The True Cost of Ownership

As evidenced by this new pricing, the entire ecosystem and true cost of Airtable solution ownership is finally starting to sink in.

Customers, by and large, will reject the true cost and you will see some demand softening unless Airtable is able to close the gaps that created the impetus for such “adhesives”.

This is bad news for the customers and the aftermarket providers. It may also force an increased demand on actual code(ers) to close the gaps as customers realize that a broad array of dependencies is neither healthy for the strategic longevity of their solutions nor the “ownership” of the IP,

For three years I’ve been saying these glue factories are dangerous, and miniExtensions fall into this class of proxy infrastructure designed to make it look like Airtable is actually better than it truly is on its own.


I’m sure that this will come as no surprise to anybody, but I just looked through my client roster and this is what I discovered:

Out of the last 30 Airtable clients who signed up with me, 29 of them are using external tools to go along with Airtable. The 30th one is going to start using external tools later this month.

This has created a healthy & vibrant ecosystem around Airtable, but this also proves what you’re saying & what I’ve been saying all along: Airtable is not really a complete product on its own.


In my opinion, the ecosystem is not vibrant enough and that allows for miniExtension’s pricing. When checking Airtable’s marketplace, there are a bit over 100 apps, 30% or so developed by AT itself. As a comparison: Shopify’s marketplace has over 7000 apps. Of course Shopify also has 10-20x more customers than AT, but I think there is a case to be made for Airtable being a much more versatile tool, catering to a multitude of use cases.

So I would actually love to see Airtable pushing more for independent developers building apps to be used by the community. Unfortunately there are signs of the opposite — Airtable becoming more closed off. For instance, taking care of Enterprise clients themselves.

Do you have examples of software that is a “complete product” in that sense, hence doesn’t need extensions to be developed by external parties?

Because Airtable has so many deficiencies, extensions are almost always required. But the definition of “extension” is very broad. There are many solutions that have been developed without third-party products. By using integrated webhooks and APIs, the marketplace of third party extensions can be avoided entirely.

These tend to represent customers who have decided to mitigate these external systems for many reasons; not just costs. From IP to security, extensions create dependencies that many business are uncomfortable with. As such, non-consumption is a competitive force in the aftermarket segment. But, it’s also a force that is not easily observed, and so, our bias is towards the third-party apps and discussions about them. We do not see the vast private use of APIs represented in open discussions because their implementers are (by definition) quiet about their IP.

Airtable knows the true cost of ownership, and they will do whatever it takes to lower the cost while moving aftermarket revenue streams into their own streams.

I’m not sure I would call it “deficiencies”. Could also be intentionally leaving space for third-party providers, thereby building a vibrant ecosystem. Airtable seems stuck somewhere in between, not exactly sure about which route to take.

Of course building something on your own will be something you entirely understand versus relying on some third-party tool, which might be hosted on Heroku and suddenly banned. It’s quite stupid though to build the same stuff again and again instead of just paying for a solution that already exists (I’m very biased since I’m one of those third-party providers :D)

But that’s not the nature of things, that’s just how Airtable might have decided to operate (which I’m not 100% sure about). Look at Salesforce’s AppExchange as an example (3000+ partner apps):

Could be. The evidence since 2018 appears to show a lack of interest in supporting its aftermarket. In fact, there are cases where Airtable is working against aftermarket providers and attempting to fill gaps with internal features.

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Yes, lack of interest seems right

Non-Consumption is Your Biggest Competitor

You raise an interesting angle on the topic of the aftermarket in general. I assume you mean that since there are so few companies providing third-party enhancements (i.e., feature gap-fillers), they are afforded the opportunity to extract greater sums than would be possible if there were more competitors, right?

If that’s what you’re intimating, it’s sorta like $15 popcorn at the theatre, a seemingly closed economic system associated with a captive (literally sequestered) audience. But many deep economic studies (especially from the Freakonomics guys) have shown this to be not entirely true because a closed (or captured) market fails to weigh the benefits of non-consumption (ref, Clayton Christiansen).

Nonconsumption is the inability of an entity (person or organization) to purchase and use (consume) a product or service required to fulfill an important Job to Be Done. This inability to purchase can arise from the product’s cost, inconvenience and complexity, along with a host of other factors—none of which tend to be limitations for the rich, skilled, and powerful in society.

If the historical “add-in” pricing of aftermarket services was not already triggering a significant amount of non-consumption, these types of price hikes will certainly cause more solution-seekers to look elsewhere. This is to say that if you raise the price of popcorn enough in a theatre, consumption will simply drop. Airtable’s customer base is not impervious to this basic economic influence no matter how deeply they may have committed to Airtable as a platform. They will find other ways to “get the job done”. Who reading this post has never tried to smuggle food into a movie theatre?

