Podcast Episode 8: Low Data or No Data?

By Aya Taher

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Paul Ford.

Rich Ziade: And I’m Rich Ziade.

Paul Ford: And this is the podcast for Aboard, a product that you’ll be able to use one day.

Rich Ziade: We’re going to inject a little bit of advice.

Paul Ford: Ah, everybody likes when you inject advice.

Rich Ziade: Especially since we inject a lot of it in the other podcast.

Paul Ford: [Chuckles].

Rich Ziade: We have Ziade and Ford advisors. Uh, I wanna talk a little bit about, and tell people what low-code, or no code is.

Paul Ford: Oh, low-code’s supposed to be the answer to everything.

Rich Ziade: It’s supposed to be the answer to everything.

Paul Ford: You can fire all of your engineers. You don’t ever have to write another line of code again.

Rich Ziade: That is the promise.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: How’s… well-

Paul Ford: Let’s talk about it.

Rich Ziade: Let’s talk about it.

Paul Ford: Alright, low-code what do you mean? What is it?

Rich Ziade: The best way I can define low-code or no [00:01:00] code, if you really want to go for it, is that it is software that makes software without engineers. That’s how I would define it.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: And so there’s this, and this is, by the way, this isn’t a new thing. It’s been around a while. I just saw an ad from the Zoho people-

Paul Ford: Zoho.

Rich Ziade: They just launched the no code or low-code platform. And what it is, is it’s like, okay, regular people who aren’t engineers, who aren’t technical can essentially use a visual interface, a UI that lets you kind of drag pieces of software together and then all of a sudden you’ve got software.

Paul Ford: You know, where you do see this for real, for real– music. There’s a lot of, like, you make your own instruments by dragging oscillators and putting lines between them.

Rich Ziade: Interesting.

Paul Ford: Programs like Max and there’s, it’s sort of, this is actually pretty normal in that world.

Rich Ziade: Yes, and this trend is [00:02:00] kind of everywhere, and I’m mentioning this to you now, Paul, because the first, I would say 18 months of Aboard’s design and development and the thinking behind it-

Paul Ford: Mm-hm.

Rich Ziade: I think you can unequivocally say we were building another low-code platform.

Paul Ford: Uh, I think you could unequivocally say that.

Rich Ziade: I don’t think we’re building that anymore, and I want to talk about why we stopped.

Paul Ford: Great. Okay, so what were we building?

Rich Ziade: We were building a tool that let you essentially assemble different kinds of data objects. Let’s call them that for a second. And then you could work on, and there’s workflow around them. So for example, a data object could be a sales lead that moves along from coming in, uh, inbound, to, call scheduled, to, uh, proposal drafted.

Paul Ford: So it looked like kanban meaning like posts, its moving across vertical [00:03:00] columns, but the cards themselves had these very strong types.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: So the types would be like sales lead, apartment that I want to rent, shoe I want to buy, um, church group member.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Like, like very, and then you would-

Rich Ziade: Anything.

Paul Ford: And you, you could add any kind of data to that data and you could then move things from position A to position B, and it would tell the other people that they were moving, so membership dues are processed.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Shoes are purchased, et cetera.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: So it was an engine for doing that, that we, we conceived of and wanted to build because we had been working together at the agency and we saw this pattern over and over. We were building software like this for lots of different people, and we said, “why don’t we just build it once and then license it to them?”.

Rich Ziade: Yes, and look, there are, it was not revolutionary, mainly because, uh, there are a lot of credible tools that do what you just described.

Paul Ford: Right, and it wasn’t, we were specifically not going for revolutionary.

Rich Ziade: We weren’t. The [00:04:00] big thing worth noting that we thought made it distinct was chat was kind of built into it.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: So you were getting chat.

Paul Ford: Little bit, little bit of slack, a little bit of air table, a little bit-

Rich Ziade: A pinch of this and a pinch of that.

Paul Ford: A little Trello.

Rich Ziade: And so now we’ve, on our way, it was still rough around the edges, but it was starting to become more and more credible. And then we stopped and I want to talk, and we stopped for a handful of reasons, mainly because, we had what we thought was a pretty cool idea of where to take a pro– the platform. But part of the reason we stopped is a realization.

Paul Ford: Hmm.

Rich Ziade: That I think we had but didn’t articulate it.

Paul Ford: Okay, okay.

Rich Ziade: Nobody wants to build software, even if it’s drag and drop. The work involved of designing what these data objects are, kind of sucks.

