Nov
15
2018
--

Airtable, maker of a coding platform for non-techies, raises $100M at a $1.1B valuation

If data is the new oil, you might think of apps are the cars that need it to move. Now, a startup that has built a platform to let everyone — not just those with technical expertise — make and drive their own “cars” has raised a significant round of funding to grow its business. Airtable — which uses a simple interface built on spreadsheets and other tools familiar to knowledge workers as a frontend to produce apps and other web-based experiences — has raised $100 million in funding to expand its business with more talent and offices outside the US. Along with the funding, the company has now catapulted to a $1.1 billion valuation.

Catapult is the key word here: according to PitchBook the company was only valued at $152 million in its last round — eight months ago.

Airtable’s tools are now in use by some 80,000 businesses today, the company said, representing a real growth spurt. To put that into some context, when the company raised $52 million eight months ago, it said it had only 30,000 customers.

This latest round — a Series C — was led by Josh Kushner at Thrive Capital, Peter Fenton at Benchmark, and Philippe and Thomas Laffont at Coatue Management. Delphine Arnault, Emily Weiss, Alexa Von Tobel, Sarah Smith, Dan Rose, and previous investors CRV and Caffeinated Capital also participated — bringing the total raised by Airtable to $170 million.

Howie Liu, the CEO who co-founded Airtable with Emmett Nicholas (now CTO) and Andrew Ofstad, said that the initial idea for the product came out of their own experience. The tech world had already identified that many tools for building apps and other products were potentially too technical for the vast majority of knowledge workers in the tech industry (who might not have coding experience), but the solutions in the market for making things like apps were still “too expensive and complicated to use.”

“The vision was to democratise the value proposition,” he said. A database, the founders decided, “in its most flexible form, can be customised to what you need, and that would be better than using someone else’s existing database model.”

Airtable is not the only company that has identified the problem and tried to solve it by building powerful macros under the hood of otherwise standard-looking database interfaces.

DashDash is building a similar concept out of Europe focused specifically on spreadsheets, and we’re even seeing Microsoft and partners building more functionality into the world’s leading spreadsheet provider, Excel.

Indeed, that’s not seen as stiff competition, but a sign for Airtable’s investors of just how much opportunity there is in the space. “Airtable has established itself as the leader in what will become a very large market,” Josh Kushner, managing partner at Thrive Capital, said in a statement.

One of the important aspects of Airtable is its Slack-like approach to the task of using its platform to build things.

The company has a platform called Blocks that not only lets its users bring in data from a number of sources, but also to select a number of different kinds of outputs for how and where would like the data to be used, whether it is in a marketing campaign across text messaging, an AI-based bot, or a VR experience. Liu confirmed for me that for now Excel is not one of its integration partners, for now.

Another notable point is that Airtable is yet another example of how the most promising startups are racking up funding in rapid rounds at the moment.

Just yesterday, no less than four different startups — Service Titan, UiPath, Nikola, and SAM — announced rounds of funding coming on the heels of fundraising mere months earlier. It’s a sign of how the market is very hot at the moment: VCs and other investment firms have raised fuelled by large sums of cash that now need to be put to use, and they are all looking for strong bets to do just that.

Fast-growing startups in areas that are on the rise present safe harbours to these investors, and with tens and hundreds of billions of dollars at these funds still in play, we’ll probably continue to witness this funding trend for some time to come.

Mar
15
2018
--

Airtable raises $52M to give non-coders tools to build complex software

A massive company probably has plenty of engineers on staff and the resources to build a complex backbone of interconnected information that can contain tons of data and make acting on it easy — but for smaller companies, and for those that aren’t technical, those tools aren’t very accessible.

That’s what convinced Howie Liu to create Airtable, a startup that looks to turn what seems like just a normal spreadsheet into a robust database tool, hiding the complexity of what’s happening in the background while those without any programming experience create intricate systems to get their work done. Today, they’re trying to take that one step further with a new tool called Blocks, a set of mix-and-match operations like SMS and integrating maps that users can just drop into their systems. Think of it as a way to give a small business owner with a non-technical background to meticulously track all the performance activity across, say, a network of food trucks by just entering a bunch of dollar values and dropping in one of these tools.

