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Episode 93 November 28, 2017 | 30min

Spreadsheets Are Off the Table

A conversation with Andrew Ofstad about Airtable—a database for everyone.

Show Notes

Appeal to nerds, aim for non-nerds: This week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade talk to Andrew Ofstad, co-founder of Airtable, an organizational tool that sits between a database and a spreadsheet.

As users and huge fans of Airtable, we were excited to ask Andrew how he created such an accessible tool (spoiler: It involved a couple million dollars of seed funding). We also talk about the transition from working on Google Maps to working at a small startup, especially since that startup was once called “Formagrid Heavy Industries.”

00:00 Intro music

00:16 Rich Ziade Welcome to Track Changes, the podcast, the official podcast of Postlight, a digital product studio in New York City. We are based at 101 5th Avenue, tenth floor. We are a digital product shop that builds platforms and the apps that ride on top of them. I’m sitting here with my dear friend and cofounder, I was gonna — should you say the name right now or should I say it, that’s the question.

Paul Ford Did you say your own name?

RZ Jeez. [OTHER laughs] I mean that speaks to the humility at play here, ok?

PF Definitely a quality the people associate with you.

RZ Yeah my name is Rich Ziade.

PF I — my name is Paul Ford. We’re the cofounders of Postlight and, boy, Postlight is a great company. I gotta tell you.

RZ That’s — there you go. That soft, raspy voice.

PF Full disclosure: I am a cofounder of Postlight but –

RZ As am I.

PF Yeah but taking that aside [yeah], boy, can we just solve problems for you. For instance, what if you need to build a platform to track millions of people’s accounts around healthcare, or finance, or people who login to media?

RZ Things that affect people’s lives.

PF Yeah we can do that [RZ laughs]. We can definitely do that. We can do it securely, we can do it with best practices, we can do it in really fast scalable ways that are very very modern. So that’s what Postlight does. So we’re talking to a really interesting product person today.

RZ Well a young founder.

PF A founder, that’s right. Cofounder.

RZ A cofounder of a product we really like and use.

PF That’s right.

RZ Um and we don’t often get that sorta guest so we’ve got Andrew Ofstad with us on Track Changes.

PF Let’s talk to this guy.

RZ Andrew, welcome to Track Changes.

01:56 Andrew Ofstad Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I’m a fan of the podcast and happy to be on it.

RZ Typically we look for interesting guests that we think will be great on the podcast. This one is actually born out of us being fans of Airtable.

PF Not that you won’t be interesting and great on the podcast [PL laughs].

RZ No, it will be both. It will be both things.

AO Yeah yeah.

PF So we increasingly run our business on your product.

RZ Yeah.

AO Great.

PF So before we talk any further, can you assure us that this thing’s gonna stick around?

RZ [Laughing] there’s a lot of data on there!

PL Yeah.

AO Yeah definitely we sort of have a pretty long term vision of the company. It’s great to hear that you’re making such great use out of it.

PF Tell everyone what it is.

AO Yeah so Airtable is a database but it’s not kind of like a programmer database. It’s somewhere between a database and spreadsheet. So for a non-programmer or a normal user, they can go in and use Airtable to really just organize their work, their way. So it feels a lot like a spreadsheet but it’s kind of built around keeping track of things whether it be tasks, or projects, or people, kind of a bit more CRM use cases, uh whatever it is, it’s kind of like a way for you to kind of structure your information, uh for your very specific use case and the space that people build you know business workflows, they organize all their projects, organize events, all sorts of things, add external calendars, UX research feedback in Airtable. And uh yeah it’s just like a very user-friendly way for people to kind of create their own personal business applications in a way that doesn’t require code.

03:21 RZ Cool, we’ll come back to Airtable and talk a little bit about our experience with it but we wanna take you back to your childhood. Well, we don’t have to go all the way back to childhood [AO yeah] but give us the three and a half minute story from college. Where’d you go to school?

