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No-code database Airtable adds a bit of code back in as investors bump its valuation to over $2.5B

It's introducing apps after it raised another $185 million in series D funding.

Airtable CEO Howie Liu

"It's about getting the best of both the expressiveness of code and then allowing non-coders to still participate and piece together really, really useful apps," says Airtable CEO Howie Liu.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

No-code companies have become one of the hottest trends in startups. The industry has moved past the idea that you need code to build things, and companies are instead offering tools that make it easier for people to build anything — from websites to databases — without having to write a single line of code.

Airtable is one of the early startups that jumped on the trend, having worked on its no-code database software since 2013. But now its co-founder and CEO, Howie Liu, is taking a different approach: adding some of the code back in.

"I think no-code is great, and it will always be an important aspect of our offering. You shouldn't have to code to be able to use Airtable," Liu said. "It's about getting the best of both the expressiveness of code and then allowing non-coders to still participate and piece together really, really useful apps."

The goal is for its no-code product to take its users most of the way there with what they need to do. But now it's launching a new platform, complete with an app marketplace, to allow companies and developers to build their own custom apps on top of Airtable and share them with others. It's also introducing new automations, similar to IFTT commands, that will help companies automate things like sending emails or reports.

Investors have bought into Liu's bigger vision, too. Airtable closed a $185 million series D round at a valuation of nearly $2.6 billion, doubling its valuation from 2018. The round was led by Thrive, with participation from new investor D1 Capital and existing backers including Benchmark and Coatue.

Part of expanding into apps was the realization that there was never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Liu admitted that he thought the initial users would be a lot of startups and SMBs (and they have been, in droves), but he's seen everyone from cattle farmers use it to track herds to lawyers using it for case management. The nonprofit Frontline Foods, which was started during COVID-19 to have restaurants cook up meals for hospitals, created its own app, allowing people to easily see which hospitals were in need at a glance rather than having to comb through a spreadsheet.

"I think the significance of that is, we go from being able to replace or being an alternative improvement to spreadsheets or project management tools to now actually being able to replace or compete against custom software at large," Liu said.

Airtable is also adding a sync feature, similar to Slack Connect, so people from multiple teams can build their own applications on top of a database, like production and marketing teams both building off the same list of TV shows being filmed. It now counts over 200,000 businesses as customers, including entertainment powerhouses like HBO, Netflix and Condé Nast Entertainment.

Despite the growth in use cases and its new expansion into becoming a more customizable platform, one area that Airtable has notoriously shied away from is optimizing for mobile (though it does have iOS and Android apps). Liu is holding firm in his belief that the kind of database work Airtable does is better-suited for desktop and that mobile is more complementary to it.

"I think smartphones are really important for consumptive experiences, but I think that it's important — even for the countries that have leapfrogged desktops to go into a smartphone first digitization or computer internet access — that they eventually also gain access to full, rich desktop experiences, because I just think there's so much that you can do on a full desktop, that you can never do well on a smartphone," he said.

Transforming 2021

The future of retail is hiding in an abandoned mall

The warehouse is moving closer to customers' houses as ecommerce eats the world of retail.

Microfulfillment centers could help retailers compete with the largest ecommerce companies.

Photo: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The American mall has been decimated by the rise in ecommerce. But soon, it may also be their savior — sort of, at least.

Long before the pandemic kept people at home in front of their computers, buying everything they needed to see out lockdown online, malls were on the decline and ecommerce was on the rise.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

It chased fraudsters. Now, Pindrop wants to simplify streaming.

The security startup has struck a partnership with TiVo to personalize voice search.

Pindrop is partnering with TiVo to bring its voice authentication technology to smart TVs and streaming devices.

Photo: Scott Eells/Getty Images

Chicken Man was trying to be clever.

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Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

What Tracy Chou learned about online harassment while trying to stop it

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Block Party founder and diversity activist Tracy Chou became the target of a Reddit harassment campaign while trying to promote the importance of anti-harassment tools.

Photo: Tracy Chou

When Tracy Chou decided to host a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" about online harassment over the summer, she knew it probably wouldn't be the easiest experience, but she'd been dealing with trolls for most of her career. How bad could it really be?

A vitriol-filled nightmare, it turns out. The woman hosting a forum on why she was building an app to protect against online harassment was the target of one of the biggest harassment campaigns of her life. Reddit users mocked her inability to answer their questions (she had, but due to a system error, her comments were disappearing before anyone could read them). They ridiculed her appearance and motivations. Someone created a campaign to say nasty things about her on Substack, attaching her name and photo to some of the posts. They moved to Twitter, and then to 4chan, where they organized a group that flooded her site with a denial of service attack until it went down.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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