Overflow Podcast S1:E9
Coming Soon

Sarkis Buniatyan

From Ban Chang Phuak, Thailand and Founder at Protocore Studio, Sarkis known for pushing Webflow and no-code tools to their limits in an effort to show the bleeding-edge of what's possible as evident with builds like the Playstation UI, Civilization 6, and Apple Notes in Webflow which is why he was a finalist for Community Creator of the Year at Webflow Conf 2022.

About this episode

In this episode, we'll hear how Sarkis is focusing on designing the lifestyle that him and his family dream of and be intentionally mindful of how he's spending time every day. Plus we talk about pushing boundaries with no-code tools and how the web is just a bunch of squares.



Matthew Munger: Hey, Sarkis, it's a pleasure to have you here today.

Sarkis Buniatyan: Thanks, Matthew. Pleasure to be here.

Matthew Munger: So, why don't you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sarkis Buniatyan: So I have been a product designer for the last 10, 15 years. My passion is pushing Webflow to the bleeding edge.

Matthew Munger: What does the bleeding edge mean to you?

Sarkis Buniatyan: Do things with Webflow that have never been done before, and to demonstrate that these no-code tools are really power platforms. They're not just template builders, they're not just simple website creators. You can create practically anything. They are an open canvas. I like to think of Webflow as the Photoshop for the web, essentially. Whatever you have in your mind, you can put it on that canvas.


Matthew Munger: All right, Sarkis, describe where you live. We wanna feel like we've been there with you.

Sarkis Buniatyan: I've been in China for the past two years. Before that, I was in Thailand for a few years. Before that I was in Armenia. Before that I was in America, India, and Sweden. I've been traveling my whole life basically since I was one my family's been moving. But Thailand is where I call home. After so much traveling, it's the one place that really captured my heart. I've been based in Shanghai, a beautiful area here called Qingpu. It's been a lot of fun. The community's been great, people have been great. Language is a bit of a barrier. English is not really spoken that much everywhere, obviously.


Matthew Munger: How many languages and which languages do you speak?

Sarkis Buniatyan: I used to speak Hindi and Bengali, when I was in India. I grew up about 10 years of my life there. I speak Armenian and English, and I've been learning Thai and Chinese. I want to pick up– I have to pick up Chinese. I want our son to speak proficiently, represent all of his cultures, Alex. English, Armenian, and Chinese have to be there.

Shanghai, China

Matthew Munger: What places around Shanghai or what do you like to do when you are able to get out?

Sarkis Buniatyan: Ah, the city is beautiful. There are amazing parks, just amazing places to focus, to think, to be creative. Shanghai is one of the top five cities in the world for a reason. Very big. I mean, even the smallest village in China is the size of some countries, you know, so just put that into perspective. There's 28 million people living here, you know. All of Thailand there's only 70 million people.

I would say I'm not really a big city person myself. I like my quiet, my peace and quiet, especially from the creative standpoint. When there's too much noise, you know, just a lot of hustle and bustle, I'm not able to really focus the way I want to. And that's why Thailand really captured me, because it's more of a beach lifestyle, something I've always kind of dreamed of. But it's very quiet. It's in a valley. You've got hundreds of beautiful Buddhist temples, old architecture, it just feels like you're in a blast in the past. But it's also modern enough where you can kind of conduct your business and meet amazing people from around the world.

I've realized over the years– just in my twenties, like I'm 32 now, but in my twenties– I could just turn my brain off and just dive into what I'm doing and not care about hours, not care about sleep, just push. If that's how much energy I had–

Matthew Munger: You could push your body and your mind.

Sarkis Buniatyan: Yeah, you could really push your body like that. But I've become very much more mindful of my time, of my space, my energy, especially being a father now with the amount of responsibilities that I have.

I talk to my wife about that, you know, we need to focus on us right now. Both of us are crazy creators and entrepreneurs, and we need to make sure that our business works for us and we don't work for our business, if that makes sense.

I see that in the Maker Community so much where people start projects and then a couple of weeks later, a couple months later, they stop. Because that adrenaline rush of starting something, you know what I'm talking about? You know, you just want to go all the way in.

Matthew Munger: I'm definitely like that, like, call it. I remember I took one kind of personality test and they call it like a Mover. 

Sarkis Buniatyan: Yeah–

Matthew Munger: Always ready to move on to the next thing like, “Okay, what's the next exciting idea?” You know, and I have a little bit harder time with that follow through and finishing up the projects.

Sarkis Buniatyan: Yeah, you have to be very careful with that. And that's why with me, I've realized that for as much as I wanna do for the community, I have to really be my best version of myself and really be in that mental space to consistently work for the community.

Matthew Munger: I think the big takeaway here is environment is very key–

Sarkis Buniatyan: Everything.

Matthew Munger: To your focus–

Sarkis Buniatyan: Everything.

Matthew Munger: Maintaining your energy levels, getting inspiration from nature and the environment around you.

Sarkis Buniatyan: Yes.


