How We Built A No-Code Map Builder [400 Users In The First 3 Months]
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I am Nan and I am the founder of No Code Map App - a no code builder for creating custom interactive maps with dynamic filters. It is designed for businesses to build an agency-quality interactive map without coding.
This could be a directory of locations, a restaurant or cafe listing, or an event calendar - really anything you want. Our biggest differentiator is we are the only map builder capable of creating multiple custom filters automatically based on your dataset.
We launched 3 months ago and started monetizing at the end of March. April was our first full month of taking payments and we made >$400.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I worked in investment banking for 10 years, advising clients to buy and sell their companies or assets. After working with many companies and entrepreneurs, I wanted to build something of my own. I also love to travel and have been to >60 countries (very lucky!).
So I left finance, my cofounders at the time, and a couple of friends put together our original seed money to start Pebblar (still the #1 ranked “collaborative trip planner” on Google). But then Covid happened and between February and April 2020, we lost ~80% of our traffic. We kept working on it and focussed on cost-cutting. Luckily, it is now self-sustaining.
What was interesting about Pebblar was that it has an entirely map-based interface and our users loved that! It made us realize how important it is for people to be able to visualize their own set of locations. We also had several inbound inquiries from various businesses asking us if there is a way to re-cut our map interface for their business dataset. That gave us the idea for No Code Map App - a no code platform where anyone can build custom interactive maps by simply importing their spreadsheet or data.
The gap in the market we noticed was that while there were several existing map makers where you can plot a list of locations quite quickly, they all lacked in two main areas:
- None of them let you create dynamic filters (commonly seen on custom-built maps)
- They offered little to no UI customizations which are necessary for the map to blend in with the rest of your website and branding
After working with Google Maps APIs for >3 years, we were very familiar with building custom UI around mapping APIs. So we were able to build our MVP in under 2 months. We officially launched on 31 January and for the last 3 months, we have been focused on growing our user base and revenue.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When we were designing our no-code builder, we went around and tried out a bunch of different no code builders from website builders, and app builders to map builders.
Once we had done our research, we decided on a few key principles:
- Super straightforward and intuitive - we know people tend to think in steps when they are building something so our builder has 3 “sections” (or “steps”): “1. template”, “2. data”, and “3. customize”. Yes, we have “1, 2, 3” so it is super clear and straightforward.
- As much automation as possible so it feels “effortless” - people get this sense of reward when they build something themselves and a bonus if you can let them do it quickly and effortlessly. So, we try to automate and auto-generate as much as we can. This means the ability to bulk process and convert user data into ready-to-use maps with filters auto-generated based on your data columns. No manual entry, no drag, and drop.
- Customisation - in addition to being able to process any type of custom data, it is also important for users to be able to customize it to their style and branding.
Our overall goal is to enable businesses to create agency-quality maps that feel custom-built, but without the hefty development cost and time.
As I mentioned earlier we are very familiar with map APIs and building similar functions, so once we were clear on our core principles, we were able to build our first version very quickly.
The one great thing about building SaaS MVPs is a lot of service providers provide free credits for the first couple of months so startup costs are very manageable. We shipped quite early, with only:
- 2 general templates;
- 1 method of data import; and
- a few customization features.
Describe the process of launching the business.
To start, we purposely picked a name that tells you exactly what we do: “No Code Map App”. There are just so many new apps every day, just getting people to understand and remember what you do is also a big challenge. Interestingly, little did we know, that it also helped with our SEO.
We told ourselves we need to be disciplined about what we add and how we add them so we don't lose our focus or stretch ourselves too thin.
Then, I started marketing as soon as my cofounder started coding:
- I built a simple website using Wix with a collection of sample screenshots and our value proposition. I have no background in design so I picked an easy-to-use tool
- I started blogging to help with SEO
- I also started posting on Twitter
We also tried Kickstarter. We knew software tends not to do well on Kickstarter and it was the case for us too, oh well it is what it is.
In terms of finances, my cofounder and I were building this in our spare time and we used a lot of free credits, so it wasn’t too bad in our case.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have accumulated ~400 registered users and they are almost all inbound from Twitter, Google, and LinkedIn. They have been great for us. We are now also getting invited to Youtube videos, interviews, and podcasts.
I think the thing that attracts people to our platform is the fact that those who have tried to build custom maps before know how frustrating it can be.
Once we started getting feedback from trial users, we quickly realized that automation and data integration are very important to businesses. So our near-term focus will be on adding in more third-party integration and automation.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We started taking payments at the end of March. April was our first full month of charging our users. We now make enough to cover our basic operating costs. So, the next stage goal is to increase our revenue so we can pay ourselves a salary. Hopefully, we will reach ramen-profitability by the end of the year for the two of us.
We pay a lot of attention to our unit economics. We use a lot of Google Maps API, and the biggest variable cost for us is the “map load” charge we need to pay Google each time a map is loaded. This is why we have a 1c per map view cost we charge. It is not ideal and we get asked about it all the time, but it is just too much liability for us.
Don’t overthink it! Just roll out asap with a basic but functioning version and let your users guide you through what features to do;
It has become clear to us that automation is very important to business users, so our near-term focus will be on adding more third-party integrations. We just rolled out our Google Sheets integration, and now working on Webflow CSM and Airtable integration. The goal is to make it easy to set up and update your map.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
This is my second startup, so I was able to apply a lot of my learnings from my previous project to this new project.
Firstly, ship fast and release early. I see the first version as more of a “scooter” (not even a “bike”). It is simple but it works. It gives people the opportunity to try out your concept and start asking for additional functions they need. When we rolled out, our map mobile view wasn’t even optimized.
We also started marketing early. As soon as my cofounder started coding, I started getting the word out. I put together a basic landing page and started blogging and posting about it on Twitter. Honestly, we weren’t super sure if there is a real need for this so I wanted to see if people resonated with our messaging. It worked out well for us - people understood what we are trying to do (yay!), many resonated with the problem, and the day we launched we ranked #1 for “no code map” on Google.
Start charging as soon as possible. We started charging about 2 months after we launched, mostly because we had a couple of live users who needed to have their maps up and running asap and we still lacked some core features (e.g. mobile view optimization!). In hindsight, we could and should have asked for payment in the first month. Nothing is more indicative of demand than paying users.
Don’t listen to everything your users tell you. People will always ask because they can. We told ourselves we need to be disciplined about what we add and how we add them so we don't lose our focus or stretch ourselves too thin.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our platform itself is built with Firebase and Google Maps APIs. I am a non-technical founder so I do the marketing and user communication. I built our landing page and blog using WIX (because I found it quite easy to use), and I do most of our marketing on Twitter. Twitter has an awesome community for no code tools and SaaS in general.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
This might be a bit different from others, I like to read up on the early days of successful SaaS companies, especially in the no code space. The beginning is often the hardest so it is also very interesting for me to understand and learn how they started. A few good stories include Notion, Canva, Zapier and Typeform.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
- Don’t overthink it! Just roll out asap with a basic but functioning version and let your users guide you through what features to do;
- Understand what your users are willing to pay for. You can add those gradually and build them into higher pricing tiers;
- Understand your unit economics so you know if it is sustainable.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Twitter handles: @ImNanZhou, @nocodemapapp
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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