An interview with Formaloo CEO, Farokh Shahabi
How the tools we use in our workspace, are changing the way we work and collaborate with each other? How to increase collaboration in hybrid teams or fully remote teams? Why do a large number of remote & distributed companies have better performance and teamwork?
These are the questions we want to explore in this interview. Today we will talk about the no-code industry with the co-founder of Formaloo, Mr. Farokh Shahabi. For people who don’t know much about Formaloo, Formaloo is a no-code platform that provides tools for companies to easily collaborate on their data, manage it and even engage their customers and collect any kind of useful data.
For example forms and survey tools that you can fully integrate into your webpage, e-mail, and even mobile applications. It’s easy for beginners to start with one Tool and then discover what else Formaloo has to offer. Also, there are many big and noteworthy companies and organizations that use Formaloo services and applications.
You can watch the full interview here:
Starting with fresh news. Congratulations, Formaloo has won first at the SheLovesTech Baltics & Central Eastern Europe event. It’s the world’s largest startup competition for women and technology. What are your impressions of this Event?
We loved to hear that we won first place. This was the magic of our co-founder Noosh Baratpour. She is the pioneer of data organization in the workplace. There were a lot of great companies there that we can learn from. For example, Microsoft was a partner of the event, and it was very good for us to have high-level feedback.
For people who don’t know much about Formaloo, just a short introduction what is your uniqueness? What are you doing better than other similar platforms?
Formaloo is a no-code collaboration platform. We help teams inside the organizations to collaborate and work with their data: collecting, organizing, and analyzing the data.
One of the biggest problems that companies nowadays are facing, is that every business is unique, and they need unique tools to operate and to be more efficient. Also, they need to collaborate. especially when we are talking about the rise of remote work or the rise of hybrid work. Collaboration is the key here.
Up until now, there hasn’t been quite so good solution for this. A lot of data will be placed in a lot of spreadsheets or files and businesses and teams inside businesses don’t really use them.
We help businesses to create a universal database for their teams, so the data can be collected, identified, and used in a cloud collaboratively inside teams. We help them create internal tools for this in a very fast way. We help them to create applications, forms, databases to engage with their audience, engage with their coworkers. In this way, they can not only collect data or manage it but really analyze it and use it to increase their efficiency.
Let’s jump into the low-code, no-code industry. Currently, it is seen as a big trend, and we see many players here. Some experts have said that no-coding has changed everything in software engineering, but others say it’s partially only a hype, a phase, and it doesn’t help much if you aren’t using it in the right way. As an insider, who is right and who is wrong?
Let’s begin from the starting point. The no-code platforms like Formaloo and others are not to replace development. We are here to make development easier.
Let me give you an example. 20 years ago, when someone wanted to create a website, they had to start from scratch. They had to know how to develop. They had to know how to code, configure web servers, etc. A lot of work just to create a simple website. And it required a large amount of work. Later, a lot of platforms came and helped to create websites, to create applications. They reduced the time of development. So basically no-code platforms, low-code platforms are here to reduce the time of development.
For example, our Formaloo model helps business users to create business applications without any coding. If a company doesn’t have coders, doesn’t have developers, then it is great to have Formaloo to help to create their own unique custom solutions.
But, it’s limited to a certain usage and after that you need development. And Formaloo, and other no-code platforms, help with that as well. When a developer is here to create this solution and make it more scalable, more powerful, more on the analytics part. They should be able to do that.
They can do that with Formaloo and reduce the time of development by 80%, 90%. For example, a developer is using Formaloo to do analytics and they are not very familiar or expert on data analytics, but they can use it. They can then use it and cut down the time and the expense that they had to spend on development by 80%!
We’re in a world where everything is going to be digital and customizable. And every communication, every data aggregation should be digital. We need a lot of software and we don’t have that many developers. So we have to have an alternative to reduce the time of development so every business user can create their own custom solutions.
The core value of the no-code industry is to make things simple and enable, let’s say, ordinary people or so-called “citizen developers” to build online stores and websites. Indeed, it seems very easy. But can it happen that it will be become so complex and difficult, that also no-coding solutions will be too difficult for such people?
That is the main problem today with no-code and low-code platforms. Especially with low-code platforms. Because, again, every business is unique. They have unique needs and unique requirements. Let’s take an example – online shop building, like Shopify or WooCommerce; or website creation, like WordPress. They tend to become very complex over time because they offer a lot of customization. We see this problem a lot in no-code platforms and low-code platforms.
