Today I am joined by the founder of Hacker House. Can you start by introducing yourself and saying where in the world you are and a little bit about how you found yourself to be where you're at as a Bubble app builder?
Yes. My name is Stephan. So I live in France. I live in Paris and Bordeaux. So now we're a little bit more in the south. So my background is computer science and I mainly like bootstrapped many projects. And the company I'm doing right now is called Hacker House. So I got into Bubble maybe three years and a half ago because I was running my company, but I couldn't go in the same time and grow in the company. So at some point I was like, gosh, someone must have thought about doing... I was more looking for APIs in the beginning. So someone must have done something with drag and drop because API are always the same: it's like read, create, delete, update data on the database. And then as the momentum Bubble and it's been, I think, a weekend learning Bubble and then I think in less than two weeks we migrated from Ruby on Rails plus React, our previous stack, to fully to be in Bubble in three weeks or two. Yeah.
That's brilliant. It's one of the things I've heard from the other founders I've spoken to over the last few weeks, is the rapid development that you get with Bubble. So would you like to give me like an elevator pitch for Hacker House?
So Hacker House is basically now it's like more community platform to find a place to live and sleep. It's mostly freelancers entrepreneurs who are coming from a month to eight months to places or mainly we are located in France and then at some point we work with some hotels, but then it didn't work out. So at some point I learned that with no code, it's really easy to like when you have a new business idea, opportunity, your product can go into trial mode. If the business does work, you can try it and if it doesn't work, just delete the page and you go to your normal. It's really like, for so far, working on so many projects, even if you think the code is really well done, at some point it's going to be refactored or rewritten. It's like you trash it and then you take something new and with no code, it's cheaper to do that.
Is Hacker house just yourself, have you got a team? How's that dynamic work?
Yes. So we have a Bubble developer. He was the developer in the beginning, but he didn't really like how to code. And then I think when I got into Bubble, okay, I can train you. And then now he's the frontend like Bubble developer and then we have a person for the support and the community.
One of the advantages you really touched on is kind of how rapidly you can develop the app. It's fascinating to hear moving from a traditional coding platform over to Bubble and to do it so quickly. How about your funding situation? Would you mind sharing? Have you bootstrapped it? Have you looked for investors? What's your take on that?
So we are bootstrapped. I mean some of the apartment of the properties you see on the website, these are properties that we got like mortgage through the bank. So like normal funding, but no investors like capital sharing or anything like that. It's like 100% like if tomorrow we decide to not grow and just focus on building mobile plugins, we can do that. And sometimes we do because sometimes we found that, okay, there's a certain feature that we need and that we cannot find on the plugins marketplace, just build it.
And what would you describe as the main pain point or problem that you identified that prompted you to create Hacker House?
Mainly in the beginning because when I started Hacker House, it was like five years ago, so I was like more than five years ago, it was almost six. So I was between 27, 28, I was living with the roommate. My clients were my friends and also my clients, they were paying. So back then each one of us had a startup. But it was really hard if you don't have the proper network or the proper phones to start something. And we just wanted to get it into the place. I have just like high speed WiFi and a bed and a desk and that was the main problem like I was solving back then. And then of course, I got older and I have a son, but back then was this kind of like you don't know anyone, especially in a big city, and you come and you would like to meet different people and you hang out with them, they become your friends or not. Sometimes some people just like they are looking for a place for two or three months to get to know the city and some people and then they would have their more long term accommodation.
Great, thank you. I suppose someone listening or watching this back might be thinking, everyone's heard of Airbnb. How would you describe, you offer something different to some of the kind of international giants of property rental. What would you say to them?
The difference? We get a lot of inspiration from Airbnb from the way they organize the UX and the features. That's how we got some of the features. We just translated into your use case. For example, we only do long stays from one month to eight months. So basically people cannot pick like for two or three nights. So that's what something we need to change from the beginning because it's not a hotel. If they want to stay too nice, they can go on Airbnb or any hotels that are available. I think at some point I realized that I will not be on Airbnb and I'm fine with that at some point. I always wanted to be in a marketplace, like huge, like having thousands of transactions and properties. And then in the end I realized that, okay, I'm profitable, I don't have to run against growing. Some of my friends have raised money and basically when they raise money, the investors want them to have like a CTO who know how to code, who know to scale and everything. And they have this kind of pressure to build a scalable product and desktop for startups who have raised money.
If you don't have like a team of 20 or 30 engineers, it doesn't fit the papers that other later investors would invest in because they're afraid of no code of the product that is hosted on some cloud server and stuff like that. At some point I realized also that I like to build things. When I find that something is missing or I can find the answer, I would just like spend one or two weeks to build it. I think it's kind of enabled the creativity. So, yeah, you can have a marketplace that just have your properties and a few other properties of people who love the project or concept. And that's what we have now. And we're profitable, so we just don't run after growing. Sometimes, like, some clients, they can be really annoying and then you're chasing after them and then for us it's okay. I think once you realize that you can be a marketplace but being small is fine too, as long as you're profitable. And I think Bubble, someone can maintain your costs really low. So you can focus on other things or you can grow slowly as well. I think you can grow at the speed that you would like to do.
