Sep
14
2020
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Airtable’s Howie Liu has no interest in exiting, even as the company’s valuation soars

In the middle of a pandemic, Airtable, the low-code startup, has actually had an excellent year. Just the other day, the company announced it had raised $185 million on a whopping $2.585 billion valuation. It also announced some new features that take it from the realm of pure no-code and deeper into low-code territory, which allows users to extend the product in new ways.

Airtable CEO and co-founder Howie Liu was a guest today at TechCrunch Disrupt, where he was interviewed by TechCrunch News Editor Frederic Lardinois.

Liu said that the original vision that has stayed pretty steady since the company launched in 2013 was to democratize software creation. “We believe that more people in the world should become software builders, not just software users, and pretty much the whole time that we’ve been working on this company we’ve been charting our course towards that end goal,” he said.

But something changed recently, where Liu saw people who needed to do a bit more with the tool than that original vision allowed.

“So, the biggest shift that’s happening today with our fundraise and our launch announcement is that we’re going from being a no-code product, a purely no-code solution where you don’t have to use code, but neither can you use code to extend the product to now being a low-code solution, and one that also has a lot more extensibility with other features like automation, allowing people to build logic into Airtable without any technical knowledge,” he said.

In addition, the company, with 200,00 customers, has created a marketplace where users can share applications they’ve built. As the pandemic has taken hold, Liu says that he’s seen a shift in the types of deals he’s been seeing. That’s partly due to small businesses, which were once his company’s bread and butter, suffering more economic pain as a result of COVID.

But he has seen larger enterprise customers fill the void, and it’s not too big a stretch to think that the new extensibility features could be a nod to these more lucrative customers, who may require a bit more power than a pure no-code solution would provide.

“On the enterprise side of our business we’ve seen, for instance this summer, a 5x increase in enterprise deal closing velocity from the prior summer period, and this incredible appetite from enterprise signings with dozens of six-figure deals, some seven-figure deals and thousands of new paid customers overall,” he said.

In spite of this great success, the upward trend of the business and the fat valuation, Liu was in no mood to talk about an IPO. In his view, there is plenty of time for that, and in spite of being a seven-year-old company with great momentum, he says he’s simply not thinking about it.

Nor did he express any interest in being acquired, and he says that his investors weren’t putting any pressure on him to exit.

“It’s always been about finding investors who are really committed and aligned to the long-term goals and approach that we have to this business that matters more to us than the actual valuation numbers or any other kind of technical aspects of the round,” he said.

Sep
14
2020
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Airtable raises $185M and launches new low-code and automation features

The spreadsheet-centric database and no-code platform Airtable today announced that it has raised a $185 million Series D funding round, putting the company at a $2.585 billion post-money valuation.

Thrive Capital led the round, with additional funding by existing investors Benchmark, Coatue, Caffeinated Capital and CRV, as well as new investor D1 Capital. With this, Airtable, which says it now has 200,000 companies using its service, has raised a total of about $350 million. Current customers include Netflix, HBO, Condé Nast Entertainment, TIME, City of Los Angeles, MIT Media Lab and IBM.

In addition, the company is also launching one of its largest feature updates today, which starts to execute on the company’s overall platform vision that goes beyond its current no-code capabilities and brings tools to the service more low-code features, as well new automation (think IFTTT for Airtable) and data management.

As Airtable founder and CEO Howie Liu told me, a number of investors approached the company since it raised its Series C round in 2018, in part because the market clearly realized the potential size of the low-code/no-code market.

“I think there’s this increasing market recognition that the space is real, and the space is very large […],” he told me. “While we didn’t strictly need the funding, it allowed us to continue to invest aggressively into furthering our platform, vision and really executing aggressively, […] without having to worry about, ‘well, what happens with COVID?’ There’s a lot of uncertainty, right? And I think even today there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what the next year will bear.”

The company started opening the round a couple of months after the first shelter in place orders in California, and for most investors, this was a purely digital process.

Liu has always been open about the fact that he wants to build this company for the long haul — especially after he sold his last company to Salesforce at an early stage. As a founder, that likely means he is trying to keep his stake in the company high, even as Airtable continues to raise more money. He argues, though, that more so than the legal and structural controls, being aligned with his investors is what matters most.

“I think actually, what’s more important in my view, is having philosophical alignment and expectations alignment with the investors,” he said. “Because I don’t want to be in a position where it comes down to a legal right or structural debate over the future of the company. That almost feels to me like the last resort where it’s already gotten to a place where things are ugly. I’d much rather be in a position where all the investors around the table, whether they have legal say or not, are fully aligned with what we’re trying to do with this business.”

