Imagine if to build a new apartment complex, you had to pay a team to copy and reassemble the foundation, walls, electricity, and plumbing from neighboring complexes—and then build an original penthouse on top. It seems a bit ridiculous, but this is how most companies design custom apps.
They pay engineering teams to stitch together most of the app with open source pieces and then fill out the remaining 10–20 percent with original code. It’s costly, redundant work.
In 2016, Anand Kulkarni wondered if there was a way to automate this process. The result became Crowdbotics, a tech startup that lets anyone create React Native and Django apps without coding in its basic form.
On this edition of UpTech Report, Anand discusses how this idea started and how the technology works, including their startling newest feature—the ability to describe your desired app to their AI assistant in natural language and then have the system build it for you.
More information: https://www.crowdbotics.com/
Anand is CEO of Crowdbotics, a tool for rapid application development. Crowdbotics lets anyone create cross-platform React Native and Django apps in minutes, without coding. Over 20,000 apps have launched on the Crowdbotics platform, including mission-critical healthcare applications, venture-backed software products earning millions in revenue, financial trading engines, learning management platforms, and government tools.show more
Anand was previously co-founder and Chief Scientist of LeadGenius, a Y Combinator, Sierra Ventures, and Lumia Capital-backed startup using human computation and deep learning to automate account-based marketing (ABM). LeadGenius has raised over $20M in venture funding and developed best-in-class marketing automation technology used by Fortune 500 customers like Google, eBay, and Box.
In conjunction with nonprofits like the World Bank, LeadGenius generates fairly-paid digital employment for over 500 individuals in 40 countries.
Anand has been named as one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 under 30” Top 30 Entrepreneurs Under 30. Anand has published over a dozen papers in ACM, AAAI and IEEE magazines, journals, and conferences. Anand previously held a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship in mathematics. He holds degrees in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Mathematics, and Physics from UC Berkeley.show less
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Anand Kulkarni 0:00
One of the things that I didn’t anticipate four years ago was just how big the demand for low code, no code solutions and approaches would be.
Alexander Ferguson 0:14
Welcome, everyone to UpTech Report. This is our Applied Tech series. UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at teraleap.io. Today I am joined by Anand Kulkarni, who’s based in Berkeley, California. He’s the CEO of Crowdbotics. Welcome, man, it’s good to have you on.
Anand Kulkarni 0:31
Hey, it’s great to be here. Thanks so much.
Alexander Ferguson 0:33
Your product basically lets anyone create React Native and Django apps without coding in its basic form. That’s what you guys do. And those out there if you’re a developer wanting to build apps faster, or maybe you’re a director of operations, a product manager or other business leader, and you know, you want to build an application, and maybe don’t have the team for it, you want to get it done easier, faster, this might be a platform, you want to check out on your sites. And on that it states under the hood, crowd box uses machine learning to intelligently combine 1000s of packages from across open source universe into ready to use products. Tell me when you when you started robotics, what was the problem that you set out to solve? And how has that changed over time?
Anand Kulkarni 1:21
Yeah, so when we started the company, back in 2016, we were looking at the majority of applications that were being built in SAS systems and mobile apps. And we saw that every time companies would face the same problem, they were building applications that had maybe 10, or 20%, of original secret sauce that was truly unique and novel. And then 80% of these apps were off the shelf parts, right things that you really didn’t run over. And you didn’t need to hire a whole bunch of engineers to get them done. But everyone still had to go out and do the same thing. Get some engineers put the app together, reinvent the wheel. And we wanted to know if there was an easier way could you build applications by taking the parts that were out there already in the open source universe, which is the same thing that every software engineer does. But using machine to staple those together into a working application. You
Alexander Ferguson 2:13
must have probably seen this problem, as you said over and over. And that’s what led you to this. I’m intrigued to hear more about your story. For those that want to hear the founder story, definitely stick around for part two of our interview, or be able to dive deeper. But to give a taste. This about three, four years ago, you started robotics, what? What’s one thing you would wish you had known three, four years ago that you know now?
Anand Kulkarni 2:37
Gosh, you know, I think that one of the things that I didn’t anticipate four years ago was just how big the demand for low code, no code solutions and approaches would be, you know, we looked at this problem. And I came at this problem as a founder because I’d built an enterprise software company before this one, you know, we faced exactly this issue. It turns out that it’s not just tech companies that have this problem. It’s everybody inside organizations, who recognizes that software should be able to solve their problems. And, you know, wants to do things the same way that engineers do. So looking back on it, I think if we had started out knowing that we would have looked at the problems that business people face and started there, instead of starting with, you know, developers, that said, it’s been great to just take that technical approach. And it’s really given us an edge in some interesting places.
