I was introduced to Airtable by some of their investors. Within days I had recommended it to our customer advocacy team, who now use it as a lightweight but fully customizable CRM (without having to go "full Salesforce", we're a small team!). I've since recommended it to some of our investors for things like providing LPs with access to fund portfolio co info / etc. who initially had said things to me like, "I don't really get it."
I think the product is category-defining, and it's amazing to see Howie's ambition beyond being a $B unicorn. :) Great work all around, and it's absolutely amazing driving by your billboard on the 280 coming back from work. I'm sure it feels great, and it's something all startup founders and cos yearn for - really awesome to see a great product and team succeed!
I should send them an email. I'm sure a good chunk of that investment will go towards building out their sales team.
I feel like Airtable is very unresponsive. On the community forums, they seem to communicate rarely, and not implement very simple functionality for long periods of time. Very good features that would be highly beneficial and should take a weekend go months without even a reply.
It's death by a thousand cuts for me. Sorts in Kanban view don't automatically resort when you add cards, so you have to manually resort every time. No rich text formatting on cards. Copying tables doesn't copy the field type. There's so many minor things I'd like changed.
None of the problems by themselves are deal-breakers by themselves, and I will continue to use Airtable (Trello, for instance, does not offer the field customization I love about Airtable). But I can't help but think execution can be so much better.
It's almost like nobody at Airtable pays attention to the design of features. Everything is so limited. Blocks are an incredibly useful idea, but in practice uncustomizable and not something I find helpful.
It's a good product, but not a great product.
I've been considering working on my own product in this line. At least if nobody else uses it, I'll be able to.
Except Notion is far more capable than Airtable. You can do all these table joins across pages but in Notion everything is a page whereas in Airtable it's just a form. That is the ultimate flexibility which makes it exceptionally well suited for any kind planning effort. And it's a great canvas for creative projects.
It's amazing to see that there's a billion dollar company building something comparatively so... bad.
Plus Notion has some of the best customer service around. Half the company are there for support!
I've taken a look at it, and it seems to have all the amenities I wanted. It seems to have most everything I was using Airtable for, but what I really like is all the rich text formatting I can do to organize knowledge.
I'll definitely consider switching. Thank you!
It is like a better looking BaseCamp + Airtable in one.
Or put differently: I think we overlook how many people might be overwhelmed with building their very own specific todo list in something like Notion or to a lesser degree Airtable, compared to a solution that provides a fixed, rigid set of fields.
I use neither of them but my preference goes to the web since I work on Linux.
The one downside compared to airtable seems to be no automatic backups. But the ability to format notes is super handy!
In short, from my usage so far, I like that everything is a document in Notion. Coda is more capable in other ways - I can summon up chats of my data and define new formulas. I love that buttons let me effectively create a little webapp that also works beautifully on mobile.
One thing I'm trying out with the qa guys (keep in mind very small team) is a list of test cases with buttons for pass/fail/dnt for each. Clicking pass or fail updates the status and test date for that row. You can also have actions in coda trigger integrations. So one thing we were discussing was notifying slack immediately when a test case fails.
Don't know where it will go - both products seem excellent so far.
However, since then Coda has also added an API, which is really interesting. Other folks have mentioned Notion, which is also great, but Coda honestly felt like the closer competitor to Airtable while Notion felt like they were fighting Dropbox Paper.
Ugh, same in Grid View.
I use it for PM work also, and it's still the closest thing to useful I've found.
I’ve long thought the idea of “A Todo App” makes no sense because everyone works a little differently. That’s why apps like Pivotal Tracker are such garbage... they support too many use cases to do anything well.
The problem is if you try to make it configurable, you still have all the complexity behind the scenes. And your configuration UI recapitulates that hell.
So there is a need for someone to come in and start over with a more configurable foundation and maintain really serious software engineering discipline so that the base layer doesn’t get infected with individual business requirements (which will eventually be infinite).
I don’t envy Airtable trying to do this with a big client roster and huge scale. I think the problem would be easier solved in a smaller company with less pressure from investment timeline.
BUT if they’ve already solved the problem, or at least solved it to their satisfaction, then they will be fine and the platform can get as convoluted as they need to make their clients happy.
It’s only if there’s research remaining, core UI questions to be solved, that they’ll have a hard time competing with whomever comes to eat their lunch.
