The No-code Platform for
Building Scalable and Sophisticated Apps
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Pavel Ershov. For the last 6 years my co-founder Nikita Navalikhin and I have been working on the no-code platform Directual, specially designed for tech savvy product makers.
With Directual, entrepreneurs and companies innovation leaders can build sophisticated digital products without hand-coding up to 10 times faster using the intuitive visual development interface.
The motto of our company is “let people create”. We believe that every person should be able to craft amazing apps, no matter if he has any coding skills or not.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I have a Masters degree in applied physics and economics. Being a student I started my way as an entrepreneur. The first startup in 2007 was similar to Spotify, the online streaming music service. The product was really nice, but we couldn’t overcome legal-related issues. In 2011 two of my university mates and I launched a shopping app for smartphones, which allowed users to be rewarded for walk-ins and purchases in the cafes and stores. The most challenging thing was competing with the market leader—Shopkick. Later, in 2014, I was asked to join the team of one of the most innovative retail banks — Tinkoff bank.
There, in 2015 my colleague Nikita and I were developing enterprise IT-systems for serving bank customers. I was a product designer and was struggling against the slow process of product development. The process consisted of composing a technical task, coding, testing, and waiting for the release. It took ages!
That is why I started researching what could be done by not-a-coder to make a development process faster and more flexible. I came up with an idea of a visual scenario designer and asked Nikita to build an MVP.
In 2016 we quit the bank, co-founded Directual, and launched the first version of our no-code platform. Occasionally, we started working with enterprise companies. Directual became the basic technology for products built for such companies as Schlumberger, PIK and MTS.
We turned out to be an agency that provided clients with products on its own platform. In 2019 we realised that we should not focus on the enterprise business model, since it was barely scalable. Moreover, it didn’t match our mission to “let people create”, thus we decided to pivot towards the mass market and pure SaaS-model.
Directual is currently a popular no-code platform. Hundreds of customers build scalable and sophisticated apps on the platform.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
As I mentioned, the significant challenge was a pivot from agency to SaaS. We had to reimagine our approach to product development. Nowadays 80% of new features are requested by our community members.
Despite the fact that the low-code market is skyrocketing, the competition is growing as well. You can see new no-code tools appearing on Product Hunt almost every month. Of course, most of them are simple form builders, but we should make our value proposition more specific.
The financial issue, apparently, is one of the essentials for every startup. We raised money when we were building an agency-like startup for hiring a significant consultancy team, but today we have realised that being cash positive is the best option for developing the company without any vc-related fuzz.
Who is your target market?
We discern three groups of our customers:
- Startup founders and entrepreneurs: They need to build a product as quickly as possible, often having no professional developers in the team. No-code for such not-technical founders are the key to success. Directual has a slightly longer learning curve but it allows entrepreneurs to go beyond MVP on the platform.
- Innovation leaders, or sometimes product owners in companies: The pace of business is continuously increasing. The time-to-market becomes the crucial competitive advantage. Directual reduces time for developing and allows to roll out the product several times faster.
Freelancers and agencies: Directual is a great tool for delivering products to their clients. Moreover, this summer we are rolling out a new partnership programme for teams of developers. Inder Team plans developers can have up to 35% of all payments made by their clients. And there’s no limit on the amount or time.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
The no-code market in the early development stage. People are learning how to apply no-code platforms. So our key marketing strategy is providing our potential customers with proper content: use cases and tutorials. It means that we mostly market through education. In these circumstances, the affiliate programme turned out to be efficient as well. We offer our clients up to 50% of the payments for every customer they refer.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Customer support is our all and end-all! If a potential client asks for any assistance, in the live-chat (we use Crisp) or via our Facebook group, we will try to do our best to let him plunge into the platform and develop the app as soon as possible.
We are continuously gathering feedback from the customers and all of them are pinpointing that the high level of customer support was the key factor in their decision to choose Directual as a platform.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Our key value is bias towards actions. Each and every team participant realises that if something valuable (for the platform, for the community, for the brand) can be done by him, it must be done. We try to minimise the useless chatting, brainstorming, etc.
At the same time, we are focusing on being on the same wavelength. Each Monday every team member sends the text-stand-up to the messenger with the following structure: what has been done–what is under development–what is expected from the fellows.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use the following great software products:
- Crisp as a live-chat
- Telegram as a main messenger
- Dropbox for file sharing, Dropbox paper for quick notes
- Directual: We’ve built our own software on the platform:
- Release management system;
- Open development pipeline with upvoting and feature requesting;
- Admin dashboards;
- Integrating everything.
As you can see, we do support the statement that Directual is a great tool for building software.I’m, personally, in love with Things as a GTD-based to-do-list.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
To cut a long story short:
- Be cash-positive! Full stop.
- Don’t get the fancy office. Better be a distributed team!
- Build the community of customers who are in love with the product
When we developed a company as an agency we planned to roll out the platform as a SaaS product, but postponed that. We raised $2M, hired 40+ people in the team, rented a 3-store building as an office and… ran out of money 🙂 That was not the right way, but we learned a lot, and at the end we managed to pivot the company towards the SaaS-model.
Now we have a rather small distributed team of highly motivated developers, an active community of Directual fans. The community works as a testing team for new features and as a support for new users. Moreover, today we are cash-positive — that gives us a certain freedom.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
That is such fun! Moreover, I do realise that being able to decide what to do and where to move your company is priceless.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The uncertainty, especially the financial one. That is why I declare that the startup should become cash-positive as soon as possible. The endless pursuit after venture capital is exhausting!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
“Making Ideas Happen” by Scott Belsky, the founder of Behance network. Scott described an absolutely practical method for personal productivity — so called “action method”. It includes the techniques for pushing the idea to fruition using three things: organization and execution; community forces; and leadership capability. The most valuable outcome for me is that community strengthens your creative energy and your commitment to channel it. That is so true for us!
Also, a very inspiring piece – “ How To Get Rich ” by Felix Dennis. I learned to be optimistic, despite difficulties on the entrepreneurial path.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In 2–3 years I would love to see the community of 300k makers, who actively build on the platform thousands of great apps. Revenues will be the result of it.