S2 Episode 9: Opening Up About APIs, Customization & External Data Integration

Welcome to the ninth episode of season two of the LowCode Podcast! In this episode, we sit down with Marie Martens, co-founder of Tally.

Dive into Marie’s insightful journey in crafting a unique form builder in a competitive market. Delving into the inception of Tally, born from a blend of startup experience and a passion for user-friendly interfaces. This episode is a treasure trove of inspiration for entrepreneurs and no-code enthusiasts, offering a glimpse into the innovative strategies and plans that set Tally apart.


 Jesus Vargas: Hello everybody. Welcome again to another episode of the Low Code Podcast. Today we have with us Marie Martens. She's the co-founder of Tally, a pretty simple and easy to use form builder. And I'm very excited to have Marie Martens with us today so that we can learn more about her product and how she came up with the idea of building. yet another form builder. So Marie Martens, thanks so much for joining us today.

Marie Martens: Thank you so much for having me.

Jesus Vargas: So you have a long background of working in different jobs, different industries. When did you decide to build Tally? And how did you see it as an opportunity in a very crowded space?

Marie Martens: Yeah, so I think Thali is not the first startup that we have built. And when I say we, I mean me and my co-founder, but also partner in life, Philip. So he's the technical brain behind Thali. We actually like end of 2019, beginning of 2020, we had the idea to build a something else, Hotspot, which was our first startup. And it was also kind of based on.

Jesus Vargas: What were you doing at HotSpot?

Marie Martens: Yeah, so our dream was to live the digital nomad life and travel and work at the same time. 

Jesus Vargas: Okay.

Marie Martens: And Hotspot was kind of related to that because it was a marketplace that connects hotels and travel influencers and basically makes it easier for hotels to work with travel influencers and promote their places.

Jesus Vargas: Did you sell that startup? Did you close it? What happened?

Marie Martens: So basically we launched it beginning of 2020, which was kind of the worst timing ever to launch a startup and travel because then in February, March, you know, COVID hit. And we already had a little bit of clients. We had like our little thing going and we were planning to work full time on it and grow it. But we lost most of our clients in no time. and we ended up selling it, but only more than a year later actually. So we just basically, we kept on working on it for a couple of months. And then by the summer of 2020, we decided that we had to do something else because you know, this pandemic wasn't going anywhere. And then we just basically kept it on maintenance mode. So we still had it for a while. We just didn't do anything with it. We just, you know, kept it running. And if someone had a question, answer but that was it. And in the summer we decided that, yeah, we had to do something else. And we started brainstorming about new ideas. And we actually had used the form builder for hotspots. I had also used a lot of form builders in my previous jobs. And we never really found a tool that we loved or that was affordable enough for, you know, a bootstrap company or startups that just, or founders that just start out. At the same time, we were also avid user. of Notion. We really love the interface, the community around the product and all of those elements together made us think like maybe we can build a new type of form builder. Was born in the summer of 2020.

Jesus Vargas: That's pretty cool. So you took inspiration on Notion, like the Notion interface, where you also trying to build a product targeting Notion customers, Notion users, which was more about the UX UI.

Marie Martens: Not more about UX and UI, I would say, and the way they handle their community and marketing. I would say less intentionally with targeting their users.

Jesus Vargas: Okay.

Marie Martens: We ended up having a lot of notion users, but we didn't really think that that would happen from the start. It was more about the way how they design and approach their product. and the interface so that definitely inspired us and just the idea that it's a product that you that a lot of people just Love to use right like it's just so fun to work in In notion and that's something that we wanted to recreate as well for our own product. We do have an integration

Jesus Vargas: You mentioned price. So when, you're looking at, and that's a, that's a very good point because there are a lot, there are a lot of form builders and a few of them very well known, let's say type form is very expensive.

Marie Martens: Yep.

Jesus Vargas: Um, so is the goal. So was the goal to target like targeting these kinds of people that are looking for something very affordable, don't you think there's a lot more churn in that? part of the market than going upstream and targeting higher paying clients.

Marie Martens: Yeah, I think there's definitely more churn, especially for also not only our audience, but also the type of product, because a form builder is often used on project base. It's only the companies or maybe bigger teams that have a lot of forms. So churn is typically higher. That's also the case for bigger companies like Typeform. But for us, That wasn't really a problem because we're a very small team. So we need to have a lot less clients than a type form, for example, to be profitable. So until recently, we were just a team of two co-founders. We're now a team of three people. And that kind of makes us a little more lean and flexible, allows us to ship faster and also to have a lot less costs to keep the head. keep the product running because we don't have any employees basically. So churn is definitely higher but we don't really have the intention to move more up market or to target bigger customers because that also brings other challenges with it, you know, support wise. So yeah, that's not something we're thinking of yet.

