beecard

Today we spoke with Nigel and Sam, who are the founders of Beecard - a gift card SaaS platform for children activities. Our conversation ranges from creating a marketplace with Bubble to scaling the Bubble database

00:04
Matt

So today I'm joined by Sam and Nigel from beecard. Can we start with you introducing ourselves and just explaining how you've got to where you are as members of the Bubble community?

00:18
Nigel

So my name is Nigel Godfrey. And I'm the CTO of beecard, getbeecard.com. I came into Bubble in probably 2015 with an idea and some impetus from having worked in my first startup. I worked it was all hands to the pump in there. Whatever I could do to find tools to build reports or whatever I would do. So off the back of that, I realized actually technology has hugely come on. Since I've been initially involved and via a number of things I discovered I discovered Bubble in 2015 and built my first app in Bubble and it looked hideous.

01:09
Sam

That's it.

01:13
Nigel

It really looked bad. But it did work and Sam's someone I've only started for a long time and I've been at every opportunity telling her about all the kinds of various no code tools that I use, particularly Bubble.

01:30
Sam

I'm quite a newbie to no code and Bubble, but when Nigel introduced it to me back in the middle of the pandemics of 2020 for the specific product that was beecard, I actually loved it so much and the potential I've actually been trained and now I'm actually coding in Bubble myself for my own business and for others. So it's been quite a... for my initial introduction it's actually changed my working life massively, which is we aren't quite a lot to Bubble.

02:04
Nigel

We do.

02:06
Matt

Great. Let's find out a little bit more about beecard. What's your elevator pitch? What is beecard?

02:13
Sam

So, beecard is a gift card for children's activities and classes in the UK. So you can get your beecard and spend it at different classes nationwide. It's gifting children's activities and therefore gifting all the many benefits of children's activities. So it's the first in that niche sector. It was an idea that I had, oh, gosh, probably seven or eight years ago now. And it was using Bubble, amongst other things, that actually made it possible within a sort of sensible budget. That was the key. So my existing business has been in children's activities for 16 years, so it's a new product in a sector that I was already within and already had a market and a customer base in. So I roped Nigel in to help on the technical side of things. And you call it a Frankenstein, didn't you? Frankenstein monster of plugging various different things together with Bubble at the center of it to enable beecard to happen. Although interestingly and you might want to pick up from here, it wasn't Bubble we started with, was it?

03:28
Nigel

No, we actually started on Glide. We built the earliest iteration on Glide just as a temporary. I wonder if we can get it to work really quickly. So how can we get our MVP? How can we get our MVP? We thought it would be a couple of months and actually Glide got us through the first 18 months and it wasn't until we wanted to build some we wanted more integration, we wanted to be able to do some more complex, some more complex API integration with some of our backend stuff. But, yeah, so we've got the thing on Glide and Glide backend is just mobile only and it was great because it really just focuses you on what's the it makes you make it simple. Whereas Bubble, you can just go off and build anything you like, whereas Glide was like, it has to look like this. Well, what if we don't like it? No, this is what we've got. You've got this layout or this layout, which one do we like most? We like this one. Put some colors on it to be absolutely fair, to guide us through. It got us through actually working for 18 months, working pretty well. So, yeah, it was good.

04:42
Sam

And then we were lucky to get an Innovate UK grant, so that enabled us to move from Glide to Bubble, so we were able to get a bit more of time and we were supporting someone else as well. So that did enable us to sort of take the leap. It also paid for other things, not just the tech side of things, but it was that enabled to really add in more functionality, which is why we needed Bubble to enable us to do that.

05:13
Matt

And just out of interest, how did you approach that decision to change platform site? You must have been thinking about the amount of time and cost to invest in it and you must have felt that there would be a lot of benefits with moving over the Bubble. Can you just unpack that a little bit, please?