Matthew Munger: You mentioned that you are ready to build your new workspace or your new office. Can you walk us through your aspirations for how you want to set it up?

Sarkis Buniatyan: I want it to be in sync with my home, if that makes sense. I don't want it to be completely separate. I also–I don't want there to be too much overlap. That's one thing that's been an issue for me over the years as I've been traveling. I haven't really had a fixed space that I could just work in. I want to get sort of a big house, and you have a detached area, which is, the office space, completely isolated, soundproof.

Hobbies & lifestyle

Matthew Munger: What are hobbies, interests, things that you do to refuel yourself personally?

Sarkis Buniatyan: They say “If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.” I agree with that. But if you do something consistently all the time and it also pays the bills, it does become work by nature. It is your job. No matter how you feel about it inside, you have to make sure that you are diversifying your energy and your creativity so it doesn't burn out. 

And I feel like, in my case, I enjoyed the creative process with products so much. Just the adrenaline rush you get knowing that the amount of impact you can create with what you're building, or how much money you can make with it, how much success you can have with it, it really was the only thing I was happy with most of my life. I didn't really have that many hobbies. I come from a musical family, so I love creating music, composing music, playing instruments. I love writing in general, writing stories, writing novels, things like that. 

So I just express my creativity in as many ways as I can. It keeps me on my toes. But I realize– especially in the last two years, with so much just going on in my life– I really started to feel how much of that pressure and that exhaustion was catching up to me. This is actually– the question you were just asking me is what I've been thinking about all day at this point, is like, “What is my new life? What does that look like?”

Because whatever was happening before, you can't operate in that way anymore. You have so much more on your plate now. You have to set a good example for your family. And I don't want my son to always see that, hey, dad's door is closed. He's always working or whatever. Your work has to work for you at this point.

Matthew Munger: A lot of people don't think about it or realize it, but you design your life. There are things that happen to you and there are things outside of your control, but a lot of it is within your control and you make choices. You actually design how you want your life to look. You need to ask yourself those questions, like, “What is it that I enjoy doing in the mornings? What is it that me and my family want to do on the regular?” You have to be able to answer those questions to really design your life and know what it is that you really want out of life.

Otherwise, life is just gonna happen to you and you're just gonna get what comes and you might find yourself unfulfilled, unhappy. Really taking that time to ask those critical questions about yourself and what you want.

Sarkis Buniatyan: I couldn't agree more. And my first startup I put in six, seven years, more than half of my twenties into it. It didn't go exactly as I planned. You realize, “Wow, how much did you actually sacrifice? How many years have you sacrificed? How many moments, positive moments, did you sacrifice, maybe time with your family, time with this?” You have to be very mindful of this stuff. 

I've been noticing this more and more in the community that they get so sucked up into this maker lifestyle. When you ask them, “Okay, so what do you do outside of it?” It's like, it's become their life. They don't have a life outside of that. You really enjoy this meal, this dish, and you just eat it every single day. What if one day you wake up and you realize it doesn't taste good anymore? Well now you have to reevaluate your whole life. So in my case, I’m grateful I've reached a point in my life and my career that I can choose what I work.

My phrase that I say in the community is, “I'm an entrepreneur by day and a product designer by night.” And that's where it is. Outside of Protocore–I do Protocore because I love it. It really gives me so much pleasure just collaborating with makers and stuff. It's my therapy, really, stepping away from business and my other endeavors outside of product design outside of this world. 

But I've realized designing and creating is my purpose in life. And the more I've been thinking about it and getting aligned with my family and everyone else's individual goals, it's just bringing me so much pleasure. It's helped me actually learn so much about my family as well. About my wife and my parents and everybody else. It's been amazing to make that sort of our community project, if you will.

Matthew Munger: Yeah. That's beautiful to see it come together, that intentionality. Like you said, really bringing together your small community, which is your family.


Matthew Munger: What's a resource or something you feel that more people in the community need to know about?

Sarkis Buniatyan: Can I shout out my own product?

Matthew Munger: Sure.

Sarkis Buniatyan: Something I've been building over the past couple years is Restep Community. One fundamental problem is the way that people actually learn and adopt these tools.

You know, a video course, a written course, they only go so far. People have been able to share their projects with each other, but not their actual process, their actual workflow, their knowledge, their experience. You can't get that across to someone. You can explain it to me as much as you like, but I interpret it in my own way.

So with Restep, partner Mitsos in Greece, Mitso Karavias, reached out to me actually in 2020 as well. It's funny, I met my partner and my wife both in the same year, like two or three months apart. There you go. So he reached out to me and said, “Look, I'd love to do something amazing in no-code.”

Our ideas came together and turned into Restep. So what Restep does is, essentially, it's the first platform that lets you capture and share your entire workflow in the exact sequence. So you open up our extension, it's a Chrome extension. And it can save every click you make on the screen in that exact order, it knows exactly what you're clicking on in what order.

