Ep. 199 – Jeremy Blalock, Adalo’s CEO on Innovating with No-Code Mobile App Tools

Ep. 199 – Jeremy Blalock, Adalo’s CEO on Innovating with No-Code Mobile App Tools

Jeremy Blalock is the CEO and co-founder of Adalo. Adalo is the no-code tool that allows you to build functioning mobile apps. Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation Founder, talks with Jeremy about the no-code movement, what it takes to build a startup in St. Louis, and some of the trends that he’s seeing in the world of mobile software development.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, founder of InsideOutside.IO, a provider of research, events, and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we’ll give you a front-row seat to the latest thinking tools, tactics, and trends, in collaborative innovation. Let’s get started.

Interview Transcript

Brian Ardinger:  Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest coming to us from St. Louis, Missouri is Jeremy Blalock. Jeremy is the CEO and cofounder of Adalo. Welcome, Jeremy.

Jeremy Blalock: Thanks for having me.

Brian Ardinger: How are you doing?

Jeremy Blalock: Hunkering down but got lots of groceries and ready to stay at home for awhile.

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Yes. For the audience out there that may not be familiar with you and Adalo, why don’t we get them up to speed? As a lot of people know on this podcast, we talk a lot about some of the new innovations that are going on, and Adolfo, I think is one of those innovations in the no code space.  I wanted to bring you on to talk about that. Let’s get started by telling us a little bit about what is Adalo.

Jeremy Blalock: Adalo is, as we put it, the easiest way to build a mobile app without knowing how to code. You can build mobile and now actually web apps, apps that do things from being social networks or marketplaces, you know a variety of other types of things. Things like, there’s an app that a university built that students use to check their grades for the classes. You can build those apps without knowing how to code, generally through our web editor and then publish them to the iOS and Android app stores.

Brian Ardinger: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started in this.

Jeremy Blalock: I’m a software engineer by training. I started writing code when I was in middle school, you know, back in the mid two thousands. I built a lot of websites and a couple of mobile apps and just always kind of was interested in building things that you could watch and have people use. And it always fascinated me. Before I started Adalo, I went and worked at a couple of other companies. I started one startup that I was the head of product for, and then after that, I worked at a company called Synack that we’ve met along the way, and I led one of their engineering teams.

And it was kind of through that process, that I saw that there was this whole evolution of prototyping tools, tools like Envision, Sigma, Framer, that let you build these extremely high fi prototypes that he looked and felt like real apps, but lacking any actual functionality. That was my inspiration to actually go and try to build something that felt like a prototyping tool and was still easy to use like that, but then lets you build a real app with real functionality, you could actually publish to real users.

And so, I started working on Adalo in 2017. And really just started by, looking at what the prototyping tools were doing and taking those functionalities and then building on top of that. We launched to our first-ever users at the end of 2017. We then open up a beta and had a few more users come in and really walk them through the process, intensely with a lot of input from us. As we kept growing, we opened up signups and some are 2019 and then and in Fall we did our big launch and got a lot more people using the products. Now the numbers are 10 times what they were then, but it’s been crazy to see that whole thing grow.

Brian Ardinger:  Tell us a little bit about some of the types of projects that have been built on Adalo.

Jeremy Blalock: I was looking at a really cool one today. It was a guy who built an app for his son to manage his personal finances. That was like, wow, I never thought this was a thing where he is the bank and his son is the client of the bank. There’s a wide variety. Like I mentioned, there’s been a couple of schools, universities and high schools. have apps where students can check their grades. That’s a big category for some reason.

Now there’s a lot of two-sided marketplaces, things like the Etsy and eBay type of setups. There are a lot of apps in the personal wellness space. Things from psychological wellness to anything related to that. And then there was a lot of productivity apps within companies, so streamlining various workflows. That’s what seems to happen within more of the companies.

Brian Ardinger: I’ve seen some other startups that are using your platform as well Tovala comes to mind. The smart oven out of Chicago who provides meals and stuff through the platform. Let’s talk a little bit about this whole no-code movement. What do you think is changing out there? What are the trends that you’re seeing in the space?

