Retool is a low-code platform for building custom internal tools - such as admin panels, frontends for databases and APIs, and customer support dashboards - more efficiently than custom development. Software engineering leaders and teams choose Retool to expedite development and reduce cost when building custom software on top of their databases, internal APIs, and SaaS vendors.
Retool’s drag-and-drop application builder comes with a wide range of pre-built components, enabling users to build frontends without expertise. Using Retool’s integration library, developers connect these frontend components to databases, internal APIs, and SaaS products to populate UIs with data from disparate sources and provide write access to end-users.
Retool abstracts away some complexities of building and managing custom software with out-of-the-box access controls and version control with Git syncing. It caters to enterprises with features like SSO, audit logging, and dedicated support. Retool’s platform is available as a cloud-hosted service or can be deployed on-premise within your organization’s VPC/VPN.
This article covers Retool’s company details, platform, features, customers, use cases, user personas, pricing, and integrations. While you’re exploring Retool, you might also want to read up on the 5 best Retool alternatives or chat with a market expert from Superblocks.
Retool was founded in 2017 in San Francisco, California. The company most recently raised a $45MM Series C round in July 2022, bringing their total funding to $141MM, according to Crunchbase.
In today’s increasingly competitive and technologically advanced world, software is a core part of every business. However, custom software is expensive to develop and maintain, requiring frontend, backend, and infrastructure development expertise. This results in millions spent by most businesses annually on development and maintenance.
The rise of no-code and low-code development is a direct response to widespread digitization coupled with the cost of custom development. No-code and low-code solutions promise to decrease the burden of development and expand the set of people capable of building custom software. This trend has taken hold across multiple markets - many businesses today build their websites with Webflow and ecommerce stores with Shopify, among others.
Software provides immense leverage to increase operational efficiency - almost every business today uses a packaged SaaS tool across CRM, HR, Marketing Automation, and many more areas. While there are many areas in which off-the-shelf SaaS is suitable, most internal processes are still managed over email or out of spreadsheets. As businesses scale, these processes falter in accuracy, compliance, and efficiency.
Custom internal software can streamline these processes, but has historically come at the cost of diverting development resources away from the core product. Many of the world’s largest technology companies such as Amazon, Airbnb, Netflix, and Uber make massive investments in custom internal software due to the immense leverage it can provide in operational efficiency; however, most businesses do not have the capital or engineering resources to warrant the required investment of building these tools from scratch.
Retool and alternatives like Superblocks enable businesses to build custom internal software quickly at a fraction of the cost, harnessing the operational efficiency of bespoke internal tooling without the cost of fully custom development.
Retool’s platform can be broken down into five separate offerings: web apps, workflows, mobile apps, external apps, and databases.
Retool’s oldest and most popular product is the web application builder, which is used to build custom internal web apps like database GUIs and admin dashboards.
Retool Workflows allow businesses to automate custom logic, replacing one-off scripts or cron jobs. Developers build workflows by dragging and connecting logical blocks on a flowchart canvas. Workflows can be invoked over HTTP as webhooks or on a schedule.
Retool’s Embed offering allows organizations to build tools in Retool and embed these tools in business apps built outside of Retool. Authentication and access controls for embedded tools can be handled externally or by Retool.
Retool Database is a managed Postgres database that can be edited via a spreadsheet-like UI. Retool Database provides a persistent data store that can be used with tools built in Retool or externally, reducing the burden of managing data across internal tools.
Retool boasts customers across financial services, media and entertainment, retail and e-commerce, marketplaces, B2B SaaS, and more industries. Retool’s customers webpage includes Ramp, Plaid, Twilio Segment, and more, including the following case studies.
Snowflake (SaaS): Snowflake built a user access management dashboard to manage employee access and provisioning - connecting to siloed data across Snowflake, Jira, ServiceNow, Slack, Okta, and Active Directory. With this tool, Snowflake reduced errors and manual ticket creation for remediation, and decreased time spent on this process by 65%.
Doordash (Marketplace): Doordash has built over 40 operational tools with Retool, reducing delivery timeline for new tools from 1-2 months to 30-60 minutes, and increasing iteration speed to minutes to build out new features.
Treasure Financial (Financial Services): Treasure Financial built dashboards for finance, operations, and customer success teams with Retool, enabling these teams to better self-serve without draining engineering resources. These tools saved Treasure over $1M in operational cost in a single year.
Many organizations need to modernize the tools and processes that operational and back-office teams run out of spreadsheets or email. Retool can be used to quickly build out custom tools to replace and augment existing processes with fewer engineering resources than would otherwise be required.
A common use case for Retool is to build a frontend for a database, thus expanding the set of users who can query and write to databases beyond the core engineering team. These tools commonly support searching across tables and inserting, updating, and or deleting records. CRUD interfaces for databases remove engineering as the gatekeeper for mission-critical information, minimizing one-off requests and increasing operational efficiency.
Retool’s component library supports many industry standard charts that can be leveraged to build reporting dashboards to monitor business performance. Retool offers greater flexibility than many business intelligence point solutions; BI tools are commonly rigid in the data sources they support and interactivity offered, while Retool enables businesses to build custom visualizations with disjointed data and take action on insights.
Many organizations regularly rely on email or spreadsheets for approvals such as loan applications at a financial institution, application code deployment at a software company, or customer onboarding flows. Retool’s platform can be leveraged to build custom approval workflows with specific data validation, multi-step flows, and more while utilizing native user management and permissions. Retool can thus reduce operational complexity while keeping development efficient.