After a while, you may see that this is not a solution for me, because it requires a lot of maintenance. It requires a developer touch, a data scientist’s touch to make it work. And right now, this is the biggest obstacle for such businesses that have turned to no-code, low-code. They wanted not to deal with those issues, like maintenance, in the first place!
And that’s because today’s no-code low-code platforms are not complete! They want the best of two worlds – they want to offer everything, and they want to be simple.
But to offer everything, you will lose simplicity because you will have to have a lot of modification and customization. The business users want in the first place the simplicity and later the customizations.
A great example is Microsoft Power Apps. It’s a very good tool. You can do literally anything with it, but it’s so complex. So, the business user really cannot use it because they need a dedicated team member or a team of data experts or developers. It’s good, but it’s not ideal.
We have a long road ahead for us in Formaloo, but we want to be the easiest no-code platform that is out there. Because simplicity is the key to maintenance & usability, which is the main issue for businesses. Also not only the maintenance – also the stability and the security. The stability in the sense that does tomorrow this application that I created work or not. I believe, when you make the product easy enough for business users to create, the maintenance can become quite easy as well.
You mentioned security. That’s another issue that is mentioned quite often as an issue or a problem. Some companies have very strict rules regarding data. So, how does Formaloo deals with this question? Or what is your answer regarding this?
It’s the main issue for many companies. For example, when they want to use a platform, especially a cloud-based software as a service, they are thinking: “I’m sending my data to a Black Hole. I don’t know what happens to my data. I have no control over it.”
The most important thing regarding security is to make sure that everyone understands access management.
Access management can be quite difficult. Because you have your employees, your team members, your audience, and you have third parties that have access to your data, like Formaloo or other companies. You have to manage all of them at once because a single breaking point can be critical.
Formaloo can offer two complete options for businesses. One is that they can use Formaloo cloud, which is GDPR compliance and HIPAA compliance as well. They can ensure and monitor how the data is stored and who has access.
Secondly, we offer very unique “Advance Access Management” for collaboration. You can see who is doing what your data. You can revoke access and you can add manage access anytime you want. You can see who has access to what. This is much better than before when companies worked with files. With files, everyone can have a copy of it. This is quite dangerous. With access management, everyone is collaborating in one place, and nobody has a copy unless a team member and an administrator have signed off on it.
However, this is not enough for a lot of companies. They want total control over data. We can offer them Formaloo On-Premise. This is a self-hosted version of Formaloo. With this package, they can have all the management of Formaloo on their own servers. We offer them SAML, SSO, and even database encryption. So they can have encryption in their own servers. And there is no transfer of data. This is actually quite popular with our customers, who are banks, insurance companies, and anyone who deals with highly sensitive data, like the PCI data. Those companies tend to adopt Formaloo On-Premise.
So we have a unique solution to help them.
One of the biggest benefits of the low-code and no-code industry is considered low costs. From your perspective, what are your recommendations to such companies who want to implement no-code applications to save costs?
Yes, the goal of no-code platforms like us is to cut costs, especially human resources costs. An application or internal tool that you need for your business to grow (a dashboard, a portal, etc) will take three months or six months to develop and it will take a lot of money and time. So you are losing a lot of potentials. You are not only spending thousands of dollars, but you are also losing three to six months as well. The no-code platforms like us, our mission is to cut those costs down drastically, like 90%, 95%!
For example, what can be done without Formaloo in three months, can be done with Formaloo in one hour! This is a very large reduction of costs. And that’s the goal, saving costs for businesses and individuals as well. It is possible to develop software without knowing any code at a much lower cost.
And that enables developers, especially the developers that are experts to create much more powerful software at a more affordable price. So, it is a win-win.
Because I’m from Estonia, I would like to ask the following. We are probably not the only country, where is a need for more and more additional IT specialists. What do you think – do the no-code platforms help to cope with this deficit? Or it’s the opposite, as it enables to boost digitalization, it deepens this deficit of specialists?
Estonia is a great example. Estonia needs a lot more developers because there are every day more companies that are active in IT and they need a lot more IT specialists than we have today. So, there is quite a large demand. Educating developers is a good first step, but it takes a long time.