05:34
Nigel

I think it was a sort of technical stuff that sort of hung around everything, so it was obviously Glide, we had some stuff on Airtable as well for some of the admin, so it was very much that patchwork, frankenstein, wizard of Oz, whatever you call it, kind of prototype. It worked, it was a real working thing, but we had to work quite hard to get the bits to work together. So what Bubble helped us to do was bring some of the disparate bits and pieces together and also to expand what we were doing in terms of some of the add ons. It's very basic. We have a website that sells gift cards and you can sell a gift card at £1 or £10 or £100 or whatever, and then you get it and you get a code. That is easy, you don't need Bubble for that. But the other side, we've got the other side of this marketplace. So effectively it's a two sided, effective two sided marketplace, but it is a two side. The activity providers, what we found in the early days. So we had the product and the difficulty we had was building up the supply side of the marketplace.

07:08
Nigel

So the activity providers who are desperately in need of NoCode tools and technology because they are so hamstrung by their technology providers. We know a lot of the tech providers, but they're quite slow moving and when you say, hey, can we just integrate this? It's just like we can just integrate this. Could you do this? To do this, they will always know or it's going to cost them £10,000. So despite Bubble, we can provide a rest API so it's really easy to do and one of the technology providers in this space that do the sort of booking systems, we provided a it's going to get very techy, very quickly here. So Bubble allowed us to provide basically a REST API into our and we provided it to some traditional developers down in Australia and we used Postman to provide over the top to give us all the documentation and stuff. We look really professional, nobody tweaks, but it's because everything is over the top and it's you can do this, so you can do all the clever stuff that nobody twigs, that this was just we were not developers here, so they integrated into their system.

08:36
Nigel

So that if you happen to use your booking system via ClassBiz, what you can do is you go on and it's just integrated in the same way that Stripe is integrated or PayPal is integrated or anything like that. It's just like, do you want to use this, this or this, and do you want to use beecard? And it's really quite simple. It's that kind of integration at the back end that Bubble allows us to do, but that's pretty technical stuff and we need some time and money to be able to implement those kind of things and we have other ways of helping our activity providers get their money without having to go through any complicated process. So we've got concierge services, whether you do it for you and manual redemptions. So we needed to build up a whole kind of bit in the back end for our activity providers, whereas that kind of frontend for the grandparents or the family or whatever of the kids. That's the easy bit, but that's the visible bit that's a bit beautiful and lovely and Sam looks here since it does a fantastic design on that, it's again, technical stuff.

09:53
Sam

Yeah, having a whole suite of solutions because we're dealing with hundreds, if not thousands of microbusinesses that some of them are using the available booking systems in the sector, but a lot of them aren't. And there are probably half a dozen of those booking systems anyway, so we only integrated fully of one. So I just said it's providing three or four different solutions to manage the redemption side of things and the payment side of things as well. So, yeah, that was the tricky bit that we needed to address. That's what we did with the Innovate UK grant.

10:32
Nigel

Yes, there's a lot of because it's not really our money. So the accounting side of it, or the legal and the accounting side of it, it's just one of those bits which you think we knew we were going to be hard when we went into it, but it was a lot harder than we thought because you have to kind of ring fence for the money. So if somebody buys a gift card for £100, you can't just stick in your own bank account. But then there's Stripe fees that you have to pay up here. So we have the double entry accounting that goes on between we use Xero, but the little bits of money that flow around all the time to make everything balanced. It's quite complicated, but that's Xero. There's a lot of Zapier in there as well, although we're thinking about maybe moving off of Zapier. But there's a lot of stuff, there's a lot of stuff in the back office.

11:31
Matt

Well, thank you. I appreciate so much, both of you, sharing the detail, because I speak to Bubble coaching clients all different stages from having discovered Bubble two days ago, to they've been building in their spare time for six months. And I think what you perfectly demonstrated there is you can have an idea and you begin to flesh it out, but then when you begin to build it like this stuff is multiplied by ten or 100 the amount of things you have to consider, and then your time is multiplied by that figure just as much to build all of that.

12:09
Matt

So you mentioned about a grant in the kind of indie hacker space, no code, people talk about getting investment rounds or bootstrapping. What's been your experience with those kind of different approaches with beecard?