Jesus Vargas: That's pretty cool. So when you were evaluating Tally as a form builder, how did you build an MVP? How did you decide that it was a good idea?

Marie Martens: So we figured that everyone needs a form builder and the market is huge. So we didn't really have to validate the market.

Jesus Vargas: Okay.

Marie Martens: Like there's always demand for form builders. Of course, you're never really sure if someone will want your form builder. So we, we, we built an MVP in a couple of months and it was a very, very, very basic version of our product. You could like in the very beginning, you couldn't even publish a form. You could just type and you know, like play with it. And we would share that mostly with companies we know and friends and family. And only after that we built like, you know, we added a few more features and started doing cold outreach really to other founders, people that work in product design, marketing that might be interested in a foreign builder like ours. And we got quite a lot of feedback from the start and a lot of positive feedback as well. So we kind of felt like there was something there for us pretty fast.

Jesus Vargas: Mm-hmm.

Marie Martens: But yeah, our way to know that was literally just to put the MVP out there and ask for people's opinions. And only when we actually had also because we didn't have a paying plan yet. So the product was totally free in the beginning. And we had someone like after two weeks ask if they could pay, if they could just pay for the product. So we figured, okay, if someone asked to do that, that must be a good sign.

Jesus Vargas: Yeah.

Marie Martens: So yeah, that's kind of how it all started.

Jesus Vargas: Which was the moment where you were like, this is real, this is a business, this is working out. Was there like a, I don't know, a product on launch? I don't know when you became famous on Twitter, I don't know if that even happened, but was there like a pivoting point where you're like, this is gonna work, and let's go? I mean, you were already full time on it, but yeah, I think the product launch was definitely the first big peak in our growth. So we started in the summer of 2020. We only launched on product hunt in March 2021 because we didn’t feel ready. We didn't have a lot of features yet. We were still collecting feedback. Yeah, our daughter was also born somewhere within those months. It happened a bit later than we expected, but I think we doubled our user base in one day, just because of the launch. We had around a thousand users before that, and it definitely started growing. The products started growing a lot faster since then. So I think that would be the first moment where we realized, okay, there's a business here and this can potentially become a lot bigger. And then I guess in year one we had like 8K MRR, but then year two we finished with 35K. 

Jesus Vargas: Wow.

Marie Martens: I guess after one year, we just started to see that the growth was really picking up and that we were just growing a lot faster. And I guess that was also the moment where we realized that this could become a lot bigger than we had.

Jesus Vargas: That's pretty cool. So after product launch, that gets you a bunch of customers or a bunch of users.

Marie Martens: Yeah.

Jesus Vargas: After that, was there like a dual moment where you stopped getting that many users? How do you do marketing in such a crowded space? Do you do a lot of SEO? It's mainly social media. What is your strategy?

Marie Martens: So, Tally is a viral product in its nature, right? A form is something that you create to share with other people. And because we have a very generous free tier, we have a lot of free users. We have around 70,000 people now using the product. 

Jesus Vargas: I'm one of them, yeah.

Marie Martens: And that's super cool to hear. And yeah, so if you create a Tally form, you have a mate with Tally badge on your form. which is basically our biggest acquisition channel. It's our users sharing their forms and their respondents seeing our branding and discovering us. So that's really like the engine for our growth. And the more users come in, the more people see tele-forms, the more people discover us. So we really needed that first set of like 1,000 or 2,000 users to kinda like, yeah. keep the ball rolling and get like this viral effect. So that would be number one marketing tactic that we have. SEO, yes, but not a huge like heavy focus on it. People are starting to find us through Google, which is good, but it's mainly word of mouth and then referrals by other forms that gets us to have new users.

Jesus Vargas: That's interesting. I remember reading about the chat widget called TalkTo. And I think their user acquisition strategy is pretty similar to yours, because they have a very free generous tier on every chat there powered by TalkTo. And then they just get volume, like crazy volume based on that.

Marie Martens: Yeah, and I guess it makes sense for a small team because we don't have the marketing budgets that big companies have so there's no way that we can outspend them on any channel so we kind of have to do it this way and yeah definitely it definitely works.

Jesus Vargas: That's pretty cool. And then in terms of the product of a form builder, do you think that based on what the market provides already, the new features down the road are very clear? Like, do you wanna, I don't wanna say copy, but do you wanna copy something that Google Forms or some other form builder already has, or do you think that you'll go into a more unique path of creating something different than all the other form builders?

Marie Martens: We actually, we almost have all the features that a typeform or Google Forms has. There's still a few like input types that are missing, but I feel like there's a lot of room for improvement and innovation in the form building field. We have a very active community, so we get feature requests, you know, we get tens or dozens of them every day. So we keep track of them and we have a very clear view of what's being requested the most. And that doesn't always mean that we will build it or that it makes sense for us. But I think there's a lot of room where we would, for example, open up our API so you can, for example, create teleforms with external data sources. You have an air table database and you wanna have all those data. automatically appear in your Teleform in the drop-down question for it. Things like that. That's definitely something that we want to do in the future. Also allow even more customization, personalization, add more integrations. So there's a lot of ideas yet. I think we can keep on building on it for multiple years for sure.

