Startups
June 22, 2022

A Tale of Two Startups: Fullstack CTO & Low-Code CTO-for-Hire

What you’re about to read is a true story that illustrates how no-code has the ability to completely transform by whom, how, and how quickly startups will be able to grow.

”So we’ll call it Rentbridge?”
”Ya, like we’re bridging the gap so people can rent anything from each other.”

That’s how the conversation went as a hacker, a hustler, and a hipster met in a coffee shop in late 2017 to start an Airbnb for household items, Rentbridge.

They quickly got to work on branding, figuring out the legal issues with renting and potential theft, ideating the business model, and finding an open-source platform to tweak for their MVP. Within a two months they had an MVP up and running, had about 50 people on the platform, and learned that, without insurance, very few people would be open to using it. They also discovered that there were some key features required to build that could not be done on the open source platform. So they got to work further ideating, preparing pitches, refining... and then their CTO stepped down to focus on his other startup and studies.

Within a few months they found another CTO that they had to pay out of pocket for a few more months. He soon stepped down to get a “real job” as the risk of a startup was a bit much for him at the time. So the second MVP was abandoned and the team was, again, without a CTO.

They then took a few months off to make money in their other businesses to live off of and to fund this venture. By the time they found a third CTO, a year and a half had gone by. It was now Summer 2019 and they had finally found a new CTO. At this time they had renewed hope- so they hired two interns to help them prep for some marketing and research. They were excited to release an MVP that could get users and early revenue so they could raise funds to grow their rocketship, as the startup dream goes.

But life happens. That CTO has some intense personal difficulties and had to step down for a few months before he could rejoin for just 4 hours a week. To help, the team hired two developers, again out of their pockets, to work alongside the CTO. Within 3 months of development, the 3 of them had built an MVP platform that could get users signups, listings added, and the ability to search listings and click “rent”- though no payments were setup so they couldn’t make money.

With this vigor the hustler- the CEO- recruited more team members with his story-telling and vision-casting. Based on previous business success in the service industry and his reputation, and the potential of startup success, several more joined the team for free, all contributing financially. Soon the Rentbridge team was a team of 10, all paying in and working for free to build this. Bootstrapping until they could raise money and scale. One of these members had played a significant role in the growth of one of the most successful marketplace companies in Canada.

Then the CTO had to step down. The developers, not knowing what to do without him, also stepped down. Rentbridge had just been accepted into an accelerator and was now left without a development team and with a half-baked MVP (their 3rd one). It was now over 2 years into their venture.

the_3rd_cto_stepped_down

With a glimmer of hope, they were able to build a solid pitch and make numerous investor connections. But then, with another blow, COVID hit the world. Their MVP, which had a small bit of traction, was put on pause as the world stalled.

At this point, the CEO had shutdown his previous company and was living on his savings. He knew he only had a few months left before he’d be in trouble. 2 years of work was about to blow-up in smoke and he’d be forced to find a job, try to start another business, or go bankrupt.

Then, while listening to a podcast, he heard about low-code. It was a faint glimmer of hope, but if low-code was as powerful as it claimed to be, he might be able to save his company. He went to work most of his time learning a low-code platform and trying to rebuild his platform. And sure enough, within just 3 weeks, he was able to rebuild his MVP by himself. What took 3 developers 3 months, he built-in 3 weeks. This was a game changer.

He continued to work on it and  was able to setup payments and deposits and even to get an insurance partnership. That Summer, 3 years in, they were able to launch their MVP. It was slow at first, but within 4 months they had grown to nearly 500 users, were doubling their inventory each month (at over 1000 listings), and had some transactions happening. But when they reflected on the actual numbers, they were stopped in their tracks.

“So we spent $16,000 in marketing these past 4 months and we’ve made just $20?”

”Ya.”

”Well maybe it’s covid’s fault, people aren’t as eager to rent from other people.”

”Maybe, but second-hand markets are actually doing really well, and that’s not too different. Besides, even if we did 10x better without covid, that’s still only $200 return on $16,000 in spend. People all over have heard of us, they are excited to sign up, but they aren’t using it.”

The Second Startup

It was at that point that we decided we would pivot or die. We had spent $40,000 in personal and grant funding at that point over 3 years. A fair bit of money and time for a flop. But with all that, we had learned we knew we could make a pivot fast.

Within 2 months we rebuilt and repurposed our platform to be a tool to bulk-sell second-hand items, think for garage sales, estate sales, or consignment stores. On our first day, with no marketing spend, we made 5x our entire 4 months with Rentbridge. The first month saw several hundred dollars in profit with no expenses. Our hope was renewed. We were excited.

At the same time, our team had shrunk to just 2 people to focus on this product (we realized we had too many cooks in the kitchen for this shift), and both of those two people, the CEO and COO, had other businesses that were growing fast and generating significantly more revenue. At this point they decided to hit pause and see if they wanted to come back to it later.

Meanwhile, 4000km away on the East Coast, another startup had started at the same time that Rentbridge was realizing that their idea may not work due to lack of product-market fit. This company used low-code development right from the beginning. They also raised a small family round and did all the marketing themselves (it was just one person to start).  This founder soon cracked-the-code on how to get users renting from one another and had 40% month-over-month growth, growing to $2000 in monthly revenue in just 9 months. From here they were able to raise $150k.

At this time, the two founders met and had happened to be living in the same city, as the Rentbridge founder had moved. In a world first, the low-code founder from the East-Coast bought Rentbridge and it’s pivot, Reesale, acquired the COO’s skillset and kept the CEO on as an advisor.

Rentbridge was built over 3 years with a team as large as 10, nearly every one of which had previously started and run their own businesses, some with incredible success. They tried to run as a lean startup but died in their go-to-market spend and their long-development times. Had they used low-code to start, they might have pivoted early on, saved significant funds and time, and thrived.

Yet the company that acquired Rentbridge now lives on and keeps growing. They’ve been much more focused with their resources, have achieved results, and have raised multiple rounds. Due to starting with low-code development and following a clear lean startup methodology, they are succeeding. This company is Frenter- started by the then 15-year-old founder, Zac.

This is the power of low-code development to transform how startups come to be. It makes it so that anyone with the drive to learn and try can go-to-market fast and affordably to test their ideas. As the founder of Rentbridge, I may be a little disappointed at times as to how things went. But it led to me starting StayShure, to being an advisor and now interim CTO for Frenter, and to creating new possibilities for numerous other startup founders who now get our help to build with low-code.

Low-code is changing how startups change the world. The stories that you just read will only be increasingly more common. If you’d like to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, read other articles about low-code from us or let’s take time to schedule a call to chat more. We help startups go-to-market 5x faster with low-code development, just like Frenter did.

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