An interview with Tenten (10/10) CEO, Erik Chen - reveal the business of no code agency. The real giveaway as to why agencies like tenten are thriving is in the name: no-code allows you to reap 80% of the result for 20% of the effort and cost (compared to an intensive coding-based strategy).
I'm curious how the state of code/low-code/no-code is shifting, and in particular, what that means for agencies. Design-led businesses that deliver work using no or minimal code are springing up like 'shrooms, and it's easy to see why. Not tied down by complex code, sprints, and rounds of bug-testing, these agencies can deliver projects in a fraction of the time it might take their traditional coding counterparts.
Also, I wanted to see what this kind of work entails. And what better way to find out than by picking the brains of someone in amongst it? Even though, we knew Tenten is the first big agency in Taiwan to use no-code to deliver end-to-end websites, apps, and automation workflows to enterprises.
Of course, the no-code tools agencies and studios use aren't necessarily new. Webflow was born in 2013 (with it came a slew of expert Webflow freelancers and agencies), but companies like Tenten bring a different offering to the table. Beyond expert knowledge in tools like Webflow, Bubble, and Zapier, Tenten started as a design-first product studio. For businesses needing all-around help, Tenten will design, build and implement an end-to-end solution that their clients can own and control.
This way of working isn't possible with regular web development. Typically, a developer can't just hand off their work to a team with minimal coding knowledge. If that team wants to make even one minor tweak, they'll need to use an in-house developer or hire one, and if it's significant changes are needed, testing and releasing them can take weeks (or months). With a no-code tool, a change can be made in 5 minutes.
The real giveaway as to why agencies like tenten are thriving is in the name: no-code allows you to reap 80% of the result for 20% of the effort and cost (compared to an intensive coding-based strategy).
I started Tenten (Tenten.co) around 12 years ago, In the beginning we focused on WordPress Development, Digital Branding, and UI/ UX consulting services.
Then we found Webflow and Bubble in 2020. We've helped some companies in Taiwan to integrate with No-Code, eventually becoming a dedicated No-code adviser and agency. Still, all of our clients recently realized that with the newest no-code platforms, there was a much nimbler way to do what DevOps does, but without needing expensive developers.
You can move at a fraction of the time, and it's an ideal case to build an MVP, where you want to minimize the investment in time and money to validate an idea. That's essentially how Tenten ever wanted, by making our clients success is our success.
In 2021, we launched more than 20 no-code projects of all kinds… from "zero to one" apps to massive website migrations. We've kind of wavered away from calling ourselves an "agency" — we like to think of Tenten as a "no-code product studio".
We have a handful of full-time team members and then a handful of contractors. We have marketing and customer success teams working together with companies to assess if no-code will be a good fit. (which is not always the case — we have a fiduciary approach to taking on new clients, and we let them know if we're not the right style of working for them).
Then we have a Webflow professional dev + design team to ensure our project is pixel perfect. The main things we work on are our websites, web apps, and mobile apps. We're in Webflow; I would say 80% of the time; we're in Bubble quite a bit too.
I love talking to people, figuring out that they're a really good fit for the company and then giving them a job offer — that's super fun to me. So too is making things like onboarding a very smooth and seamless process and building company culture. I like working on the business.
Yeah, we have HTC, Vanmoof, Eva Air, FET Telecom....and the list cloud go on and on, since we had been in the business for over 12 years, so if you are no matter in a big or small corporation but your organization is serious about UI/ UX, Digital Marketing and want to create some innovative products to the market, you probably hear us already.
It's a spectrum. We work with startups of all sizes, from bootstrap founders with revenue to CMOs or VPs of marketing for really well-funded startups (our latest client is a billion-dollar public company now). But we often work directly with founders, I think because that's the perfect place for no-code. Founders are usually not yet at scale or haven't yet found product-market fit, and they need us to build some MVP.
