Welcome back to the Protocol Power Index, a ranking of the most powerful companies by tech industry subsector, as well as the companies best positioned to challenge them. This time: low-code/no-code.
If time is money, then little is more precious than a developer’s time. Good developers are in low supply, and the skills needed for the job are constantly changing. On top of that, software development for enterprise applications often takes months, and while some combination of continuous integration/continuous deployment tools, automated testing and cloud-based development has helped shorten development cycles, good software continues to be a bottleneck for dozens of industries. That’s where low-code and no-code software companies come in, albeit with different approaches.
Low-code toolmakers like Pegasystems and Appian are aiming to minimize the amount of custom code developers have to write by offering pre-built templates that can be modified to meet an application’s specific needs. With both visual designs and powerful APIs, these companies have thrived as enterprises seek to make their developers more efficient while maintaining full functionality of their applications.
On the other hand, no-code companies like Unqork and Bubble are targeting non-developers by offering a toolkit that eliminates the need for any coding at all, vastly expanding the pool of people who can build an application on their own. By going after marketing, sales, HR and finance teams with drag-and-drop functionality, no-code companies increasingly put the power in the hands of end users who don’t want to wait months for others to build software for them.
The differing solutions to a similar problem — the need for shorter development cycles — mean that while both types of companies are often lumped together as competitors to traditional development tools, they are also at odds with each other. As a result, each company on this list falls somewhere along a low-code/no-code spectrum, and how each company has positioned itself — either as firmly on one side or straddling the middle ground — says a lot about how it sees the future of the developer experience and its continued evolution in the years to come.
You’ll notice we haven’t included large companies that built no-code and low-code extensions of their software, like Salesforce and Microsoft, or large tech companies that bought up low-code/no-code vendors, such as Google (AppSheet), because it’s not possible to tease apart these divisions from their larger parent company. We have, however, written about what these companies mean for the industry in the “What happens next" section after the leaderboard.
So, which approach is leading the pack, no-code or low-code? Which companies are winning the market? And who is prepared to cater to the next generation of enterprise customers?
|Power Score: 55.78
|Momentum Score: 82.35 (1)
|HQ: San Francisco, CA
|CEO: Howie Liu
In 2012, you could use Airtable to build a personal calendar; 10 years later, you could probably use it to run a good chunk of a business. What began a decade ago as a reinvention of the Excel spreadsheet has become a low-code powerhouse, in part due to how the company has leveraged its foundational spreadsheet platform and accessible UX to target a larger chunk of businesses by adding features that appealed to technical and non-technical audiences alike. Coming off a huge funding round at the end of 2021, the company is now valued at more than $11 billion, and all eyes are now focused on how Airtable can keep its momentum — even if an IPO is probably off the table this year.
|Power Score: 49.99
|Momentum Score: 61.18 (T-5)
|HQ: Boston, MA
|CEO: Paulo Rosado
The history of OutSystems is a bit like the end of a Christopher Nolan movie, in that it took a little while for people to really get it. Founded in 2001 in Portugal, OutSystems slowly and quietly built its business until it eventually relocated its headquarters to Boston and began courting big-name investors in the mid-2010s. In 2018, the company reached the coveted unicorn status; it’s approaching decacorn status following a $150 million funding round in February 2021. The company is now doubling down on cloud application development and automation with “Project Neo,” and its full rollout this year could mean that OutSystems is poised for a big 2022.
|Power Score: 48.55
|Momentum Score: 21.00 (10)
|HQ: Cambridge, MA
|CEO: Alan Trefler
One of the few public companies on the list, Pegasystems’ journey to becoming a serious low-code player seems to have been guided by Apple Maps instead of Google, given the number of interesting turns it’s had to take along the way. The nearly 40-year-old company plays in a number of spaces, from robotic process automation to customer relationship management, and its foray into low-code tools has given it the chance to expand its existing relationships into the still-growing market. Pega uses its annual contract value as its North Star, and noted in its most-recent earnings call that annual ACV had grown 22% year-over-year. While some of the growth can be attributed to Pega’s success in other businesses, CEO Alan Trefler has been quick to highlight low-code successes in recent earnings calls. But can Pega continue to leverage its existing customer relationships for low-code products at a quick enough pace?
|Power Score: 40.48
|Momentum Score: 41.00 (9)
|HQ: Mclean, VA
|CEO: Matt Calkins
|Power Score: 39.51
|Momentum Score: 71.76 (3)
|HQ: San Francisco, CA
|CEO: Vlad Magdalin
While many of the companies on this list have succeeded by offering broad-based tools that target dozens of use cases, Webflow has been more successful by focusing on no-code tools that make it easier for businesses to design and launch websites. Its drag-and-drop offering has been especially popular with small and medium-sized businesses that want to launch a website but don’t want to hire a developer to do it for them. The company’s most-recent funding round a year ago saw it exceed a $2 billion valuation, and Webflow announced at that time that the company was cash flow-positive for 2020. Webflow used some of the money from its most-recent funding round to grow its workforce by nearly 70% in the past 12 months, according to LinkedIn data. With the new talent on board, can the company continue its upward trajectory?
