If data is the new oil, you might think of apps are the cars that need it to move. Now, a startup that has built a platform to let everyone — not just those with technical expertise — make and drive their own “cars” has raised a significant round of funding to grow its business. Airtable — which uses a simple interface built on spreadsheets and other tools familiar to knowledge workers as a frontend to produce apps and other web-based experiences — has raised $100 million in funding to expand its business with more talent and offices outside the US. Along with the funding, the company has now catapulted to a $1.1 billion valuation.
Catapult is the key word here: according to PitchBook the company was only valued at $152 million in its last round — eight months ago.
Airtable’s tools are now in use by some 80,000 businesses today, the company said, representing a real growth spurt. To put that into some context, when the company raised $52 million eight months ago, it said it had only 30,000 customers.
This latest round — a Series C — was led by Josh Kushner at Thrive Capital, Peter Fenton at Benchmark, and Philippe and Thomas Laffont at Coatue Management. Delphine Arnault, Emily Weiss, Alexa Von Tobel, Sarah Smith, Dan Rose, and previous investors CRV and Caffeinated Capital also participated — bringing the total raised by Airtable to $170 million.
Howie Liu, the CEO who co-founded Airtable with Emmett Nicholas (now CTO) and Andrew Ofstad, said that the initial idea for the product came out of their own experience. The tech world had already identified that many tools for building apps and other products were potentially too technical for the vast majority of knowledge workers in the tech industry (who might not have coding experience), but the solutions in the market for making things like apps were still “too expensive and complicated to use.”
“The vision was to democratise the value proposition,” he said. A database, the founders decided, “in its most flexible form, can be customised to what you need, and that would be better than using someone else’s existing database model.”
Airtable is not the only company that has identified the problem and tried to solve it by building powerful macros under the hood of otherwise standard-looking database interfaces.
DashDash is building a similar concept out of Europe focused specifically on spreadsheets, and we’re even seeing Microsoft and partners building more functionality into the world’s leading spreadsheet provider, Excel.
Indeed, that’s not seen as stiff competition, but a sign for Airtable’s investors of just how much opportunity there is in the space. “Airtable has established itself as the leader in what will become a very large market,” Josh Kushner, managing partner at Thrive Capital, said in a statement.
One of the important aspects of Airtable is its Slack-like approach to the task of using its platform to build things.
The company has a platform called Blocks that not only lets its users bring in data from a number of sources, but also to select a number of different kinds of outputs for how and where would like the data to be used, whether it is in a marketing campaign across text messaging, an AI-based bot, or a VR experience. Liu confirmed for me that for now Excel is not one of its integration partners, for now.
Another notable point is that Airtable is yet another example of how the most promising startups are racking up funding in rapid rounds at the moment.
Just yesterday, no less than four different startups — Service Titan, UiPath, Nikola, and SAM — announced rounds of funding coming on the heels of fundraising mere months earlier. It’s a sign of how the market is very hot at the moment: VCs and other investment firms have raised fuelled by large sums of cash that now need to be put to use, and they are all looking for strong bets to do just that.
Fast-growing startups in areas that are on the rise present safe harbours to these investors, and with tens and hundreds of billions of dollars at these funds still in play, we’ll probably continue to witness this funding trend for some time to come.