As far as I can tell, low-code and no-code services are rapidly proving that prior models for products as broad as enterprise app creation and AI-powered data analytics were lackluster. My evidence? A mix of public- and private-market low- and no-code companies are putting up impressive results.
The Exchange caught up with Appian CEO Matt Calkins after his enterprise app software company reported its first-quarter performance to discuss the low-code market and what he’s hearing in customer meetings. To round out our general thesis — and shore up our somewhat bratty headline — we’ve compiled a list of recent low-code and no-code venture capital rounds, of which there are many.
As we’ll show, the pace at which venture capitalists are putting funds into companies that fall into our two categories is pretty damn rapid, which implies that they are doing well as a cohort. We can infer as much because it has become clear in recent quarters that while today’s private capital market is stupendous for some startups, it’s harder than you’d think for others.
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The dividing factor? Signs of impressive present-day traction: Startups that are growing very fast have nearly unlimited access to capital, while those that are growing at merely fast rates are often finding it difficult to find a dance partner.
So if we can show that a huge, diverse set of no-code and low-code startups are raising oodles of capital, we can infer something relatively sturdy about market demand for their products. (It also doesn’t hurt that no-code automation service Zapier is growing like a weed and has reached IPO scale. And, in other news, Appian just dropped a new version of its low-code automation platform, for whatever that is worth.)
First Appian’s CEO, then a venture capital roundup. This should be fun.
Briefly, Appian reported $88.9 million in Q1 2021 revenue, of which $39.1 million came from its cloud subscription business. The latter figure rose 38% in the quarter compared to the year-ago period. Appian also swung to adjusted EBITDA profit in the period. Investors responded by hammering the company’s stock in the wake of the results. From an April share-price range in the mid-$130s, Appian is now trading in the mid $80s, though only some of those declines came post-earnings.
But the company’s stock price is only so important. Precisely how conservative any one public company’s guidance is for the current year and how those forecasts play with investor expectations during a period of generally excessive valuations is not our game. What does matter is what the company’s CEO had to say about the low-code space itself.
We were curious whether Appian’s automation services or its low-code offering were more responsible for driving demand in its key cloud subscription business. Per Calkins, the demand that Appian is seeing for its products is not driven by its automation tooling in a majority sense; its low-code service is more critical to demand generation.
So as Appian posts its first guidance for cloud subscription growth in the 40% range — a record, I think — that acceleration is being driven by low-code app work instead of automation-related endeavors. Appian is bullish on its future pipeline: Per a release, it is seeing “continued growth [and a] healthy spending environment.”
Cool. What to take from the Appian quarter? That while some investors were seemingly less than enthused to watch the company cede some of its lower-margin services revenue to partners, its growth business’ expansion is accelerating and low-code app demand is driving that particular result.
For us, this means that the general corporate demand for low-code development tooling is not weak. And taking into account Appian’s positive remarks about its upcoming sales cycles, we can infer that demand is not slackening when we look toward the coming few quarters. With that general guidance, let’s dig into the startup world.
Given what Calkins said about market demand for his company’s low-code work, we might expect to see lots of startups in the market pursuing similar work raising lots of capital. Are we?
It’s hard to filter no- and low-code startups from the main information databases out there. So for this sort of summary, we’re leaning less on data and more on a survey of recently covered rounds of startups that lean on the software model. (No- and low-code are not business models; they are product philosophies. Most startups in this category are SaaS companies.)
So, starting with low-code, here’s some recent news:
- FintechOS, a startup that takes a “low-code approach” to banking tech, recently raised a $60 million Series B. The company is based in London, a global fintech hub. (April 20, 2021)
- Per TC the other day, “n8n [recently raised] $12M for its ‘fair code’ approach to low-code workflow automation.” This is pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the low-code world. The round is interesting because n8n is based in Berlin, not San Francisco. (April 26, 2021)
- Pliant is in the low-code space as well, offering IT automation tech that includes some code-light capabilities. It recently raised a $10 million Series A. (May 6, 2021)
- Airkit, which claims to offer the “world’s first low-code Digital Customer Experience platform,” recently raised a $40 million Series B. The round is notable because Airkit raised $28 million last October. That’s a quick second round. (May 11, 2021)
- Cycode isn’t a low-code company per se, but as part of its $20 million Series A, the startup announced that it is “releasing a low-code query engine.” Cool. (May 11, 2021)
- And there’s more recent funding news from Crosser, Redwood Software, Spinwheel and others that sell low-code-powered services.
You get the idea.
Notable in that scramble of funding rounds is a general lack of similarity. Fintech, devtooling, IT work and customer experience startups are all leaning on low-code as a theme to help meet customer needs. That’s the real lesson, I think, from the last year or two in this particular startup space; wide application of lower-code tooling to help make software applicable to a wider set of users, more quickly.
But of course, nothing is as potentially wide, in adoption terms, as no-code software. What’s the word from no-code startups? Here’s a sampling:
- Obviously AI recently raised a $3.6 million seed round for its “no-code tool that enables anyone to build and run AI models in minutes,” per its release. (May 3, 2021)
- And Pecan.ai put together a $35 million round for no-code analytics work. It also has a super great name, which we had to point out. (May 5, 2021)
- Anvilogic put together a $10 million round recently to build out what VentureBeat described as “a collaborative, no-code platform that streamlines detection engineering workflows by helping IT teams assess cloud, web, network, and endpoint environments and build and deploy attack-pattern detection code.” Cool. (May 11, 2021)
The list goes on, but I think we made our point: You can’t dismiss no- and low-code services as a fountain of technical debt and lukewarm dev projects. If you do, the market is kinda saying that you’re just elitist and obstinate.