Building Your Dream Company Takes Time: Howie Liu as a guest on the Secret Leaders Podcast | Airtable (2024)

“We built a product that was not just incremental over the status quo, it had to be significantly better than the other options.” - Airtable CEO Howie Liu

“We built a product that was not just incremental over the status quo, it had to be significantly better than the other options.” - Airtable CEO Howie Liu

It’s a word you don’t often hear associated with startups: patience. In this episode of Secret Leaders, Airtable Co-Founder and CEO Howie Liu talks with serial entrepreneur Dan Murray-Serter about the careful planning that went into building Airtable. You’ll also hear Howie divulge stories about growing up and the early days of Airtable (like when he and co-founder Andrew Ofstad carried 27-inch monitors across Dolores Park daily) to building a service used by more than 250,000 organizations around the world.

You can check out the full episode here, or read some of the highlights from the early days at Airtable to present day:

Lessons from the early days at Airtable

“We bet early on, on making Airtable a relational database. That was a one way door. If we made that decision incorrectly it would be really difficult to go back and re-architect the product years down the road, so that is something we spent a lot of time thinking about and ultimately a lot of time building out. We spent almost 2.5 years building the product before even launching it publicly.”

“I like to think of the early years of the company as not just a great time to be patient and get all of the details right with the product. I think some of those details had to be done in a slow deliberate way with a small team. I think it was also helpful in giving me the time and space to learn and develop our own skills as operators of this eventual business.”

“We built a product that was not just incremental over the status quo, it had to be significantly better than the other options.”

The importance of a vision

“That really is what we think of Airtable as, that was our founding vision, not just to build a productivity tool but an app platform.”

“Our goal was not to build a product management tool but to democratize software creation. Literally the roadmap we portrayed in this 2012 deck has taken almost a decade to play out but we’ve stayed true to it.”

When asked about advice for startup entrepreneurs, he said, “Trust your well informed instincts. I was informed by the research I did in the enterprise software landscape. With that informed instinct I came to this gut conviction that this was a big opportunity despite most investors not understanding it. I still had the conviction to bet on this with my time.”

On being misunderstood, at first

“For a lot of the rest of the market it was something that defied explanation; they would have to show the product and talk about a use case before someone else would understand what it was.”

“Truth be told, some of our early investors didn’t fully understand the idea, especially when we went out for our seed round. We were a year into this, it was just Andrew and I, it was mostly people we had gotten to know in the past. We think they put in money because maybe they liked us as founders and saw our ability to execute, but at the time people probably got very confused by this idea of low code and democratizing building apps, whereas today the market is much more aware.”

Finding the right Co-Founder in Andrew Ofstad

“Being a co-founder with somebody is a life marriage. We really wanted to test that working relationship together. We knew we could be friends but we wanted to see what it was like to work together. We probably spent a year, the two of us talking at length about design. We both turned out to be enamored with product design and getting this product right.”

“There was this year-long phase where we were working out of each other's – not literal garages – but it was our respective living rooms, and we both had roommates. We’d show up in the middle of the day having schlepped over Dolores Park with giant 27-inch external monitors in our arms and set up shop in the other person's living room. That was our life for a year.”

Building Your Dream Company Takes Time: Howie Liu as a guest on the Secret Leaders Podcast | Airtable (2024)


Who is Airtable owned by? ›

Airtable is a cloud collaboration service headquartered in San Francisco. It was founded in 2012 by Howie Liu, Andrew Ofstad, and Emmett Nicholas.

What is the revenue of Airtable? ›

Growth continued with ARR rising to $81M in 2020, for 124% YoY growth. By 2021, ARR reached $156M, with a 92% YoY increase, and in 2022, it further escalated to $250M, reflecting 60% YoY growth. In 2023, Airtable's ARR grew 50% YoY to $375M.

Who is Howie Liu CEO of Airtable? ›

Howie Liu. Howie is the CEO of Airtable, which he co-founded in 2013 with the vision of creating a radically faster and more intuitive way to build useful applications.

Is Airtable hard to learn? ›

Description. Do you want to learn the basics of Airtable in a clear concise easy to follow class? Airtable might look frustrating at first, but it's actually a lot easier than you think, if you put in a little time!

Is Airtable really free? ›

How does Airtable's pricing work? Airtable plans are charged per seat. If you are on Airtable's Free plan, all users are free.

What is Airtable best for? ›

Airtable is a database spreadsheet hybrid, so in addition to tracking and organizing data in a flexible but structured manner, it also allows you to track team workflow and data, and automate your processes.

Is Airtable any good? ›

Yes, Airtable is a highly rated tool that has received positive reviews from users and experts alike. It has been praised for its ease of use, flexibility and versatility. Airtable is used by individuals, teams and organizations across various industries, from startups and SMBs to Fortune 500 companies.

Is Airtable going to IPO? ›

Airtable has not officially endorsed a plan to participate in an IPO. Airtable is the developer of a cloud collaboration platform for business teams.

Who invested in Airtable? ›

To date, Airtable has raised $1.35 billion from notable investors, like Michael Dell, Salesforce Ventures, XN, J.P. Morgan Growth Equity Partners, Benchmark, Tiger Global Management, Franklin Venture Partners, and more.

How much is an Airtable worth? ›

The cuts follow a December 2022 layoff that shed 254 people. Airtable, the code-free software company that was recently valued at $11.7 billion, today announced that it will lay off 237 people, or 27% of the company.

Where is Airtable headquarters? ›

Founded in 2013 and headquartered in San Francisco, Airtable ranks #28 on the Forbes Cloud 100 and has raised $1.36 billion to date.


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