Reducing the time needed for development by using no-code platforms is another powerful ally. It’s not that we don’t have enough developers in the world. It’s that most of their time is wasted on routine jobs. Such routine works take 70% – 80% of developers’ day. If you can automate some routine jobs, then you have much more time to do creative things that cannot be automated. And that’s the main job of a developer: to be creative.
You entered this market with Formaloo two years ago in early 2020. How do you feel, have you reached your targets in short term, in a long term?
Right now there are around 18,000 teams who use Formaloo every month. We are very excited that we have a large user base for Formaloo.
We didn’t expect that. A lot of individuals and teams created a lot of things that we didn’t think about at all. Like games, quizzes, lessons. There are a lot of schools and universities using Formaloo to create a very attractive lesson.
We are working very hard to make Formaloo easier than it is today, so teams can create more powerful applications in less amount of time.
Another thing that we are very excited about is “collaboration”. Because, when you want to make software easy, you tend to reduce a lot of stuff. With this, you minimalize what your system does. With collaboration it’s not about reducing this stuff, it’s about joining forces with your team. If you can connect the work of your team members correctly, the result is much more powerful.
So, the main thing that we are doing now is collaboration. There are great tools available today. For example, we have Notion to create documents and wikis, Slack & MS teams for communication, and Formaloo for data collection & management. We have tools that enable us to collaborate, really collaborate. And this can make the life of businesses much easier.
What are your plans for the future for the next year?
Our plan for the future is again all about collaboration. Until now, the people who used Formaloo were assigned to every team. For example, an HR team has one person who deals with Formaloo, creates their job applications, the employee engagement, anything they need. And everyone else in the team used it.
Our plan for 2022 is to turn every business user into a developer. So, everyone can collaborate without knowing how to code and without doing any hard lifting, and make something that is much, much bigger and more efficient.
The main job of Formaloo is to get teams to be more creative and more efficient. When your team is creative, your business will grow. And when your team is efficient, you have the possibility to do more things. For example, right now, Formaloo (on average) saves 19 hours per week per employee. So that’s a lot of time that can be saved and used to improve the business. This is our main goal – to save time.
This week was also an important week for you because you launched a new version and it’s for mobile applications. So how did the launching go? What are your expectations? What is the big news?
When your customers are B2B, you tend not to go mobile at the start. This was the same case with us. After a while, we developed the mobile version and it was good, and people really liked it. We saw that a lot of team members in businesses no longer work on their computers as the primary devices.
So basically, they want to manage their business on the go. Since the COVID hit, this happened a lot more often because people are dealing with a lot of devices, tablets, mobile phones, and computers at the same time. They expect to be able to do everything on all their devices.
Again, collaboration is the key in this. We changed our course to be mobile-first. Today we have, I can say with confidence, the most sophisticated mobile application in our field in the world. Recently we reached 50,000 users. We are very excited about this, and people seem to like it – to manage the business on the go. Especially local businesses, small and medium businesses like it because they can work on the field – in their shops, in their chains, etc. In Logistics, for example, drivers can easily manage data and send it to headquarters.
So, it was quite an exciting journey for us. And we just released a new version, which is much more powerful and dedicated. People seem to really like it.
The end of this year is quite near, but if people won’t like to learn more about the new version. It’s something that they can join? some event, a webinar, a podcast?
Yes. We have a webinar on November 30 about the future of work. We want to talk about how the future of remote work is happening right now as we are entering the Post COVID Era in the world. Companies are deciding on being fully remote. We are fully remote and distributed all over the world. Or using hybrid work – people come and go as they pleased. So, the future of work is an exciting topic.
We have a webinar on dealing with no-code and development and future of work every month, so they can tune in. Please subscribe to our newsletter and we will send you all the data, you need for future events.
We have a lot of discussions and tutorials as well. People can really find it in the documentation mode on our webpage, so they can read about it and get familiar with Formaloo products. Or other tools that are similar to Formaloo. We are not the only one, we are part of an industry that’s evolving every day.
Thank you for the interview. I wish you and your team the best of luck for the next year and, uh, the best of luck with a version 2.0.
About the host:
Heiki Järveveer is a Marketing and Financial Management master’s student at the University of Tartu. He’s working in the company Est-Doma OÜ as a board member and is responsible for sales and communication. Also, he has been active in voluntary organizations – education, youth work, community activities.