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Airtable, an online database service whose motto is “organize everything,” has closed a $7.6 million series A round of funding. On top of that, it has also landed a Facebook executive.
The new executive is Francis Larkin, who spent five years in various marketing roles at Facebook, most recently as director of product marketing. He led the teams responsible for the first Facebook F8 conference, for implementing the “like” button, and the recent Instant Articles project, among other projects.
Airtable is aiming at an interesting, and potentially huge, niche: people who want to organize information with greater flexibility than Excel (or Google Sheets) affords, but who aren’t ready for the complexity of a database, SQL code, Python, PHP, and the like.
Airtable is based on a proprietary relational database, its co-founder and chief executive, Howie Liu, told me — but for the most part, consumer users won’t need to worry about that. It’s got a friendly, drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy to add fields (or columns, depending on whether you’re thinking in database or spreadsheet terminology), update and add records (rows), generate reports, and more. The app works on desktop web browsers and mobile browsers with equal ease.
And, like a Google Sheets document, values are updated in real time, instantly. If you and I are sharing a database and I update it with some new information, you’ll see the new data immediately, with no need to refresh.
Unlike Google Sheets, Airtable lets you easily create connections between different tables (as you can with a relational database), and you can mix and match different types of data — adding a photo field to your database alongside its text and numeric fields, for instance.
The goal, Liu said, is to support the creation of “apps of emergent complexity with very simple building blocks.” In other words, you could use Airtable to create something very simple, like a list of travel destinations you’d like to visit; or something very complex, like a homegrown customer relationship management system to help your salespeople coordinate and follow up on the most promising leads at different companies. Or your database app could start simply, and grow as you add more linked tables to support your expanding needs.
Because it is a proprietary database, Airtable doesn’t support the industry-standard SQL interface out of the box. However, it plans to support interoperability and extensibility via a custom API generator, enabling the apps you create in Airtable to exchange data with other apps via RESTful API calls.
You’ll have to wait for specific integrations, however: For instance, Liu said that connections to IFTTT and Zapier are coming soon, but aren’t yet available. It does currently support Evernote, but only in a limited way: You can attach a single Evernote note to an Airtable record, but as yet there is no way to import or integrate an entire Evernote notebook.
“The software revolution has given people access to millions of specialized apps, but there’s one fundamental tool that still remains out of reach for most non-programmers — the database,” Liu wrote in a blog post to be published today.
“If we can make databases as intuitive and accessible as word processors and spreadsheets, we believe we can unlock a new type of creativity with use cases yet to be dreamed and built.”
The funding was let by Charles River Ventures, with participation from a host of angels, including Kevin Mahaffey (cofounder and CTO of Lookout). Hollywood celebrity and Silicon Valley angel investor Ashton Kutcher is also an investor.
Kutcher also backed Liu’s previous startup, Etacts, which was acquired by Salesforce.com in January 2011. Liu says that Kutcher approached him after Liu presented his startup at a Y Combinator demo day. Although Liu may have been skeptical of the actor’s tech credibility, Kutcher rapidly proved his technical chops and utility as an advisor.
“I’d put him in the top quartile of investors in terms of savviness,” Liu told me.
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