Jeremy Blalock: When I started working on this, there wasn’t really the no-code movement there is today. There were definitely people working on this and thinking about these problems, but it really wasn’t at the scale that it is now. There were tools like Bubble that had been around for a while, and I think we see as a competitor, but you know, we’re friendly with them. We’d like to see everybody succeed. I think that what’s really happened is that people started to embrace the idea that you don’t need to have a technical cofounder or technical team to build a product and get your first users. And I think that’s a big mindset shift that’s happened since we started the company.

Originally it was trying to convince people and now it’s just trying to facilitate that. You know, obviously it’s necessary for this to get big over time, is that people really embrace this. But it happened first with websites, with Squarespace and WordPress. They became the de facto way of making your startup’s website. Tools like Webflow, FirstStudy and Further, but I think now that’s starting to happen also with apps. You don’t necessarily need to hire an engineer. You can just do it yourself. And then test and iterate.

Brian Ardinger:  You’re a developer by trade. There’s a lot of controversy in the no-code low code. When do you need developers? When don’t you, and that? You’re building tools to specifically solve that problem of a nontechnical co-founder, spinning some things up. What are some of the objections or things that you’ve seen that why you should go no code versus hiring your own development team? What are some of the things that you’ve seen in that space?

Jeremy Blalock: One thing we’re really trying to do is make it possible to leverage code when you need to. One thing that we’re working on right now, that’s the big focus is our component marketplace. So that will let people build, react and react native components that plug into our platform as plugin and then lets you add functionality to it without having to build the whole app. You just build that one plugin and then that will add value for you, but also for anybody else, if you want to share that publicly, you all just do that and share it with the community.

But I think that really what people are often worried about is they’re worried about the things that you would be worried about if you were hiring a development team and that’s vendor lock-in using something that you opt to pay for forever. They’re worried about the idea that it will be eliminated, and they won’t be able to get around that and they’re worried about not having control. Really what’s fundamentally different about this is that you do have all the control, even if you’re non-technical. And so that’s where it’s different.

There is certainly still a risk that if you choose a platform and it’s not the right platform. Then you could end up with not all the functionality you need and then you could be having to go and build something else. I said, really what we usually tell people is the investment is so small upfront, compared to building a traditional product, that you should just try it and see what happens and iterate over time. Like I was saying, we’re adding the component marketplace.

We have now support for external API as the whole data end, and then we have a couple of other ways too where you can extend our platform. So that it really isn’t the limiting factor. It’s just the base that, we’re, the platform that you built on top of, so you can build some things with code, but the majority with no code, but if you really need to use the code, you can.

Brian Ardinger: I like that approach and as the no-code tools become more prevalent and people become more familiar with it, and quite frankly, they’re becoming much more open to, I’d imagine in your business outside of the product that you built itself, there’s probably other no-code type of tools or solutions that you’ve seen out there that you might use in your startup currently or…?

Jeremy Blalock: Our website is fully built on Webflow, and that was the most obvious one. But we also use things like Zapier to sync data back and forth, a variety of other things like that where, you know, I’m usually not the ones to do that, but a lot of the stuff involved in the marketing automation and that stuff, as well as categorized method.

Brian Ardinger: That’s one of the hidden benefits of the no-code movement is it really leverages up your tech talent on your team, and it leverages up their ability to focus on the core stuff, the tough, hard stuff in actually developing real code, but it opens it up to other folks to get some things done or automate tasks or improve workflows that they couldn’t do without a developer before and it saves that development team for doing the real work.

Jeremy Blalock: Developers initially tended to be threatened, when I would talk about this stuff, but the reality is we’re not trying to take away developers’ jobs. It would be really hard to do that. What we’re instead doing, is we ‘re allowing them to do what developers usually want to work on, which is solving more technical problems, building reusable things, and really delving into the deeper, more difficult challenges other than just doing the same things you’ve already done a thousand times.

Brian Ardinger: What’s some of the exciting things that you’re seeing with regard to the future of the platform or future of mobile in general?

Jeremy Blalock: It’s interesting too, just what people are building, people who are never exposed to this before. And I think there is new design trends. I think there is new functionality. Lots of things that are happening that we didn’t predict just within our platform, but I think that more broadly as the platform is mature, so as iOS apps are 12 years old now, and Android a little less than that, but they’re pretty stable foundations as now the no-code platforms are coming in, we can build on those stable foundations.

