Companies that are helping small businesses break through the code barrier

Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where we could all do anything we wanted? I remember as a kid obsessively playing Habbo Hotel and Coke Music and wishing I could make a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game myself. I had no idea how to begin. I tried Unity as an adult and would hack together horrid projects with open source code and assets and could never create anything even remotely close to the MMO I was dreaming up.

Thanks to a lot of popular companies today, fields that were previously reserved for people in engineering are now becoming more accessible (and my dream of running an Sims-like-MMO may one day be possible...). People are now able to create things they were never able to before, such as video games, e-commerce shops and websites, and artificial intelligence. Opening up formerly complicated fields to all people means that you don't need to be in STEM or need to code in order to make your digital dreams come true. There are a few companies making this a reality with their exciting platforms by breaking down the code barrier.

Webflow

If you’re in the startup world, you’ve likely heard of Webflow making a big splash in the last year or two. Webflow is powering websites and also offering e-commerce and CMS functionality. Their template designs are clean and modern, the animations are easy to implement, and moving things around is a breeze. We had a lot of fun creating the Metaranx front-end with Webflow. Their motto of "break the code barrier" is accurate - I didn't even have to copy the Google Analytics snippet into my website's head.

Having made many websites from scratch, and also HTML templates, and using the Bootstrap framework, I know it can be a challenge. Maybe you see a template that’s inspiring due to its design or functionality. Once you start pulling it apart and implementing your own code, content, and images, you realize that your original template doesn’t work and you’re essentially building a site from the ground up. Using a Bootstrap or similar framework helps eliminate the need to customize CSS, but has restrictions and limitations. Otherwise, you can hire someone to build you a website. This can be costly but also result in a website that isn’t exactly what’s in your head, since it’s difficult to articulate what that is. Anytime you can do something yourself, you can create what you want, and Webflow has made that possible for someone with limited design (and 0 dev) experience. Much like the website builders before it, Webflow offers ease-of-use, but I love the added capabilities and the flexibility of their platform.

Shopify

Though they rejected my job application and I never quite forgave them (just kidding, I’m obsessed with Shopify, they’re forgiven), I will never forget the process of creating that resume. I built a Shopify store and “sold” each of my skills as a product, which they could add to their cart. Though I uploaded them to the store painstakingly one-by-one rather than through a CSV like I should have, the process was simple. It was clear where each photo, text, meta data, and every part of the website’s page, should go. I didn’t have to consider the functionality of the shop, because it was already handled for me. If I were shipping actual products, Shopify offers a built-in process to help me manage inventory. With an App Store chock full of tools that your typical e-commerce operator needs, it’s no wonder they’re a global success.

If you wanted to start a fairly customizable e-commerce shop and website a few years ago, you would have found it expensive and challenging. You may have needed to integrate with a subscription and payment management software as well as handle shipping and inventory. Shopify has built their e-commerce software out and provided modern templates, apps, and an easy-to-use website builder so you can showcase your products accordingly. Shopify has made it so that the small business owner can easily shift from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce and has made the cost of operating an e-commerce shop affordable.

Dreams

Dreams is a new “game” available on the Playstation 4 (PS4) from Media Molecule. I put the word game in quotations since this game is more of a creation engine meets open world meets content creator platform. It essentially comes with a potentially endless supply of games. You have access to a virtually infinite universe packed full of users’ creations - be it games, movies, animations, 3D characters, anything! All that you and others in their community create can be shared. You use your controller to make whatever you dream up within their workspace. Their community already has a lot of helpful tutorial videos up on YouTube and we definitely recommend checking them out.

Even with game engines, building a full game requires understanding game development, design, scripting - you need a team in many cases. Though talented individuals have gone through the painstaking process before to produce beautiful indie creations, Dreams has made it so anyone can figure their way around game design and development.

With all of these platforms, you may find a slight learning curve. Any new technology, software, or product takes a bit of time to figure out and get used to. Once you have that aha! moment, you’ll be speeding through the process and up-and-running in no time. It’s important to note that none of these companies could exist without the engineers and developers behind it. Even though these teams are making it easier for anyone to create something without seeing a line of code, there is a lot of code packed into these platforms to make them a reality. If you’ve been able to create something great with the help of these or other code-barrier-breaking platforms, we’d love to learn more about it or include them on our list! Get in touch to share your story.

Samantha Lloyd

Samantha Lloyd is the co-founder and CEO of Metaranx.