12:27
Sam

So, well, I think we were kind of lucky because of the pandemic. There was a bit more money floating around to help using innovation to help business sectors get through the pandemic and come out the other side. So that's what we were, I think, just pure luck with the timing more than anything. And it wasn't a massive not talking millions, I think that wasn't a massive grind. It was relatively small, but it was certainly enough. But it wouldn't have been if we weren't using Bubble and some of the other tools that I just talked about. So it could have been easily, if we use more traditional techniques, a lot more money that we would have needed. And I think looking back on the grant application, we talked about no code within and what we were wanting to do and how we can do it. And I'm sure that helped. You see, they were getting such value for money because you have to prove that because it's taxpayers money, actually, that you are giving value for money. So definitely going down the no code massively helped with that. It was timing, but also using something that was not just an innovative product, but an innovative way of doing it.

13:51
Sam

I think that really, really helped us because there was a bit more money sloshing around for innovation. I think it was still a hard process. I can't remember the numbers, but it was massively oversubscribed. I think it was probably about 12% of people got it was really small numbers, so we did really well, even though it sort of may have been a bit easier to get it, but it's tough. We have gone for another grant application since we didn't get it. So, you know, it's not easy to get that sort of funding, but that's the only experience I've had of digital funding with Bubble.

14:36
Nigel

Yes. I've worked with I haven't directly using Bubble gone for... anything I've done outside of ecard has been totally bootstrapped. But I've worked with consultancy. Clients I've worked with have been going through. I've been going through the various at the moment. I'd love to be in that investment meeting where they've effectively. We've got something that totally works and they've got clients and they've got B2B. So they've got some reasonably chunky MRR going on and it's costing a few hundred dollars a month maybe to run it and tabby and that investor need to go. What's your model? Well, how much is it costing? Well, we're paying whatever, it's not a high volume. So we can keep the Bubble we can keep the Bubble cost down at the moment because it's not an app that you're in all the time. We're using some of the ancillary services to other services that scale as their client base scales. But would that not be great to go, yeah, we get this in and our run rate, our run rate is one, two, three years in terms of the amount of money that they get in. It's a great place to be.

16:17
Nigel

And I've seen since I started working with clients for like two or four or five years, just the change in the way that particularly VC view no code or just view different tools other than just getting a bunch of people to code it up for you. And initially I think it was very skeptical and now I'm really bullish about the fact that I would like to see VCs going, well, why are you getting some people to code it and right across why haven't, why didn't you why didn't you try and get a bit of money? I can't remember what the word is and actually Bubble has used it itself, isn't it? It's like strap funding or something like that. So you bootstrap the first bit of it, so you bootstrap up to X and then after that you go for the funding, so you've got this actual, proper, real business that you can point out to go, look, we make money, we make profit, here, this is what we spend. And I think I'm really certain that's what Bubble themselves did, didn't they? Because were they bootstrapped up and whatever. And again, for Josh and Emmanuel, that must have been what a good invest with it what a good investing is like, look, we have a million people using and where did you get the money from?

17:43
Nigel

Well, this is our first round. That's got to be any investor's got to just go, okay, no, right, you are serious. I want something. I said, no wonder they got no wonder they got it. I'm sure maybe you'll say they've used both always following me around with ads on them, facebook or people like this current one about getting didn't somebody get 267,000,000 in seed funding recently?

18:11
Matt

I didn't see that, but that sounds very impressive.

18:14
Nigel

There's one at 7 million that was here.co and they really only stage a Bubble. They got 7 million precede on something that was just built on a relatively low cost platform.

18:30
Matt

Yes, you could be spending that $29 a month and then maybe 10-20 extra dollars for emails. Yeah, it's incredible, isn't it? So you've listed off the load of elements that will be appealing to VC. What else would you say? And you got that you've mentioned kind of rapid development. You mentioned Bubble being able to be the hub for all these additional services. Is there anything else that you'd add to a question along the lines of what you love about building a Bubble?

19:06
Nigel

We have slightly different experiences. You love Bubble.

