This Silicon Valley sleeper hit app just got $52 million to do for spreadsheets what Microsoft did for computers

Howie LiuAirtable

  • Airtable has raised $52 million in Series B funding led by Caffeinated Capital and CRV.
  • Airtable's app uses a simple spreadsheet interface to make it easy to build custom apps. It also launched a new product, called Blocks, to make it easier to use Airtable to build an app.
  • Airtable has become a sleeper hit in Silicon Valley, earning love from both individual users and companies like Tesla, WeWork, Airbnb, and Time Magazine.
  • An IPO is the plan, because CEO Howie Liu sold his last company to Salesforce and doesn't want to go that route again.

Airtable, a spreadsheet app that's grown into one of Silicon Valley's sleeper hits, has raised $52 million in new funding. This deal was led by Caffeinated Capital and CRV. In total, the company has raised $62.6 million so far.

When it was founded in 2015, Airtable was a small business-focused spreadsheet program. Now, it's found new audiences, as companies like Tesla, Airbnb, and WeWork all sign on customers. And even smaller teams and invidual users have come to rely on Airtable to organize their data.

The secret to Airtable's success, according to CEO Howie Liu, is that it actually makes it super-easy to make a custom app of your own. Every cell of an Airtable spreadsheet can store anything, including photos or lists. And it makes it easy to put a simple interface on top of the spreadsheet, turning it into a simple, but powerful, app - without coding.

"We think we can be what Windows was for personal computing," he said. "We're confident we can be the Apple or Microsoft of the low-end app space."

For some real-world examples: Tesla uses Airtable to store information and keep track of every car that leaves its factory Fremont, California. The video and photo teams at Time Magazine and Fortune.com use Airtable to manage their entire production schedule, too. It's customizable, without requiring a lot of work.

AirtableAirtable

"It really allows people with little or no technical knowledge to build high-level workflow systems," Liu said.

The state of the Airtable business

Liu's first company was acquired by Salesforce when he was 21 years old. A year later, he quit to start Airtable after realizing how Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel were limiting. Actor Ashton Kutcher, who had previously invested in Liu's first company, invested in Airtable after Liu pitched Kutcher in his trailer on the Two and a Half men set.

It worked out, says Liu, because Airtable is growing fast - while he didn't disclose specifics, revenue is up 500% from the year-ago period, he says. The app's users are in the seven digits, with "thousands" of signups every day, Liu says. And Tesla has become one of Airtable's biggest clients, with a deal size in the six figures.

Liu says that all of the interest caught him a little by surprise: "If you asked me on the day we launched if a few years later we would be signing six figure enterprise clients, I would have said no."
Airtable mapping blockAirtable

Liu also says that he's had good advice along the way: Former Slack CMO Bill Macaitis is an advisor to Airtable, as is Amanda Kleha, formerly the head of marketing at Zendesk. Both of them help assist with that enterprise marketing push. Box CFO Dylan Smith, a college friend of Liu's, has also acted as an advisor.

Airtable isn't yet profitable, Liu said, but can be "cash flow positive at a moments notice." And an IPO is the eventual goal, he says, because he doesn't want to sell his company again. The funding will go towards opening an office in New York City, hiring, and product development.

Airtable is also launching a new product called Blocks, which allows users to build more involved applications for businesses, sti lll without coding. The Mapping Block, for example, lets a film studio can track in real-time where all of their shoots are happening around the globe, from the status of equipment rentals to a production's status.

Liu attributes Airtable's fast growth to a change in marketing strategy. Recently, Liu and his team shifted focus to going after larger enterprise customers, rather than smaller businesses and startups. Once they made that decision - and they started blanketing San Francisco in billboards - word began to spread.

"It's crazy how Airtable kind of blew up," Patrick Perini, vice president of product at San Francisco-based startup Mira, told Business Insider. Perini is considering moving all of Mira's operations on to Airtable. "All of my developer friends are pretty excited about it," Perini said.

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