How I Started A $7K/Month Marketplace To Connect Companies With No-Code Talent
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Sasa Janicijevic and I am the founder of Codemap.io, the world’s first freelance & agency marketplace for no-code, low-code, and automation. We match founders, startups, scaleups, and organizations of all sizes with pre-vetted no-code talent, on-demand. Codemap enables anyone to hire proven no-code experts to learn no-code or build their products, MVPs, and apps up to 10x cheaper and faster than with traditional development, and launch in a matter of 4-8 weeks or less.
With the no-code/low-code industry rapidly rising, we have started seeing strong demand for no-code expertise and education across different industries and customer segments. So far, it has been difficult to understand which no-code tool stack/s might be the best fit for respective requirements and goals as well as hire proven no-code specialists efficiently and in one place. We built Codemap with the specific aim of solving these problems.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m Croatian, born in Zagreb, where I also got my undergrad in finance and a graduate degree in commerce. After completing my studies in Croatia in 2011, I got accepted into a Healthcare Management MSc at SDA Bocconi in Milan, Italy, where I selected the pharma/biotech/medical device specialization for my studies.
Following my MSc, I went on to work for the largest life science health data solutions & management consulting company - IQVIA. I worked on strategy projects in the company’s global consulting division and stayed with the organization for almost 5 years, working in Munich, Germany, and later on in London as well. I have always been an entrepreneur, that’s something I just knew about myself from back when I was a kid. This is also why I started my first company in my graduate year while still in Croatia. However, obtaining the experience during my time with IQVIA and being part of a highly dynamic and competitive environment that consulting is, I truly learned a lot. I really owe so much to the company as well as to all the mentors who supported me.
I quit my job in London in 2017 and got back home to start my first startup which was an innovative job marketplace for the pharma industry. Since I was not a technical founder and didn’t know how to code, I can now honestly tell you that I had no idea what I was getting myself into when it comes to understanding how tech startups work and how difficult it is to develop an MVP using traditional coding.
The fact I could not code only further amplified the struggles for myself and my partners at the time. We spent almost 2 years of our lives trying to get the MVP out and spent around $110,000 total on that project. We did launch the (flawed) MVP but it has been so far past our mark that at that point, we’ve had other issues within the team, one of which was definitely mental exhaustion from the frustrating and long software development process.
I’m the type of guy who likes to build stuff on my own - so even before we found a CTO (which did not work out BTW) and later agencies, I built 400 fully-designed screens of that platform. Basically, a static prototype - so, the vision really was there, but even that was not enough for us to get through the development process. Not to say of course that there aren’t amazing developer teams out there who would have done a great job, but it seems that we were a bit unlucky and there may have also been a gap between what’s possible and in what time, and our own expectations. In any case, a very frustrating experience for me because I could envision every button, label, and click on that platform and I was still entirely dependent on someone else to get it and to build it. I just couldn’t do it within a reasonable timeline cause I couldn’t code.
After deciding to move on from that project, I learned about no-code and immediately got very interested, for obvious reasons - the main selling point being that I could invest a few months and will be able to build whatever I want to build, on my own. That was THE turning point for me. I started researching to understand what it was all about and got to Bubble.io - the most robust no-code web development platform today.
I learned Bubble in about 2 months of spending 15 hrs a day in their editor and then started looking into the recruitment/service industry in no-code. It just made perfect sense to me from the start - a rapidly rising industry that demands actual specialization and expert understanding while offering a game-changing value proposition for clients, where the talent market is in its infancy, but also quickly rising and showing promise.
All of it really stems from what my mission for Codemap was - enable anyone to either be able to build on their own (at least get an MVP out) even if they can’t code or find experts who can help entrepreneurs and companies realize their ideas and build projects in a matter of a few weeks with a drastically reduced cost, as opposed to spending 9 months or sometimes years getting to market while paying large sums of money to get there. That mission is the driving force behind Codemap. Important to say, no-code is built on code. Without code, there is no no-code.
By no means do I think the deep technical knowledge and expertise of developers and engineers can be replaced. I actually think no-code can be an amazing complementary skill set for programmers, which can help them increase their market appeal and optimize their development process through combining code and no-code, as appropriate.
Before building Codemap, I partnered up with my now co-founders Goran Buselic (CMO) and Karlo Mamic (CTO) and we also launched a no-code development agency to start with. All in all, it’s been an amazing journey for us for sure. For the entirety of the past 2+ years, I kind of did a Hail Mary on all of this - I quit my job in early 2019.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Basically, the building process was really straightforward. There were no prototypes, no screens, none of it really. The reason for that is because I spent 2 years of my life 24/7 being obsessed with marketplace businesses and building out screens for the previous product. Even though that was a recruitment marketplace for full-time roles which is actually a huge difference in terms of the inner workings of the platform compared to a freelance marketplace, I still had all of the screens and UIs in my head, and I felt I knew how to adapt all of it to fit Codemap and the current vision.
I basically sat down mid-July 2020 and started building day in day out, probably spending at least 12-14 hours a day in the Bubble editor. The product we launched was not an MVP in my opinion - in terms of features and functionalities, it was quite a lot more than that. We launched on the 2nd of Oct 2020.
Describe the process of launching the business.
As I was building the marketplace, I also quickly created the respective landing pages for clients and freelancers & agencies. During the course of several weeks, we have planned out our client and talent outreach across social media, no-code forums and communities, email, and other channels, as well as our Product Hunt launch itself. Once everything was ready, we hit the GO button and launched on Product Hunt on the 2nd of October, while simultaneously activating all of our other outreach streams in parallel.
