At Retool, Developers ‘Move Uncomfortably Fast’ and Adapt to Macro Trends to Change How Software Is Built
Bob Nisco’s favorite class in college was “The Theory of Programming Languages.” So you can imagine his excitement when, during the interview process at Retool, he heard one of its employees say working at Retool was like “building a programming language.”
Nisco was interviewing for a software engineer role, and it was at that moment he realized what working at Retool meant to the industry.
“This simple sentence made me realize that problems at Retool would not only be intellectually interesting, but also a massive opportunity for shaping the way software is built across the industry,” Nisco said. Retool, a development platform for building business software, allows users to visually design apps that interface with any database or API, and switch to code to customize how their apps look and work.
According to Nisco, since joining the team, his initial impression of working at Retool was correct.
Since January 2023, Retool has gone from a single-product company (essentially a front-end UI layer) to a service suite of products that developers rely on to build software, and ships like Retool Mobile, Workflows, Database, Embed and other features have gotten the team closer to achieving their mission of changing how software is built. Currently, thousands of teams at household names like Amazon, DoorDash, Peloton and Brex collaborate around custom-built Retool apps to solve internal workflows.
The best part? Retool’s just getting started.
“There’s something unique about our ability to move uncomfortably fast and adapt to macro trends in the market,” Nisco said.
Built In spoke with three Retools across the company to learn how they use collaboration, continuous customer feedback and agility to increase the velocity by which they ship, build, and ultimately, delight customers.
With over half a decade of go-to-market experience, Sally Kim joined Retool just over a year ago. In her role as GTM enablement leader, she is responsible for empowering all of Retool’s customer-facing teams across sales and success with the knowledge, skills, processes and tools needed to deliver a world-class experience at every part of the customer journey.
Working at Retool feels markedly different from Kim’s past employers, however. There is an accelerated velocity to product launches that is exhilarating to be a part of.
“The enablement team is hard at work keeping up with the pace of innovation and driving field readiness for each new feature and product line,” Kim said. In order to be successful, collaboration is required. Kim said her team works closely with engineering, product, design and product marketing to scope out the customer impact of each launch and determine the rollout and field adoption plan.
“We work with our designated GTM liaisons to tailor training content, field guides, demos and any other customer-facing assets for resonance with our field teams,” Kim added. The need for agility is exciting, however, and rooted in Retool’s focus on its customers, said David Dworsky, a product manager.
“We’ve set an explicit intention to be a platform that developers depend on to build software incredibly quickly,” Dworsky said. “This means investing in small teams to make new bets, fast.”
It also means getting things in front of customers in their earliest phases.
“We want to make sure we understand our customers’ biggest pain points and that we’re solving important customer problems before doubling down on any initiative, so we try to show prototypes to our customers early and often and let their feedback drive our product development process,” Dworsky said.
The need for continuous client feedback has led to a recent shift to product planning in six-week cycles, rather than quarterly or annually, which is what you’d find at many other companies.
“This creates a virtuous cycle of product development,” Nisco said. “We figure out the most pressing needs from customers, build and ship a high-quality solution, monitor its impact via observability, then learn and iterate based on feedback.” The tight loop keeps the team agile.
“Customers get value sooner, and we get feedback quicker,” Nisco said. “It’s a win-win for everyone!”
The ‘Aha’ Moment
At Retool, there is often a moment in which an employee realizes the true impact of their work. For Nisco, this occurred when he recognized just how many companies could be built on Retool.
“It became evident that numerous companies could be established using Retool, not just for empowering internal tools within an organization, but also for creating complete products,” Nisco said.
Through conversations with various Retool customers, Nisco said he has witnessed the ‘remarkable transformation’ of Retool's building blocks to reify their unique product visions.
“The applications customers have built range from CRMs that are fine-tuned to an organization's processes to warehouses that efficiently manage and scale end-to-end operations by utilizing the entire suite of Retool products,” he said. “Every day, I continue to be amazed by the sheer power of Retool, and am excited to continue to witness the compounding benefits of what Retool has built.”
For Dworsky, a specific client anecdote stuck with him.
“I joined a customer call in my first week on the job. The customer said they saved two years of engineering time by building over 50 Retool apps in three months. It’s impossible not to be inspired by the power that could unlock for our users,” Dworsky said. And just like his colleagues, he’s aiming big.
The customer said they saved two years of engineering time by building over 50 Retool apps in three months. It’s impossible not to be inspired.”
“We still have a lot to build to get Retool in the hands of even more developers. I’m more bullish than ever on the opportunity — and hard work — ahead of us.”
Kim echoed Nisco and Dworsky’s sentiments, but added that she feels blown away not just on client calls, but also by her teammates.
“The best part is that I get to work on solving these problems with some of the smartest, most obsessively passionate, and humble people I’ve ever worked with.”
From Single-Product Company to Full-Service Suite
Evolving from a single-product company to a full-service suite has totally changed the narrative about the value Retool delivers to its customers. For one, it’s broadened the types of conversations its team is having with prospects. But it’s also opened the door to new possibilities for current customers looking to leverage Retool for their operations.
“With Embed, for example, we’re allowing customers to launch and iterate on new products faster by embedding the settings pages, dashboards and UIs they’re already building in Retool securely and seamlessly into their customer-facing apps,” Kim explained.
“With this shift to a service suite, we’ve started to see many companies consider Retool as a true platform that can power their end-to-end operations and — for legacy businesses trying to modernize — be a critical part of their digital transformation journey,” she added.
According to Dworsky, many of Retool’s product lines started with clear customer problem statements that the team wanted to solve holistically, with a scalable solution that would work across a broad customer base.
“For example, many Retool customers wanted to run their queries on the server,” he said. “Workflows, a fast way for developers to create cron jobs, custom alerts and ETL tasks, was the natural extension of that ask.”
It’s not just the speed at which Retool ships products that’s unique. It’s also the company’s stack.
“Shipping features at Retool is especially unique due to the meta problem space that Retool sits in,” Nisco said. “You’re not just shipping a piece of functionality, you’re developing core fundamentals that users use to build anything they can imagine.”