So take Civilization for example. You're talking about tens of thousands of clicks. I can give you the Cloneable, but good luck actually deciphering that, right?

Matthew Munger: You have to reverse engineer it too.

Sarkis Buniatyan: Reverse engineer that thing.

Matthew Munger: Yeah. 

Sarkis Buniatyan: So with Restep you can open up my course, we called them Recourses. You can open it up, click on chapter one, and immediately it indicates where you should click. Start here, click on this dropdown, then go over there, add this style, change the width, change the height. It's literally guiding you through my entire workflow without any errors.

It doesn't let you click anywhere else. So it's impossible for you to make a mistake. You are building Civilization VI, the largest Webflow project ever made, exactly like it was made. That kind of knowledge sharing, that's a whole new economy and that's going to completely change the way this community learns.

So for the first time, there's a tool where it doesn't matter what language you speak. Someone who has never used Webflow before can build the most complex Webflow project ever made. Not just that, but it also automates the whole thing.

So what you can do is you can just say “Play,” and watch this thing build everything directly on your screen for you. So this is a level of learning that just is unseen, not just in the Webflow community, but in general. I hope that this can be my tribute to the no-code community.

Matthew Munger: Well, I have seen it in action and it is as amazing as it sounds. So if anyone's listening and is interested to learn more, they can go to restep.io then just click the “Join Beta” button.

Sarkis Buniatyan: Yes.

Matthew Munger: Yep. And go from there.


Matthew Munger: Sarkis, is there some advice that you would like to give to others in the community who are really interested in also pushing the boundaries of what's possible with no-code?

Sarkis Buniatyan: Don't build traditional projects. Build abstract projects. Test your knowledge, break out of that box. Don't think of Webflow as a website builder. It is a web builder. I see this very often, especially when you're trying to pick up a new tool. The best way to learn it is to very quickly understand what you don't understand, you know? If it's interactions, then try to see what's online and try to rebuild it, right?

In the same way that artists, when they're learning to paint, they start with a fruit bowl, and then they do portraits and they're learning from each other. That's how I learned Webflow and mastered it so quickly. I would look at WhatsApp, for example. I would look at Spotify or in iTunes and say, “Okay, I wanna rebuild this entire interface in Webflow.” Just building the PS4 Civilization VI, I really hit a lot of interesting challenges. Like when I look at whether it's a website, an app, whatever it may be, I don't see pixels, I don't see colors and stuff. What I see is squares. It's all structure.

When people look at Civilization and say, “How'd you build that?” I'm like, “It's just a collection of squares.” It's a lot of squares– It's a whole lot of squares, but it's squares, you know? So I would say don't be intimidated. Whatever website, whatever project you want to do, just break it down to squares.

It's essentially just a square within a square. That's what every website, every project is. So if you can think of it that way, you won't feel intimidated again. But if you really just took pen and paper, and you just started breaking it down into its own individual components, you’d realize it's actually very simple. So having the right approach, the right mentality when you're building, is very, very important. If you keep telling yourself, “I'm building a website,” you'll never build anything but a website. And when you see someone you know, like me, show up and build a PlayStation 5, you're gonna be very confused when you see that.

Matthew Munger: Yeah, like I said, just break it down.

Sarkis Buniatyan: Yes.

Matthew Munger: Everything is a box. Everything is a square. So figure out how is this a box? Where are the actual lines of this box? Is this box interacting with the boxes around it or inside of it? If we talk about the code, HTML is defining the relationships of everything in this canvas, in this body, right? And CSS is the relationships, how those things interact. 

Sarkis Buniatyan: Definitely.

Matthew Munger: And so, yeah, I know personally I still start with a sheet of paper and a pen or some markers. And it's like you said, it's boxes. So it's easy to get to that first prototype on paper, right? And see like, “Okay, how does this box interact with the other box?” And you just go from there.

Sarkis Buniatyan: One of the biggest advices I would like to give as well is please don't hate code. Please don't tell yourself that a no-code tool means no code. It's not, it doesn't mean you won't use code. It means you'll interact with code in a different way. See no-code as an introduction to code. There are plenty of no-coders who became coders afterwards because they got so comfortable with it, including myself.

Matthew Munger: Yes.

Sarkis Buniatyan: Use these platforms interchangeably, collaborate with them and don't be close-minded in any way.

Matthew Munger: Yeah, totally agree. Find something that inspires you and then try to replicate that. Try to push it to the next level, and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish and what you'll learn.


Matthew Munger: If anyone who's listened to our conversation today would like to reach out and connect with you, how can they do that?

Sarkis Buniatyan: Please connect with me on Twitter, that's my primary hub. Go to twitter dot com @sarkisbuniatyan. Let me spell it out for you, s a r k i s b u n i a t y a n, that’s my full name. And, yeah, please reach out, DM me anytime. If you have any questions, I'd love to connect with the community more and more, as much as I can, as much as time allows me to. Please visit me on Webflow, webflow dot com slash protocore, and protocore dot co to see some of the magic that we create for you.