Yeah, that's been kind of tricky. It's interesting, but in the past, some companies and their in-house developers have been very anti-Webflow. I'm not 100% sure why… maybe people like gatekeeping. Like they think that if marketing gets a hold of the site instead of them and the site goes to hell… that would be an issue. Some think no-code is a fad.
But then some developers are more like, yes! Get this off my plate, I don't want to deal with this anymore! And there's no one in between, like ever.
So it's tricky and a work in progress. You have to nurture the developer relationship. You have to get buy-in from the whole team, otherwise, it's going to be a mess. Admittedly, we're still trying to figure out how to navigate that.
I would say that 90% of our clients come through word of mouth and referral. We do pay ads from time to time, but what we find works is to focus on a truly great product and service every time. If we do that and do it consistently, everyone will refer us to their friends.
I was just on the phone with a client 30 minutes ago, and they were telling me some excellent news about their company. Being able to impress that client day in and day out means we can potentially meet their friends later on down the road. Reputation and referrals — that's like the whole name of the game in the agency business.
To answer your question on what point people contact us — it varies, but I'd say if it's a larger startup, it probably happens in a board meeting when someone says something like, "We've got to do a rehaul. We need to revamp the website and overhaul the software". That's where we come in.
I believe freelancers are a perfect fit for that role, at least in the beginning stage where a company doesn't yet need a full-time role.
A common theme was people thinking that we need to fire a bunch of developers we used to have, but in fact we had a lot more freelance, no-code experts, worldwide, so our working model became more flexible, we try to embrace full-remote and just focus on getting things done.
Do I think that will affect Tenten? I don't think so. I think they both serve their purposes. We can help larger companies with their updates and what they want to build. And often, larger companies want to deal with an agency with collective, all-around expertise. Of course, there'll always be freelancers who will crush it and can work with all types of companies on all kinds of projects. But I think in general, it's hard to find the skill we have at Tenten in just a single person.
I think no-code is going to go the same way as coding. Just as you have front- and back-end developers, we might end up with front-end visual developers and back-end no-code operators, or something like that.
I mean, that's how we're thinking about hiring at Tenten. We're considering hiring someone who does automation and maybe a handful of people who just do Webflow development and won't do design at all.
I'm very pro specialist. Generalists have a little bit of knowledge on a lot of things. But I want a team of people who are very good at one thing each. So we can build a perfect system where when the design's done, it's handed off to a web developer who can get it shipped, and so on.
Looking forward, we're thinking of hiring in particular roles; visual developer, automation, specialist designer.
I think a big part of it is speed. People can make up for what they might lose by not using a developer in being able to ship something quickly. It's amazing.
I was talking to a client yesterday, and almost all of our clients say the same thing: before working with us, they had to go through engineering for all of the changes meaning it took forever even to make a simple text change. Their CMS was messy because they were using Contentful, for example. But now, it's Webflow. Like, they can jump in, enter the text, change a blog post, etc., and publish it within five minutes.
For our clients, what sets us apart is the convenience, speed, and ability to make people autonomous. We don't do retainers at all. We've never done retainers, and we're very hands-off. After we finish working with you, you fully own the site. We're here if clients need us, but we want to make people as autonomous as possible. That is the goal.
So I think everyone thinks that "no-code" means budget and affordable. And for many individuals, it can do. But as an agency where you rely on specialized talent like we do, that stuff comes at a cost. So we don't compete on pricing ever. We primarily compete on timing and the quality of the product — qualitative aspects of a project rather than quantitative.
We probably are more competitive in price than a traditional developer. But we're also not going to be the bottom-of-the-barrel, cheapest option. If we ever get requests from people who say they don't have a huge budget, we try to at least point them in the right direction, either by getting them hooked up with a freelancer or showing them a template that could work for them on Webflow.
Yeah, all the time! Every project we do concludes with a training session where we walk them through, Webflow and show them the CMS and how to do backups and things like that. But as I said, we don't do retainers as our goal is for people to be self-sufficient.
I mean, that's the real beauty of no-code, right?