“Organize everything.” That’s the aspirational motto Airtable, a San Francisco startup cofounded by Stack Overflow developer Emmett Nicholas, former Google Maps manager Andrew Ofstad, and serial entrepreneur Howie Liu adopted before revealing their first product to the world in 2015: an Excel-like extensible spreadsheet creator with a no-code, easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface. Seven years later, they’re meaningfully closer to achieving that goal.
Airtable today announced a mammoth $100 million series C funding round led by Thrive Capital, Benchmark, and Coatue Management, with participation from strategic angels Delphine Arnault, Emily Weiss, Alexa von Tobel, Sarah Smith, and Dan Rose, in addition to existing investors CRV and Caffeinated Capital. It comes on the heels of a $52 million round in March, bringing Airtable’s total haul and valuation to $170 million and $1.1 billion, respectively.
It’s got the momentum to justify it. Airtable’s diverse clientele of 80,000-plus organizations includes Calvin Klein, Outdoor Voices, Insomniac Events, Airbnb, Penguin Random House, Condé Nast Entertainment, The City of Los Angeles, Carnival Cruise Line, WeWork, and half of the Fortune 1,000. And the startup’s on track to rake in ten times the amount of revenue it generated in 2017, which was up 500 percent from 2016.
“There’s a lot of intentionality around how we tried to build the company and business, [and having] an abundance of capital is always an important component in terms of ensuring that we’re strongly positioned for the long term,” Liu, who left Salesforce to head up Airtable as CEO, told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “We never want to have to make decisions because we’re pressured to do so … This round allows us to tackle our pretty ambitious roadmap.”
Specifically, the newly raised capital will go toward its internationalization and enterprise efforts. For the better part of “years,” engineers among the company’s 70-strong workforce have focused the bulk of their efforts on its software development kit (SDK), which Liu said sets the stage for an open ecosystem model. In the future, Airtable intends to allow any developer to build, distribute, and even sell applications within the platform.
“[Our platform] enables you to run code as an app developer,” he said. “It’s been a massive undertaking — spelling out UX guidelines, building administrative and granular permissions features, [and] introducing visibility into records … It’s the opposite of an overnight success.”
So how’d a no-code database startup attract tens of millions of dollars in funding from Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher, billionaire hedge fund manager Philippe Laffont, Stripe cofounder Patrick Collison, and former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo? With a simple but powerful idea: combining elements of spreadsheets and databases into a robust platform for MacOS, Windows 10, iOS, Android, and the web that doesn’t require knowledge of SQL, Python, or PHP.
Airtable’s interface leans heavily on drag-and-drop and one-click gestures — it’s how users add fields and columns in a sheet, and increment or decrement rows. Values update instantly, and built-in sharing tools enable collaborators to work alongside one another in calendar, gallery, and kanban views.
Airtable supports virtually any type of embed, including file attachments, long text notes, checkboxes, barcodes, and algorithms. Moreover, its graph engine links records between tables intelligently, creating relationships that can be modified as needed.
To make onboarding even easier, Airtable comes with a selection of templates grouped into themes (like Event Planning, Real Estate, and Everyday Life), categories (Groups, Clubs, and Hobbies; Book Catalog), and use cases. But perhaps the best thing about Airtable is its wealth of integrations.
In 2015, after raising $3 million and $7.6 million in back-to-back funding rounds, Airtable launched its API, which laid the groundwork for its blocks development framework.
A veritable who’s who of services and apps — over 1,000 in all — work with Airtable, including Asana, Basecamp, Dropbox, Box, Eventbrite, Evernote, Facebook, Github, Gmail, Instagram, LinkedIn, Mailchimp, Meetup, Pocket, Slack, Stripe, SoundCloud, Trello, Tumblr, Twilio, Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, and Zendesk. Workflow automation services Zapier and IFTTT act as the connective glue, allowing, for example, a Slack message, SMS, or email to trigger an Airtable database entry.
Blocks are a collection of roughly 30-40 “mini-apps” that extend Airtable’s functionality, Liu explained. A number of them are first-party, like the cloud vision block (which uses computer vision to detect objects in pictures automatically), 3D model explorer, color palette picker, countdown timer, CSV and XML importer, and mapping and geocoding blocks. Others, like the recently introduced block for Adobe XD, are third-party.
The unique thing about blocks is that they afford developers a lot of freedom over the user experience, Liu said. He compared them to iOS apps — simple operations that business owners can drop into a system to glean valuable insights.
“Blocks introduces workflows that were not previously possible — not only on the Airtable platform, but on any platform before,” Liu said. “Custom apps that would have, in the past, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to create and taken months to build … [can] be made in a matter of days by the end users themselves.”
Airtable has plenty of competition from Zoho, Smartsheet, and startups like TablePlus and Retool — not to mention Google’s G Suite and Microsoft’s Office 365. But there’s enough money to go around in the no-code app development market, which is forecast to grow to $27.23 billion by 2022.
“The next frontier of cloud computing is abstracting away from hardware — from hardware servers’ operating complexity,” Liu said. “We’re unlocking the full value proposition of that next layer. For useful software applications within the enterprise, you don’t need to be monkeying around at the code level and building applications as new from scratch. Long-tail apps within the enterprise have a relational data model configured to the needs of a specific use case.”
Airtable’s free plan doesn’t impose a hard cap on databases or users, but it has 1,200-record-per-database and 2GB storage limits and provides only two weeks of revision and snapshot history. The $12 per user per month Plus account bumps the records and storage caps up to 5,000 per database and 5GB, respectively, and the revision and snapshot history to 6 months. And Pro account, which starts at $24 per user per month, comes with 50,000 records per database, 20GB of attachment space, and a year of revision and snapshot history, plus custom-branded forms, priority support, extended color palette, and personal views.