The days of one-size-fits-all SaaS are numbered.... most companies can find massive efficiency gains through smart deployment of tools like Airtable and Zapier with turnkey automations.
There used to be a time this wasn't feasible because the only option was to hire a development team and deal with legacy software - we don't have that problem anymore.
Yeah, we're working through Zapier integration at the moment for our paperwork assistant (https://lexico.io) and I'm pleasantly surprised that there aren't as many established B2B SaaS companies doing the same thing as I thought. Self-serve automation definitely feels like the path ahead.
Still don't quite get Airtable though.
Feel free to contact me directly, I've got some business for you.
Ha, brave language!
The interface is very slow to work in, and everything requires multiple steps, because if they are going to facilitate the endless possibilities their customers present, everything has to be atomized into pieces that fit every puzzle.
I have found, after working in Zapier for a couple years, that the primary value doesn’t come from ease of use or the ability of non-technical people too easily do technical things, but rather in the flexibility afforded by a layer that connects services together in any way conceivable.
My guess is that air table will become generally useful in a similar way, where maybe you need some technical people to help you set up things, but at least you can achieve most of what you need, as a small company, without having to hire a team of programmers to build it from scratch.
This sounds quite much like general-purpose programming. But the tool is much higher level, apparently, at least, in some respects.
This opens (logically) endless possibilities, but watch out for well-known programming pitfalls; the Turing tarpit is already referenced as "very slow, and everything requires multiple steps".
The core concept in Frappe is a DocType, which is configurable metadata. Using this you can quickly build small, special purpose apps for very niche targeted use cases for their own business. You can also configure rule based permissions and add simple scripts. We have used it to build hundreds of use cases for ERPNext (Open Source, GPL) by allowing complexity to grow linearly (instead of exponentially).
This also helps keep the base layer and the "one size fits all" business layer (like say an Accounting Ledger) clean. And you don't have to worry about UI, permissions, REST API, deployment, maintenance and users get a consistent experience.
 https://frappe.io/frappe | https://github.com/frappe/frappe
It is so ingrained into the particular Agile Scrum way of doing things that this is actually cited as its drawback by teams wanting to be more "flexible".
Are you getting it confused with Jira?
Airtable has a share button much like Google Docs. If you're on the free tier of Airtable, and you use the share button, you receive $ credits on your account when a user accepts the invite into you "workspace". So it lulls you into a pattern of sharing widely.
When you go premium, use of that "share" button has the opposite effect. Instead of receiving credits, you are automatically, silently billed for each person that joins your workspace. There is no warning in the UI that this will happen. It's completely invisible . In my first month of being a premium Airtable user, they billed me over $2000 USD onto my credit card - without any warning whatsover. This is because about 10 people in my team accepted shares. They also do some other weird stuff with accounts, e.g. if you create a premium account, it's only premium for one workspace (a workspace is effectively a folder of databases with its own permissions). If you create another workspace, it's set to the "free" tier and you have to pay all over again. Team subscriptions with multiple workspaces get very expensive, because they multiply up in some way. The pricing is model very opaque.
It pains me when start-ups are successful using cruddy growth hacking tricks like this because it tells then next generation of start-ups "This is how you do it".
I believe It’s unlikely that anyone would ever welcome a totally unexpected charge to their credit card.
I know at my own company we moved to Salesforce NOT because of its CRM capabilities, but because it's basically a managed database with app-building capabilities. Lots of point-and-click stuff, and lots of development tools too.
I think we're just starting to see this space heat up. The basic capabilities have existed forever at the "enterprise" level (think SAP, Oracle, Microsoft with Access and Sharepoint, etc).
But the focus on making the promise of relational databases available to everyone -- with minimal computer science expertise required -- is what's sort of new and, in my opinion, now taking off.
As might be expected this yields large numbers of performance penalties and application level work-arounds that deeply slow application development and neuter the quality of often business-critical tools.
It's my theory that the reason such platforms are allowed to exist without employees immediately breaking out in open rebellion is because the users of Salesforce and similar products are often non-technical enterprise workers whose quality bar has been welded by management and past experiences to be lower than the Mariana Trench.
I think the niche where this product can thrive -- and its a huge niche -- is all those small-to-medium size businesses that have so far been running things through a hodge podge of unconnected spreadsheets, obsolete special-purpose applications, and lots and lots of paper.
