U.S. to block export of EDA software for gate all around

U.S. to block export of EDA software for gate all around

Airtable is clearly not your average productivity company. In fact, it may not be a productivity company at all. Years ago, when Airtable was referred to in the press as a “spreadsheet on steroids,” CEO Howie Liu wasn’t exactly enthusiastic because he felt the company offered much more than that.

To this day, Liu avoids comparisons to productivity apps like Asana, Trello, Notion or Monday.com. Instead, he wants people to draw comparisons between Airtable and enterprise software giants like his former employer Salesforce, or even ServiceNow.

“We’re trying to position ourselves more against ServiceNow or Salesforce, not from a CRM standpoint, but from a platform standpoint,” Liu said. “We were always going to be an app builder,” he said.

These days, Liu wants Airtable to transition from collaboration and productivity tools to an application development platform that enterprises choose as the backbone of their business workflows. But to do that, Airtable will need to prove to businesses, investors and analysts that it’s much more than a productivity company.

Software makes software

Howie Liu has always been interested in the power of software. By the age of 13, Liu taught himself to code using his father’s old textbook, and soon after college he built his first company, a CRM system called Etacts. By age 22, he sold that company to Salesforce.

That was the unlock for me… it’s like the software that any other software can make.

While working at Salesforce, Liu realized its underlying data model was not as rigid as other CRM systems, giving customers a lot of flexibility in how they customized the software. “It was a metadata-driven platform, meaning that instead of hard-coding their business objects to be one form, each customer could define their own relational data structure and all their functionality worked regardless of how the customer defined their business objects. defined,” Liu said.

In other words, because everything in Salesforce could be changed, companies and individuals could build their own applications, which is why Liu saw Salesforce more as an application platform than a CRM giant. “That was the unlock for me … it’s like the software that any other software can make,” he said.

But Liu also realized that Salesforce’s user interface wasn’t the best, and he felt he could do better. “Building a platform to make apps, or software to make other software, is a very interesting problem, and I think I can put my own spin on it,” he said.

That turn came in the form of the startup Airtable, which Liu left Salesforce to build in 2013, just two years after joining the company. Along with some friends from college, Liu decided to build Airtable as a superpowered spreadsheet on top of a relational database, much like Salesforce.

The company quickly found rapid adoption among designers and developers, building an almost cult following among productivity enthusiasts for its 21st-century version of the spreadsheet. By the end of last year, Airtable had reached more than 300,000 customers and $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

Despite notable success in the consumer world, Liu always had dreams of serving big business. From the beginning, Liu said he and his co-founders designed the product with scalability and complexity in mind. Today, Airtable has landed a number of large enterprise customers, from Netflix and Shopify to Intuit and Autodesk.

But Liu isn’t content to just be thought of as a productivity software company. Instead, Liu wants to turn Airtable into an application development platform that can serve large-scale enterprises, competing with the likes of Salesforce and ServiceNow.

Airtable’s ability to land enterprise customers where other productivity software has struggled is due to the company’s database, Liu said.

“Because we have a relational database foundation, we are more scalable. For example, we can just scale up, not just in terms of sheer record capacity … but also the complexity of implementation,” Liu said.

Not only can Airtable’s database hold more rows than its competitors, but the company also has the ability to write more robust APIs and native connections to systems of record like Salesforce, Liu said.

While Liu thinks competitors like Monday.com, Asana and Smartsheet will continue to grow in a market with room for several billion-dollar revenue companies, he still doesn’t see them as direct competitors.

In fact, Liu doesn’t think any of those productivity companies could ever become true application platforms, precisely because they don’t sit on top of a robust relational database. “To be a true app platform, you have to have an underlying database,” he said.

But to build an application development platform that can compete for, and even win, deals against established enterprise technology vendors, Airtable will need to not only deliver from a product standpoint, but also shift the industry’s perspective that it’s just good productivity or project management. software.

In some ways, Airtable is on its way to doing just that. Airtable is already in some of the same conversations as ServiceNow when buyers are evaluating app development platforms, and the company has already beaten Salesforce in at least one deal, Liu said.