|Power Score: 38.90
|Momentum Score: 61.18 (T-5)
|HQ: New York, NY
|CEO: Gary Hoberman
Unqork roared into the no-code market by targeting financial services companies and the public sector since its founding in 2017, both demanding and heavily regulated market segments. Unqork has built out a secure, enterprise-grade, no-code development platform that it’s now ready to expand out alongside a marketplace of third-party offerings that integrate with its software. The company has also helped users build ad-hoc public service applications during the pandemic, including one used to help coordinate free meal distribution in New York City. Unqork’s October 2021 launch of a private cloud offering and expansion of its security tools mean that the company is well-positioned to take on competitors that have deeper customer relationships or more extensive offerings but are solely focused on public cloud offerings. Customers have high praise for Unqork’s platform: Liberty Mutual CIO James McGlennon said that its software is at least three times faster and three times less expensive than competing methods, and a massive $207 million financing round in 2020 highlights the market’s belief that Unqork has room to grow.
|Power Score: 28.87
|Momentum Score: 43.00 (8)
|HQ: San Francisco, CA
|CEO: David Hsu
Most Silicon Valley companies are built on massive fundraising rounds that provide a torrent of cash and dilute employee stakes. But not Retool. In its most recent fundraising round in December 2021, the low-code platform for internal applications raised just $20 million at a $1.85 billion valuation and diluted employees by just 6%, well below the 30% or more dilution rates at similarly-valued companies. With tens of millions of dollars in revenue and a cash-flow positive 2021 balance sheet, Retool’s easily integratable visual- and data-focused applications are poised to take a significant chunk of the low-code market in the coming years. The company’s extensive feature list, library of more than 40 templates for common internal tools and self-hosted version make it an attractive prospect, even if its product requires more advanced development than some competing platforms.
|Power Score: 27.81
|Momentum Score: 75.29 (2)
|HQ: New York, NY and Tel Aviv, Israel
|CEO: Avishay Cohen
Your buttons, widgets, drop-downs and user flows are all set in Figma; now you just have to wait months for your engineer to turn it into reality! Anima hopes to change that. Aiming to be the no-code platform from “design to development,” the company takes work done in design applications like Adobe XD, Sketch and Figma and turns it into code automatically, eliminating the need to rely on developers to do that work for you. A number of competing plugins offer similar functionality, but tend to only work for a single platform and have fewer users. Anima’s interactive editor helps developers extend their design, giving companies the ability to modify their code and see live changes after design files have been converted. Though its market is more niche than others on this list, tools like Anima’s are critical to companies that don’t want to rely on pre-built templates offered by larger platforms like WordPress. Fresh off the heels of 8x monthly-active-user growth and a $10 million series A fundraising round in 2021, the company is hoping to expand its sights beyond individuals and small teams and toward the enterprise market.
|Power Score: 27.81
|Momentum Score: 69.41 (4)
|HQ: San Francisco, CA
|CEO: Steve Sewell
When your ecommerce company makes 100 changes a month thanks to product launches, promotions and seasonal trends, keeping your website up to date is a daunting task. Builder.io aims to eliminate the need for a developer to make all of these changes and instead enable storeowners to make those changes themselves. With its drag-and-drop interface that integrates with Shopify’s storefront, Builder.io helps reduce the friction between a website’s underlying tech stack and modifications to the front end. The company is banking heavily on users wanting to create their own ecommerce site instead of going with Amazon, a battle that continues to rage between Builder.io partner Shopify and the internet conglomerate. The company also has yet to expand beyond ecommerce, despite many other low-code/no-code vendors venturing beyond its original industry. Its approach seems to be working: Customer growth has improved six times year-over-year for the past two years, and the company raised $14 million in October 2021 to accelerate that growth.
|Power Score: 26.71
|Momentum Score: 55.00 (7)
|HQ: New York, NY
|CEO: Emmanuеl Straschnοv
When Josh Haas wanted to start a company in 2012, he realized that there were more people with startup ideas than people with the skills to turn them into reality. Haas co-founded Bubble alongside Emmanuеl Straschnοv in an attempt to change that and make it easier for people to create their own web apps without dedicated developers. The company lets users write plain-English instructions and use drag-and-drop workflows to build out application functionality. In the background, extensive application metrics help companies identify how visitors are using their application so they can change it accordingly. After spending seven years bootstrapping its no-code product, Bubble raised a $6.5 million seed round in 2019 and another $100 million in July 2021. Now, it’s turning its sights on educating non-technical founders and early-stage startups while fleshing out its product. The company will stay focused on the startup market for now, letting other competitors target more established enterprises.