Data engineers are experts at processing and moving data from disparate sources to make this data consumable by other engineering and BI teams. With Retool’s drag-and-drop app builder, these engineers can build full-stack apps without needing to handle user permissions, authentication, authorization, or other complexities that come with building apps.
Retool has many pre-built frontend components that engineers without frontend experience can leverage to create responsive applications. This allows backend engineers to put frontends on top of their existing services or APIs.
Non-developers who need access to view and process data such as business analysts can use apps built with Retool instead of spreadsheets and generic BI tools for more power, flexibility, and interactivity.
Speak to an expert to learn more about how Superblocks can supercharge your internal tooling without the limits you'd face with Retool
Retool's standard pricing model is per-user, with prices ranging from $5-$65 per user per month on the Team and Business tiers, depending on user type and selected billing cycle. Obtaining a rate for Retool's Enterprise tier requires speaking to their sales team.
To better understand Retool’s pricing, check out this full breakdown of Retool’s pricing model and the total cost of ownership.
While Retool can be more efficient than building custom internal tools from scratch, it may not be the most cost-effective option for all teams, especially when considering the total cost of ownership. Businesses evaluating Retool should understand the per-user pricing, tier limitations by user count, on-premise fees, self-hosting costs, and ad-hoc additional feature charges.
Calculate your Superblocks estimate to compare potential costs.
As mentioned above, Retool boasts a vast integration library, making it easy to connect to databases and APIs.
Some of Retool’s most critical integrations include:
For the full list of Retool’s integrations, visit their data sources documentation.
There are a number of alternatives to Retool for building custom internal tools - you can read more about the 5 best Retool alternatives here or check out the quick rundown below.
Superblocks is an enterprise ready low-code without limits platform for building custom internal apps, automated workflows, and scheduled jobs. Developers can extend Superblocks infinitely with code, build faster with an AI Copilot, self-host without the overhead, build real-time streaming apps, and deliver performant apps at scale, all while adopting affordably across their organization.
Appsmith is an India-based open-source internal app development platform. Appsmith provides feature parity with much of the Retool application builder, providing building blocks for creating frontend applications, though it notably does not support automated workflows or scheduled jobs. Appsmith has a growing developer community on Github and provides both a cloud and fully on-premise deployment that can be air-gapped.
UI Bakery offers a less expensive alternative to Retool intended primarily for small and midsize businesses. UI Bakery includes an application builder as well as support for automated work, workflows, scheduled jobs. UI Bakery supports multi-step application APIs, enabling businesses to build out complex business logic. The UI Bakery team is based in Lithuania and is comprised of ~10 employees.
DronaHQ, another India-based player in the internal tooling space, offers a narrower feature set at a lower cost. DronaHQ provides an application builder with a wide variety of built-in components, as well as a Workflow & Scheduled Job builder. DronaHQ’s pricing model does not distinguish between developers and end-users, charging a flat rate for all users.
Superblocks is the #1 alternative to Retool and the only vendor offering a fully-featured low-code internal tooling platform without limits. Some notable benefits of Superblocks compared to Retool are included below.
“As a front-end developer, I want our internal component library to be used across all internal & external applications. In under 30 minutes, I imported components from our private NPM registry into Superblocks. Now these components can be used by any team members building in Superblocks, rather than being restricted to only other front-end devs."
Application front-ends in Superblocks are multi-threaded for smooth UI rendering, while back-end queries scale elastically with on-demand cloud compute. Developers build backend APIs using Control Blocks for custom business logic and intensive data processing, cleanly and scalably separating the backend from the frontend in line with best practices.
Retool JS queries are executed in the browser, and thus limited by browser CPU & memory, causing major latency for large apps.
"Prior to Superblocks, I used Retool where our team constantly ran into major performance issues with large queries and intensive processing logic on large-scale ad data. After migrating to Superblocks, we confidently build mission-critical apps using Python & NodeJS to process & manipulate large datasets with excellent performance, since all APIs run on the server-side & scale elastically for us."
To self-host Superblocks enterprises deploy the lightweight, stateless On-Premise Agent, which has no additional infrastructure costs and requires minimal DevOps support. Self-hosted Retool is a legacy on-premise deployment, requiring dedicated infrastructure, DevOps resources, and upgrades with recommended downtime to access critical bug fixes and new features.
"Previously we were using Retool but found the self-hosted version challenging to deploy and expensive to maintain, as it required running 6 RDS databases in clusters across three VPCs. The pricing model was also limiting for our scale. Moving to the Superblocks On-Premise Agent made it much simpler to deploy the data plane as a stateless container, and build apps for multiple VPCs with Profiles. In addition, the pricing flexibility enabled us to roll out Superblocks to hundreds of Support agents in a cost effective way."
Developers can easily build real-time streaming applications in Superblocks on top of streaming providers like Kafka, Kinesis, and Confluent. These apps provide real-time insights to operations teams and maximize ROI on streaming technologies as more developers can build streaming apps and more users can access this live data. Retool does not support streaming applications.
Superblocks integrates with leading observability platforms like Datadog and New Relic for comprehensive monitoring of Superblocks apps alongside other services. Retool apps do not provide native observability, which can leave developers blind when errors and performance issues arise.
Superblocks’ pricing model is usage-based, with no user minimums for tiers, platform fees, or feature add-ons. Businesses pay less for occasional users in Superblocks, enabling tools to be distributed across organizations without the risk of billing explosions. Retool’s pricing model does not account for occasional users, and the enterprise tier is required for more than 25 users when self-hosting, which may come with platform and feature add-on fees.
Additionally, self-hosting Retool can result in a higher total cost of ownership than Superblocks due to the legacy on-premise deployment model, which comes with infrastructure, DevOps, and downtime costs.
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