Jesus Vargas: Right. 

Marie Martens: We have a pretty long roadmap.

Jesus Vargas: But do you see yourself as a form builder? Because I see, based on our interviews with other, I want to say no code founders, I don't know if you self identify as a no code founder. But anyway, something that we talk about very often is, in the no code products, we have like a trifecta of front end, back end and automations. So you have a front end, which is the form. You probably don't have a proper back end, and you have the automations and you're working on that. Do you eventually think... that you'll provide the three, like your own.

Marie Martens: It could be that's not super clear yet. I think our strength is in the front end and in the design experience that we offer with the forms. But then again, you see that in the no code space, all tools are connected and people – a form is only the beginning of a journey where your data goes or from your workflow. So definitely everything that has to do with integrations, webhooks or API is super important for us because that just means that there's more possibilities to connect to the other tools that you use. So we're somewhere in between I would say but I think the front end will always be like our main USB.

Jesus Vargas: Right. Now getting into the no code and low code space, do you consider Tally a no code form builder? Do you sell yourself as a no code tool or not so much?

Marie Martens: Yeah, I mean, we do. It's not something that we had really envisioned when we founded Tally. The no-code space was not really big or existing in Belgium. So it was more like we had the idea of building Tally and that kind of brought us into the no-code space because form builders kind of are no-code tools. Right, like most of the things, most of the functionalities are available without needing to have coding skills. So I definitely identify ourselves as a no code tool. I think there's a lot of room as well to in like the low code area, we offer custom CSS, especially if we start talking about APIs, there's a lot of more things that you could do with the tool if you have some coding skills. But I think we found our first users in the no code space and that's also how we started growing our Twitter audience. So it's definitely an important. Yeah, an important audience for us.

Jesus Vargas: How do you see the community, the no-code community, evolving? A lot of people think that no-code is a bad term, or it's a term that it's not allowing platforms to grow. Especially, it might not apply in your case, maybe, because you said that you don't want to go upstream in terms of media enterprise, enterprise clients. But a lot of the other tools do want to move in that route. And the no-code term, for example, It's clashing with the IT department of a Fortune 500 company. They're like, oh, this is clunky. This is not working. This is no good. Right.

Marie Martens: Yeah.

Jesus Vargas: Do you envision a moment either the term will change, IT will start liking no code? How do you see that evolution?

Marie Martens: I think it will definitely evolve in a positive way. Like there's no stopping the no code movement. I don't think no code is the best name indeed. It kind of implies that it's like no good, maybe, which it definitely is. From my experience, I just noticed that if you'll, I used to work in a digital product agency, so I was. we would use HubSpot, Mailchimp, other no code tools just because you want to speed up things, right? And you cannot always rely on time or resources from the development team. And I think that the push mainly comes from the teams like supporting teams, HR, marketing, sales

Jesus Vargas: Yeah.

Marie Martens: who don't have the coding skills, but who also want to set up automations, who don't want to be dependent on engineers. And at the same time, There's also just a shortage of engineers, right? And companies are cutting costs. So it only makes sense that no code tools will be embraced a lot more in the future. It's already happening. I also think it's maybe a little of a mental shift for engineers, you know, to embrace those tools as well, because it only means that they can focus on the important things and the products that have to be custom made and, you know, for the other... you can just also use no code tools. So I definitely think that it goes hand in hand. There might be a bit more time needed, but I think the no code space has a very bright future.

Jesus Vargas: Since you are, I would say, very involved in the No-Code Twitter community, how do you feel the No-Code community has grown or has evolved in Europe compared to in the States? I do think that the No-Code, probably, especially in France, I think it's quite strong, maybe because of Emmanuel, the founder of Bubble, here in Belgium. But anyway, how do you see the difference between the community in Europe? Or maybe not only the community, but the ecosystem. like companies adopting no code compared to one of the states.

Marie Martens: Yeah, I mean, Europe is usually behind on these things, right? But I feel like definitely the no-code community in France is also where we found our first users. And they are definitely the driving force, I think, behind growing the no-code space in Europe. There's more and more companies being founded in Europe in the no-code space. So I would say I'm not sure how it compares to the States. Like, in usage. I think there's a lot less like no code agencies and you see that popping up now. I think in Belgium it's you know we're really really behind on that front. Actually we went to an event in France, the no code summit last year. There were some Belgian people there and they now started the Belgian no code community. They had their first event last month but so that's where we're at. very early stage. And we're just trying to help promote the no-code space as well by running Tally. So it's growing, it's growing fast, but I don't think we're close to where the states are on that front.