Explore the Data
The Protocol Power Index is designed to view power through a holistic lens that reflects how modern tech companies amass and exercise their strength. To do so, the Power Index takes into account 30 metrics across five categories — Economics, Leadership, Innovation, People and Politics & Policy — and synthesizes them into a single Power Score. Read our full methodology statement here.
What happens next?
Several forces stand to influence how low-code/no-code companies operate in the coming years: the increasing importance of speed in business decisions, a push “up the stack” by the big cloud providers and a proliferation of industry-specific software.
Companies need tools to help them move faster. According to research done by McKinsey, companies with higher developer velocity outperform the market by four to five times. Low-code and no-code tools could help companies improve their development speed.
- Low-code and no-code platforms eliminate routine development tasks and expand the number of people who can make applications in the first place. Low-code tools can reduce development time by up to 10 times, according to Forrester, freeing up developers to work on more features and applications. A similar estimate from Bubble’s No-Code Census 2020 found that no-code tools could speed up development time by 4.6x.
- However, those numbers aren’t exact, as developer mileage varies widely across companies with specific use cases and requirements. Once companies quantify their productivity gain with low-code and no-code development platforms through pilot programs, they can assess the return on investment that the tools provide.
- Developers are taking note: Forrester estimated that 75% of all organizations would use low-code or no-code tools in 2021, up from 44% in 2020. Furthermore, 60% of low-code/no-code users expected their usage to increase.
- However, the simplicity of creating an application leaves companies at the risk of creating “shadow IT” as different teams solve the same underlying problem on their own rather than working through central IT, potentially leaving security vulnerabilities and disconnected systems in their wake. This duplication of effort can slow down a company’s overall productivity even if individual teams’ needs are met.
- The need for speed isn’t going away: The pandemic was a prime example of how companies can benefit from staying agile, and low-code/no-code tools only stand to benefit from that trend. Gartner predicted that the low-code/no-code market would grow 22.6% in 2021 to $13.8 billion, with no signs of slowing down in 2022.
Cloud providers are increasingly entering the market. The likes of AWS, Microsoft and Google have often been criticized for their services being too complicated, and in response have been focused on releasing low-code and no-code versions of their tools in recent years. This could lead to increased competition with pure-play providers, which are still heavily reliant on their partnerships with the big cloud providers for joint sales initiatives as well as their cloud marketplaces.
- The Big Three have offered services “up the stack” for years that focus on areas from data engineering to streaming and machine learning, but these services still require hours of browsing documentation and studying reference architectures to put into practice.
- Low-code and no-code versions of this complicated software — from Google’s AutoML suite for low-code machine-learning applications to AWS Amplify Studio for low-code web development — make leveraging the complicated software significantly easier, threatening pure-play providers that struggle to integrate as closely with the underlying infrastructure as the big cloud providers do.
- Other companies have also started offering low-code and no-code versions that extend their core offerings, most notably Salesforce. The company’s Lightning platform lets users build custom CRM applications, and its deep repository of a company’s sales data makes it more difficult for competitors to offer rival services in this area.
- The Big Three also each have their own dedicated no-code platforms — Power Apps for Microsoft, Amazon Honeycode for AWS and AppSheet for Google — that directly compete with no-code pure plays in the application development space.
- This makes co-opition the name of the game for the low-code/no-code industry. Companies must continue to integrate with cloud infrastructure and leverage cloud marketplaces to sell their services, but will have to find ways of creating niches for themselves that differentiate their underlying capabilities from their much larger competitors.
Will low-code/no-code tools focus on specific industries? Companies in industries from health care to financial services have clamored for industry-specific solutions that meet their strict regulatory requirements and unique demands, but so far low-code and no-code companies have largely targeted cross-industry problems like web design and workflows rather than solving for a particular industry’s issues.
- The Big Three have heard this complaint for years and all offer products to serve specific industries, like AWS’ health care-focused software HealthLake, Google Cloud’s Visual Inspection AI for identifying product defects on the production line and Microsoft’s Cloud for Retail.
- However, low-code and no-code providers have largely remained industry-agnostic thus far, preferring to promote themselves for specific functions like marketing or HR rather than to industries like life sciences or entertainment.
- That strategy has made sense. Teams like finance and operations have similar needs across different sectors, so cross-industry solutions have a broad audience. While some companies like OutSystems have industry-specific offerings, they tend to market their team-specific functionality more than their vertical-oriented software.
- There are a few exceptions to this trend: Unqork has set itself apart by focusing on the health care, financial services and public sector specifically, and Bubble only builds ecommerce solutions for now. What’s unclear is if these companies are leading the pack or only carving out a niche for themselves.
- It’s possible that we’ll see more low-code and no-code companies follow the cloud providers’ vertical-specific strategy rather than double down on their current paths.
To rank the competitors, we've developed a formula that encapsulates 30 criteria. Those criteria span five groupings that factor into power: Economics, Leadership, People, Innovation & Politics and Policy. We then developed two systems for weighting the criteria — one for measuring power and the other for measuring momentum — such that companies can be scored on a 0–100 scale. Read our full methodology here.