AO So actually going back a little bit further, I grew up in rural Montana and I’d always been interested in computers and programming and I really wanted to make video games. So going into college I sort of like had a background cuz I had you know got into a little bit of game programming, that type of thing. But I decided to study electrical engineering and take a little bit of a different direction to kind of understand how things worked at a lower lever. And also like I had this notion that I didn’t wanna spend my whole life in front of a computer just kind of like silently typing away which was a pretty big misconception. Like basically any work you do nowadays you’re on a computer and you’re working with software. But yeah I went to school to study electrical engineering and economics cuz I was also interested in kind of the business side. I ended up at Duke University. I had a friend that went there who had great things to say about it and I just kind of applied to schools all over the country and more or less just ended up there. Uh cuz I was kind of like into a change and that’s actually where I met my two cofounders for Airtable. We were old college friends, sort of like the you know Duke University startup nerds back in the day when it wasn’t nearly as big of a thing as it was to go off and do a startup and work in tech. You know everybody was working in finance and consulting in those days. So I sort of bonded over people who had similar interests in technology and startups and that type of thing in college.

RZ And before Airtable where were you and what were you doing?

AO So I was at Google before Airtable. I started at Google in 2009 as a product manager so I actually worked at another job before that for a year but I was still pretty fresh out of college and Google had this program called the Associate Product Manager Program where they take these new college grads with no experience and just kind of like toss them into the deep end. So for me my first project was on Android and they just kind of like threw me into this team and said, “You know, hey, you’re the project manager for the social apps on Android.” This was kind of back in the day when you know Facebook and Twitter weren’t actually building Android apps cuz nobody cared back then cuz nobody used Android [RZ oh wow]. So uh yeah it’s pretty wild actually like thinking back you know it was like right before the Droid launch and so Android was just kind of like this experimental Google thing and we had to have all the apps on it that Apple had. We decided ourselves to kind of build up the Twitter and Facebook apps. And they let us borrow their branding and work similar designers and that type of thing. And I didn’t really know what I was doing [RZ laughs] but you sort of like quickly pick that stuff up you know just trial by fire.

RZ It’s a great experience, I have to imagine.

06:11 AO Yeah totally. Um so that was my first role. And then I was on Google Maps for two and a half years after that. Kinda worked on a complete redesign of maps based on some new kind of web geo technology that a team had developed up in Seattle that sorta made its way into the product over the course of a few years.

RZ I like that idea, by the way, of just throwing people in out of school and seeing what sticks cuz product management is so weird [PF yeah]. Sometimes people just pick it up and just run [AO yeah].

PF You can do that when you’re Google cuz the risk is relatively low [RZ yeah yeah]. You’re going, “Ah well this person might succeed a little better elsewhere.”

RZ Are there like dead bodies piled up in the back of the building?

AO I think it’s actually been a really successful program. I mean I’m sure like they take a little bit of a hit, they’re not actually that productive in a lot of cases but they train their kind of like next generation of leaders that way [mm hmm] but I think Google, they used to for product managers hire kind of like more experienced MBAs and more people that had been in the industry for awhile and I think they generally found that Google operated so differently at the time than other companies. It was this very flat hierarchy, you sort of didn’t have real authority. You sorta had to just kind of lead the product by more like influence and it was kind of like an interesting culture that wasn’t very common in other companies. So I think that they found that it was actually easier to get somebody fresh out of college and was kind of more moldable to Google culture [mm hmm] than it was to find somebody with a lot of industry experience or somebody with an MBA who had all of these preconceived notions [right]. So I think generally they found that like after a couple of years the APMs turned out to be like very good product managers and fit in very well into Google culture. So I think [that’s great] it was an experiment they just tried out and it ended up working pretty well [that’s very cool]. Yeah and it’s still going on today and I think you know Facebook has a very similar program that’s led by former Google APMs. So it’s kind of like trickled into other tech companies and become more of a common thing but I think back then it was pretty uncommon to hire somebody as a product manager fresh out of school.

PF So get us to what makes you — you know at what point did you say, “I need to build a database that looks like a spreadsheet?”

RZ Everybody’s got that idea.

PF The big idea.

RZ That capital idea and they think about, “Ok I’m gonna do this and this is gonna change the world, and it’s gonna change my life, and it’s gonna change everybody’s life.”

PF Get season tickets. You know start planning. Yeah.

RZ Yeah you’re at the job, right? You’ve got you know you’ve planned your two week vacation [yeah] to Hawaii and it’s the — not to say it’s horrible — you’re probably doing well but everybody stews on that idea. Capital “i”. And so talk to us about your process for taking the — I mean did you leave out of Google into and starting Airtable?

