Making it easier to keep tabs on your projects using Retool

Colin Wren
10 min readMay 12, 2022

After the first COVID lockdown hit the UK in 2020 I was bit by the entrepreneurial bug and since then I’ve built a number of products, namely JiffyCV, and now I’m working on Clime.

One of the pain points I’ve had with the whole experience of building these products has been the non-software developmental parts of the process such as marketing, product development and operational support and the multitude of tools used to monitor the effectiveness of your efforts in these areas.

As I have three different products to monitor that means I have three different sets of accounts to login to each application and when combined with the fact that when I’m hyper-focused on development it means I often forget to check these important metrics, this all leads to me running a little blinder than I should be.

In order to regain oversight of my products I started looking at dashboard tools as all the services that make up my ‘product stack’ have APIs that allow for data to be read from them so it’s technically feasible to create a view across all of them. Two important criteria for these dashboard tools was that the tool could be self-hosted and that I could pull together the simple dashboard I needed for free.

After a bit of research I came across Retool, which markets itself as a framework for building internal tools, but for what I needed it worked really well for building a simple read-only dashboard. It can be self-hosted (although you still need to register for a license to do this) and it’s free to do pretty much anything apart from share the dashboard in a non-editable manner.

Running Retool

The first thing to do is getting Retool running. There are a couple of options here as Retool has their own cloud hosted solution, or you can use Docker to run it locally or on your own cloud provider. Both require you to sign up, but as I want to run everything locally I went with the self-hosted Docker based setup.

Once you’ve signed up for the Retool self-hosted portal you’ll be shown your license key and set of options on how to install Retool. If like me you want to run the Retool locally then you need to select the ‘Local machine’ and either run the bash command they provide or use the tryretool/backend docker image (more on how to do this later).

Colin Wren

Currently building Interested in building shared understanding, Automated Testing, Dev practises, Metal, Chiptune. All views my own.