19:09
Sam

Yes, because I'm new to it, so I'm still in that honeymoon space, I think, but I'm nowhere near as deep into Bubble as Nigel has to be with all the integration of do. You're so deep into it, but it's what you said already, fundamentally, it's the fact that you can turn an idea into something real so quickly and you haven't got to spend an absolute fortune or wait for more traditional tech to have the time. And as someone who my background years and years ago is technology, but we're talking very traditional mainframe type tech, so I've had to totally apply a lot of it to Bubble. But relatively easily I've been able to get to the point where I can create what I want to within Bubble and I've gone on to do stuff in Webflow as well now. So it enables someone who's not a real techie, but has a sort of leaning that way and fairly analytical to actually be able to turn my ideas into reality in my own business without employing a tech team or outsource it to a tech team. So that for me, it's amazing. I'm not saying it's easy and if someone who hasn't got that sort of type of mindset or background wouldn't be able to do it, but it's still something that could be trained quite easily into a small or even a large organization.

20:54
Sam

I think for me, that's the most exciting bit. It's taking what we all know as startups and more entrepreneurial types to much bigger organizations. And in fact, we're talking to midsized insurance group about the potential of using things like Bubble to speed up their own innovation. And you do it very quickly and test ideas very quickly without spending as it's fortunate. So it's really amazing when you see you've lit that spark and it's like, really, I can do that. And once someone gets there, they totally get it. And that's amazing. It's that potential to go beyond just start up a new idea and take into very traditional industry that's going to be the next big wave. And if you're in a big corporation and you get this idea, you're going to be total leading edge on this one. And that for me, is the next big thing for no code for Bubble.

21:59
Matt

Thank you, Sam. Nigel, because you've got all of these years of experience, can I push you for maybe an answer that someone wouldn't expect or heard before about what's the real strength, the love of building a Bubble.

22:16
Nigel

So I'm well out of the honeymoon period and Bubble and I have a sometimes strained relationship. We love each other and we're going to stay with each other, but at times it is difficult. But the thing I love about it is even if you are banging your head, there's quite a lot of swearing quite often around being Bubble. But what I'm doing, I'm really right down in the weeds of how am I going to get usually API Connector or something? Why is this not working? That there's a way Bubble will always be able to do it. You might not enjoy the process of getting there and actually, once you've got there and you're making it working, yeah, I've got it working. How did that take me so long to get to whatever it was that I needed to do? But you absolutely would not have been able to do it in the majority of other tools out there, they were just, no, you cannot do that in this space. And some of the other tools as well, which are brilliant, allow you that level of flexibility, but really nothing else apart from Bubble allows you to stick to no code.

23:50
Nigel

I've got a lot of apps knocking around and I've got four or five lines of JavaScript in two of them. Just to do some really nasty, nasty JSON reconfiguration. The other very smart people have provided with me and I think that's what the best thing about Bubble is true to its form, or it's true to it that it's true to being no code. A teeny tiny bit of code sometimes, but there's not that.

24:28
Nigel

You mentioned WordPress. WordPress is like great, great.. ah right, now you need to write some code and there's no and it just falls off the cliff, which is exactly what I found. How do I do that? Well, you write some code and the first tool before Bubble. So between using Budibase and WordPress, I used a tool peri or something like that, which was a job, which was mostly located, I want to do this, I've got a map stuff and supported brilliant. But they just send me a bunch of JavaScript and go, oh yeah, you just do this. And that wasn't what I wanted so long answer to it does what it says it's going to do and there is always a way. There is always a way.

25:14
Matt

Brilliant. And I'm just going to ask the other side of that question. I'll be fascinated again to hear your two different answers based on how long Sam being in that honeymoon period.

25:27
Matt

So the biggest limitation from your perspective of Bubble, I think, particularly if you are talking to someone who's wondering whether to invest their time and money into building their idea on this platform, what would you say?

25:41
Sam

I think you do have to think very carefully about whether Bubble is appropriate. So there are lots of other tools that could well do what you want to do. And is Bubble the right thing? I do a lot of stuff on Webflow and that's for those things I'm using Webflow is more than sufficient. I could do those things on Bubble, but what would be the point? Webflow, it does the job much quicker, but there's lots of things that I might want to do that Webflow wouldn't be appropriate for. So it's about making sure you're using Bubble for the right things and there might be a better, equally fast way of doing it, unless you're doing something super complicated. Have a look at the other lighter tools first. I would say I'm not saying something nice about that one, just saying use it appropriately, I think.