08:45 AO Yeah it’s a great question. I mean I loved my job at Google and I sort of was pretty happy there. So it was kind of going back to the idea in how we sort of started on that path. Myself and my cofounder, Howie, we, as I said, we went to college together and um as well as our third cofounder, Emmett, and we sort of always bounced ideas back and forth. So while I was at Google we were actually roommates and we were always talking about [mm hmm] things we wanted to work on and areas of interest and that type of thing. And one thing like at the time at Google especially that really interested me was um you know as a product manager and I worked with designers and I always like had these ideas and had these features I wanted the team to build and for me the best way to sort of communicate those things was to kind of create a design, create a mock, and have some visual way [mm hmm] to sort of like share the idea with people [sure]. So I was always like in awe of these designers who could go into Photoshop which was this crazy complicated tool and had these amazing skills to produce these beautiful mocks and I was sort of like jealous of that and be like I just wanna be able to do that myself [mm hmm]. I discovered these tools like Fireworks and Sketch which kind of like lowered the barrier so much for that type of creative expression [yup] and it made it just completely accessible to me as somebody who hasn’t spent a lot of time training on Photoshop. So I kind of became interested in the space of these creative tools that made it you know ten times easier for the normal person to go in and do something [mm hmm] that previously only sort of like an expert or a programmer or like a designer could do. So at the time I was kind of exploring ideas for you know a website builder, ways that could make average people be able to kind of create a website that only programmers could do before. Simultaneously, my cofounder, Howie, uh he started a company that was acquired by Salesforce and when he was there he sort of had this insight which I think is pretty common but it’s interesting from his perspective cuz you can really see that a company can actually build a incredibly valuable company off of just a kind of a flexible database cuz that’s more or less what Salesforce is with like a bunch of marketing and that type of thing on top of it [mm hmm] but the real critical thing there was this database that you can customize to fit the exact need of your company [mm hmm] and your team um but it’s like completely inaccessible to anybody else.

I was always in awe of designers who could go into Photoshop, which was this crazy complicated tool, and I was sort of jealous of that … So I became interested in the space of these creative tools that made it ten times easier for the normal person to go in and do something that previously only an expert or a programmer could do.

PF Right and the roots are actually Oracle, right? Didn’t Marc Benioff come out of Oracle?

RZ He did.

AO Yeah, exactly, yeah he came out of Oracle. I think he was an SVP at Oracle um you know definitely had the sales part down and sort of Salesforce I think was like the cloud version of that, right?

PF And understood how important databases are in companies.

RZ Yeah. The tweak there was he brought Oracle CRM to the web [right right]. You didn’t have this massive installation.

11:14 PF Or giant like SAP Oracle backed whatever.

AO Exactly, exactly [ok].

RZ Ok so –

AO Exactly yeah.

RZ — it sounds like you’re going and getting drinks with your friends and brainstorming ideas which is not uncommon, right? You’ve got the day job but then you can’t help it, right? You can’t help drawing different ideas out on the back of a napkin.

PF Well is it drinks? Where are you doing your brainstorming?

RZ It could be soup. I don’t wanna judge.

AO [Laughing] yeah yeah. Well we lived together in an apartment. So yeah my cofounder, Howie, actually did this YC company called E Tax and it was him and his cofounder in our apartment just you know hacking all night. I go in the living room and there are kinda Monster energy drinks everywhere and somebody crashed on the couch [PF or RZ laughs] so I was kinda living in their crazy startup apartment which was a lot of fun but then he sold that to Salesforce and we both had the startup bug, you know? Like I enjoyed Google a lot and it was a great opportunity. I loved working on the team but I also — there were parts of it that I didn’t enjoy. Sort of like the larger company stuff and just like going to meetings with people on other teams. I actually just really wanted to get back to first of all like doing the design stuff and actually programming again and just kind of doing hands on [uh huh] building product myself to both kind of build up the skills and just cuz I loved that type of work. And so we were both just kind of in this place where we were at these bigger companies. We were like, “Yeah this is great. It’s a good job,” but we were kinda itching to get back to just building stuff, you know? And I think we both knew that like the industry was doing pretty well. I was pretty young and just like whatever you know, it’s like the worst that’s gonna happen is — it was all like spend a couple of years in this thing or whatever and like you can just get another job. So yeah it seemed like for me the risk was pretty low and we just kind of like decided to leave our jobs at the same time and just kind of start working together in a limited capacity at first and then uh just built it up from there.

