Q&A: Airtable CEO talks up automation, low-code and team collaboration

The company has seen a surge in use of its customizable spreadsheet platform during the pandemic, said CEO and co-founder Howie Liu; this week, Airtable announced $185 million in funding.

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"I think we came in and fulfilled this vast need amongst the potential customer base. And I think that, as of today, we're still seeing the vast majority of our growth come through organic [means]. People are finding Airtable, they're hearing about it through word of mouth, they're creating applications and then sharing those with their colleagues, who may come in and build more applications. So It's really been this organic growth path and I think a lot of what we need to do is just continue to innovate on the product, continue to make sure that we truly have the best possible product offering.

"Even since the time of COVID, we've actually seen five times more enterprise deals coming in and being signed with Airtable than the same period before. On top of that, there's really been this strong urgency that we've seen in this sort of second wave of what I would call...digital transformation is kind of an overused word, but this adoption trend of new and better ways to manage work in a cloud and online friendly capacity.

"After the initial rush to go and adopt communication tools like Zoom or Slack, I think we're now seeing the second wave where a lot of customers out there are looking to figure out how to digitize their structured workflows. Not just communication, but how do we actually manage our work processes and build applications that help us manage things that were previously done in a more ad hoc or offline based way?"

As businesses move from the initial reaction to the pandemic and begin to look at the medium- to long-term impacts on their operations, and deal with a mix of remote and office-based staff, what challenges arise? And how can Airtable help?

"It's really kind of this 'Maslow's hierarchy of needs.' That's how we like to represent it, which is the first wave of communication tool adoption. That was just the necessary first step: if you can't talk to your colleagues, then you can't get anything else done. The basic essentials of communication had to be covered first.

"At this point, now that we're many months into a fully remote work lifestyle for every company out there, hopefully every company has gotten the basic communication essentials figured out. The next phase is going to be about rethinking the more meaty, structured work that's done, things that were maybe being done in Excel spreadsheets and emailed back and forth. These are perhaps marketing teams who are trying to orchestrate product launches, and they were doing so with more of a combination of tapping the shoulder and offline processes that now aren't working as well.

"This was already a trend that was happening before Covid, the need to digitize and improve the processes of structured work. But I think that Covid and remote work is definitely accelerating the appetite there. There's been a strong amount of expansion and interest we've seen from the enterprise to go in and continue to invest into this transformation of how they actually do structured work at a team by team level."

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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