So today I'm joined by the founder of UserLoop, James. Can we start with you introducing yourself, maybe say where in the world you are and a little bit of how you found yourself, where you're at your Bubble app?
Yes. So, yeah. Hi, I'm James, founder of UserLoop. So my background been in startups for years and years. I guess I've also worked at a couple of big companies along the way, started a few startups myself, like, raised VC funding and had ups and downs through all of them. And, yeah, I started building this current app, UserLoop, about a year and a half ago or something like that.
So it's a Shopify app designed to help merchants collect customer feedback and understand their customers better. So it's all built on Bubble and it can be installed through the Shopify app store. We're now up to about 320 merchants using it. Some of them are quite big, well known kind of High Street names. So it's quite nice to have a mixture of all merchant sizes using it. And yeah, it's processing huge amounts of customer feedback now, so that's really good. So it's sending out around 10,000 email surveys a week, collecting around probably, I think 15,000 - 20,000 responses a month through the checkout, the Shopify checkout. And yes, it's been a really exciting journey to grow it. So, yeah, I'm excited to talk a little bit more about it.
Yeah, great. I think I've picked up a couple of Twitter threads kind of in the no code echo chamber that Bubble apps for Shopify is merging as the undiscovered space or niche. Would you mind describing... were you're familiar with Shopify before? Why was it that when you found a platform like Bubble, you thought, this is where I can build a Shopify app?
Yeah, so I guess I've been building apps on Bubble for fun, maybe since 2017. So I think, like a lot of us just starting out with building funny little apps for myself and my friends to kind of get to know to use it. So I built a couple of apps and I did build the app I built before. This was kind of a quiz app through lockdown, and I ended up selling that through MicroAcquire. And then I kind of decided to work on this project. And it didn't actually start out as a Shopify app, so it started out as a bit of a weekend hack project. I knew that I wanted to build something for the ecommerce market and revolving around customer feedback. And I think I got the first version of it to put together over a weekend or so, maybe a little bit longer, but it's very, very basic and I just put it out there.
I did struggle to get traction at the beginning, and I kind of boiled that down to being for two reasons. First of all was the difficulty of setting up the whole app for a store that wasn't on Shopify or anything. There was a manual set up process, like you had to go and set up manual API hooks to send your emails and all of this. It was very like labour intensive setup process.
And the second reason was lack of a kind of easy to acquire, traction channel way of getting customers to install it. I did experiment with a few things on paid advertising and social and all that, but none of it really hit the mark. But I think I was just aiming too widely any store, anyone, and it just wasn't narrow enough. And I've read a lot about Shopify and how it was such a developer friendly platform, really extensive APIs that let you do pretty much anything, and a great App Store as well. So to me, that seemed like it would answer a lot of the issues I was having. Being listed on the App Store gave me a direct route to my target customers. You can do paid advertising on the Shopify App Store as well, so you can really acquire customers in quite a direct way, rather than just trying to reach everyone.
Also, integrating with Shopify APIs meant that people could install the app with one click and then it would set everything up for them. So it was a really easy onboarding process. So all of the triggers to send emails and integrating the feedback widget into their checkout could all be done automatically just using the Shopify APIs. So I think it was the combination of those two things that made me think, actually, I'm going to pivot this app from being for everyone to just being for Shopify stores and really completely change the whole strategy, really, and really go all in on Shopify and yeah, that really has paid off so far. It was certainly helpful to focus just on that market and really go for it with the Shopify App Store and content marketing, as well as been the main two ways that we've kind of driven new merchants onto the platform.
And you mentioned your previous experience, different startups with UserLoop. Is it just you? Have got a small team? How has it evolved?
Yeah, I think this is one of the most exciting things about building with Bubble is that you can do it starting off with just yourself and yeah, day to day it's me. This is a side project, so I have a main job as well at the moment still, so I kind of run this in my spare time, pretty much, but I've got a couple of freelancers who help me out on bits and pieces, so maybe occasional content marketing, and there are one or two bits of the app that are now coded as well that work with Bubble. So originally everything was on Bubble, but there have been certain components of the app that it's made sense to move onto a coded platform. So I've had help with that. But yeah, day to day it's me that runs the whole thing. It's just so exciting comparing this to previous startups that I've run where I have had to hire full time developers, had an office in London, all this kind of stuff. The fixed costs of running that are astonishing and it gives you that you always have a runway that's always running out. Basically at that point you're burning money at such a rate you don't have time always to find product market fit.