It's easy as a programmer to more or less forget that most people, when facing a task or challenge, do not think: "I wonder what the most efficient way to do this might be, and if technology could help." Instead, it's: "What methods do I already know that I could apply to this problem?"
More often than not, the answer is paper. And email. Or excel.
So this type of the-database-is-everything app has huge value. Unfortunately it won't be run entirely by engineers with 10+ years of experience in what makes for good database best practice.
It's the trade-off we have to make.
In return, we get:
- A single system that has access to all of the business' data (rather than a dozen different "systems" [if they can be called that] which do not interoperate in any way, with endless duplication and data entry.
- Customization (for better and worse)
- Radically simplified I.T.: Just give everyone a chromebook and be done with it.
- Access to these systems anywhere in the world (cause it's web)
It's better than paying a bookkeeper to (literally) manage paper-based ledgers.
IMO - Their main competition is Excel.
Our account was closed because we kept getting strange credit card billing errors. No amount of calls or emails would resolve it. Just kept getting "we don't see errors on our end" despite us sending screenshots and trying different cards from different issuers. We literally could not pay for the service so out account was shut.
It was bizarre.
I’m pretty sure I’m gonna end up quitting my job and building a better Fieldbook next year.
AirTable is nice and they have an insane amount of funding now but their interface leaves a lot to be desired.
I've used many of those ^ products and I can tell you they are no where near Airtable's level of UX. The Airtable team has obviously taken a lot of time and energy to really nail the design and user experience instead of making another "just good enough".
I think this is also a good example of how desperate users will resort to using subpar products or cobbling-together numerous subpar solutions if the problem is painful enough. Having used MS Access a decade ago I can tell you it was out of desperation and it never really solved the problem- it sort of got you ~75% there.
One last thing I'll mention is that when you take on something as flexible as Airtable you end up dealing with an much larger dimension of possible edge-cases and more importantly you end up challenging designers to craft constraints on the users very thoughtfully so that you're not limiting them but also you're not overwhelming them with too much complexity. In other words- solutions in this space succeed precisely because they figure out how to walk that fine line not because the idea itself is earth-shattering.
As soon I tried it, my immediate thought was how on freaking earth, Google nor MS with their billions haven't been doing this long ago. Their products haven't changed much in a while, do they have anyone running product experiments?
That said, my company is full of languishing, unmaintained spreadsheets, like a big mess cobble of data ... I wonder how this might spread to the corporate world.
My biggest takeaways so far, running an early stage startup and working around and with Enterprise cos and "late stage startups" (i.e. $10B+).
- Large cos can move surprisingly slowly, especially around significant product updates and improvements.
- Large cos, to varying degrees, have a tendency to stifle innovation inadvertently via internal politics: those with the ambition to make change often don't have the lateral freedom to execute.
These are mostly a function of being a victim of success: you move slowly because you don't want to alienate an existing, paying userbase and you have politics because of policy and process that have helped you reach massive scale.
Startups (i.e. Airtable) have a massive advantage early on if they stay lean for as long as possible before nailing product-market fit and scaling, because it's easier to make "alienating changes" to your product and innovate when you have fewer customers and little revenue. Politics also haven't yet set in as a defining characteristic. To my knowledge, Airtable did a fantastic job early on at executing carefully, clearly defining their product / market and understanding their customer before scaling.
Though I wonder if a bunch of Airtable-like features in Google Sheets would be alienating. They're features that don't have to be used.
I would love it if they supported white labeling embeds of their products into other apps. I'm guessing there is a huge need for this.
I think they have managed to come up with a product that appeals to everyone while giving a lot of freedom to non tech users.
There has been a lot of attempts to make « coding product » for « non coder » but ultimately DataTable is probably the most convenient way to do it as the majority of workforce is used to excel or Google Spreadheet...
Personally I love their pricing and the concept but I found the UI super heavy and not that much intuitive .
I'm surprised this isn't a non starter for more people/companies.
Maybe my perspective is warped by living in a major US city, but I'm pretty much connected to the internet all the time. I'm pretty sure the only time I disconnect and have my computer on me is when I'm on a plane.
So much of my other work requires the access to the internet and the ability to communicate, I just don't see the need for offline mode. To put it another way, I can't see many situations where I could effectively do my job (outside of some minor tasks) without internet access, even if Airtable was available offline.
I do agree that it's a nice to have, but I just don't see it as a deal breaker.
