisitions, and large funding rounds. Companies like Airtable and DashDash are aimed at building analytics leaning on interfaces that follow the basic design of a spreadsheet; AppSheet, which is a no-code mobile app building platform, was recently acquired by Google; and Roblox (for building games without needing to code) and Uncorq (for app development) have both raised significant funding just this week. In the area of no-code data analytics and visualisation, there are biggies like Tableau, as well as Trifacta, RapidMiner and more.

Gartner predicts that by 2024, some 65% of all app development will be made on low- or no-code platforms, and Forrester estimates that the no- and low-code market will be worth some $10 billion this year, rising to $21.2 billion by 2024.

That represents a big business opportunity for the likes of Gyana, which has been unique in using the no-code approach specifically to tackle the area of data science.

However, in the spirit of citizen data scientists, the intention is to keep a consumer version of the apps free to use as it works on signing up enterprise users with more enhanced paid products, which will be priced on an annual license basis (currently clients are paying between $6,000 and $12,000 depending on usage, she said).

“We want to do free for as long as we can,” Das said, both in relation to the data tools and the datasets that it will offer to users. “The biggest value add is not about accessing premium data that is hard to get. We are not a data marketplace but we want to provide data that makes sense to access,” adding that even with business users, “we’d like you to do 90% of what you want to do without paying for anything.”

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