We were both in this place where we were at these bigger companies, but we were itching to get back to just building stuff

PF So then at some point you decide you’re gonna start Airtable. What was it called at first? Was it always Airtable?

13:06 AO Oh yeah that’s a — that’s a great question. We’ve gone through a lot of names um –

RZ Oh we’d love to hear. Tell us some of the bad ones.

AO Yeah. Well our company name actually, the name we’re incorporated under is Formagrid Incorporated.

PF Uh yeah. Ok ok.

RZ Ah. Oof. Oof.

AO Yes [laughs] it’s uh you know one of those names you know Formagrid Heavy Industries or stuff like that but um the initial product name and sort of our early alpha you know demo stage we called it Forma. And I’m not really sure what the genesis was. It was you know some aspect of like form [RZ not terrible] and like forming things [PF no that’s good] and forming software.

RZ When you end with the vowel it’s a little warmer and welcoming.

PF Yeah.

AO That’s true. Yeah. So it kind of had an approachable feel. We uh we couldn’t buy that domain and there was another company called Forma which you know had it trademarked and everything else so that was kind of a non starter for an official name. We spent a long time just trying to figure out a name. We had all sorts of crazy stuff around — actually some of them involved like uh the word track. So uh I’ve always appreciated the Track Changes. That’s actually I feel like a very good name that’s like [PF thank you] that makes a lot of sense for what you guys talk about. But um yeah we basically just made this huge list of different kinda words and combine them in different ways, and then like did domain searches, eventually we sort of came up with the word table as kind of a core metaphor for our product that we thought would be a good part of a name. For awhile we tried to buy the domain name table.com. This was after we had raised some seed funding but it was way too expensive and we had all these issues with it. So we looked down the list and saw airtable and sort of had this feeling of something that’s lightweight and a table is like this thing where people work together around something and it’s also like the actual table metaphor for like the way you store information in the product. It sorta made sense. We’ve been really happy with the name since then.

RZ It’s a great name. I like it.

AO Yeah, thanks a lot. And you know there’s not a lot of products that are named that and it’s — it’s uh pretty unique. So when you search for Airtable you know we’re gonna pop up not a bunch of random other things. If we would’ve gone like Table or something like there’s a million things that could’ve popped up in the search engine.

15:14 PF Well it’s a pretty big brand signal right cuz databases are heavy and important [RZ yeah] and hang out at the bottom of things. Right, and so to say like, “Airtable.” You’re saying, “This is a light database.”

RZ Yeah, also I’m gonna guess that a real homerun for you guys is someone that doesn’t know what a database is. They just found this to be a really cool way to organize their stamp collection.

AO Yeah totally um we sort of wanted to make it very friendly and approachable. Like both the kind of name and the marketing and the actual product itself. So yeah I think you’re right like Airtable had this lightweight feel. We took a lot of cues from a something like a spreadsheet where you just go in, you can start quickly entering data, like all the interactions are very fast and fluid. You can sort of quickly select a bunch of stuff and delete it and edit it and that type of thing. So yeah I think it worked out ok but we definitely um you know with the naming, we agonized over that for you know a long, long time. And hah, it’s never easy.

PF Right, so when did it launch and do you remember who your first customer was who was a stranger?

AO Yeah so we sort of did like a slow beta roll out and we kind of built the product as like a demo that was pretty hacky and it like didn’t really persist anything to a real database. So it was just kind of like purely a demo. We started rolling it out to a customer we knew as a nonprofit in San Francisco. They were sort of like our flagship customer. It’s a nonprofit called ScholarMatch. It’s a great program. But they started using it and it was really rough in the early days and we would sort of go back and forth with them and do user studies and just kind of you know built the product back from there and iterated on it and it built it for them and basically ourselves.

RZ You did something really smart, right? You gave it out to one organization and you watched very, very carefully. Is that something you learned at Google?