Alexander Ferguson 3:33
Coming back to the products itself, you saw the need, and now you’re like, wow, there’s the need is even bigger than I expected. I’m curious, take me through a typical use case, maybe even highlight, if you can say the name of one of your companies that are using the platform. What does it look like?
Anand Kulkarni 3:47
Yeah, sure. So maybe a lot of examples. But typically, a user will show up at the platform with a conception of some application they need to solve. Typically, those applications involve some series of views, either on web or mobile. So think, login screen authentication dashboard, connection to one or more API’s like Facebook and Instagram, if it’s a social application, or a number of third party databases, or internal CRMs, if it’s a business application, and they know they want to staple this mission together. So we give them three ways to build applications. They can use a drag and drop web interface, which is kind of a simple, easy way you grab some modules off the shelf, you say, let me put in my login screen, let me put in my database back end models. Click Go and the system will pull the pieces that you need, staple them together and publish it out. That’s kind of the basic way that we we started building applications. Option two, of course, if you need help, we’ve got a very active network community of software developers and product designers who work inside our ecosystem that you can work with directly to build software and customize it using the platform Then third and most interesting is the newest way, which is language based, you describe what you need. In natural language, our system parses what you are talking about, and then matches that up automatically against the right code.
Alexander Ferguson 5:14
So Hola. So basically saying you dictate to say, this is the type of application I want, and suddenly it builds it for you.
Anand Kulkarni 5:22
That’s, that’s the idea. So yeah, this is the this is the most bleeding edge kind of experimental route into the product today. And we’re really excited about it, using GPT. Three, which is opening eyes, new AI based, are not enough for language processing. And you know, what’s mostly described, right, so if you don’t want to use any of the off the shelf parts, no problem. You can, you don’t want to drag it together yourself, you can type in something like give me a login screen with a password, reset workflow and a email based sign up and describe the layout. And you can put it in any sort of variation of that we fit as GPT three, you can three tries to things such as over our modules, or just tries to generate the raw code directly. And then you take your favorite version of it, it’ll give you a few options and hit go. And there you go, you’ve got a working login screen. So those kinds of workflows end up becoming a new way to build software. You know, it’s a big difference from how people thought about software creation in the past, which is why we’re really excited about that, that particular feature and workflow.
Alexander Ferguson 6:33
Without a doubt, I feel like a lot of especially maybe a product manager or director operations, or even a CMOS, like, I want to build an application. And they would just naturally talk to a developer talk to someone say, This is what I want, build me a homescreen, the log in that goes to an email system. And now you can just do that to an AI system that effectively and it would build it through GPT. Three. That is I feel like the future but I’m curious on the developer side, how to developer see this? Like, it’s almost like a whole behavior change in mindset of how you work and build applications?
Anand Kulkarni 7:05
Yeah, this is a great a great question. So one of the founding principles we had when we put this product together. And this is something that’s different than most of the low code, no code solutions out there was that whatever we built had to be something that a developer could look at whatever was produced, and be happy with the outcome and say, you know, this is a system that I feel good about using the code that that was produced. Because the standard story and low code has always been Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s fine for business people. But if you want to build real code and real applications, you can’t use the outcomes, you know, there, it’s it’s too simple. And that’s why we work in React Native and Django, which are as the same stack as Instagram, it’s this. There are open source, well understood frameworks. And when the system generates code, we generate out actual code in those frameworks in GitHub in a git repository, that you can go back and forth with developer on and actually manipulate the same way you manipulate handwritten code, which is really different from how people thought about lockout in the past.
Alexander Ferguson 8:08
This is like, it’s providing the solution that end business leaders who say want to create to they want to have to code, but yet, it allows those who actually code when they get it, they’re like, Oh, this is nice, I can actually work with this, I can build around it, I can develop it further, which is versus baked solutions that are here. This is all you have a cookie cutter. So you’re you’re creating a building blocks that allow you to modify and and and build upon beyond, is that correct? That’s right.
Anand Kulkarni 8:37
Yeah. And the great thing, I think, for a developer is that this is the way that developers end up building software on their own anyway, right? When you look at a problem, you say, Okay, is there some open source package or pre built module that will solve most of this for me that I can modify? And the answer is usually yes, for maybe 80% of the stuff you want to build, you’re starting with something that somebody has put out there in the universe already. Well, great credit Baltics lets you find that quickly, essentially, if you’re a developer and use that as a quickstart. That’s the way that you can think about this, if you’re coming at this from a developer workflow. The other nice thing is if you’re a developer, and you don’t want to actually have to maintain somebody else’s work code. You know, it’s nice that we have a so called WYSIWYG interface a nice UI that you can use that you can hand off to somebody who’s not inside your technical team to go take care of making changes to the application for you, which is always important.
Alexander Ferguson 9:32
The business model here SAS based on seats, number of months, years, like how does that work?
