The 15-Year Journey To Building Webflow and Creating the No-Code Category with Vlad Magdalin on Conscious Creators with Sachit Gupta

Check out the Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • The idea of Webflow was Vlad’s senior project and he kept at it because of “the blind conviction that this better way has to happen”
  • Webflow wants to place the power of no-code into more hands quicker and get more people creating
  • Every time the computer industry reaches a new level of abstraction, it unlocks a new category
  • As a start-up, when revenue = expenses, you control your destiny
  • Vlad leads by the model of Servant Leadership
  • Leaders should seek to help others and bring value into the world
  • Vlad learned self-reliance as a Russian immigrant: “This is my journey to figure it out- no entitlement” – Vlad Magdalin

Intro

Vlad Magdalin (t:@callmevlad) is a designer and front-end developer and the founder and CEO of of Webflow, the all-in-one web design platform that helps designers create professional responsive websites.

Host: Sachit Gupta

How Vlad got into design?

  • Vlad’s family emigrated from Russia in 1991 when he was 9-years-old
  • After they landed in the U.S. they discovered half their luggage—most of their possessions—were gone and they were devastated…
  • …until the family received $2400 for compensation
  • 1st thing his dad bought with the money was a computer and started a business selling PVC pipe to Russian contractors
  • Vlad was in charge of making a Russian catalog for it, duplicating drawings and verbiage
  • At 15, Vlad’s father had him set up yellow pages, calendars, and business cards- it made him fall in love with graphic design
  • He earned $250 for that summer – and his dad kept it all
  • “I’m glad my father used me for child labor. When I was 14 years old, the entire family would clean dentist offices – we didn’t have a choice. It was embarrassing at times but I knew I had to do my part to live the American dream”Vlad Magdalin

Are there common themes from those years, lessons that were transferrable?

  • Self-reliance – Vlad says he had to figure things out on his own and learned he couldn’t rely on anyone else: “this is my journey to figure it out- no entitlement” – Vlad Magdalin

In 2006 you wrote a paper about the framework for a user-driven web app. What was that?

  • Vlad’s senior project was essentially the beginning of Webflow
  • He created Chatterfox, a web app to chat with his friends- but his start-up dreams didn’t take off
  • Vlad got an internship at a web design agency- but there was so much duplication and repetitive coding, it seemed silly

What happened to your idea for Webflow?

  • He started coding furiously – Vlad was a straight A student in high school, but in college did just enough to pass so he could code
  • Vlad says he had naive optimism- “Once you realize there’s a better way, its hard to not do it”
  • Things went on hold when Vlad got married, shouldering the standard expectation from Russians parents – his and hers- to get a real job and provide
  • Intuit hired Vlad and he and his wife moved to San Francisco
  • His dreams to create Webflow came back, but he found he couldn’t use the name- a company in Florida already had registered it
    • Vlad was bummed because he felt attached to the name
    • The project lost steam as his job at Intuit got more demanding
  • In the meantime he created Brainstorm – an idea-sharing platform that hooked into Intuit’s active employee directory (7,000)
  • One of the VP’s saw it and gave Vlad a magical offer – go ahead work remotely on Webflow for a year

Did you try to launch it?

  • He tried to spin it off but Intuit was not interested and by 2011 it seemed a lost cause
  • In late 2011, out of the blue, an envelope arrived with trademark certification stating that Vlad was owner of the name Webflow – the other company let the name rights lapse
  • “This is a sign from the universe, I told myself then, I’m doing this fulltime” – Vlad Magdalin
  • In 2012 he saw a video on Facebook called, Inventing on Principle – Why Do You Do the Work You Do? by Brett Victor
  • Everything in that moment clicked and the next morning Vlad gave his notice to Intuit – “This has to happen”
  • Vlad cashed out and put everything into Webflow

What kept you going with this one idea for so long?

  • “The obviousness of it – the blind conviction that this better way has to happen” – Vlad Magdalin

No-Code Tools Unlock the Future

  • The Webflow idea is to empower more people to create software visually
  • It will not put programmers out of a job!
  • People will get to work on more creative demands and it will create more demand
  • Every time the computer industry reaches a new level of abstraction, it unlocks a new category
  • It elevates overall literacy –  with fewer checkpoints, barriers, and constraints
  • Now founders, who can’t get funding or engineers but want to validate an idea, can get a product into the world – “We’re ushering in the creative revolution” – Vlad Magdalin

What’s the mental game for all this look like?

  • There are a lot of peaks and valleys –  in 2012, 6 months after founding Webflow, Val’s money  started running out-  he had $50,000 in credit card debt, his daughter needed surgery and he had nightly talks with wife:  “This is not what we signed up for”
  • Every week he had panic attacks and was on the verge of giving up
  • The couple converted cars they owned to leases just so they could make rent

When did you know it would work out?

When revenue = expenses, “I thought, now we are in control of our destiny, if all else fails, we could go without VC’s. It’s up to us and our customers.” – Vlad Magdalin

Was raising funds tough?

  • Webflow wanted to raise $1 million, but it was tough to raise money
  • After 60-70 pitches over 40 days, all they had was one $200K investor
  • When they announced they were done fund-raising, (they’d had enough of it) the floodgates opened and everyone wanted it – they got $1.4 million

How did it feel to raise $72 million, this year, 15 years after your idea started?

  • “It’s great for the outside world to acknowledge what we’re doing – it’s validation” – Vlad Magdalin
  • Webflow’s goal is to place the power of no-code into more hands quicker and get more people creating and making a living because of their platform
  • Vlad says his visual development tool has made the creation of value and wealth for creators possible

What value does Webflow unlock around the planet?

It adds value because someone could build a better website without knowing how to code

Vlad saw a gap in visual software development and filled it

How do you feel now after the public recognition of Webflow?

  • “What I imagined was one thing, but this is 10 times better”- Vlad Magdalin

Leadership and Parenting

  • Vlad goes by the model of Servant Leadership – “I’m here as a parent and as head of a company to serve and make sure needs are met” – Vlad Magdalin
  • The human impact of your work and the team you work with is the most important thing.
  • To attract the best people to his team, Vlad tries to:
    • Give them autonomy
    • A chance to practice their craft
    • A shared sense of purpose
    • Let them know he cares deeply about individual and the team
  • Leaders should seek to help others and bring value into the world – it’s better when doing it with a team, the whole is greater than the parts- whether it’s for a family, an investor team or creative team

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