So I think that's one of the most exciting things about building with Bubble is the operating costs are massively low, the development costs are low, you're able to pivot and change the product at an unprecedented speed. It's very regular that a customer asked me for a feature and I'll have it in production like half an hour later. That's unimaginable before when we're on a more traditional development cycle. So yeah, it's been really exciting running it so lean just myself pretty much and on Bubble it's been running for a year and a half. Very limited amount of issues that we've had even with starting to do quite significant volume through it. So yeah, it's been great.
You can run quite a lean operation. Do you mind if I ask, is it fully bootstrapped? Have you received any investment? There's a kind of two camps that people fall into having launched a Bubble app, been going for a year and a half. What's your take on it?
I've kind of seen both sides of the coin I guess, you know, with doing investment and bootstrapping this project, I was really intent on just having it bootstrapped so I wanted to get it to a decent MRR just with bootstrapping it myself and that's worked out really well. I don't think that would have been possible if this was a coded app because I'm not a developer really, I'm able to do a bit but I couldn't have coded this product myself. So it really is platforms like Bubble that have made it even possible for me to get to the point where it is earning a decent MRR now without being a developer. And, you know, really the thinking behind that is that if I may go for investment at some point I might change my mind, but to get to a much better degree of product market fit and revenue, the valuation and all the terms will be much better anyway. If you do choose to take investment, you may not do you still have that choice. But I think for me the fact that there is infinite runway with running this is so valuable, it's more than profitable and pays for itself now.So there is no pressure to completely change the product or do whatever. You can really let it grow organically and figure out the marketing channels that really work without so much pressure of only having certain amount of runway and then struggling to raise another round as X-Y-Z isn't there or whatever.
So, yeah, for me, I'm really enjoying running it bootstrapped. It doesn't mean you always have to be bootstrapped. You can change your mind later and if you do, I think you're in a really good position to raise investment if you've bootstrapped it yourself and got it to a decent way along to product market fit.
As someone building a Bubble education platform, I'm always fascinated by the answer to this next question. Can you remember how you discovered Bubble? Because I get the impression that no code is a bit of an echo chamber, that it's a hard... Once you're in, there's loads of connections, there's loads of tools that you can quickly pick up. But how do you discover that there is an alternative to a traditional coding development route?
Yeah, I think it's a good question because I think, like a lot of us, I've probably seen a load of no code platforms over the years that did not live up to the promises that they said. And I was very sceptical, to be honest, because I tried all these no code platforms and I found them, they basically ended up you needed to use code to use half of them or they were so complicated or they were limited. So, to be honest, the first time I used Bubble, I was extremely sceptical. But coming from that, you know, we've seen this before and it did take me a while to really appreciate how powerful it was. But I think anyone who's just dived into Bubble, it is not easy to just start building a complicated app. There is a learning curve there and for me. Yeah. I kind of got over that learning curve through building fun apps for myself. Watching tonnes of YouTube tutorials. The Bubble forum. And I think it's bit by bit as you build those apps for yourself, I was like, oh wow, this does live up to the promise and it is possible to build real software with this that can earn money.
I think that was the real, realisation of finally one of these platforms is living up to the promises and it is actually able to deliver. That was super exciting to finally discover that.
So you describe the efficiency, both kind of time and money and also just the scope of what you understand what you can build, Bubble kind of blows open the door of the startups that you got in your head and then you can actually build them. What would you describe based on your experience are some of the limitations with Bubble that people should be aware of before setting out?
So I think there's a few things that you definitely have to get an understanding of before you go to, you know, before you go too far into building complicated applications on Bubble. You know some basic things about database structure because, you know, it's very easy to go and build an app in Bubble which ends up being a complete nightmare because you've structured your database wrong. So just kind of watching some tutorials about that. Really getting to grips with the API connector. So I'd never really interacted with API before Bubble. Maybe a little bit, but using Postman and stuff but not I didn't really get it until I used Bubble and that was another game changer, really understanding and being able to use APIs for the first time. But yeah, I don't think Bubble is right for every single app.
Like I think there are certain apps, probably things like more complicated games or things that require very complex UI are maybe not quite right for Bubble. I mean, it's fantastic for most kind of apps that people want to build. I think like certainly most SaaS apps and things like that it can handle absolutely well. It can integrate with pretty much any other API. I've built things in it that render video and all this crazy stuff that you wouldn't think would be possible. So it can handle most things but it can't do everything and it's not perfect to everything, but I think all of the plus points of it outweigh the downsides.
