How we launched and scaled a social network with No-Code

How we launched and scaled a social network with No-Code
Photo by Hal Gatewood / Unsplash

In the Fall of last year, we launched a social network for college students using No-Code.

Here’s how we did it:

Starting in the summer of 2022 (after having conversations with a few dozen college students), we stumbled across a very interesting insight:

80% of college students aren’t on Facebook anymore.

Sure, tools like Snapchat and Instagram exist that represent someone’s social graph, but there isn’t a central place for students to go get guidance from other peers. For students to even do simple transactions like exchanging textbooks, finding roommates, or buying sports tickets is messy.

This gave us the idea that just maybe students were hungry for a new social network to fill the void Facebook left behind.

Our goal was to create a digital community where students could discuss campus life, discover housing options, and buy/sell from other verified students.

🔨 Step 1: Build the Platform (using No-Code)

To make this happen, we started by setting up a Circle community specifically for our first college, the University of Michigan (Go Blue!). We then customized the community's branding and design to fit with UofM’s colors and overall aesthetic.

Next, we created different spaces within the community for different topics, such as "Ask UMich," "Class Reviews," “Buy/Sell,” and "Events." This allowed students to easily find and engage with content that was relevant to them.

Lastly, we then threw together a marketing page using Webflow and used Zapier to sync all user content into an Airtable to run analytics.

📚 Tech Stack:

Marketing website: Webflow

Community: Circle

Database: Airtable

Syncing: Zapier

Operations: Retool

🚀 Step 2: Launch

Getting students into the platform was easy enough. We just showed up on campus and bribed them with free cookies and pizza. This got us to our first 500 students on the platform.

We made sure to promote the community heavily on campus through flyers, social media posts, and announcements at student events. This helped to build awareness and drive adoption among students.

📱 Step 2.5 (optional): Build a mobile app

One thing we learned early on was that students were going to mostly use our platform on their phones. We didn’t have an app when we launched and quickly realized that was going to be a problem.

Our hack was simply to create a React Native app that rendered a web view wrapped around our Circle community. It wasn’t ideal, but it got the job done).

📈 Step 3: Growth

After launch, most of our effort was focused on growing our community. We used a variety of different tactics, from referral contests to even a match-making service that 3x-ed our growth.

Within 12 weeks, had more than 10% of Michigan's undergrad population on the platform (roughly 3,000+ students).

❓ WHY did we do this?

We get asked this a lot. Since we have our engineering team, why not build this in-house? It came down to this:

It was cheaper and faster.

We’ve learned that most of the components of a social network (feed, profiles, messaging, events, etc…) are all a commodity. What matters much more is who is on the platform and whether or not they are deriving value from the network.

So we decided to focus energy on building the community instead of reinventing the wheel.

Plus, we really didn’t know what our audience would resonate with from a product perspective. Circle allowed us to spin up experiments in just hours rather than weeks. When you’re a small startup, these savings make a monumental difference.

🪞 Reflections

Through this process, we learned the power of the No Code ecosystem.

Too many founders (including myself) often feel the need to build products for the sake of building instead of finding scrappy ways to prove (or disprove) their hypothesis.

But users don’t care if you built your own platform. They only care whether or not you solve their problem.

In the end, that’s what really matters.