Just as important as the new funding though, are the various new features the company is launching today. Maybe the most important of these is Airtable Apps. Previously, Airtable users could use pre-built blocks to add maps, Gantt charts and other features to their tables. But while being a no-code service surely helped Airtable’s users get started, there’s always an inevitable point where the pre-built functionality just isn’t enough and users need more custom tools (Liu calls this an escape valve). So with Airtable Apps, more sophisticated users can now build additional functionality in JavaScript — and if they choose to do so, they can then share those new capabilities with other users in the new Airtable Marketplace.

Image Credits: Airtable

“You may or may not need an escape valve and obviously, we’ve gotten this far with 200,000 organizations using Airtable without that kind of escape valve,” he noted. “But I think that we open up a lot more use cases when you can say, well, Airtable by itself is 99% there, but that last 1% is make or break. You need it. And then, just having that outlet and making it much more leveraged to build that use case on Airtable with 1% effort, rather than building the full-stack application as a custom built application is all the difference.”

Image Credits: Airtable

The other major new feature is Airtable Automations. With this, you can build custom, automated workflows to generate reports or perform other repetitive steps. You can do a lot of that through the service’s graphical interface or use JavaScript to build your own custom flows and integrations, too. For now, this feature is available for free, but the team is looking into how to charge for it over time, given that these automated flows may become costly if you run them often.

The last new feature is Airtable Sync. With this, teams can more easily share data across an organization, while also providing controls for who can see what. “The goal is to enable people who built software with Airtable to make that software interconnected and to be able to share a source of truth table between different instances of our tables,” Liu explained.

Image Credits: Airtable

Jul
15
2020
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Atlassian brings a table view to Trello

Atlassian today announced a number of updates to both its Confluence workspace and its Trello collaboration and project management tool. The focus here, the company says, is on supporting “the next phase of remote work.” Trello alone saw a 73% rise in signups in mid-March 2020, just as companies started shifting to work-from-home, compared to the same time a year ago.

The actual new features are pretty straightforward. The highlight for Trello users is surely the beta version of a table view. This marks the first time the service is giving users this spreadsheet-like overview of what is happening across their various Trello boards. It reminds me quite a bit of Airtable, but what’s maybe more important here than the feature itself is that the Trello team says this is the first of a series of new ways to view data across multiple projects in the application.

Image Credits: Atlassian

As for Confluence, a lot of the new features here are about saving users time (or measuring it). Coming soon, for example, is a bulk content management feature that will allow users to do things like archive multiple pages with a single click, label them or export them, among other things.

Available now are Confluence Smart Links that let you preview content from across the web so that users don’t have to leave their workspace to see important information, as well as real-time feedback on the content in Confluence, with the ability to view, create and resolve in-line comments while in the service’s edit mode.

Image Credits: AtlassianThe last new Confluence feature is Page Insights, which is all about metrics. With this, Confluence adds estimated read time to its page view counts, “making it easier to form quick decisions about when and how to consume content in a busy workday. […] This simplifies the mental process of navigating the endless sea of content.” Who still has the time and energy to read all of those long documents, after all?

“Teams around the world were forced into working remotely, but now many organizations are considering a permanent move to a more distributed work environment,” said Pratima Arora, head of Confluence at Atlassian. “With so many work streams across departments and individuals, it becomes impossible to rely on the old system of email chains as a vehicle for planning and managing work. Leaders need to look at whether they have the right work management system to support collaboration across the organization for the long term.”

Jun
24
2020
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Airtable’s Howie Liu to join us at Disrupt 2020

Collaborative enterprise software is absolutely booming, and Airtable is riding that wave in a very real way.

The company, which offers a flexible, collaborative database product, has raised more than $170 million in funding from investors like CRV, Benchmark, Coatue Management and Thrive Capital. So it should come as no surprise that we’re simply thrilled to have Airtable co-founder and CEO Howie Liu join us at Disrupt 2020.

Liu went to Duke University before starting his first company, eTacts, which was an automated CRM system that received investment from the founders of YouTube, Powerset and Delicious, as well as investors like Ron Conway and Ashton Kutcher.

Liu then went on to lead the social CRM product for Salesforce before leaving to set his own course once again with Airtable .

Airtable was founded back in 2012 with a broad mission of democratizing software. At its essence, Airtable is a relational database. Laymen can think of it as a Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel on steroids, but it actually goes much deeper than that.

Software is built on data — organized data, to be exact — and while many of us can compile and organize data into a spreadsheet, few can make it sing its way to a software product. Airtable aims to make that possible for anyone, even a non-developer.

That said, the company faces several hurdles. Airtable is a product that can be used in many, many ways, from tracking sales goals to organizing product road maps to managing workflows. With this type of open-ended product, it can be difficult to educate the end-user on how to make the most of it, or how to use it to begin with.