AO I mean it is to a certain extent. We would you know do a lot of user studies but at Google you have this advantage where, first of all, you can sort of test the product internally with you know a lot of people within the company. So that’s one thing. I think we just knew the goal of the product was to build something that really lowered the usability bar of this really complex technology and made it you know dead simple for somebody who is not a programmer to be able to, first of all, understand what a database, and then a really efficient, you know easy way to be able to interact with it and actually kind of create their own database. So I mean the problem with just building it for ourselves is that we were programmers and we understood databases and these concepts were familiar to us. So it was really hard to kind of test whether we are actually successful in our endeavour without having somebody external who is somebody who doesn’t understand those concepts to tell us whether we’re on the right track.

I think we just knew that the goal of the product was to build something that really lowered the usability bar of this really complex technology and made it dead simple for someone who is not a programmer to understand and interact with it.

17:51 RZ Right. That’s huge.

AO So I think it was, yeah, it was more kind of from first principles we just knew that we had to have a lot of customer feedback, especially in the early days when we were agile and could quickly change the product.

RZ Sure. Very smart. I wanna spend the next hour to hour and a half talking about Microsoft Access [PF and AO laugh].

AO Yeah yeah sounds great. Yeah.

RZ I mean I’ll speak personally for one second um I learned a lot about the concepts behind databases. First off, it would just install. Like if you installed Office.

PF It came on a CD.

RZ It would just get another checkbox. So you’d get [AO laughing yeah yeah] — you’d get Excel, and Word, and Powerpoint. And then there’s this Access. They just threw it in [AO yeah] and I didn’t know what it was. It would just put up this workspace. And there were just — it was so bizarre to me and then I started to understand it and I fell in love. And I think the spirit of Access is very similar to what you were aiming for which is to lower the barrier [mm hmm] to create a way to put information away in an organized way, in a relatable way, uh without having to code. I eventually started to peel it back and I learned SQL because I just was curious [yeah] but for many people who use Access it’s just that’s it. It’s point and click. Did you think about Access? I mean Access is sort of the desktop comparison to Airtable.

AO Yeah, absolutely. I mean Access and FileMaker is sort of the Apple version of that [yeah sure] and I mean they’re both very successful products in their own rite. I think you know in the Microsoft suite they were kinda eclipsed by Excel because um I mean first of all, I think there were kind of political reasons in Microsoft that that happened but I think back in that day if you kind of opened up Excel and you opened up Access. For a normal end user and you looked at them side by side, in Excel you’d just be like, “Oh great, I can just start typing and start entering things in this easy visual table.” [Yup] Excel you sort of like open it up and you have to configure this thing called a schema. And you’re like, “What’s a schema? Like I don’t understand what’s going on here.” [RZ laughs] There’s these diagrams you have to set up, you know? [Yup] It’s not just as easy. You still have to kind of know, first of all, why you need a database and why you can’t just type into this table [mm hmm] and then you sort of have to get past the barriers you know it’s just — you know it wasn’t a — I mean I think people could figure it out but it wasn’t a very intuitive UI.

RZ Yeah it was still a steep hill. But it was sort of I mean for nerds like us it was a wonderful baby step. You got to play without installing servers and all that silliness.

20:22 AO Yeah, definitely. And I think uh you know going back even further I think the original like computing pioneers always thought of like the productivity suite as like the document editor, the spreadsheet, which is more like numerical analysis, calculations, modelling, and then the database is where like you know you keep your information in a very structured way and it’s just kind of like uh kind of a historical accident that the database kind of fell of as a big part of the average person’s productivity toolkit.

RZ I wanna continue on the “I have a great idea, I wanna start a company” narrative. I think it’s really interesting [AO sure]. You had the idea, you took the leap, you lucked out in that you were sharing an apartment with a couple of other people who sort of have done it so they had some experience around what you’re gonna have to navigate when you spin out there, right? Like raising money, even seed money, or whatever else you had to do [AO mm hmm], incorporating, all that silliness. So you solved some problems, you keep iterating, and it starts to take hold. There’s a couple things that end up happening, right? I don’t know your exact details. I’m assuming you raised more money.

AO Yeah so we um we raised a seed round which was a pretty large seed round, um a couple million. Uh and then –

RZ That’s a big seed, Andrew.