If you have a team of engineers, you have a different kind of pressure because the cost of a developer is so high now that you have the pressure to raise and then they have a CTO and the whole team behind you to build just a product. But now with Google you can realize that, okay, you can be profitable, have a small team, but still you can have a lot of fun like doing that.
Thanks. You've given like a perfect pitch for all good things about no code and app development in Bubble. How did you get started? Because it's a question about user acquisition. Marketplace is maybe doubly as hard because you've got to have the customers and the provider, in this case of the properties. What can you share about how you approach getting those two different types of users on your platform? How did you get one and then what were your plans to grow from there?
So we start being the provider. So basically we can have like two or three houses. That's what we do. It's mainly the first one is my house, so basically I was doing my house. And then that's how I started. And we tried to fill that first house. And then people, they kind of get curious about like, oh, what's a hacker house? Why do people remote work? Back then, six years ago, remote work was really awkward. Like, working from home, that they are crazy. So we started from that, and then slowly you have those really early adopters, okay, I have a building there. You can try to make a concept there. And that's how we started, like, from one to two to two to four. And then that's how we start having those suppliers. Even today, we don't even have, like, the formula, like the sign up for landlords, because we start working with hotels, we start working with big companies, and we see that it didn't work out. So we're still figuring out how can we scale the supplier part? Because we realized that what works for Airbnb, like taking 15% on every transaction, doesn't really work on for someone who stay like, six months, and then you take a cut of 15% every month. So you're trying to learn about what is the best pricing model to avoid your provider to go out of the platform. So we're still learning today, how did.
You get the first user as the guest or the renter?
Basically, we would go to Facebook groups for software engineers or digital marketers and post like, okay, we have a house there, there's optical fiber, that much per month, and we will show pictures and videos of the space. We also go to rental space for even students, because a lot of students who are working in technology and entrepreneurship, they would come to that kind of place. And then as well, Airbnb, I think it's like 30% of the people who comes to a platform, basically because we would say, okay, it's a hacker house, and then people would Google it, and then they will go through our website. Some people just book through Google as well. Some people even prefer to pay the 15% more and go through Airbnb because it's like more well known. But mainly from those rental places. SEO didn't really work out. I mean, SEO is one of the bottle neck of Bubble. Our main metric is to have the occupancy rates and more than 90%. So that's all style metrics.
If I can take us on a little tangent. When you said that you've been running, was it six years? Six, seven years. You must have a unique outlook on working from home and how the COVID pandemic has shifted that in recent years. Would you mind just talking a little bit about how you think working from home as a culture, particularly amongst software developments, whether that's no code or traditional code, maybe how you've seen that grow and the impact you think that the pandemic has had on people like yourself and other people in similar industries.
I think typically what happened with the pandemic. It's like the impact on us was way after the pandemic, like the lockdown was announced. It's like when the lockdown was announced, people still had to work, but they had to work from home. Most of the people prefer to stay at the hacker house because they would have like dedicated office and a big living room rather than being in the studio and a one bedroom and a studio, so they would have more shared space. We got impacted. I think if I look at the stats, I think it was beginning of 2021 or something like that. It was like six or eight months later when people cancel their booking because they couldn't fly to France, because I think 30% of our customers are from abroad. So they had to cancel and that means they had to cancel and there was no new booking. That was mostly the impact. So for us, what the COVID would change, people would, I think, travel like longer, not necessarily more, means that they will stay in a place for a month or more to learn about the culture. It will not be like fast traveling, you know what I mean?
And people would just have everything in their backpack and no code makes sense as well because everything is in the cloud. You just need a browser to work. Everything is saved. Back then I had to log in to the server, configure it and then now, I mean, the maintenance for no code is not that great so far because if you work in the team, you don't have the different version of what you're committing, et cetera. But I think it's coming at some point. If they want to grow for teams, more than two developers, they will have to. But other than that, you can just work from a brother anywhere you want and just have a solid connection. So I'm seeing no code goes well with being a nomad as well.
Yeah, I realized my perspective is going to be quite Britiancentric, but I think that there's on the other side of 2020, a lot of people have reassessed basically what they want from their careers. And do you think that more people, perhaps because of the pandemic, are looking for services such as the ones that Hacker House offer or they're looking to create startups? Is that something that you've seen? I think that you might have quite unique insight into like a cultural shift of people's attitudes to work.
