Howie Liu, co-founder and CEO of AirTable, stands for a photo after a … [+]
© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP
When Villi Iltchev was leading the Salesforce.com investment and acquisition team in 2010, he was putting together a purchase from Etacts. The startup, which focused on building an email platform, was less than a year old and was backed by YCombinator as well as angels like Ron Conway, Joshua Schachter, Jawed Karim, and Ashton Kutcher.
For Villi, he was pretty impressed by Etacts founder Howie Liu. “It was obvious at the time that he was a special person,” said Iltchev. “I saw that he was a unicorn because he was a brilliant engineer, designer, and businessman all rolled into one. I told him I would invest in whatever he would do next. It didn’t matter. “
Well, Iltchev invested in Liu’s next company, which was Airtable. The startup’s vision was to create a low-code platform that was essentially a mashup between a table and a database.
And yes, Iltchev’s investment turned out to be a big winner. Recently, Airtable announced a $ 270 million Series E round valued at $ 5.8 billion (note that Iltchev is currently a partner at Two Sigma Ventures).
OK, so what are some of the takeaways from Airtable’s success? Why has this company become so valuable?
Let’s take a look at:
The problem: Liu had a firsthand experience of the challenges of enterprise applications – and he used it to his advantage in creating Airtable.
“After selling his first company to Salesforce, Howie realized that many enterprise applications provide basic workflows through a database,” said Iltchev. “He also recognized that non-technical users were struggling to keep their data in tables that were not designed for that purpose and had significant limitations.”
Foundation, endowment: Airtable built a solid infrastructure right from the start. This should allow not only scaling, but also customization. The fact is, low-code platforms can be extremely complicated because of the myriad of relationships to data and functions. There is also a need to integrate seamlessly with many third-party applications.
simplicity: While many enterprise software companies claim that their applications are easy to use, this is usually far from the truth. But Airtable broke the mold. The software is like a modern consumer application.
“Airtable is focused on the ‘For Everyone’ message for ordinary people who want to help their department or team build solutions,” said Duncan Huffman, director of product strategy and insights at Formstack, then add complexity as needed. to address the problem solvers in the departments. They back this up with great customer stories showing the nearly limitless use cases for the product. This does a great job of sparking the imagination and getting customers to think of what I could build with it. “
Another important feature of Airtable is the template library. This makes it easy for anyone to boot up and customize an app.
Stick to the vision: With Airtable, Liu went against conventional wisdom. He built a horizontal product that can be daunting for a startup. He also competed against mega rivals like Google and Microsoft.
“When we first met with Airtable, they only had a handful of employees,” said Max Gazor, general partner at CRV, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on enterprise software and an investor in Airtable. “The product was in beta and they had no income, but they had a bold vision. It was never just about the developers. They wanted to empower the creators in the broadest sense. Now, Airtable is on its way to generating $ 1 billion in sales, but that wasn’t obvious in the early days. Airtable’s first two or three years have been challenging. They were beaten because they had no metrics, because they didn’t narrow the frame, because they didn’t crouch and use a single vertical. Their first rounds of funding were the result of insider support. They were not loved outwardly. Despite these hits, they did not compromise on their concept. And it’s exciting to see the fruits of that commitment now. “
Tom (@ttaulli) is a Startups Consultant / Board Member and author of Artificial Intelligence Fundamentals: A Non-Technical Introduction, The Robot Process Automation Guide: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems and Implementing AI Systems: Transform Your Business in 6 steps. He has also developed various online courses, for example for the programming languages COBOL and Python.