AO Yeah, it’s a big seed. Um so that was just off of you know basically built the product, and had a really killer product we could show to investors, and had you know just a few customers that were really into it. So –

RZ That’s a really important detail: you had a product already. A lot of times, people seek out that seed with a PowerPoint or a two-pager. So you had something.

That’s a really important detail: you had a product already. A lot of times, people seek out that seed with a PowerPoint or a two-pager. So you had something.

AO Yeah I mean the early days of the company were just building — building that demo, building that kind of the — that we could first of all I mean it’s such an abstract idea without actually playing with it I think it’s hard for people to kind of see what we’re trying to do [RZ yup]. So I don’t think we would’ve been able to get a seed round and kind of build the company without just kind of building a product to start with, you know?

RZ Mm hmm. So you raised that seed. Did you do any hiring?

AO Yeah, so we kept a pretty slim team. We hired a few engineers but we sort of knew that there were kind of key things like usability things and key changes and like the entire kind of architecture of the software that we have to kind of completely rewrite. And so it’s one of these things where hiring more engineers wouldn’t actually necessarily speed up the pace for development. So we actually just kinda just kept a team of four or five of us, just working very closely, just writing software for you know um a year and a half, two years, and just cranking on it –

RZ Oh wow! That’s –

22:50 AO — and listening to customer feedback. I mean we had, we had beta customers and we had people using the product but it was a very, very iterative approach and I think different than a lot of startups that will just kind of like throw something out there and you know if it’s not growing crazy exponential fast in like a you know a few weeks, they pave it to something else. We were sort of always pretty attached [RZ sure] to the broader vision of the product and just knew that we had to put in a lot of effort and sweat in order to get it to the place where it actually hit the minimum MVP required for a lot of people.

RZ Ok. When did you start Airtable?

AO We started working on it kind of off and on in late 2012 [RZ oh]. So it’s been you know it’s been a long time working on the product. We incorporated in early 2013, raised our seed round partway through 2013, and sort of went from there. So it definitely hasn’t been an overnight success. It’s been a long time just building the product, uh figuring out the marketing, everything else.

RZ It’s a great lesson really for people out there who wanna — you’re just not gonna snap your fingers and have an atomic bomb on your hands. It takes work and you’re gonna get humbled by it, right?

PF Well, I mean and it’s worth pointing out, right? Like this is one of the big ideas. Like there’s Access, there’s FileMaker [RZ mm hmm]. There have been historically attempts to kinda merge the spreadsheet database world for probably 30, 40 years now. Or since there were spreadsheets [RZ yeah]. And so you’re not gonna be able to just sorta stumble in and be like, “Check this out!”

RZ Yeah yeah. I mean people use spreadsheets for a lot of this. I mean are spreadsheets your competitor here?

AO Yeah I think in a lot of cases there are and that’s kinda the thing that made it so that we can just quickly build an MVP and see if it works, you know? It’s like the alternative is a spreadsheet which is incredibly powerful. People are used to it, it’s a status quo product. So we knew we had to build something that’s pretty sophisticated and and pretty like you know feature rich in order for it to be kinda comparable to that. So yeah I would say spreadsheets are kind of like a main competitor for our. Um you know obviously we — people use our product in a lot of different kind of specific verticals. You know like editorial calendars, project management, video production. So in each of those kind of verticals we have a few competitors. Some of them very kind of hard coded you know vertical specific applications [sure, yup]. But a lot of times people you know are doing something where there’s not like a good piece of vertical software or if it is it doesn’t really quite match what they need to actually do [mm hmm]. So they have sort of a custom workflow they need to build and the options for them are like try to manage this really messy spreadsheet which isn’t structured that well. It’s kind of like a bunch of text and numbers in this giant you know grid of cells [mm hmm]. Or you try to find a very specific vertical solution which doesn’t quite fit your use case or you, you know, build some software internally. You hire some developers and they come in and collect specs from the people who actually know about use case [right]. So um you know Airtable is a way for people to actually like they know the spec of the thing they’re trying to build and they can actually do that in Airtable [RZ it’s very empowering] and uh do it themselves. Yeah so it’s like the — I think, yeah I think you’re right though it’s kind of like the — the magnitude of the opportunity kind of drove us as well um as opposed to something — yeah I think we’re all just really psyched about the vision, the product, and the whole space. So I think that kind of led us to a point where we could invest a lot of our time and energy into the product.

