This 1 Change Could Make Your No-Code Startup Exponentially More Valuable

Illustration: Getty Images.

How adding friction increases the lifetime value of your customer base.

In April, my startup got hacked by a single bad actor, and it almost forced me to shut down my entire operation. But in the end, I learned something about building a successful no-code startup. The whole unfortunate episode reinforced, in real time, a product development tenet I’ve always preached but wasn’t practicing:

If you want real, revenue-generating customers, your app has to walk a perfectly balanced line between customer friction and data collection.

In other words, when you ask a customer to “sign up and get started,” your app needs to collect both the maximum information you need and the minimum information you want, at the same time, without the customer abandoning the sign-up process altogether.

And if you’re really good at building digital products, you’ll maintain this balance in all aspects of user engagement throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

Or you’ll do what I did. You’ll cheat once. And get caught. And get hacked.

Be Careful What You Expose

The exposure came down to a flaw I left in the customer acquisition process, on purpose, in the name of making it easy to “sign up and get started.” I’ve been building digital products for decades. So I already knew the tenet — balance customer friction and data collection. I just forgot about the corollary:

If you don’t know anything about your customer, they’re not really your customer.

It’s tempting to go the completely friction-free route. This is because each additional click you force on the user — whether it’s during your user registration process, your customer conversion process, or even your use cases — results in an increasing percentage of customers who will bail on you.

So you have to ask yourself: What’s the minimum amount of information I need to collect before I create a customer?

My answer? Email address. And my answer was close, but oh, so far. Because I didn’t verify that email address. And once I let someone into my application without any sort of digital background check, I was asking for trouble.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have zero regrets. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. But in this case, I had another liability working against me. I was using someone else’s software as the foundation of my digital product.


The Possibilities With No-Code Are (Almost) Limitless

More specifically, my digital product is built on a pastiche of duct-taped no-code and low-code solutions that I’m using to run everything from marketing to sales to delivery to support. I’m doing this partly because it’s cheap and easy (and I’m pretty good at it), but mostly to show others (including my customers) that it can be done.

The irony is palpable.

So even though I’m a former developer, I’m building an entire digital platform from the ground up without writing a single line of code. And even though I’m a former developer, doing that bit me in the butt, in the form of a single hacker doing unspeakable things with functionality I had left exposed. On purpose. In the name of “sign up and get started” in a few clicks.

In a previous post, I talked a bit about the security implications of extending no-code and low-code platforms. The moral of that story is that if those platforms can do what you want, you can do whatever you want, but if you do whatever you want, and then find out those platforms can’t do what you need, you’re kinda screwed.

Again, with an entrepreneurial mindset, this is fine. In every area except security. And customer acquisition. Because it made me realize that while one of my customers was a no-good hacker, a bunch of the rest of them were just kind of useless.

Adding Friction to Increase Customer Value

While I was trying to get help from some well-meaning but ultimately handcuffed support people at the no-code/low-code providers, one bit of advice they kept giving me over and over was: “Add some friction.”

Well, yeah. I know this.

Old man voice: Back in my day, you stood on one side of a Formica counter and your customer stood on the other. You looked him in the eye, took cash out of his hand, and gave him exact change and a firm handshake.

Times have changed.

And ultimately, no amount of friction can keep out a determined bad actor. But as I was trying and failing and finally succeeding with security solutions that added various bits of friction to the customer acquisition process, I realized that some of this friction would actually be a good thing. So I kept some of it in, and now I’m getting more customers out of it, even though fewer “customers” are coming “into the shop,” so to speak.

So What Makes a Customer a Customer?

Obviously, when a transaction occurs that involves real money, the person parting with the money becomes your customer. However, there are all sorts of different stopping points down the sales funnel where a person “feels” like a customer, and “might” be using your product, and “may” eventually give you money.

You can’t just call a website visitor or a social media follower or even a free trial user your customer. But you can’t just dismiss those people out of hand either. They’re important. They mean something.

The question then becomes, what makes a customer a valuable customer

I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you it’s inversely related to the amount of friction it takes them to sign up and get started.

Removing all the friction in your funnel is a quick way to get access to cheap customers. Just have them click a follow button or enter an email address and they’re yours. But that doesn’t mean they’re ever going to buy from you, or that they’re even a real person. In fact, they might be pushing your costs up or, worst of all, up to no good.

So while I encourage you to figure out what works for you, don’t rest on your collection of customers that aren’t really customers.

Social media followers are good for your brand, but not your bottom line.

Email addresses are valuable, but only if they’re real and ideally, traceable.

Free trials can lead to conversion, but only if you design them that way.

And customers aren’t customers until they’ve paid (with their own credit card, not someone else’s), and if there was a Formica counter between you and them, you’d be shaking the hand of a real, satisfied person.