Episode 12: How an SMB uses no-code

James runs his own business. He has been a no-code app user even before the term existed. In this episode, we cover how businesses can leverage no-code tools, and how they can help run businesses more efficiently.


James Eldersveld: I didn't know that there was something called no code up until then, but I do, I realized that throughout my business I've been using no-code tools. Like the first, the first website that I built for, um, the business was on iWeb.

Jesus Vargas: Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the LowCode Podcast. Today we have James Eldersveld, he's a good friend from Twitter, uh, he actually is not a client of LowCode, but he knows about no code and low code technologies and he uses them in his business. So I wanted to invite him today because it's interesting to see how other small and medium businesses like probably yours are using or leveraging these technologies to make their business run better and faster, or maybe save money or save time. So James thanks for joining us today. 

James Eldersveld: Thanks for having me, appreciate it. 

Jesus Vargas: So tell us a little bit more about you and then what you do, what your business does. 

James Eldersveld: Yeah, so I, uh, I live in grand rapids, Michigan. Um, I, uh, I have one daughter that is two and a half years old and uh, her name is Francine and my wife is Mandy and we have a little boy, uh, coming in a couple of weeks. 

Jesus Vargas: Oh I didn't know that, congratulations. 

James Eldersveld: Yeah, thank you, thank you. So busy time of year over the holidays and a baby coming and everything, so it's going to be great. Yeah, yeah. So I, uh, I own a business called Hexi and, um, we offer a variety of services exclusively around Ikea products. So I always tell people "Think of anything that either you're not able to do, or you don't want to do as it relates to Ikea products, and we can take care of that for you". 

Jesus Vargas: So assemble furniture. 

James Eldersveld: Yeah, so like personal shopping and delivery. So like, we'll go to the store, we'll go to the store for you, purchase your products, uh, deliver them, assembly, uh, help with design.

Um, yeah, there's, there's just a number of different reasons that people use our service, but those are the main, um, those are the main services that we offer. 

Jesus Vargas: How do you came up with that idea? 

James Eldersveld: You know, I think it was, I've been doing this for 10 years, I think. Okay. And yeah, and, um, I started off just as a part-time side hustle while I was working a full-time job.

And I've always kind of had this entrepreneurial mind and all these ideas, and this was the first idea that I ever really did anything with. But, um, back, I guess, yeah, 10 years ago, the shipping costs through Ikea for like larger freight items were outrageous and the closest... 

Jesus Vargas: Like local shipping from the storage to your home?

James Eldersveld: Well, yeah. So not, not like, if you would order online, um, you know, like a couch or a bed or something larger than just like a parcel item. They would ship that third-party freight and it would be outrageously expensive, and it would take a long time, and, um, anyway, so... 

Jesus Vargas: Does that still apply today? 

James Eldersveld: Uh, I think that they have their logistical challenges still today, they've come down a lot in price, because I think they are really forced to come down in price because of the Amazons of the world offering free two day shipping on, on so many things.

And that's just kind of the game these days, but right. It's very difficult to offer, um, to really offer shipping at a low price, because shipping is not cheap, right. Amazon... 

Jesus Vargas: Specially Ikea wich is heavy, and... 

James Eldersveld: Sure, and like, people are, people are used to getting this free two-day shipping, but they don't realize that there is a real, there's a real cost of shipping and Amazon is eating that cost or you're paying for it in other ways.

So, um, anyway, all that to say, um, the closest Ikea to where I live in Grand Rapids, um, is near Detroit. So it's two hours away. So that was another factor of, you know, you don't want to pay the high cost of shipping, but it's also a couple of hours to get to the store, you know, it's going to take a whole day to get there, whatever.

Uh, and then the assembly portion. Um, so I thought, well, if I can aggregate orders, then I should be able to bring the cost down. And I really was, you know, that's all I thought of, um, you know, can I offer that, can I offer that at a lower cost and still make money doing it? Um, so that's kind of how it started and I never, I didn't think assembly would be a big portion of, um, of the business, of the revenue, uh, but I realized that that is, that really is a large, um, a large portion it's growing, um, because... 

Jesus Vargas: So that's the biggest pain point of customers, assembling furniture. 

James Eldersveld: Assembling, yeah, I think it probably is. I think as things get better maybe with, um, with shipping or being able to get it in other ways, um, it's always going to have to be assembled, right? Uh, so, so I'm focusing more, a little bit more effort on that, um, you know, just knowing that that's quite a large market. 

Jesus Vargas: Interesting. So your clients are final lease and homeowners that are buying furniture for their, for their house. 

Like B2C, 100% B2C. 

