01 Dec 2017
The First Five Years: Emmanuel Straschnov (MBA 2012)
Bubble cofounder Emmanuel Straschnov (MBA 2012) on programming, bootstrapping, and one very important coffee meetingTopics:
When did you and your cofounder come up with the idea for Bubble (Bubble is a visual programming tool that empowers anyone to build software, apps, and websites without writing any code)?
Josh Haas, my cofounder, came up with the idea through a combination of two main factors: 1) He was in New York and everyone, literally everyone, was asking him to be their tech cofounder to start a business (that's a common thing at HBS too when you're technical) and 2) While at Bridgewater, he had used SharePoint to create something that nontechnical employees could use to build custom software.
Watching people build things was very rewarding to him, and he felt he could do this at a larger scale for general-purpose programming.
Josh started working on this idea in December 2011, more as a personal project; it wasn't even called Bubble yet.
I graduated without a job in May 2012, and was looking for something in the technology field. A mutual friend put me in touch with Josh, who was looking for a cofounder. We met in New York and decided right away to partner on this (we actually had to move fast, since I had a job offer expiring the following day). So at the end of our first coffee, we decided to start the company together and I went back to Boston to sell my furniture; I started working with Josh the following Monday.
What makes Bubble unique?
Bubble is different from other website builders, because it has much more flexibility. With Bubble, people can actually program something (other tools are usually just a way to get something online quickly, provided it fits one of the use cases that the tool covers).
But Bubble is very open-ended. It requires some learning, but it lets people build exactly what they want, as they can control their website or app to the pixel and can control what their app does action-by-action. This can take you pretty far. For example, a fellow HBS alum cloned Twitter in a few days without writing any code.
Another thing that makes Bubble unique is that we're entirely bootstrapped. This is a fairly nontraditional way to build a technology company, and it led us to keeping the team small and being extremely customer-centric, since we don't have investors as stakeholders.
What's been the most enjoyable part of building the company, and what's been the most challenging?
The most enjoyable part of building Bubble has been watching our community of users grow. Most of our users are nontechnical, and they weren't really part of the tech community until they discovered Bubble. Bubble is a way for them to get into the space, as it empowers them to build things online. And as it requires some learning––we estimate it takes three or four hours to learn––users help each other a lot on our forum. Watching these interactions on the forum is one of the most rewarding things ever, and this has helped us to scale our user base with a small team, as a lot of our customer support and onboarding happens on the forum.
The most challenging thing we face every day is the conflict between helping our existing customers and our new users. Our existing users want their apps to work well at scale, they want more speed and more features. On the other hand, new users want the product to be easier to learn. We have to keep working for both, as new users drive growth, while existing users need Bubble to grow and were with us from the beginning.
What are your short- and long-term goals for Bubble?
Our long-term vision is to redefine computer programming. We think everyone should be able to create dynamic content and applications without even realizing that they are programming. In the future, building software will be easy, fast, and cheap; today it's hard, slow, and expensive.
Short term, our goal is to work on our communications and visibility. The team has been very product-and user-centric so far, and we're starting to work more on outreach. Hopefully, people will be hearing much more about Bubble soon.
What makes Bubble, as this tweeter posted in August 2016, the “best thing since sliced bread”?
Well, it may be best to ask him! I think what he meant is that Bubble is the first tool that enables everyone to create something on a computer. I know a lot of people think everyone should learn how to code, but let's be honest, going from an online tutorial about coding to building an app that works at scale, with many users, is extremely hard. For many of our customers, Bubble is the enabler that makes their business or project possible.
How do you use what you learned at HBS in your current work?
The first few years were mostly about coding and building the product, but as we scale the team and grow an ecosystem of people that build apps or plugins for others on Bubble, my HBS education turns out to be very useful. Thinking about the ecosystem as a whole and figuring out the right incentives for everyone to contribute can be complex, and HBS cases provide great tools to think about these issues. Early on, classes like Founders’ Dilemma were also very helpful to think about early-stage issues like equity split, work-life balance, etc.
What’s your favorite HBS case and why?
It's probably the case Class of 1976 that we had in LEAD during our first year. At a time when most of us were working out our next steps for the summer and after school, and, let's be honest, were quite stressed out, reading this case was a great way to realize that at the end of the day, planning a life and a career just won't work. It's better to make the best of the current opportunities, and see where that takes you. I guess thinking about life that way led me to join Josh on Bubble after one coffee. It just felt right.
What advice do you have for current HBS students who are considering launching their own companies?
I think one of the most important things is to make sure you truly care about what you're building. A good way to test this is to ask yourself whether you would do the same company without investment. If you find yourself in a situation where investors keep saying “no” and you think this means the business is not for you, then it's probably a sign that this isn't the right venture for you.
What was your favorite thing to do at HBS when you weren’t studying?
I used to live in Cambridge and would hang out a lot with graduate students. This was one of the best things that HBS offered—the opportunity to be part of the incredible Harvard and MIT community.
Can you finish this statement? “Tomorrow’s programmer will be…”
A business manager able to create his or her own tools to solve problems they are facing.
Follow Emmanuel Straschnov on Twitter at https://twitter.com/estraschnov.
Learn more about Bubble at https://bubble.is/.
Class of MBA 2012, Section D