“We really want to take this power you have in software creation and ‘consumerize’ that into a form anyone can use,” Liu said. “At the same time, from a business standpoint, we saw this bigger opportunity underneath the low-code app platforms in general. Those platforms solve the needs of heavyweight expensive use cases where you have a budget and have a lot of time. I would position Airtable making a leap toward a graphical user interface, versus a lot of products that are admin driven.”

Liu said the company has raised an additional $52 million in financing in a round led by CRV and Caffeinated Capital, with participation from Freestyle Ventures and Slow Ventures. All this is going toward a way to build a system that is trying to abstract out even the process of programming itself, though there’s always going to be some limited scope as to how custom of a system you can actually make with what amounts to a set of logic operation legos. That being said, the goal here is to boil down all of the most common sets of operations with the long tail left to the average programmers (and larger enterprises often have these kinds of highly-customized needs).

All this is coming at a time when businesses are increasingly chasing the long tail of small- to medium-sized businesses, the ones that aren’t really on the grid but represent a massive market opportunity. Those businesses also probably don’t have the kinds of resources to hire engineers while companies like Google or Facebook are camping out on college campuses looking to snap up students graduating with technical majors. That’s part of the reason why Excel had become so popular trying to abstract out a lot of complex operations necessary to run a business, but at the same time, Liu said that kind of philosophy should be able to be taken a step further.

“If you look at cloud, you have Amazon’s [cloud infrastructure] EC2, which abstracted the hardware level and you can build on existing machine intelligence,” Liu said. “Then, you get the OS level and up. Containers, Heroku, and other tools have extracted away the operation level complexity. But you have to write the app and modal logic. Our goal is to go a big leap forward on top of that and abstract out the app code layer. You should be able to directly use our interface, and blocks, all these plug and play lego pieces that give you more dynamic functionality — whether a map view or an integration with Twilio.”

And, really, all these platforms like Twilio have tried to make themselves pretty friendly to coding beginners as-is. Twilio has a lot of really good documentation for first-time developers to learn to use their platforms. But Airtable hopes to serve as a way to interconnect all these things in a complex web, creating a relational database behind the scenes that users can operate on in a more simplistic matter that’s still accurate, fast, and reliable.

“Obviously MySQL is great if you want to use code or custom SQL queries to interface with the data,” Liu said. “But, ultimately, you’d never as a business end user consider using literally a terminal-based SQL prompt as the primary interface to and from your data. Certainly you wouldn’t put that on your designs. Clearly you would want some interface on top of the SQL level database. We basically expose the full value of a relational database like Postgres to the end user, but we also give them something equally but more important: the interface on the top that makes the data immediately visible.”

There’s been a lot of activity trying to rethink these sort of fundamental formats that the average user is used to, but are ripe for more flexibility. Coda, a startup trying to rethink the notion behind a word document, raised $60 million, and all this points towards moves to try to create a more robust toolkit for non-technical users. That also means that it’s going to be an increasingly hot space, and especially look like an opportunity for companies that are already looking to host these kinds of services online like Amazon or Microsoft and have the buy-in from those businesses.

Liu, too, said that the goal of the company was to go after all potential business cases right away by creating a what-you-see-is-what-you-get one size fits all platform — which is usually called a horizontal approach. That’s often a very risky move, and it’s probably the biggest question mark for the company as there’s an opportunity for some other startups or companies to come in and grab niches of that whole pie in specific areas (like, say, a custom GUI programming interface for healthcare). But Liu said the opportunity for Airtable was to go horizontal from day one.

“There’s this assumption that software has to involve literally writing code,” Liu said. “It’s sort of a difficult thing to extricate ourselves from because we have built so much with writing code. But when you think about what goes into a useful application, especially in the business-to-business internal tools in a company use case which forms the bulk of software that’s consumed in terms of lines of code written, most of them are primarily a relational database model, and the relational database aspect of it is not an arbitrary format.

Apr
30
2015
--

Airtable Launches Its API And Embedded Databases

airtable Two months after launching its unique organizational tool, Airtable is rolling out two new features that’ll make it easier to share your personal spreadsheet/database hybrids with others in a way they’ll find useful. In addition to sharing direct read or edit access to the relational databases you create in its app, Airtable is today letting you draw from the underlying data using… Read More

Powered by WordPress | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com