26:46
Matt

Thank you and Nigel?

26:48
Nigel

And I think my experience comes free a lot of the more so much stuff is happening at the moment. We've got maybe Frames, which you are, James, are doing amazing things. Open builds coming back. I was on the first season of Open Build. Canvas has always been there from AirDev. So what I want, my design skills are absolutely zero. The only way I can make things look good is to use Glide or software or things like that. And the thing I love about Glide is probably the thing that I don't like about Bubble. Mostly Glide makes me look like I know what I'm doing and I have no rights to glide up to the Glide app that we produce. And some of the stuff I've got is Softr. Yeah, I'm not that good. It makes me look so good in terms of design because it just does it for you. Now you can probably do a lot of things really quickly using Frames or any of the other one, but I totally echo what Sam says. Unless you're really careful, you can spend a lot of time fiddling around with stuff around the edges.

28:05
Nigel

Just use I don't necessarily think it's a template, I think it's using the big building blocks. The interesting thing that somebody revealed on did somebody reveal it on Twitter, they're like, hey, if you put this URL in, I should probably look a second. If you put this thing in the URL on your registry, you get these Bubble Blocks. So you get the ability to have in beta. At the moment it's in beta, but now it's got the ability to build these blocks. I'll put this repeated group in, I'll put this structure in here, which is that was always going to be that was always going to be the way forward. And I built something in them. One of the early things I built a bunch of not being responsive, it's called building on Bubble, which was these little kind of blocks of stuff which I've never worked out how to get to do it. I copy and paste from things with atomic fusion and all that kind of thing, but just doing just amazing things in that space. I wouldn't want to put anybody off because I've spent an awful lot of time breaking Bubble of doing things which it just didn't want to do, or I've hacked it around, or I've done horrible things and I'm old enough involved, where I remember Emmanuel being running the forum and running all the support, which was such a fantastic business model there. They knew what they were, they knew the pain points because the cofounder was absolutely there on the frontend. And we did this little broke.

29:50
Nigel

I think the current one is at real scale. So when I'm talking about scale, 100,000 - 200,000, there's a minimum in terms of records, backend data processing, I believe they are. I know that they're doing a lot more. But you try to delete half a million records in your dead database because you need to start again and you can spend an hour kind of doing it. So that kind of bulk stuff is difficult. That doesn't mean that Bubble can't handle millions and millions of rows. I've put millions of rows into things really quite quickly with some APIs, Bubble just flew, we had the right database structure and we were pummeling the database and writes and then reads and things like that. But when you come to, okay, I need to delete this or I need to change quarter of a million rows relatively quickly, that's when we got into a little bit of we were really pushed the edges. So that's why things like Xana exist now.

31:06
Nigel

And there's a big kind of Bubble with Xano at the backend. That's where I'd be a little bit wary. If you want to transform overnight, a million rows need to be a little bit careful about how Bubble does that kind of thing, recursive workplace and things like that. But it's absolutely going to get better. Thank you.

31:32
Matt

Thanks again for just a level of detail and putting some numbers to it. I've certainly seen some Twitter conversations where people are apprehensive about scale and it's often hard to refer to something solid because I think the key point that you made, which is a database well structured, will allow you to do the massive numbers. But if it's poorly structured, then you're setting yourself up to really struggle. Just coming to the end of our conversation, going back to beecard, what are some of your ambitions for the business going forward? Let's go with that. And then I'll just go one further question to close. So yeah, looking ahead, ambitions for beecard, what would you like to share?

32:20
Sam

Yeah, so it's using everything we've learned because we've got an awful lot, not just on the technical side of things, but in terms of the more sort of business side of gift cards and actually get on the route of white labeling. So that's something that we're currently exploring. And the case of reusing an awful lot of what we've already created, tech and knowledge as well, and even expanding further into other types of technology that will support this sector. Because as Nigel mentioned, it's quite understood, it's quite neat, but providing kids with activities that help them in so many different ways is important. And there's so many thousand small businesses in this sector as well, so they're quite cash tracked, understandably. So providing affordable, fast tech is something that will help so many businesses and it's entirely achievable. And that's the amazing thing about using Bubble. It can bring the tech from big corps into much smaller niche industries. So that's where I think we're going with it.

