Webflow, a Y Combinator-backed startup offering creative professionals an easier, more visual way to design and host responsive websites, is launching out of its closed beta, with already some 10,000 users signed up. It’s an idea whose time has come, as more of the world now interacts with the web through a variety of devices and screen sizes, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones – the latter two of which can also be turned and viewed in either portrait or landscape modes.
To date, web designers often simply outsource the work of coding a responsive site after first using something like Photoshop or Illustrator to create the design itself, or they use frameworks like Twitter’s Bootstrap or Zurb’s Foundation for front-end development. But Webflow is different, in that it not only offers a visual editor which lets you drag-and-drop, customize responsive layouts, and define CSS styles for each device you want to support, but you can also publish your site immediately upon completion.
The Mountain View-based company was founded brothers Vlad and Sergie Magdalin, along with CTO Bryant Chou. Vlad and Bryant had previously worked at Intuit, where they built Intuit’s first enterprise SaaS project, Intuit Brainstorm.
Though the company only launched into beta a few weeks ago, Webflow is an idea that Vlad has had on his mind for years – in fact, he even did his senior thesis on the subject, using the same name for the concept he then described. “This has been a ten-year journey for me personally,” Vlad says. “The idea is to make it much, much easier for people to build more complex websites and web applications,” he explains.
However, though Vlad eventually scored the domain name Webflow.com for just $2,900 after sending in a series of lowball offers, he put his plans for the project on hold after school, in order to take the job at Intuit instead. Plus, Vlad notes he would have had to battle Florida-based Learn.com to get the trademark for Webflow. Meanwhile, the necessary technology like HTML5 and CSS3 were still in their early days. The combination of factors led him to delay work on Webflow until more recently.
But earlier this fall, the co-founders, having quit their jobs, begin to test the concept with designers. An early prototype was passed around for feedback, but it still required that end users knew how to code. “Once we showed it to designers, they were put off by it because it required them to learn a new templating language, when they already had trouble learning WordPress and PHP,” says Vlad. “So we went back to the drawing board.”
For the next iteration, Vlad decided something that would work for co-founder Sergie, who doesn’t know how to code. “If you had to build these responsive websites, what would it take for you to do it?”, he asked his brother. The result became today’s Webflow.
An early demonstration of the technology at playground.webflow.com blew up on Hacker News in mid-March, and saw over 33,000 sign up for the launch list even though there was not even a product available at the time. The momentum and interest prompted the founders to apply for Y Combinator.
Now live for anyone to try, users can begin building their responsive sites at Webflow.com. Today, the focus is on building one-page sites, but the company will expand to support multi-page sites in the near future. Users can select from a handful of basic templates or app templates to get started, or they can create their own custom site from scratch. Webflow allows designers to visually interact with the CSS grid system, by drag-and-dropping items from the right sidebar onto the page, then defining the CSS classes.
After first creating the original version of the site – like, the laptop version, for example – designers can move onto the next iteration, like the tablet version, and continue to tweak the style. The page structure and order would stay the same, but designers can then adapt the various elements to work better on the smaller screen – like making the font size smaller on the iPhone site, for example. “The equivalent to that is something called CSS media queries, which you would have to write by hand,” explains Vlad.
Webflow is being targeted not at SMB’s, the way a number of visual website editors today are, but rather at designers and agencies who build websites for clients. During the 3-week private beta, dozens so far have converted to premium account types, which allow for unlimited website exports and hosted custom domains. Two paid tiers ($24/month and $49/month) are currently available.
In addition to adding support for multi-page sites, the company is also working to add support for other custom forms, to eliminate the need for integrating external services like WuFoo or code snippets that have to be pasted in.
There aren’t many competitors for a service like this, beyond to some extent, Bootstrap, Foundation or Adobe’s Edge Reflow. But the differentiating factor with Webflow is not just the visual editor part, but that users can choose to publish the site directly instead of having to export the code afterwards.