James Eldersveld: No, no, um, definitely we do businesses as well because there's a lot of, a lot of businesses that use, um, Ikea office furniture for their offices, so whether they're whether they're a startup and they're just moving into their first office or they want a refresh of the offices that they have, um, yeah, that's, that's a, that's another, um, great customers, our business customers, especially startups that are growing quickly and they, you know, they start, they start out using a specific, you know, combination of a desk and a file drawer or something from Ikea, and they want to keep that the same across all their employees, and as they grow, they continue. So I've got a number of, um, a number of good clients that continue to use our service for that reason, yeah. 

Jesus Vargas: Cool. That's pretty cool. How and how do you get clients?

James Eldersveld: Yeah, you know, up until now, mostly been word of mouth. I've done some Facebook advertising here and there, but, um, uh, I would say it works to, to kind of get my Facebook page off the ground, you know, I think I have somewhere around 3000 people on the, on the Facebook page and, and I'm not terribly active on there.

Um, this type of business is, really spreads well with word of mouth because you do, you do a good job with one person, I don't know. I, I find that Ikea seems to come up in conversation, um, every so often, you know, right. No matter who you're talking to, they're moving, "oh I gotta go to Ikea, I gotta get this, I gotta get this for the house or the apartment or the office", um, and then, you know, yeah, it just, it just kind of spread, uh, through word of mouth and I've, I've never had a problem, um, staying as busy as I want to. 

Jesus Vargas: Really?

James Eldersveld: Um, yup, yup. 

Jesus Vargas: Do you have... [overlapping]. 

James Eldersveld: I have hired, I've hired people as, as needed for like larger assembly jobs that had, you know, a specific, uh, timeline that things had to get done.

Um, but, so far, I've been able to do way more than I ever thought that I would be able to do by myself. And, and, you know, that's something that we can, um, talk a little bit about too, is using some of these no-code tools has helped me do that, right? Because there's, there's two sides of this business.

There's a physical side of you know, fulfilling these orders that people have, so getting their products, delivering them in a logistical side, but then there's also the invoicing and bookkeeping and managing kind of that, that side of the operation, um, and I think over the years, I've utilized a number of different tools and, and had a number of different processes that have helped me, uh, you know, keep on doing it just on my own.

Jesus Vargas: Steamline your operations, yeah. When we talk about like sweaty businesses, uh, people think it's all about hiring people, by coming up with an idea, getting clients and then hiring people to fulfill the service, right? But they don't think, or at least on Twitter that there's a lot of talk about these sweaty businesses, uh, people don't talk about these other parts, like invoicing and getting paid and keeping your booking up-to-date, so there's so many things that you still have to do, uh, and if you don't do them right, or even do them, at the end you'll have a massive file, none of paperwork anymore but things to do, uh, that will consume time and then you start selling or doing jobs. 

James Eldersveld: Correct, yeah. It's, uh, there's, there's a lot, I mean, the customer communication, you know, emails back and forth and, and that's, you know, some of those things can be, you can use some, uh, some automation there and, um, in those, those things have really helped to save me, um, time and be able to manage more on my own, right?

Jesus Vargas: So how did you come up with these tools? I mean, did you find like no-code or low-code tools and then jumped in and figured out how to use them? Or do come up with the tool first and then later on you say like, oh, this is called no-code or low-code and then...

James Eldersveld: Sure, yeah, that's a great, great question. So, um, I guess I'll, I'll go through a brief history of how I found out about no-code and, you know, uh, yeah, so, uh, in January of 2020 I listened to the, My First Million Podcasts for the first time, and the first episode I listened to was, um, them talking to Vlad from WebFlow. And talking about, you know, this no-code movement or, you know, no-code tools, different things talking about WebFlow. So I researched WebFlow and I started to kinda, yeah, that light bulb kind of went on of like, what, what is this no code?. I'm an idea guy, I'm an entrepreneur, I've never been able to build all these things that I think I think of because of the fact that it costs a lot to, I don't have technical knowledge how to build these things. 

Um, it costs a lot, it takes a lot of time, and anyway, so I kind of went down that rabbit hole in January, and then of course in March, um, the pandemic really hit and locked down and, and kind of dove in head first because I wasn't able to work during that time. And, um, you know, that, I think that during that time is when I, when I probably met you and a number of other people in the, in the community, um, and just kind of learn what this no-code movement was all about and how great it is.

Uh, but yeah. I didn't know that there was something called no code up until that, but if I do, I realized, I realized that through my business I've been using no-code tools. Like the first thing, the first website that I built for, um, the business was on iWeb, I don't know if you remember, iWeb, but iWeb was, it was a program that came with every Mac computer.

