Create your website. Anywhere.

How the creator of Universe brought web design to iPhone.

Universe — Website Builder

Design no code sites & stores


Company: Universe
Founder: Joseph Cohen
Mission: To make website development as easy as stacking blocks
App launched: 2017
Team size: 24
Go-to emoji: 🌎

In 2015, Joseph Cohen noticed something curious about the internet.

“Along with everybody else, I was accessing the internet on my iPhone, but I couldn’t actually build the internet there,” says Cohen. “The apps hadn’t been designed yet.”

Two years later, he launched Universe – a mobile-first tool that makes creating websites as easy as playing with blocks. Now available for iPhone, iPad and Mac, the app lets you rearrange simple modules that can contain text, images, videos, links, animated buttons and products, and includes a full suite of e-commerce tools.

We spoke to the 29-year-old founder from his home in New York City about the origins of Universe and the power of the perpetual draft.

Universe walks you through the process of picking the perfect template.

How did you get the idea to start Universe?
A product Apple made in 1987 called HyperCard was one inspiration. It was basically a no-code creation tool: design and development software for people who weren’t designers and developers. I booted it up in an emulator six years ago and was blown away. I thought, “If I could build that for the iPhone, it would turn every internet user into an internet creator.” I could think of no more important problem to work on.

So many independent businesses have been harnessing the power of Universe to set up shop: jewellery makers, perfumers, fashion labels, illustrators...
You can start a business now entirely through Universe. We’ve seen almost 20,000 businesses launch on the app.

How did Universe evolve into a tool for businesses?
Just like we demystified the process of website development, we knew we could do the same with commerce. We launched our business services as the pandemic was getting going, and we’ve been relentlessly iterating since, adding tools for inventory management, selling digital files and generating shipping labels.

Where did the app’s grid-based design system come from?

The hallmark of graphic design is the grid. Whether you’re designing a poster or document or brochure, you’re starting with a grid. And it turns out if you divide the iPhone screen into three columns and five rows, you end up with nearly perfect squares. That just felt like an inviting starting place. You don’t have the blank-canvas problem, but it still felt unrestrained.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
Ship early and often – the more cycles you go through, the better the product’s going to be. One of the beautiful things about software is you can always change it and improve it. Get in the mindset of the “perpetual draft”, where you’re simply never finished.

Universe is a part of the App Store Small Business Program. If you are a developer and would like to learn more about the program, follow the link below.