And we can let people build apps that are in totally new verticals that never were possible before because they just didn’t have the resources. Trends wise, there’s definitely new technologies coming out, things like AR kit not too long ago. What I’m more excited about is just having this as a stable foundation that we can then build on going forward to go all the new interesting things.

Brian Ardinger: I’m in the Midwest. You’re in the Midwest. What’s it like building a startup in St. Louis and with a remote team?

Jeremy Blalock: Our team is about 75% in St Louis and then we have a few who are remote. One actually joined today. We’re all bought into the whole concept of being a Midwest startup. The benefits are several. I used to live in San Francisco and started the company there. Then I moved here, because my two cofounders we’re already based here, and it made sense to be with them when we were starting to build up the team. But when I looked at where I wanted to be, I looked at what are they good universities, where is there good sources of talent? Where are there community or innovations and programs that will help you and where is their investment available? Those were what would drive me to a particular market.

Obviously, St. Louis looks attractive just because the city of St. Louis gave us a $50,000 dilution free grant, called the Arch Grant.  In addition, we have office space that costs around 20% of what it would cost in San Francisco for the same office space, and we have some great universities here you know. St Louis University, SLU, Washington University, they’re like top schools, good computer science programs, good marketing programs.  Smart kids coming out of those who we can hire, and we have the better chance of hiring smart people from those schools than if we were in the Bay area trying to hire from Stanford and Berkeley because there’s so many other companies competing for that talent.

That’s what makes this great. And then also in terms of raising money as a startup, that’s obviously a concern. We’ve raised about a third of our money here and about two thirds from the West coast, so it’s been a split. But I think that’s the right approach is we wanted to raise some money here so that we’re connected to the ecosystem here, but also, we want it to be able to access the money on the West coast. And that happened through, and now we’re going one of our investors here. It all has worked out organically, but it’s been great so far.

Brian Ardinger: I appreciate that and that feedback and insight. One of the things I like about being in the Midwest is that you mentioned the community and being able to get access to people that you couldn’t get access to in a bigger, larger tech city or something. Actually, that’s how you and I met. We just met on Twitter and I threw up a “I’m going to host a no-code meetup” and you saw that and pinged me, and like that’s how we connected. It’s nice to see that camaraderie and help building overall ecosystems no matter where things are being built. So, I appreciate that quite a bit. The last question, what’s next for you? What’s next for Adalo.

Jeremy Blalock: Right now, we’re really focused on building out this component marketplace. Continue to build on a stable foundation for our platform that will let our users take their apps to the next level. In terms of new features, we’re launching a maps component in the next couple of days here. We’re launching several other fun things like video support.

Really, we’re just working on building out this stable platform, the foundation everybody’s building on top of, and then we’re also working on building out a network of experts that can help build out functionality for Adalo. So one thing that’s really important is not only having the knowledge within our company and to build out great apps with our platform, but also having a community be engaged, having people around the world know how to use our tools and be able to help other customers build out their apps and be successful.

So right now, we’re, we’re working on launching a partner’s program where agencies who specialize in design, no code development, all those things, and partner with us. And then we can drive traffic for them, you know, through our website and through our app. But they can also then help our users by helping them design their apps, helping them add functionality, potentially building out some of these plugins, that they might need and do. Just be experts on our platform. And I think this is something that we’ve seen work well with a lot of the other platforms that have come before us. You know, things like Webflow, Salesforce and many others have these networks of experts. And that’s really what made them successful more than anything else. We’re really trying to do that.

So far, we have great community support. If you’re an Adalo user and you don’t know about it already, we have a Slack channel with over 400 people now who are just talking about Adalo day and night and asking each other questions and answering each other’s questions. Now, some of our users are experts, so we’re just trying to grow that out more and help more people have this knowledge that they can use to transform their businesses, help other people take this around the world.

Brian Ardinger: Thanks for being on Inside Outside Innovation. If people want to find out more about yourself directly or Adalo, what’s the best way to do that?

Jeremy Blalock: Definitely just head to Adalo.com and follow us there. We’re also @AdaloHQ on Twitter. We’d love to see you at either of those places.

Brian Ardinger: Well, Jeremy, thanks again for being on the show. Looking forward to staying connected in the whole new world of no-code stuff.

Jeremy Blalock: Absolutely.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

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Episode 199

Ep. 199 – Jeremy Blalock...