Airtable: Financial Dumpster Fire

I often publish upbeat articles about no/ow-code tech. This is not one of them.

A recent conversation on the Opensiders Slack channel compelled me to look closely into Airtable’s financial predicament following last week’s 27% workforce cuts. As I did, it was apparent that its valuation was likely less than 10% of its valuation for the most recent investment round. To put that into perspective, they went from $11.7b to less than a billion in the span of less than a year.

I’m no financial wiz, but this suggests a lot of tension in the boardroom right now. The early-stage investors and founders are worried their stakes will be wiped out (they will). The late-stage investors are pushing for a fire sale or IPO. I don’t think either group is going to be happy unless something magical happens.

One thing is clear - a fair portion of the management is racing for the exit or is already gone. Attracting quality candidates to fill these roles will be difficult because the option strike price is 10x the current value. Airtable was visibly dysfunctional before this layer departed.

I wasn’t going to write about this until last night when I listened to the recent episode of the All In Podcast featuring four of the smartest VCs and tech investment minds. They examined Airtable and it’s current plight, and I took some notes.


Thank you @bfrench for that. A big problem, all of that, and has been for a long time. Greed never leads to anything good.

I can only appeal to everyone who truly cares about what they are doing: Stay away from banks, investors or any money that brings outside control into your dream. I know it is tough at times. Very tough. But it is worth it! We are a small company and have often had times of struggle. But since we never took on any debt or any outside interests, we are and have always been free to develop, nurish and grow our company into the exact direction that we have enivisioned. Life is too short to just make a lot of money quickly without bringing any value to the world. It makes you empty and tired as we can see at said Aritable corporation.

That article makes me feel like someone trying to get their money out of a cash machine before their bank collapses.


Philosophically, this plays really well in conversation but often plays poorly on paper (i.e., in spreadsheets based on market data and probable moves by competitors and partners).

To become a market leader, which is often a requirement if you want to survive, you may need to expand, and that raises the issue of the size of your equity base. The smaller the equity base, the more constrained your options are to attract market share. Often, companies with the best product do not win, and the data suggests it’s because they were unwilling (or unable) to expand their equity base through investment. So… this is the dirty dance that many CEOs face - how to expand just enough to avoid being killed by competitors without losing voting control.

And therein lies the whole dilemma: “to become a market leader, which is often a requirement if you want to survive…”. I believe we have been made believe a many things and this myth is one of them. We are by no means the leaders of any market but we survive - and we survive well. I have seen more companies decline (and dissappear) by forced expansion to meet someone elses goals than the other way around. And by decline I do not only mean numbers. I am especially talking about ethics, morale, standards, drive, happiness.

I do not believe this plays well only in conversation at all. I believe it is essential in reality. And philosophy is always the shaping and driving force behind anything. It’s important to understand that there are always choices and growth and expansion are two different things from my experience. If your main goal is to be the biggest, the best and the most important then your road ahead is pretty much scripted. And the game, with a few slight variations, is always played the same way. I strongly believe if your main objective is to become the biggest and the most important then your product inevitably becomes secondary. You will start adapting your product to meet those goals. Again, that is a choice. But I think that we might agree that most of the biggest and most important companies do not have the best products at all. Quite the contrary. Size matters. In both directions.

All I am saying is: if you really have a dream, if you firstly care about what you are doing, don’t sell out. Because this can not be undone. And all that I said initially was: Stay away from any money that brings outside control into your dream. It’s not that we never had outside help. But we never took any money that had any interests attached to it. Any interests apart from a depply rooted desire to help. And YES, that type of money does exists.

Thus my initial appeal is obviously to those that struggle with those choices. I believe we need a world with a real network (not a “Network”) of mid sized companies with human values at their core. Those values are the core of the network. The traditional mega-corporations abuse most of their workforce and external labor in some way or another and in the end they all follow Rome to their graves. Yes, you may have made a lot of money on your way there. And if that is the primary goal, go for. But also think again.


Perhaps, but this is not always the case. I’m glad this is working in your case, but it is anecdotal data. Perhaps there are other predicates that we should consider beginning with the fundamental question - If we must be one of few market leaders to survive, perhaps we should question the very premise of the business itself.


Well said.

It’s been obvious to me lately that they have lost track of the benefits of AirTable to the mass market, and instead got greedy and went for the corporate market as an easy out.

Their competitors have seen the light, and are starting to make solutions for Airtable’s shortcomings, which is usually a sign that a company doesn’t understand their target market for their technology.

A big gap is that it is extremely difficult to share your data with the world, which is why these companies are popping up to allow people to do that.

Interfaces should NOT be restricted to people with a paid account. There has to be a public facing interface for Airtable to be mass market accepted.

Why isn’t Airtable doing it themselves?


Possibly they also realized the interfaces/portal is not such an issue for enterprise. On the other hand security and integrations is likely on top of their todo list and that can be done with less overhead. If you look at the enterprise market, it is relatively less fragmented and many there use Smartsheets. I assume Airtable may want to get some of these clients too as Smartsheet interface been designed 2 decades ago so it feels outdated.

Enterprise demand for portals is high. Ask anyone who sells Microsoft products how well Sharepoint is doing.

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Well but they would have something already, like Sharepoint which is used for much more than Airtable. That is the point. Portals are usually IT area and they driving whatever is in their interest, whether it is Microsoft or Unix system. Portals are relatively easy and a job insurance for IT people as they are almost always highly custom.

We tend to forget that the use of Airtable (and any no/low-code platform) in an enterprise is likely governed and operated by non-IT workers. That’s why they invited these tools into the tent in the first place. They are trying to support their workers with better, and more productive tools - tools that they can easily relate to and use to control their own information destiny. IT is thrilled to have this monkey off their back.

The second thing we tend to miss is that portals have historically been driven as an enterprise-wide service. But with the consumerization of IT (which began with iPhone and iPad) and information democratization by no/low-code, portals have a new charter that is more compartmentalized and driven by bottom-up business requirements that vary across functional areas. A portal for the HR group is very different from the marketing group, or product management. IT-designed portals, like the apps they used to build, take a lot of time, fail to meet specific requirements, and almost always come with external consultants.

These pockets of departmental no/low-code use cases are ostensibly SMBs within the grander enterprise. Scale limitations will continue to lock tools like Airtable into functional roles because they are unable to scale to meet the needs of IT. IT teams, or what’s left of them, will wave off no/low-code projects as fun spreadsheet toys that domain experts are free to use. But this doesn’t invalidate cross-functional sharing from department to department.

Sharepoint attempted to be a top-down, one feature set fits all enterprise portal needs, and they still sell a lot of them mostly to enterprise buyers who want to force rigid tool sets into the hands of all employees. They believe this is smart because Gartner said it was and the CSOs agreed. However, they tend to generate more complaints and greater sharing friction than happy or productive workers.

No/low-code portals used to address specific collaboration requirements while also lowering total cost of ownership and bundled into the same no/low-code justification budget, is pretty much the ideal answer to the poorly defined of dysfunctional “corporate portal”.