So like if you were to compare this for me, if I'd have had to go and build my UserLoop app in code, I imagine it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop what is there now because it's so complex. So for me the downsides are worth it and there are ways of mitigating it.
Thanks for sharing that. What are some of the challenges, you say you've been going for about 18 months with UserLoop, would you mind sharing some of the challenges that you've experienced and maybe that you think would be typical of SaaS app at this stage having been launched in Bubble?
Yes. So I think obviously the product today is radically different than what it was when I launched. I think this is probably the case with most startups is that you go through this evolution process and I think it's really important to be ruthless with removing features that aren't resonating and people aren't using and really doubling down on the things that are working and really listening to customers.
Yeah, when I launched the app, it was unbelievably basic. You could ask, you could have one survey with one question and that was it. And you could send it out by email. That was all it did. And yeah, it was only based on customer feedback that I completely changed all that. I put a load of features in there that I thought people would want, like things like NPS like promoter score tracking and ended up people weren't interested, so I removed it. And it really is that process of being ruthless about, even if you spent ages working on something, taking it out, because it ends up being more to maintain, it makes the app more complicated. And for me, it's so important to have the app be easy to use and still powerful, that I've really been quite ruthless about stripping stuff out of it.
And I think the other challenge that other apps, certainly every app that I've been involved in struggles with is customer acquisition. And right at the beginning it was a struggle to get people to use it and to get adoption, and that's where the game changer for me was, that pivot to Shopify, improving the onboarding, having a channel where I could acquire customers easily was a game changer and it's been growing ever since then. So it's really those I think those are the main challenges I've had, is trying to keep the app powerful and simple and continuing to grow the revenue and the number of merchants using it.
So UserLoop is still a side-project for you alongside a full time job. What are your ambitions for UserLoop going forward?
Yeah, well, I'm really keen to work on it more full time because as you see, it gets more and more traction and start to earn money. It's the kind of thing that you just want to spend all your time on, so, yeah, but certainly my goal is to work on it full time pretty soon and I know this is a really difficult decision for everyone about at what point do you do that jump. And I've done it at different points in my life. In a previous startup, I left my job right the beginning before I'd really made any money and it did end up being working out in the end, but equally, I've done it before where it hasn't worked out and I've had to go back and get a job, so it's really difficult to know when to do it this time. I have waited probably a bit longer until I'm feeling it's pretty close on product market. Fit wise, I'm getting good for customer feedback and the revenue is growing, so that's now at the point where I'm feeling I do want to go and focus on this full time. But, yeah, I know for a lot of people, building that is one of the toughest decisions is knowing when to go on it full time. But, yeah, that's certainly my goal.
You mentioned database structure, that sounds like quite a key early learning point. Is there anything else that you'd say, the one thing to learn that's going to make life a lot easier to have learnt that right at the start of building an app Bubble.
I think one thing really important is to do as much as possible using backend workflows and database triggers and to keep them in an organised file structure. So I've certainly been really strict about that, even though I have hundreds of backend workflows, probably. I've organised them all in folders, colour coded them. I really tried to keep on top of that. But as your app grows, if you don't spend time making stuff maintainable, so, like, naming all your elements, naming your workflows, naming groups, all these buttons, everything, name it all properly, don't just copy and paste, because if you come back to that in three months and you're trying to debug it and you're looking at the logs and it's all gibberish, it's a nightmare. So it really is worth investing time in, using backend workflows, putting stuff in folders, all that stuff, to you thank yourself in three, six months when you actually have to maintain the app, or if you have to bring someone else on to it to help you with building it. If everything's all disorganised, it's really hard to get anyone else to come and help you with building the app. So that's certainly one of the things that I would say to people building with Bubble is try and keep things organised.
And the other thing about is, my app is a single page application, so it's all about built pretty much with reusable elements. And again, I would really recommend that people consider that application structure because it makes the whole thing a lot easier to maintain and very quick as well. So, yeah, definitely consider that. You'll thank yourself, I think, in kind of three months time.
And finally, if people want to find out more about UserLoop or more about your journey as a no code Bubble app builder, where can they find you online?
So UserLoop is a UserLoop.io. I also write a newsletter about building my apps with no code, which is just kind of behind the scenes, which is at nocodesaas.io, and then I'm just on Twitter @JamesDevenport.
Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for your time, James. I can tell that you write a newsletter on this topic because I've got the feeling that every question I ask you've already put a lot of reflection into it. So I really appreciate it and thank you for joining me today.
Thanks so much for asking me. It was great to chat.