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Demand for no-code due to developer shortage, pandemic

In this Q&A, Quickbase CEO Ed Jennings shares his thoughts on the developer shortage, the no-code platform's growth and his plans to 'open up the world' for citizen developers.

Cloud-based application development platform Quickbase is setting its sights on knowledge workers and will double in size in the next few years.

That's according to CEO Ed Jennings, who backed up the belief by touting 19% year-over-year growth in its first quarter, which ended March 31. The 23-year-old company, which is privately held, also reported a 233% growth in overall platform use in the last five years. In addition, existing customers have doubled their use on the platform.

In this Q&A, SearchSoftwareQuality caught up with Jennings during the in-person version of Empower, the company's annual customer conference, to discuss Quickbase's two-decade transformation from a spreadsheet-based app to a drag-and-drop no-code platform. Jennings talks about the factors that are fueling the growth, including the developer shortage and the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on supply chains.

What problem does Quickbase solve?

Ed JenningsEd Jennings

Ed Jennings: The problem is, there are not enough developers -- people that can write code in various programming and development environments. That gap is what's created this early opportunity for us and for all low-code/no-code vendors. With a platform like Quickbase, you don't need to know anything about how to build an application. You don't have to know about code repositories. You don't have to know about programming languages. You don't even have to know scripting, yet you can build a SaaS-based application -- with a web front end, with a mobile front end, with a relational in-memory database behind it, with business logic -- and all of it is a drag-and-drop way of building sophisticated apps.

What differentiates you from OutSystems or Salesforce?

Jennings: Many [low-code/no-code] systems are built for the 28 million professional developers in the world. They're good tools for people who know coding, are trained in app architectures, are trained in various scripting languages or programming languages, and they make that type of skill set more productive. We're focused on the billion knowledge workers who have none of that training. I think [OutSystems and Salesforce] are great tools, but they're not actually changing the game.

You announced an 'explosive growth' in demand for your platform. Can you tell me what is 'explosive' about these numbers?

Jennings: We are explosive in terms of the amount of usage of our platform and the amount of consumption we see over the last few years that people are using on that platform. This is a category that has been around for a little while, but it's only now really coming of age. Because historically, people would say, 'We've got to hire professional developers to build that' or say 'I'm going to live with it in spreadsheets.' When you're taking a category that's really starting to arrive, and even in my tenure, I can see the difference. Even the most hardened conservative IT organizations used to resist this notion of empowering citizens at the edge of a business. Now you're seeing them say, 'Wow, how do we do this?' We are seeing that [these organizations] can't keep up with the demands and the requests of a business, the agility of a business, that it requires these days.

Some of that was pandemic-driven, because the amount of change and the amount of responsiveness to huge disruptions and things like supply chains, and vendors and the way they did business, forced them to do things that are a different way. They couldn't hire enough technology talent to keep up with the digital transformation that their businesses were requiring.

How does Quickbase today differ from the original app?

Jennings: Where we were 20 years ago is like Smartsheet, just a simple tool that's easy to use. Instead of using a spreadsheet, let people log in and manage tasks and people. …Two of the biggest innovations for us were moving to a relational database that allowed for more complexity and to scale dramatically. And then the acquisition [of Cloudpipes in 2019], which allowed us to really integrate it with anything in a sort of drag-and-drop fashion.

Where will Quickbase be in five years?

Jennings: I don't know that we are forecasting that far ahead. The kind of growth we've been on for the last few years continues to accelerate. We've been around for over 20 years, the growth of our headcount, the growth of our bookings accelerating now, that's exciting. It puts us on a path in the next few years to double again.

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