Jesus Vargas: Do you think that clients adopt no code as easily as in the States? Or is there more pushback in Europe? Maybe even because of all the data regulations, GDPR.

Marie Martens: Yeah, I think there's definitely more pushback. It will depend on what industry. I think probably a bit more of a conservative approach to how you build things. And it's just a lack of knowledge, you know, and awareness about the tools that exist. I, you know, I'm very emerged in the no code space now, but three years ago I also wasn't aware of this term even. So yeah, there's just, it definitely hasn't become mainstream. I'm not sure if that has to do with no code or code. I just feel like we are getting a lot of new European clients just because we are based in Europe and because of GDPR, because people don't want to work with American suppliers anymore. So that might be

Jesus Vargas: It's not even if they don't want, they're not allowed, at least in France.

Marie Martens: They're not allowed.

Jesus Vargas: That's what I've heard.

Marie Martens: Yeah, yeah, yeah, indeed. I mean, it's not that they're not allowed, but yeah, it's complicated.

Jesus Vargas: It's complicated.

Marie Martens: And no one really knows unless you're an expert. So yeah, there's a lot of room for improvement and definitely I see like the more modern companies definitely in Belgium starting to embrace no code, especially for like fast deliverables, creating MVPs, showing prototypes to clients. And I guess that's where it starts and it will just grow into. I'm sure.

Jesus Vargas: Cool. Now, for Tally, you have a public roadmap on your website for features that you're going to launch the next quarter. However, how do you feel? Where do you think Tally will be in a couple of years?

Marie Martens: A couple of years is hard to say

Jesus Vargas: or where do you want it to be?

Marie Martens: I think we definitely want to remain the simplest way to create forms.

Jesus Vargas: Okay.

Marie Martens: And the challenge there is the more features we add, the more complicated the product becomes.

Jesus Vargas: Yeah.

Marie Martens: And we don't want to become like this monster with a maze of features where you don't know where to start. So that's always the balance that we're trying to keep. For us, what's really important is that it's not because we want to keep it simple that should not be powerful So we definitely want to make sure that you everything that you want to do with your data Whether it's putting it in Tally or out that that would be possible So I guess that's where we see Tally by the end of this year. If we keep growing like we do now, we should be able to to definitely double our revenue and our user base again.

Jesus Vargas: amazing.

Marie Martens: And I'm not sure what will happen after that, to be honest. We're trying not to look too far ahead.

Jesus Vargas: Are you building Tally in order for it to be sold?

Marie Martens: I guess one day, I guess that's probably the ultimate end goal of most SaaS companies. It's not something that we're busy with now.

Jesus Vargas: Okay.

Marie Martens: We decided to stay bootstrapped, so that's already an important one for

Jesus Vargas: Yes.

Marie Martens: us. But I guess one day, if the right buyer comes along, that might definitely be a problem.

Jesus Vargas: Pretty cool. So talk to me a little bit more about, you're a team of three people, your partner, yourself,

Marie Martens: Yeah.

Jesus Vargas: and someone else. You're making money, right? So how is your day to day? Do you work full time? You're in your partner, do you travel? You started the company because you wanted to travel. Are you traveling a lot now? How does that look like?

Marie Martens: No, we’re not traveling as much as we would want to. Yeah, life has changed a lot since COVID. Yeah, we have a daughter now.

Jesus Vargas: Yeah.

Marie Martens: And also running Tally takes all of our time. So

Jesus Vargas: Okay.

Marie Martens: We're definitely working full time.

Jesus Vargas: Okay.

Marie Martens: Team of three is also not enough. So we're actually hiring another engineer as we speak.

Jesus Vargas: How cool.

Marie Martens: So it's me, I am in charge of. marketing, everything that's admin finances, those things that Philip is designing and building the product. And Richard, who's from Germany, is in charge of customer support, so he's just replying to all the emails, Slack messages. And then we will now have an engineer joining so we can speed up development because we haven't launched new features in a while just because the product has been growing faster than the team. We've had a lot of issues with performance, scaling the product, a lot of new users coming in. So yeah, we learned a lot from that and yeah, we're definitely not traveling all the time.

Jesus Vargas: Yeah

Marie Martens: We try to work as much as possible. And yeah, of course we have a daughter so we cannot like work day and night.

Jesus Vargas: Right, right.

Marie Martens: But yeah, we work full time and we will be growing. organically as well this year.

Jesus Vargas: That's amazing. So Marie Martens, where can our followers find you? You're in Twitter, your website.

Marie Martens: Yeah, I think Twitter would be the best place if you are on Twitter. That's at Tallyforms on Twitter. I'm also active on Twitter, that's at Marie Martens Martens. And our website is tally.so.

Jesus Vargas: Thanks so much for joining us today.

Marie Martens: Thank you so much for having me.