Have a side revenue stream, something to keep the roof over your head - don’t quit your job with no plan at all.
Before officially launching, we also did a smaller-scale pre-launch with expert registrations, focused only on the no-code communities we already knew and were a part of. As we were moving through the early and pre-launch stages, the business was entirely financed by our no-code agency. So, we were self-sustainable and bootstrapped. Not to say we had the resources for immense growth right off the bat, but we had the ability to stay in the business full-time and to really dedicate ourselves entirely.
On launch day, we had dozens of expert applications and several client projects posted - I really could not believe it. It was an incredible moment for the team and myself. After having spent 3 years trying to get to a point where someone is actually using your product, this was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life, hands down. Especially from the standpoint of a two-sided marketplace - a business that has the age-old chicken and egg problem. I think we went about it the right way (which does not mean the chicken and egg thing is ever entirely gone for any marketplace, you are always constrained on one side), having really thought about it for so long - we hoped that by pre-launching with some talent already on the platform, there should be at least sufficient motivation for a client to sign up and create a project and give it a shot. And it panned out.
While I am satisfied with how we planned the launch, there is always room for improvement of course. I think we could have been a bit more coordinated when it comes to pre-planning the launch and getting more people interested and aware to increase our upvotes and PH performance. Nevertheless, good learning for the future. The screenshot here was the initial landing page, which is now completely different, but for that time, I think it served quite well. It got the job done for the very early days.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our growth strategy is highly diversified across a variety of different channels and partnerships we are making, to support the demand and the supply side of the business. At this point, we are already seeing word-of-mouth starting to be a relevant factor, which is so very important.
We don’t yet invest in paid marketing campaigns and have achieved the traction we have with effectively $0 in marketing spend. Paid marketing will surely be part of our playbook moving forward, however, we currently wish to get the most out of our organic growth.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Since launching, especially given the fact we are still an early-stage marketplace with less than 6 months in, I believe we’ve had really solid traction, with no marketing dollars. At this point, we have 900+ clients, close to $2,000,000 in created projects, and 110+ hires made, with new ones being concluded every day.
We are currently planning to bring new team members on board with the focus on driving our acquisition on the supply and the demand side and managing our talent community. In addition, we will also be complementing our dev team so we can iterate and deploy upgrades to the platform even faster.
Our goal for this year is to really enter our growth stage so we are currently working on making that happen.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
It would be really difficult to just sum up all of the learnings over the past years, however, I’d say the most important for me were:
Bringing on board a great team, people who are truly sold on the vision and will take a leap with you in every sense of the word (it’s hard to find co-founders, I know); not settling in this domain - it’s better to not bring anyone on board than bringing the wrong person onto the team - ride it out if you have to.
Building our initial audience before the launch - an obvious one these days.
Having a side revenue stream, something to keep the roof over our head - don’t quit your job with no plan at all.
Realizing we can’t do it all, no matter how much we want to - focusing on our vision and roadmap, being patient, and executing (and adapting) 1 by 1.
This is more related to management/communication style, but I learned that being direct and having expectations is not a bad thing - if the people on the other end care and understand what you are trying to do; being direct in communicating goals and expectations, while also being respectful and friendly did wonder for our execution I believe, especially when working with friends or people you know, it’s sometimes hard to find a way to say someone’s performance could be improved in a certain way.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
When it comes to collaboration and productivity tools, we really try to keep it tight. We use Clickup, Slack, Sendgrid, Hootsuite, Apollo, and Trello (occasionally). As for social media, we use Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram. Some more than others.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I don’t necessarily have a very specific focus. I try to read everything I can get my hands on when it comes to no-code and industry news, especially on Twitter. Nocode Journal is a great resource, Nocode Tech, Nocode List, communities like 100 Days of No Code, Nocode Devs, and many others where you really get to find out detail and first-hand information and experiences you might not get access to via mainstream sources.
We have an internal list of 100+ resources so we are keeping track of all of them and getting insights regularly. I would say a great resource and read is definitely the Lean Side Project by Michael Novotny, a great builder, maker, and entrepreneur with a longstanding product-management experience who has built a truly valuable resource for building products and starting businesses with no-code in today’s fast-paced environment. You can check it out at The Lean Side Project. Really great guy and a knowledgeable person.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I’d say some of the best learnings in my opinion are the ones I shared earlier, those 5 are what really mattered a lot to us. Most importantly, don’t quit - and I know it sounds corny, but I think that’s the only thing that can stop you from getting where you want to get to. If you can’t make it work, pivot, move on to the next thing that inspires you and might be related, find another or a similar problem you are passionate about solving.
I had to convince myself for weeks that I was not a failure after shutting down my first startup, and now I really don’t think I was, to be honest - I learned a lot and without that experience, there would be no Codemap, which is crazy to think about today. Sometimes you have to know when to move on, but it doesn’t mean you are definitively quitting.
Find a way to do what you want to do, whatever that may be. In the startup scene, the pressure is immense if you are really going for it, but people soon figure out if they are cut out for it or not I think. If you are one of those people, just don’t quit and keep moving forward, no matter how hard it gets. That’s really the best advice I personally can give.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we will actually be hiring very soon, across marketing, community-management, and software engineering. We have not yet officially started our recruitment process, but if anyone is interested in learning more about Codemap, feel free to always reach out at [email protected]. The roles will be a mix of freelance part-time and full-time.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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