Paul Ford: So the way that I was looking at this, cause my job is to tell the story and educate people about the product, right? Like it’s a big part of what I do. And I was like, we’re gonna have a really big problem. And the big problem is that nobody [00:05:00] knows what data is.

Rich Ziade: Explain that further.

Paul Ford: Alright, so low-code tools, ultimately if you, the idea, the fantasy is like, “hey you won’t have to write a line of code and you’ll just be able to get, uh, you’ll be able to tell everybody, um, you did it and you will move some boxes around and you will upload a spreadsheet and, and now you’ll have a-“.

Rich Ziade: Don’t worry about the database.

Paul Ford: “You’ll have an amazing software solution all ready to go”. So, what we were building was this tool that was gonna make all that really easy, and the way we were focusing was on the data, make it really easy to make kind of a smart database almost casually.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm.

Paul Ford: And migrated and changed the way it worked with your friends, like the people you are, you, you’re working with, anyone could change the database, but it would be smart about that and so on. So we had this whole big story about data, data, data, data.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And as we told that story, I started to realize the mountain that we had to climb because no one knows what data is, they don’t know what code is, trust me, I know. But they also [00:06:00] really don’t know what data is.

Rich Ziade: That’s right, I think-

Paul Ford: And but also like there is no product where you can sit down and say, “in the next three weeks, I will teach you everything you need to know so that you can be really powerful with this”, unless it’s like nuclear engineering or weapon systems.

Rich Ziade: Yes, and it turns out nerds like us think it’s cool.

Paul Ford: Yeah, nobody else does.

Rich Ziade: Nobody else does.

Paul Ford: You know what, it’s the spouse test too. Like we have very smart wives who actually organize and run their own things.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And you showed them this tool and what did they say?

Rich Ziade: Good for you.

Paul Ford: Cool.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, cool.

Paul Ford: I, maybe I could use this.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, and I know this is like this entire podcast to this point is just one teaser trailer after the other. But when we-

Paul Ford: Don’t, don’t worry, nobody’s listening.

Rich Ziade: Fair enough. But when we brushed aside what we thought was sort of the software builder, software tool-

Paul Ford: Uh-huh.

Rich Ziade: And focused on the value, the [00:07:00] immediate value to customers and users, it immediately resonated for people. And that’s, I started this podcast by saying there’s gonna be a little piece of advice embedded in here. Uh, it’s hard to kind of, convince yourself that the things you care about, nobody else does.

Paul Ford: I’ve started to really accept it.

Rich Ziade: Oh, is this recent Paul?

Paul Ford: No, it’s been working, I’ve been working on it for years– well, it’s a funny thing because I, I care really deeply about nerdy stuff and, and very often people are like, wow, you really care about that. You should write about that, and I’ll share it with a million people.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Okay, and so I have this weird thing where the things I get excited about, I get to transmit that excitement and the other excited-

Rich Ziade: It’s a huge megaphone.

Paul Ford: I have this huge megaphone, but the reality is then, then you go one level out and people are like, what? What are you talking about?

Rich Ziade: Well, the issue is you bring it up at the barbershop that that article you just published.

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziade: He doesn’t really want to talk about it.

Paul Ford: You, you can find the point of connection. Like for [00:08:00] instance, I talked for an hour once with a barber who could have done a little, gone a lot faster-

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: An hour, but he really wanted to talk about the game Hitman.

Rich Ziade: The video game?

Paul Ford: Oh yeah.

Rich Ziade: That’s a good game.

Paul Ford: Apparently so.

Rich Ziade: [Laughter].

Paul Ford: I learned a lot about it. And, uh, and you know, actually what’s interesting is like, I mean, that, that’s the point of connection, right? Like, hey, you ever think about like, making video games? Like you could do that, I didn’t do that. I just wanted to get my hair cut.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And he told me about the TV he bought specifically to play Hitman, for like 45 minutes.

Rich Ziade: Seriously?

Paul Ford: I, I, I have to give it to him, I was really impressed.

Rich Ziade: I mean, I– respect.

Paul Ford: I mean he cuts hair and then he goes home and he plays Hitman. Uh, so that, but you know, it’s like that guy doesn’t want to hear about my theory of abstract data types.

Rich Ziade: He doesn’t, and nobody does actually.

Paul Ford: Nobody does.

Rich Ziade: Uh, and and what you see with these tools, by the way, and the tools I’m talking about if you want some examples are like monday.com.

Paul Ford: Uh-huh.