So it was a Mac program that you could, that you could build websites, kind of like drag and drop it had widget, whatever. And it was, you know, it was great for what I needed for it, and I didn't have to spend any money in building it and it allowed me to launch my business, and anyway, you know, so then, then after that it was WordPress and, you know, after that, you know, using Google sheets, you know, people can argue whether or not Google sheets is a no-code tool or not, but, um, yeah, Google sheets, uh, type form. Okay. And then, you know, now I'm using Airtable quite a bit. Okay. And, um, and working on, uh, building a glide app for, or a couple of different glide apps for some specific applications within, uh, within the business.

So um, yeah, and I think, I really think that entrepreneurs have been using no-code tools of sorts for a long time. You know, if you are a bootstrapped, if you're a bootstrapped entrepreneur, that's what you always look for, is the fastest, lowest cost, easiest way to get a product or a service to market.

And it just so happens that um, now it's been given a name of, of no code. You know, there's been a lot of these tools out there for a long, for a long time. And it's, I think it's great, it's great that there's a name has been given it to it and that there's a, a movement and a community around it. And there's so many great tools and new tools coming out all the time, and, um, I think it's wonderful. 

Jesus Vargas: But, I mean, you've been using these tools, uh, that now have a name, no code. So, there so many things that you can start automating or, or linking between each other, right? So maybe you have a database applying somewhere and then you have a, I dunno, you CRM or you have your invoicing system and they're all spread around in different tools or different softwares.

And then no code regarding or related to automation like Zapier, Integromat and these kind of tools allow you to connect the different softwares that you use in your business to, uh, automate things, right? Bring data from somewhere to somewhere else. And something, something that comes up with, with founders that don't know about these automation tools for low code and no code, is hard for them to think how can they use automation tools in their business. 

So sure, if you are talking to someone that doesn't know or he's not involved in these kinds of things, uh, what would you suggest for them to try, like "try this and then you'll understand, you'll fully understand what no code allows you to do, and then you would go, you'll go down the rabbit hole and learn more and use all these tools", which would be the entry points for like no code for small businesses?

James Eldersveld: Yeah, I think, um, I think Zapier would be a really good one. Just because of the fact that there are so many, it's pretty simple to use, um, there's so many different integrations and there's a good chance that, um, some of the tools that they are using already, are, are able to be integrated, right?

So like if you go in there and, it's pretty good being able to search, you know, okay, I'm using Google sheets, or I'm using quickbooks and.... Yeah, exactly. How can I, you know, what are the different integrations that I can do? And you kind of flip through those things and at some point a light bulb is going to go off and say, "oh, I can set like, when this happens, I can send something here automatically instead of having to go to QuickBooks and see like, okay, I got this payment or this was my revenue for this month, and now I got to go enter it into Google sheets" and... 

Jesus Vargas: Which was your, like your light bulb moment? 

James Eldersveld: My light bulb moment I think was, was when, um, after listening to that podcast, when I kind of dove into, um, you know, what all these things were and, and how you could build things that are really quite powerful in a short period of time. Um, and I think, uh, the, the one that I was most impressed with early on was glide apps. Um, I just... 

Jesus Vargas: Did you built something in Glide when you found it? 

James Eldersveld: Um, the first thing that I built in glide was a, um, I think we talked about this, but it was a, it was during the pandemic and it was like a local app for restaurants, um, to be able to tell what their capabilities were during the pandemic, because nobody knew what restaurants were open, what their hours were, uh, if you could go in the restaurant and pick up the food, if you had to get curbside pickup, if it was delivery only. Um, so I just created this simple app, um, and I think... 

Jesus Vargas: I remember it being picked up by the local news or something. 

James Eldersveld: Yeah, there was a, there was a, um, there was a local, small business, uh, organization that, um, really liked the idea and they wanted to sponsor it and they did that for a couple of months and we worked together on that.

Um, so that was fun. Um, but yeah, that was, that was the first thing I just, I thought "okay, but why don't I try to build something that might be useful right now for somebody?" And, um... 

Jesus Vargas: How long did it take for you to build that?

James Eldersveld: You know, couple, four or five hours, you know, it's just like, it's, it's really just, I mean, I was learning while I was building it, so like, if I was going to, if I was going to build it now, I mean, it might take like an hour, right. So like you have to figure out, okay, what's all the data you're going to use, how are you going to organize that in your, um, in your spreadsheet, and then how are you going to visually, um, manipulate that within the glide app.

Um, and of course, Glide apps has gotten a hundred times better even since a year ago. They're amazing. 

Jesus Vargas: What are you excited about no-code and low-code tools related to, or being a business owner? Where do you see the future of these tools? 

James Eldersveld: Yeah, I think it just, as it has already done for me, it allows you to do more with less, you know, more work with less resources, more, you know, it's, it's, it's never going to help you do physical work faster, but you know, all this other work that we talked about, you know, invoicing and customer communication and, and these different things.