Anand Kulkarni 9:38
Yeah. So to their business model is focused on it’s not per seat, it’s per application that you build. So there’s a big there’s a big free tier, and then we can show show up and you know, spin up a starter application themselves or playing with it. Yeah, at the point when you need one of one of a couple things you can upgrade into one of the paid tiers. You can pay To get additional resources, additional support, or you can by building blocks of modules, you can even have robotics manage the build process for you directly from our library. So that’s how we make money on our side. But the free tier will always stay free. And that’s an important philosophy. Anyone should be able to show up and build an application and get things started. And then, of course, when your app gets serious, that’s when we you and we will probably want to use some of the the Pro features in there.
Alexander Ferguson 10:27
What are you most excited about? Looking at at something you just launched are coming up, I know, you just talked probably one of the main ones, which is the integration of GTP. Three, but anything else you want to share about technology and the potential use cases of
Anand Kulkarni 10:43
it? Yeah, so you know, we are seeing this kind of sea change in how people build software, where historically, you’ve had to do everything by hand, or the vast majority of stuff by hand in an intern IDE, writing code, piece by piece. And, you know, we’re part of this growing trend, where everybody who is building software is trying to figure out ways to lower the barrier to entry, to make it simpler to do more things, by standing on the shoulders of what other people have built. Of course, the ATI feature that we talked about just now is one really exciting way that we can reduce the barrier for people to get from, I have an idea to I am seeing some code on a screen or I’m seeing a working interface in a working application on screen. But I think there are lots of other attacks that we’re thinking about that are coming up on that same problem. So imagine, instead of describing what you’re doing in natural language, you draw it out on a design tool, your favorite design tool, you know, and design software, which is where a lot of people, you know, draw what they’re trying to do, they’re building prototypes, it’d be really great if you can click a button and convert that directly into a starter application from your design. Okay, so we’re working on that right now, we’re going to be likely releasing something, something to support that very directly in the weeks ahead. But that one is right around the corner. And that’s another method that uses machine intelligence to intelligently try and understand your design and turn that into an application. Another way that we can try and simplify the process of getting into an app and making it making it work.
Alexander Ferguson 12:17
If you had a word of wisdom for maybe whether it’s on the business developer, the developer side, or a business leader, whose nose, they want to build applications, any thought that comes to mind of a word of wisdom?
Anand Kulkarni 12:32
Yeah. Okay. So I think that the question that business leaders always ask when they’re looking at creating software, is can we can do we need to do this totally from scratch? Or should we use well understood, kind of existing technologies, we almost always recommend people don’t, don’t go for the latest and greatest bleeding edge. software framework, pick stuff that’s tried and tried and true. And you will end up benefiting from it. So for us, you know, that’s React Native and Django, which is honestly, in the grand scheme of things not, not the oldest stack that’s out there. But it’s, you know, compared to some of these new HIPAA languages and new frameworks, it really makes things easy for people because there’s such a wide ecosystem of support. There’s so many modules and packages. And, you know, I think that’s the, the real recommendation we have is, you know, build on trusted, trusted frameworks and trusted infrastructure, which is the same way we build.
Alexander Ferguson 13:38
What can you share of beyond your company future five years from now your roadmap? What’s coming up? What are you excited about? Where do you see it?
Anand Kulkarni 13:48
Yeah. So we want to be the preeminent place that people go to build software. So we we think about what we are doing for software creation for application creation. In the same way that WordPress changed the way that people make websites right 15 to 20 years ago. So looking five or 10 years downstream will be the main place people go to build whatever app you want to build, business app, consumer app, or, you know, back end software to manage your, your next big thing. So you know, we’ve gotten a pretty, pretty decent portion of the way there already, we’ve got a number of apps running on the system, some of which are really successful in their own categories, others of which are handling mission critical operations inside hospitals, financial institutions, even some government stuff. So there’s been some really exciting progress so far.
Alexander Ferguson 14:47
Well, thank you so much for sharing this journey that you’re on this unique way of building applications going forward, and I’m excited to see what comes next for those that want to learn more, go ahead and Give it a try yourself. Give it a spending go to crowdbotics.com Yes, you do have the.com Crowdbotics.com And I think you can just start building so you have that free tier that we could just jump in. Right. Right in.
Anand Kulkarni 15:13
Alexander Ferguson 15:14
I love it. Love it. Thank you again for your time and stick around for part two of our interview where we dive a little bit more deeper into the lessons learned that he’s had over the past few years and, and, and more about how he’s planning on moving forward. Excited for that again. Thanks for joining for our pie tech. Our sponsor for today’s episode is TeraLeap. If your company wants to learn how to better leverage the power of video to increase sales and marketing, head over to TeraLeap.io and learn about the new product customer stories. Thanks so much. We’ll see you guys next time. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.