That is changing too. I remember when airline wifi was new and we used to watch netflix (now they block it of course). But now I frequently VPN in from a plane and continue working. Sometimes I get more work done because there are even fewer distractions on the plane.
I was hoping that Dropbox might acquire Airtable one day, and integrates it into Dropbox Paper. That would put them ahead of Quip, Coda and the like in an instant (for my use case).
It's a database primarily operated upon using a spreadsheet interface. You can create different representations (literally Views) of your data / rows. You can add custom logic "blocks" to rows / entries / tables that, for example, send a text message to a customer in the table.
You can arrive at Airtable as a product from first principles by basically just saying: most applications are CRUD apps atop a database with some custom callouts to external APIs. What if the database was super easy for a non-technical person to manage, we could provide data insertion / retrieval in a few standardized views, and there were integrations for the most popular 3rd party services upon record creation / editing / etc.?
You're not going to build a brand new consumer app on Airtable, but all of the backoffice and internal crap we write over and over and over again... it's a really good option for simplifying those processes and is accessible to non-developers.
All of this can be done ... without writing a single line of code, which is impressive!
Don't underestimate that.
What's old is new; what's new is old.
I haven't used AT, but I have a pretty urgent new need to use it, and need to quickly ramp up on how I can build against it.
I just created an account today.
Also working on a MTurk interface for Airtable (A Big WIP): https://github.com/workmachine/workmachine
> Tesla uses airtable to track inventory of vehicles as they leave the factory; $20 billion office-space startup WeWork is a customer, too.
I've tried airtable and used the tool to plan my trip to Japan. It's great. I heard a few iOS developers use airtable as a lightweight backend instead of firebase.
I like its idea and design. I was trying to use it as replacement of my evernote (It's probably too weird to you). Then one day, I found https://notion.so. I decided to switch to it. It's faster and have offline support. But the only missing part is notion.so doesn't have API yet.
I have to assume the $1.1B is based on more API usage and/or their backed as a broader servive.
I think AT is useful but none the less not everyone is ready, willing and able to use such a tool. I certainly wish them well. I'm still overwhelmed by that $1.1B. Just me?
Now exit and raise are very different valuations, but 50x...
The VCs know what they are doing. Growth is absolutely king because it’s where you are going not where you are.
Profits would be like dividends - literally counting against you for not knowing what better to do with the money and instead giving 20%+ away to taxes.
Consistent (aka stagnant) profit is like running a zombie startup. Very difficult to exit that.
I think you might have inadvertently adjusted - in a good way - the valuation lens. That is, it's not about valuation per se in the more traditional sense but valuation relative to exit / the ability to exit.
That is to the VCs, that's ultimately the goal / figure that matters. And their POV takes form of the public (to so speak) valuation. Put another way, it's not about the (broader) market per se, it's about the VC market.
That is, now $1.1B kinda makes sense.
I also remember my typical cynicism (held to myself of course) when he described the idea (what's this, Excel for ipads??!).. But now with a $1.1B valuation, wow - so well done to him and his team!
(I was in the YC S12 batch and am friends with Howie)
In what use cases does airtable outshine google sheets?
The number of rows allowed per table is too low for any data driven serious application - this explains why it is used by smaller companies and individuals. A non-tech person can set up a handful of tables and be up and running in minutes.
I am a fan, though I wish they allowed more rows per table.
I agree. Like the product, but being constrained by a rather limited number of records even in their expensive pro plans makes it a non-starter.
You could argue there are extensions, scripts, plugins etc. that also do this but it seems Airtables are built for it from the ground up.
It feels to me like a successful implementation of Lotus Notes for the web.
Could be good solution to simplify managing multiple sites through API calls.
Basically creating a spreadsheet with external calls. And a sexy ass website.
I think there are a TON of answers that you could fill in the blank with.
I think Airtable and Zapier are both great products, and recommend both to clients, but they have different use cases.
Also, I don't find Google Spreadsheet to be a compelling tool for anything mission critical.
It left a REALLY sour taste for me. That's the first time that's happened to me and I express my desire for features often.
I know this is just a single anecdote but it was a really heavy-handed approach.
edit: I actually REALLY REALLY like Airtable. That's part of why I am so "traumatized" by it. My colleagues were getting annoyed with how much I was raving about it. "We could do so much with this and it's easy to use to use too!"
This screenshot comes from Airtable's press package. If you are releasing press material, at least check it for facts first.