26:13 PF What’s the most surprising thing your users have done?

RZ That’s a great question.

AO I do think it’s like one of the most exciting parts of working on a product like ours that’s so kind of horizontal in nature. If you just like have no idea how somebody’s gonna use the product. You know we have a lot of interesting use cases, like actually a lot of cattle farmers use this to track like their cattle, and like all the moving parts of their farm which I thought is interesting. Uh just like a lot of people have random collection or just so detailed and like quantified over how they live their lives. Like for example, people who have these cheese trackers. Well they’ll have like every type of cheese they ever tasted, all the information about it, like you know how stinky the cheese is, a bunch of stuff like that. And it’s just like, wow, people really obsess about these things and it’s so awesome that they are like keeping this catalogue of this information. And then like going and sharing it with the world through Airtable. So there’s all sorts of random stuff that people keep track of sort of on a personal basis [RZ very cool]. People creating uh movies and television shows and that type of thing. Like a lot of creative output is kind of backed by an Airtable uh database in a lot of cases.

PF But also just a lot of old fashioned like obsessive human behaviour too.

RZ Oh yeah, hoarders.

AO Exactly, yeah, that’s — yeah [RZ and PF laugh].

RZ Hoarders are on there.

AO That’s great. Yeah.

27:28 RZ So my little baby story um we were using a web based CRM and uh we hit a wall. We needed a couple things it couldn’t do and it was hard to get there and it was –

PF It was a little bit clunky and there was another thing it did which is it read all our email and it was actually really hard to turn that off.

RZ [Laughing] yeah it freaked out us out a little bit.

AO Oh gotcha. Yup.

PF It was very sort of integrated with everything and but not in a way that you felt you could control.

RZ And we jumped to Airtable for our pipeline and for CRM.

PF One of our product managers, Cody Cohen, just took it and went in.

RZ Said, “Let’s give it a shot!” [PF yup] And it’s worked great since so that’s our endorsement. You’ve built a really, really cool product and it appeals to nerds and you’re aiming for the non-nerds which is great.

PF Which — who sound like they’re finding it or at least you know what I think it is it’s people who are nerds but not necessarily around technology.

RZ Exactly, exactly! Obsessed about other things.

PF And that’s a vast market.

RZ Well, congratulations on your success so far and uh good luck in the future. This has been really fun to talk to you.

AO Yeah [music fading in].

PF It’s true.

AO Awesome. Thanks a lot. Have a good one.

PF Well look, it doesn’t get more simple than that. It’s smart, talented people building products that they care deeply about over time.

28:41 RZ And it’s a good idea. That you can have all of that and have a really bad idea. This is a really cool idea.

PF No, it’s a really understood idea that’s been around for awhile that was very well executed.

RZ I think that’s a great way to put it.

PF That’s the thing, right? Like people have said, “Spreadsheets: people use them as databases too often. Why don’t they use more databases forever?”

RZ I’ve got one that is effectively an old school competitor: Zoho like Zoho — there’s a suite of tools.

PF Zoho Docs.

RZ No, but there’s one that’s called Zoho Database or something.

PF Yeah and there’s Visual Foxpro 2.

RZ Yeah, there’s stuff on the web but these guys really nailed it pretty elegantly.

PF But what you hear is execution: ok, two years [mm hmm] you know [not easy]. An advanced team [yup], and a lot of work, and an unbelievable amount of testing, and accepted failure along the way.

RZ Yup. Great, great set of bullets there if you wanna do your own thing.

PF Yeah, just sort of months of despair leading to a successful release.

RZ Alright, we don’t have to paint a dire picture here, Paul.

PF [Laughs] Well, thank you to Andrew for coming on the show. We really appreciated having you and you’ve all been listening to Track Changes, the podcast Postlight, a digital product studio in New York City at 101 5th Avenue. You know if you wanna talk to Postlight about anything, send an email to [email protected]. If you wanna go and give us five stars on the iTunes, iPod, iNano store, do that!

RZ Yeah.

PF Rich, we gotta get back to the office and get some work done.

RZ Have a lovely week [music ramps up to end].