In the year Since its launch in 2017, Retool has made a name for itself by providing developers with an easy way to build line-of-business applications for their internal users. Unlike many low-code/no-code tools on the market today, Retool’s focus remains solely on developers, despite its helpful drag-and-drop interface. Now, nearly half a year after announcing $45 million in funding, the company is expanding its capabilities by adding new tools to build backend workflows. Retool Workflows, as the company calls this new feature, makes it easy for developers to create automated processes such as cron jobs, custom alerts, and standard Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) jobs, using the same graphical interface as the front-end tool. Adding more flexibility than tools like Zapier.
“Some people try to put us in a no-code area or something. You’ll never hear us say that,” David Hsu, CEO and founder of Retol, told me. “Because we really don’t believe. I think if you look at tools like AirTrable or Zapier or something like that, if you have a light use case or a medium use case, we think that’s great – it’s great for that. But if you want to build a really advanced use case, like an internal tool like Amazon is building, then Zapier might get you 50% faster, but the other 50% will be basically impossible.
Rather than going for a no-code approach, the Retool team has always built the service for developers. “We believe in the power of code,” Hsu said. He sees a trend in how more and more people are learning to code these days, and that’s a trend he wants to bet on – not giving up on the coding experience.
Workflows fit right in here, because it’s hard to build a low-code/no-code tool that allows you to build complex workflows without quickly hitting the limits of what these tools can do without trying to write custom code (although we’ve seen a few companies try). Hsu said many customers have been hacking the Retool app to make certain capabilities work for them. But instead of firing a cron job, you’d write a script that automatically loads a button in a custom app at some point to start a workflow, for example (which seems to be what one of Retool’s customers did).
“Developers need code flexibility. They want a tool that speeds up work without limiting their options,” said Jamie Cafe, Product Lead, Retool. “Retool Workflows aim to eliminate the tedious parts of build automation from scratch while maintaining the ability to write code to solve the problem.”
The Retool team says building standard cron jobs in their arcane format is time-consuming and error-prone – and the end result is difficult to maintain and debug.
I honestly think there is no developer-focused workflow product that I know of. That’s why we’re opening this,” Hsu said.
In addition to running scripts at regular intervals, Retool Workflows can use web hooks for a more event-driven approach. This means that it can be used for alerting in addition to typical lightweight ETL applications. In fact, Hsu says that most users in the Workflows beta started with alerts and notifications and eventually moved on to ETL use cases.
It’s important to note that this is not just an enterprise integration tool for moving data between applications, but also focuses on people-in-process processes across Retool’s line-of-business applications.
“We needed an efficient way to translate the product data in our warehouse into timely and insightful reporting on Slack,” said Joel McLean, director of product development at RE/MAX. “With Retool Workflows, my team can easily organize our resources in one place and focus only on writing the logic that is unique to our business.”
The new service will be charged based on data availability. Every retool plan, including the free one, comes with 1GB of workflows data for free, with over-the-top pricing starting at $50/GB.
For now, Workflows is only available as a hosted service, but the team is already working on a preview version. That’s why many Retool customers like Stripe, Brex, Coinbase and Plaid are already using the app building tool, so it only makes sense for the company to do the same for Workflows.