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

Startups

A startup with the easy-to-remember name The.com aims to modernize website building while also making sure webmakers get credit for their work. The company, emerging today from stealth with $4.4 million in seed funding in tow, has created a “low-code website building platform” that aims to ditch the template-based approach that has become an industry standard. Instead, The.com’s site builder uses community-created components that you can place on your site and share with others. Website makers can even collaborate and chat directly with each other while building the site.

The company has now secured $4.4 million in seed funding led by NFX and involving 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 developing and designing websites and ran their own web development agency in Boulder from 2012 to 2019, before founding The.com. During this time, they’ve experienced firsthand the frustrations that come with traditional web development, Clarke said.

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

Image Credits: The.com co-founders, Jeff & Clarke McKinnon

Initially, their platform was intended as an in-house tool, but it started to spark the interest of their current customers, who encouraged the brothers to make the product more widely available and turn it into a business. So, in May 2019, the brothers left their agency to work on what has now become The.com.

Clarke explained that there are speed and security issues with traditional web development and legacy platforms. But there’s also a constant battle with customers asking for deeper customizations, which must then be hard-coded and constantly working to stay up-to-date. In addition, many of the current 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 that is not a designer.

“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 simple as hitting a “create site” button, which then immediately deploys the site infrastructure. Users can then invite other people to build with them as collaborators and then click a button to start editing the site. Instead of starting from scratch or choosing a template, makers choose the individual parts and components they want to use. That means they can get a navigation element from one The.com creator, a footer from someone else, and other elements like hero images, headers, banners, body elements, and more from different community members. As you pick out the elements, confetti bursts onto the screen, paying tribute to the creator of the original part. But over time, The.com will roll out a way to financially reward creators as well.

Image 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 incredible sites — and then they’d be used once and we’ll never make money from them again. And there’s a lot of things that the live sites never made it — things the clients said that they didn’t really like them, or maybe they didn’t make it. So it would be great to be able to monetize that over and over,” he added, talking about the motivation behind creating these reusable building blocks.

The site builder itself also has an interesting design. It is a floating window that resides in front of the website being created. But it’s a bit more advanced than some WYSIWYG designers, with sections for managing the sites’ pages, blocks, and sheets (essentially free databases). Once you’ve added the individual website elements, you can customize them further – 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 will be reflected live on the screen – no need to click on a “preview” to see how things will look. And the elements you’ve customized can be shared back to the community marketplace if you want.

Image Credits: The.com

The marketplace allows The.com to capitalize on the creator economy trend, where people are instantly rewarded for their work. The founders believe that some of the best creators can even become “website influencers” and encourage others to customize their own sites using their tools.

“In the market, people will become more and more popular based on the quality and the great design and impressive building that they do,” noted Clarke. “What we see in the future is that people want recognition for their work.” As the blocks are reused, The.com will allow the original creator to get credit, including in the community and on the website.

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

The other standout element of The.com’s website builder is the collaboration element. Many of The.com’s customers are agencies or small businesses, as opposed to individual users. This means that several people can update the site together. Currently, the builder will display 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 staff about your build.

Image Credits: The.com

As the startup is coming out of stealth, it is also announcing its debut pricing plans. The basic plan, for those looking to kick the tires, is free. Other tiers are priced monthly at $36, $1990, or $1,499 per month depending on feature set, support needs, and volume. The.com’s customers range from small businesses and startups to enterprises. On the high end, some are using The.com on top of Shopify as a headless option, which increases their website speed and decreases their bounce rate, they found.

Although its technical headquarters are in San Francisco, The.com has a distributed team of 11 full-time employees and a total of 15 working for the company. With their newly announced seed funding, they plan to hire engineering and community and work on further product development.

As for scoring such a coveted URL as The.com, the founders said a close friend helped them with the deal.

“It’s a friends-and-family discount. We’re lucky that this person was involved in the domain world for a long time and had access to a lot of good stuff,” said Clarke, who declined to share who the mentor might be.

“Unlike the Web 1.0 and 2.0 website building systems, The.com’s platform has network effects and configurability,” said lead investor James Currier, General Partner at NFX. “It takes ownership of creators and allows creators to rebuild the web with new primitives. We’ve been ready for category innovation like this for a long time. If you’re still using WordPress to build websites today, you’ll want to switch to The.com,” he added.

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