The.com launches a low-code collaborative website builder that uses customizable ‘blocks’, not templates

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A startup with the easy-to-remember name of The.com aims to modernize website building while ensuring web creators are recognized for their work. The company, which is emerging from stealth today with $4.4 million in seed funding, has created what it calls a “low-code website building platform” that aims to ditch the model-based approach that has become an industry standard. Instead, The.com’s site builder uses community-created components that you can drop onto your site and share with others. Website builders can even collaborate with each other during the site building process and chat directly.

The company has now closed $4.4 million in seed funding led by NFX and with participation from Sound Ventures, VSC Ventures, Village Global and Harry Stebbings.

The idea for The.com comes from co-founders and brothers, Jeff and Clarke McKinnon. The founders have a background in web development and design, having run their own web development agency in Boulder from 2012 to 2019, before founding The.com. During that time, they experienced first-hand the frustrations that come with traditional web development, Clarke said.

“We were waiting for someone else to come up with the perfect platform that met all of our needs. It just didn’t happen,” Clarke told TechCrunch. “So we started building it ourselves.”

Picture credits: The.com co-founders Jeff & Clarke McKinnon

Initially, their platform was meant to be an in-house tool, but it started to attract interest from their current customers who encouraged the brothers to make the product more widely available and turn it into a business. The brothers therefore closed their agency in May 2019 to work on what has now become The.com.

Clarke explained that with traditional web development and legacy platforms, there are speed and security issues. But there’s also a constant struggle with customers requesting deeper customizations, which then require hard coding and ongoing work to stay up to date. Additionally, many of today’s website building platforms are aimed at people who are already site designers. But the co-founders knew from their own experience that there is often a large group of people contributing to a website who are not designers.

“We just needed a website building platform that puts everyone on the same playing field,” Clarke said.

Starting a new website on The.com is as easy as hitting a “create site” button, which then immediately deploys the site infrastructure. Users can then invite others to create with them as collaborators, then click a button to start editing the site. Instead of starting from scratch or choosing a template, designers pick and choose the individual parts and components they want to use. This means they can grab a navigation element from a The.com creator, a footer from someone else, and other elements like hero images, headers, banners, body parts, etc. of different members of the community. As you choose the elements, confetti bursts across the screen, paying homage to the creator of the original component. But over time, The.com will also introduce a way to financially reward creators.

Picture credits: The com

“The goal is to make sure the people building the block get the most out of it,” Clarke said. “When we were an agency, we built all these amazing sites — and then they were used once and we never made money off of them again. And there’s a lot of stuff that never made it to the sites. live — things that customers said they didn’t really like, or maybe that didn’t make the cut, so it would be great to make money over and over again,” said he added, referring to the motivation behind making these reusable building blocks.

The site builder itself also has an interesting design. It is a floating window that sits in front of the website being created. But it’s a bit more advanced than some WYSIWYG designers, with sections to manage pages, blocks, and sheets of sites (essentially free-form databases). After adding the individual website elements, you can further customize them by updating fonts, colors, images, text, and more, just as you would if you were writing or editing website code. You can also make changes by adding raw JavaScript or creating new elements from scratch.

As you work on the site, the changes you make happen live on screen – you don’t have to click on a “preview” to see how things will look. And the items you’ve customized can be shared on the community market, if you like.

Picture credits: The com

The marketplace allows The.com to capitalize on the trend of the creator economy, where people are directly rewarded for their work. The founders believe that some of the top creators might even become “website influencers”, encouraging others to personalize their own sites using their tools.

“In the market, people will become more and more popular because of the quality, excellent design and impressive construction they achieve,” Clarke noted. “What we’re seeing going forward is people wanting recognition for their work.” As blocks are reused, The.com will allow the original creator to gain credit, including in the community and on the website.

Currently, The.com claims that its community numbers in the thousands, in terms of customers, and has a few hundred daily active users.

The other notable element of The.com website builder is the collaborative element. Many The.com customers are agencies or small businesses, as opposed to individual users. This means that several people will be able to update the site together. Currently, the builder will show a profile icon next to the part each person is editing, but in the future, users will be able to edit side by side. There is also a native chat feature so you can talk directly to other site collaborators about your build.

Picture credits: The com

As the startup comes out of stealth, it’s also announcing its first pricing plans. The basic plan, for those who want to kick the tires, is free. Other tiers are billed monthly at $36, $1,990, or $1,499 per month, depending on feature set, support needs, and volume. The.com’s customers range from small businesses and startups to large enterprises. At the high end, some are using The.com in addition to Shopify as a headless option, which increases their website speed and decreases their bounce rate, they found.

Although technically based in San Francisco, The.com has a distributed team of 11 full-time employees and a total of 15 people working in the company. With their recently announced seed funding, they plan to hire in engineering and the community, and work on new product development.

When it comes to rating such a coveted URL as The.com, the founders said a good friend helped them close the deal.

“It’s a friends and family discount. We’re lucky this person has been involved in the domain world for a long time and had access to a lot of good stuff,” Clarke said, declining to say. who could be the mentor.

“Unlike Web 1.0 and 2.0 website building systems, The.com’s platform has network effects and composability,” said lead investor James Currier, general partner of NFX. “It gives ownership to creators and will allow them to rebuild the web with new primitives. We’ve been waiting a long time for category innovation like this. If you’re still using WordPress to build websites today, you’ll want to upgrade to The.com,” he added.

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