33:43
Nigel

Yeah, I think what we can bring is similarly being cash back. We had the money from the Innovation grant to build it, but our ongoing costs, we spend an awful lot of time just trying to how can we lean this out? Suddenly put their prices up an extra 20 or $30 a month or something. It's not sustainable for us. So we spend a lot of time trying to automate, trying to get the cheapest possible service cost, the cheapest possible acquisition cost. And I think that's what we can bring to other people by white labeling this is. We haven't just done it and created it. What we've done is create the cheapest possible version of this for you because you could spend a fortune doing all of these things. We do it cheaply.

34:41
Matt

Great, thank you. Finally, just to wrap up again, be fascinating to hear different perspectives from the different points you are in your Bubble journeys.

34:52
Matt

What's the one thing that you wish someone had told you this is the way to do it before you got started on building an idea in Bubble?

35:04
Sam

I wish they told me that five years ago. Seriously, it just sounds like I've wasted so much time, money and energy and stress. So much stress not being able to do the things I want to do. So I just wish they told me.

35:20
Nigel

That five years and from my perspective it is really there. Do some marketing first, have an audience to sell into, don't just have the idea.

35:33
Nigel

Here's an old Bubble story. One of the first people I picked up as a client, they were doing what was basically Facebook for knives. From a European, UK perspective that sounds a bit shocking, but in the US, concealed carry, open carry, knives are definitely a thing and I had absolutely no idea that this was that you had your collection of knives and which they were and people would swap them and instead of a Facebook group for the knives, we would have the thing on this particular site. We built it or we took most of the way through building it. They had an Instagram account, I still believe they have an Instagram account before they'd even started with 10,000 followers. So we were building something that they already had 10,000 followers for the thing that we had not even built. So they had another product in the space, so they knew their space but they built the audience and when I was building my first idea or ideas, I barely had me on board. So I really wish I kind of started with that. I'm going to get a bunch of people in advance who are going to be very excited about this and that's not whether you use Bubble or not, it really doesn't make sense is to try to do the marketing first.

37:07
Nigel

Is there a Bubble thing? I wish somebody had I wish somebody had told me. Bubble learning curve was really easy for me because there was no responsive engine, there was no API connector, I did some of the first... I was beta testing that so I was really easy initially. I don't mean that it was hard and even though now there is just mind boggling things, the plugins and the server side stuff, most of which I can't get around, but it was a learning curve when you didn't have half of the stuff it's got now. So I wish somebody said, look, give yourself a break on learning all of this stuff. It's hard, you can do almost anything, but you will never I don't know anybody that knows it all and some people know bits of it incredibly well. Some people know other bits of it. Be kind to yourself and know that you won't always you are not always going to be all over Bubbles at all.

38:16
Matt

Well, that's a great place to end. Thank you so much, Sam. Thank you, Nigel, for just sharing so much information and thank you. Before I hit stop on the recording, are there any URLs maybe for the card, any social accounts that you'd like to plug? If you want to find out more about what we talked about or what you're currently working on, please plug them.

38:46
Sam

So get beecard.com, that's all about beecard, clearly. And if you want to see some pictures of me and Nigel, we're on roserock.tech and there's also a little portfolio on there of what we've been working on, including beecard.

39:01
Nigel

So, yeah. If you want to follow me on Twitter I'm Nigel Godfrey in fact, I'm so old in technology that pretty much everything I've got is my name. Okay, so what's your handle on whatever it is, Nigel Godfrey. What you're on Twitter? NigelGodfrey. So I'm not free on pretty much everything, but yeah, getbeecard.com, we're all over that, right?

39:28
Matt

Yeah. Thank you. And thanks Nigel, it sounds like you're the person to follow on Twitter to get in on the early adopters if you're into sharing the current platform that you're exploring. If people want to grab those the simple usernames and tags themselves. Great. Thank you so much.

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