Rich Ziade: Click up, there’s sort of these low-code, no-code, there’s others, there’s many, by the way.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: If you just type in low-code into into Google, you’ll see a ton. [00:09:00] And what you see with these tools is what– the way they take hold is they get one person who’s technically savvy enough, who sort of becomes the advocate amongst groups and organizations, and they effectively evangelize the tool for them. It’s not something that resonates with the masses out of the game.

Paul Ford: Well, and it’s also, those are the people who gain power from the tool and they’re like, “Hey, I want you all to use this because that way you’ll be centered in my world”.

Rich Ziade: Yes, it validates the work they did, and it puts them in a position where all of a sudden they’ve, they’ve promoted themselves to administrator.

Paul Ford: Yeah. Let me assign you a task.

Rich Ziade: Exactly.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Again, we’re gonna talk about vaporware, even though it’s not vapor, but what’s been so exciting about sharing what we’re doing now with the small audience, and we can talk about this without sharing what it is because it still matters and the point matters for this podcast is that people within about seven minutes say, “oh, I could use this. I can make use of this”, pretty fast.

Paul Ford: Well I think, okay, so let’s get to a point that isn’t [00:10:00] absolutely agonizing for someone who doesn’t, doesn’t have access to the software. Um, nobody cares about low code ,really. That’s like a marketing tool that people use to an exact corporate power upon each other.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: People, nobody, you can tell that story all you want, and we did, and we did, and we did. And the people who care about it are people who are kind of like engineering adjacent or already project managers. They use other tools and they’re like, all right, that one looks okay.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: Nobody is in, I don’t think people are very excited about the idea of organizing their own, organizing their own data, except for people who like to organize their own data.

Rich Ziade: That’s right. And the other promise that we don’t, we haven’t talked about is that low-code, no-code supposedly saves money, saves companies money. I don’t have to hire as many engineers. The weird plot twist there is that you still end up hiring those engineers. You end up hiring actually low-code experts who are certified in whatever tool-

Paul Ford: Well, also, let’s talk, when we did research for this, when we started talking to people, we talked to potential enterprise customers and so on. And you know what they would tell us [00:11:00] over and over? “Yeah, we do that in a Google spreadsheet. It has 5,000 rows”.

Rich Ziade: We did hear that [chuckles].

Paul Ford: Everybody shares the Google spreadsheet.

Rich Ziade: Google spreadsheet is the ultimate tool, right?

Paul Ford: And they’re like, that’s plenty of data for us. I mean, this looks nice because I could track all the people, uh, who are working on something instead of trying to intuit it from a Google sheet cell.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: Like they, like, basically when we would show people Aboard, they would think to themselves, oh, this is like Google Sheets, but I know everyone involved.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: TLDR, it’s tempting to make it for yourself, make it for the world, and I think that’s, that was a key moment for us when we went out with this change and saw that people connected to it.

Paul Ford: Well that sounds nice, but what we actually did was stand up with an enterprise product and say, we think we have something really good. And people are like, yeah, it seems pretty good. And then go, actually, we’re gonna risk way more failure. Like you, you, you, that advice made it sound like we, we’ve absolutely found the goal that we figured it all. We [00:12:00] have no idea.

Rich Ziade: We know how to sell the enterprises, really.

Paul Ford: We had a low-

Rich Ziade: We do.

Paul Ford: We had a low risk strategy, and now we have an extremely high risk strategy.

Rich Ziade: That’s true.

Paul Ford: But it feels, it feels a lot better.

Rich Ziade: It does feel a lot better.

Paul Ford: It’s a better product. I like this product more than the old one.

Rich Ziade: And that’s a big deal.

Paul Ford: That’s what I care about.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, keep up with us. I swear to you Paul Ford, we’re gonna show this software. I think we, the day we show it-

Paul Ford: I just want to tell the audience, I’m like, it’s too soon for a podcast. Nope, we gotta get out there. Gotta get out there. Oh, not rich, come on man.

Rich Ziade: Look, man, it’ll, it’ll happen. And the day we, we talk about the actual software, it’ll be a you too. Let’s make a commitment to the people.

Paul Ford: This company is gonna be so successful that they’re gonna take this podcast away from us. That’s my prediction.

Rich Ziade: That’s, I’m okay with that.

Paul Ford: I’m okay with that.

Rich Ziade: I’m utterly okay with it. Uh, keep up with us, this is the ABOARD podcast. I’m Rich Ziade.

Paul Ford: Follow us on Twitter @Aboard and send us an email hello@aboard.com. We’ll talk to you soon.

Rich Ziade: Bye. [00:13:00]