We’ll talk with Liu about how to build a very complex product in the most user-friendly way possible. We’ll also ask him about the state of enterprise software sales at a time when most large companies are freezing or decreasing spending, the future of no- and low-code software and how he thinks about hyper-growth.

Disrupt is all virtual in 2020 and runs September 14 to September 18, and we have several Digital Pass options to be part of the action or to exhibit virtually, which you can check out here.

Liu joins a stellar roster of speakers, including Roelof Botha, Cyan Banister, Charles Hudson and Mike Cannon-Brookes, with more speakers to be announced soon!

Jul
30
2019
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Monday.com raises $150M more, now at $1.9B valuation, for workplace collaboration tools

Workplace collaboration platforms have become a crucial cornerstone of the modern office: workers’ lives are guided by software and what we do on our computers, and collaboration tools provide a way for us to let each other know what we’re working on, and how we’re doing it, in a format that’s (at best) easy to use without too much distraction from the work itself.

Now, Monday.com, one of the faster growing of these platforms, is announcing a $150 million round of equity funding — a whopping raise that points both to its success so far and the opportunity ahead for the wider collaboration space, specifically around better team communication and team management.

The Series D funding — led by Sapphire Ventures, with Hamilton Lane, HarbourVest Partners, ION Crossover Partners and Vintage Investment Partners also participating — is coming in at what reliable sources tell me is a valuation of $1.9 billion, or nearly four times Monday.com’s valuation when it last raised money a year ago.

The big bump is in part due to the company’s rapid expansion: it now has 80,000 organizations as customers, up from a mere 35,000 a year ago, with the number of actual employees within those organizations numbering as high as 4,000 employees, or as little as two, spanning some 200 industry verticals, including a fair number of companies that are non-technical in their nature (but that still rely on using software and computers to get their work done). The client list includes Carlsberg, Discovery Channel, Philips, Hulu and WeWork and a number of Fortune 500 companies.

“We have built flexibility into the platform,” said Roy Mann, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eran Zinman, which is one reason he believes why it’s found a lot of stickiness among the wider field of knowledge workers looking for products that work not unlike the apps that they use as average consumers.

All those figures are also helping to put Monday.com on track for an IPO in the near future, said Mann.

“An IPO is something that we are considering for the future,” he said in an interview. “We are just at 1% of our potential, and we’re in a position for huge growth.” In terms of when that might happen, he and Zinman would not specify a timeline, but Mann added that this potentially could be the last round before a public listing.

On the other hand, there are some big plans up ahead for the startup, including adding a free usage tier (to date, the only thing free on Monday.com is a free trial; all usage tiers have been otherwise paid), expanding geographically and into more languages, and continuing to develop the integration and automation technology that underpins the product. The aim is to have 200 applications working with Monday.com by the end of this year.

While the company is already generating cash and it has just raised a significant round, in the current market, that has definitely not kept venture-backed startups from raising more. (Monday.com, which first started life as Dapulse in 2014, has raised $234.1 million to date.)

Monday.com’s rise and growth are coming at an interesting moment for productivity software. There have been software platforms on the market for years aimed at helping workers communicate with each other, as well as to better track how projects and other activity are progressing. Despite being a relatively late entrant, Slack, the now-public workplace chat platform, has arguably defined the space. (It has even entered the modern work lexicon, where people now Slack each other, as a verb.)

That speaks to the opportunity to build products even when it looks like the market is established, but also — potentially — competition. Mann and Zinman are clear to point out that they definitely do not see Slack as a rival, though. “We even use Slack ourselves in the office,” Zinman noted.

The closer rivals, they note, are the likes of Airtable (now valued at $1.1 billion) and Notion (which we’ve confirmed with the company was raising and has now officially closed a round of $10 million on an equally outsized valuation of $800 million), as well as the wider field of project management tools like Jira, Wrike and Asana — although as Mann playfully pointed out, all of those could also feasibly be integrated into Monday.com and they would work better…

The market is still so nascent for collaboration tools that even with this crowded field, Mann said he believes there is room for everyone and the differentiations that each platform currently offers: Notion, he noted as an example, feels geared toward more personal workspace management, while Airtable is more about taking on spreadsheets.

Within that, Monday.com hopes to position itself as the ever-powerful and smart go-to place to get an overview of everything that’s happening, with low chat noise and no need for technical knowledge to gain understanding.

“Monday.com is revolutionizing the workplace software market and we’re delighted to be partnering with Roy, Eran, and the rest of the team in their mission to transform the way people work,” said Rajeev Dham, managing partner at Sapphire Ventures, in a statement. “Monday.com delivers the quality and ease of use typically reserved for consumer products to the enterprise, which we think unlocks significant value for workers and organizations alike.”

Nov
15
2018
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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
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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
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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

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