The company also lands in large enterprises such as Netflix, which chose Airtable over other providers because the implementation process was less lengthy. In fact, a member of the Netflix team discovered Airtable by accident, built a prototype of what they needed virtually overnight and launched the partnership between the two companies, according to Airtable.

Undercover threat

Despite the prowess and financial muscle of Salesforce and increasingly ServiceNow, Liu is confident Airtable can best them in at least some deals. Airtable’s cloud-native background, ability to sit on top of a CRM or ERP and user-friendly interfaces are all key competitive advantages, from his perspective.

The fact that Airtable doesn’t need to own a CRM or ERP system and has never been on-premises means the company can deploy much more quickly and simply than other enterprise software—sometimes in hours or days, rather than months.

Airtable’s roots as a consumer-focused company also translate into a major competitive advantage. Airtable probably has a better user interface than Salesforce, and maybe even ServiceNow, and is well versed in organic bottom-up adoption. As more applications are built by line-of-business users, rather than IT, easy-to-use interfaces will become increasingly important.

While IT must always be involved with application platforms to handle due diligence, security and data management, it is critical that business users adopt them. “You don’t want to [IT] come in to help you build the stuff. You’re trying to create an end-user environment where they can extend it themselves,” says Gartner VP Analyst Mike Gotta.

But despite Liu’s desire for Airtable to be compared to Salesforce and ServiceNow, he’s not out to replace them. Instead, Liu wants Airtable to become its own “source of truth” (as the enterprise software buzzword goes) for business objects, data and processes that don’t currently sit in a CRM or ERP system, such as production processes or content management.

“To have sustainable value, we must, and we are becoming, the source of truth, the source of record, for new business objects that are not the customer record, that are not the developer issues in Jira, that are not the employee record. ,” Liu said.

But to become a source of truth, Airtable will need to be used more widely across enterprises.

The challenge is: “CEOs aren’t saying, ‘I want Smartsheet everywhere, I want Airtable everywhere,’ that’s not what we’re seeing,” Gotta said. Instead, a bottom-up approach leads individual departments to use different productivity tools, creating silos. If Airtable can manage to find adoption across business departments, connect cross-functional processes and aggregate the data, they could seize an opportunity, Gotta said.

The real test for Airtable, however, will be convincing enterprises to take a chance on an outsider.

Airtable’s true value proposition still doesn’t seem to be widely understood, and the app development platform market itself is pretty nascent. “I do think we are not understood for all that we really are and strive to be, but we are working on it,” Liu said.

This is why the company plans to step up its marketing. Instead of seeing app development as a nice add-on, the company plans to lead with it in its messaging. Airtable is also shifting away from the more organic discovery process it has relied on in the past to go directly after large enterprises.

Analysts agree that Airtable needs to work on its market presence among enterprises, as well as investors. “Finding out why customers should choose Airtable over the many other options out there, and then doubling down on those messages is, in my opinion, the best path to success,” said Futurum’s Kramer.

In many ways, the market’s misunderstanding has provided some air cover as Liu plans Airtable’s next phase. For now, Liu is content to fly under the radar. But that could change if he thinks about taking Airtable public in the future.

An IPO is not on the horizon anytime soon given the macroeconomic environment, but Liu is still preparing. Airtable is in an enviable position: With millions on hand after raising a big round last December, the company is under less pressure to cut costs or reduce investment. Still, the company is conservative and holds cash in reserve to weather the uncertainty.

However, Liu is not worried about the demand for Airtable’s products and services. In his eyes, Airtable allows companies to “do more with less” and deliver value faster — coincidentally the same phrase competitor Bill McDermott uses to describe ServiceNow’s effect on customers.

To beat Salesforce and ServiceNow in the long run, Liu knows that Airtable will need to leverage its consumer-like interface, relational database foundation and relationships with business users to convince enterprises that it can meet their more complex needs. If Airtable can achieve all this, it might just give Salesforce and ServiceNow a run for their money.



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