Um, that's what I see is, it's going to eliminate the need for hiring certain types of employees I believe. 

Jesus Vargas: Like admin repetitive stuff. I always tell people if there's something in your business that someone is doing every day, every week, every something, we can automate that, and then no mistakes, and then you use that person to do something more productive. 

James Eldersveld: Exactly, yeah, yeah. It's not about a nest, I mean, you, you want to, the goal is I think if you want to grow your business to, to hire people and, um, be able to do that, but you also need to be as efficient as possible. You could eliminate all the waste and waste of time and resources and, um, I think no-code is fantastic for that.

Jesus Vargas: I want to come back to something that I mentioned earlier, which is getting clients, and you've mentioned that you get them through referrals and word of mouth. Something that our clients sometimes struggle with, so we build them an app and then it's about getting users into their app or into their business in general, right? Maybe their business needs an app, maybe their whole business is the app, different use cases, however that is a very recurring topic with founders, like now I have my app, I have my vision come true, now I need users, I need clients. So, can you give me a little bit more detail or maybe more examples or more context, because you mentioned that you started your business word of mouth and now you're super busy, right? But there has to be like maybe some lessons on that journey that you can share. 

James Eldersveld: Yeah. I think it may be a little bit tough to do that because I think that what you're talking about are probably more like software focused products. 

Jesus Vargas: Not necessarily, because maybe the business is physical, maybe the business is like yours. And then on top of that business, on that service-based business is an app, right? So it's not about getting users into the app, it's getting clients. How do you or small business owners get their first clients?

James Eldersveld: Yeah. I mean, for me it was, it was a, well, I entered a local like pitch competition.

Okay, and, um, I didn't, I didn't win that, but it gave me some exposure for the idea, and, you know, some people got to know that this was, was happening, and my first customers were, you know, some family and friends and, um, and then shortly after that it was friends of family and friends. And after that, you know, it was people that I have no idea how they, how they heard about it.

But I think, I think really just talking to your, talking to your customers and listening to your customers that you get is very important, right? Like still to this day, almost every customer, um, that I get to interact with face to face, I ask them "how did you hear about our service?", you know, and they'll say, "oh, I heard about it from so-and-so" or "I found it by searching you on, on Google and what a great idea" and this sort of thing.

And then, and then also, you know, when the job is finished, you know, asking for referrals, "hey we, we get most of our business from, from referrals. So if you know your friends or family that our service would benefit, would you please pass that along?" And that's, that's actually something, one of the glide apps that I'm, um, I'm building is for that purpose.

You know, I want to leave something with a customer, you know, with a QR code on it. They will take them to an app that allows them to one, um, take some right to like Facebook reviews or Google reviews, or allows them to share it with a friend, you know, just to kind of leave them with something actionable that they can do to tell people about it and also to tell people how they felt about our service. 

Jesus Vargas: That's pretty cool. That's a great idea, yeah, so they remember you more and they can share your information to someone else. 

James Eldersveld: Right, and, and you can always add on to that as well and offer different things like, you know, discounts on future orders and those sort of things. 

Jesus Vargas: Do you get a lot of clients from a seal, like your, your online local business is very good or not that much? 

James Eldersveld: Yeah. So I'm just, I'm just kind of getting into that cause I had a new website built recently and um, the people that built it, they're focused on STI. I don't understand a lot about how that stuff works, I know it was very important and you know, it helps you, um, get found a lot easier and yeah.

Um, yeah, so I'm kinda, I'm kinda in this mode of like I'm almost maxed out with what I am able to accomplish on my own as far as like the business and it's really the time to decide, okay, do I want to just keep this as a nice business that I can run myself or, um, and, and operate myself, or do I really want to try to grow it, expand, scale areas and, and, um, and go that route.

 I would like to, uh, to grow it, I think there's definitely a demand to do it and um, that was kind of the first step was just having that new site built and trying to get some more traffic and, uh, and that sort of thing. 

Jesus Vargas: What's the link to the website? 

James Eldersveld: The link is hirehexi.com.

Jesus Vargas: Cool. Why Hexi? Why that name? 

James Eldersveld: Uh, yeah so as you know, like pretty much every Ikea product, you need the little hex wrench, uh, to, you know, to assemble it, you know, you twist it. Um, yeah. So that's, that's kinda where that came from and, um, just kind of a clever play on that, yeah. 

Jesus Vargas: That's great, cool. James, thanks very much for joining us today.

James Eldersveld: Thanks for having me Jesus. 

Jesus Vargas: Looking forward to see how a SEO works for you and yeah, continue growing your business with this no-code tools. 

James Eldersveld: Thanks Jesus.. 

Jesus Vargas: All right, man, thanks. Have a good one.