Yeah, I think a lot of people had time to reflect what they would like to do because they are not stuck anymore. So they're at home, they can see different kind of opportunities or ideas that they wanted to realize. We need to know why Bubble was created. It was mainly for nontechnical people to create like a product without having to hire a developer and it's basically where the new code comes in. Like a lot of people started their project during the COVID because at that time they were just working from a certain hour for the job and then they were staying home. They don't have commuting anymore. To be honest, I've seen so many Bubble projects because some people consult me for a bit more advanced Bubble, like basically with Stripe or performance issues and stuff like that. And there's a project for anything. And some people it's just crazy how you can think that some people can make money from this project because this guy is passionate about that typical issue and then he's so dedicated to that and people pay for it. And that's what I like when I coach nontechnical founder who created their own apps on Google, because then they understand every problem that when you say to him like, okay, no, you cannot do that because of that.
They would understand it because they have the hand, they made it. And rather than just someone dedicating the work to an agency, if you say no, sometimes they don't accept no.
You're a great advocate for nocode and the Bubble, but what are some of the biggest limitations you've experienced both with apps that you've worked on and like you said, people have come to you asking, can you do XYZ? What limitations would you think are important to share with someone who's just starting out on their Bubble journey?
It's difficult to say because I think the first one I would say is the database. Like, know how to modelize your data. I've seen for people who've taken computer science degree or just two or three years of IT, they are way like, you know, no code is not because now the range of skills for no code is really going from the guy who watch YouTube videos to the one who have a master degree and did computer science and do no code. And the level of conception and understanding is really different. It's normal because someone spent five years doing computer science and the other one just spend like two or three doing online videos. And you cannot skip the principles of how can I make my database? What's the relationship? I would say, from someone who started the journey, something is to learn by doing. That's the best way you can make shitty database in the beginning, that's fine. If you don't use Option Sets to set some value and then you want to change something in your code, you have to change it in 30 different places in the code. Is that fine? Because you will not make that mistake again on the next apps.
I mean, it's totally fine. We all make mistakes. Even as a developer, we did that. So just because we did 100, like dozens of apps. But now when we make an app, we make mistakes, but we still make some mistakes. So the journey would be like, just learn by doing. There's no perfect database scheme or anything like that. And then of course I would say if you have an app and a facing front website, I would say to use a mix between Webflow and Bubble because Bubble is not really good for SEO, it's not really fast as Webflow as well. But we all know that and Webflow is really great at that. So having a front website on, let's say mywebsite.com, this is a Webflow and then app.mywebsite.com is the Bubble app. That's the right mix. Of course, this doesn't apply to anyone. Some people just want to have the Bubble in front and no SEO, that's fine. But I know that some of our friends are running scalable companies. They have a Webflow and everyone in the back.
Yes, there's something I've noticed too, is for the exact reasons you've said of speed and SEO to put the Bubble app on the subdomain does seem to be something that's very popular. Looking ahead for Hacker House, what would you describe some of the challenges and ambitions for the next six to twelve months?
Our next challenges would be to onboard new suppliers because we thought a lot about that's, a huge shift as well in the travel industry, lot of short term accommodations, they're shifting to more long term with the opponent opportunity for remote workers. And this is what we're trying to analyze to bring on new suppliers. So we have a whole roadmap on how to make those long stays and suppliers going into the platform. And why would they use us rather than just renting on Airbnb? That's one of the biggest roadmap for the next six to twelve months. In the short term, we have like a few plugins to release on Bubble. Basically there's one with the I don't know if you use Stripe, but sometimes it sends you an SMS text message on your phone and then you type in the code and basically there was nothing like that. And we have a notification with text code. So we just make a plug in to have the input with the numbers that you would type in when you receive the text. But yeah, mostly that's our next challenge. Did I miss anything?
No, that's very comprehensive. I just got one final question for you. Thank you so much for all your insights and perspectives and advice that you've shared. So finally, what's the one thing that you wish you knew about building with Bubble before you got started?
I wish the responsive engine was born before I found it. Sure. Because before the responsive engine, the new responsive engine, we were making things that were able just to have a responsive heights in the window. We were using some hacks all around and the page was so slow. We gained 30% of loading time since the new responsive engine. No, I mean, I think the Bubble will not be perfect and you will evolve. Sometimes I learned to not fight against something that is missing in Bubble. Okay. At some point we're going to implement it and then I will do this research when it will be done. Lately I've seen that Custom Events can have multiple parameters. Now, before we couldn't do that, it was only one parameter for Custom Events. And today we can refactor the whole code again. There will be a week of like, okay, we can reword that part. Is it basically the notifications? So, yeah, I mean, confidence against the feature that is missing, any bugs, the forum is your best friend. Try to submit a bug report if anything you find it missing and then yeah, brilliant.
Well, thank you so much once again for everything that you shared and I think that there's so much, no matter where anyone's at in their Bubble app development stage from that beginner all the way through to they might be posting on Product Hunt tomorrow, there's something in what you said that will be useful to them. So thank you.