Back to your point - it’s not vibrant enough - I struggle with this term because it is so subjective and it seems to be tied to the number of aftermarket providers, not necessarily the jobs they do or the climate that Airtable has failed to embrace. Salesforce likely has so many providers because as a platform, they require you to develop any sort of extensibility with Java. Their APIs are woefully inadequate to support lightweight scripting solutions. As such, I would not label this as a vibrant aftermarket community - it’s more like a tsunami of options that are only made possible by a specific collection of teams skilled in Java. Almost every Salesforce aftermarket solution comes with “professional services”. Vastly, Airtable operates in a climate that is unlike Salesforce.

The “S” in SMB Users Have Little Choice

If a small company with limited resources wants an Airtable solution that needs to perform integrations and other jobs the likes which miniExtensions provides, they have fewer choices; they need simple tools that extend the boundaries of Airtable’s cone of #no-code influence.

Enterprise customers are not so limited. They have choices because they tend to have skilled workers or can hire skilled consultants to break the bounds of Airtable’s #no-code boundaries. But most importantly, they have the incentive to avoid glue factories and other adhesives that would unnecessarily add security attack surfaces while adding more ongoing costs. Ongoing licensing costs to make a platform of choice more useful are generally avoided in enterprises that seek to fix costs so that economies of scale matter to the bottom line.

My advice to any aftermarket company is to fully understand which target [exactly] you expect to extract more money from.

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There is a little bit of selection bias here. People who seek out a consultant are more likely to have complex systems that involve external tools.

I’m also not convinced that the use of external tools is inherently the mark of an incomplete product. For example, when I was a technical writer, I used Microsoft Word in conjunction with other tools for generating images, communicating with subject matter experts, and generating physically published documents. However, I still considered MS Word to be a “complete” product.

I think that Airtable currently is not focused on third party developers / providers. Airtable provided the tools for third party developers to create third party products, but stopped there. If Airtable wants thousands of aftermarket apps/extensions/integrations, it needs to provide a lot more infrastructure. But right now, it doesn’t make sense for Airtable to put the resources into encouraging aftermarket development because Airtable currently doesn’t get any money from them, and there are too many internal things that Airtable needs to figure out first.

This is very true! Great points!

I think I keep thinking back to my early FileMaker database days, which really tried do everything as a complete product — it could do documents, reports, dashboards, emails, etc.

But that was a very different world back then. Even FileMaker finally needed to provide a REST API very late in the game (the year 2017) when they had really lost relevance.

So you might be correct — there may not be such a thing as a “complete product” that doesn’t need external services.

Nuances are deep here.

@rupertxyz asked specifically about “extensions developed by external parties”. Apps that need “external services” are very different.

My point was there are indeed completely functional solutions running in Airtable that have zero externally developed extensions and they’re quite complex. Rather, they were developed in-house without licensing or buying other services. This is a pattern seen more often as you move upstream into the enterprise.

For context, it’d have been great to be a bit more specific about this particular change.

I understand Mini-Extension changed its pricing, but what was the price, before?

When you use this kind of tools and don’t have anybody “tech-savy” on the inside, you simply end up paying more, because it’s not like you have a better alternative. Replacing those tools once they’re in place is hard work.

It is much harder to change a (working) system than to build it, especially if you need to keep the behavior similar.

And, I agree that the lack of “vendors” is what allows such pricing, if there were more competition, prices would drop. And, maybe, this kind of “price surge” will bring more eyes and more competitors will come out of thin air, filling the gaps of existing tools like Mini-Extension, with something even better.

It’s what happened with so many no-code tools those past years. The pattern will repeat itself, and it can do so indefinitely as long as there are healthy investors willing to fight for a part of the big cake.

This is true. However…

Markets decide how many competitors there are. In a market with few competitors, there is no “rush” to fill unmet needs. This is typically a result of a climate of intractable profits; a topography where potential profit-makers are limited or constrained in ways that make an investment in such a market, untenable. The Airtable market has such constraints and risks, so there are not a lot of companies showing up to the party.

And the glue factories know this so well. It’s how inferior products become so deeply dependent despite the high cost.

Be careful how you frame this; it’s possibly the opposite. It may be that there are few vendors because the price required to earn a profit (given other alternative investments), nudges the cost of operations (for customers) outside that which they can afford to pay.

Everyone wants their own jet. There are few jet makers, and the prices are off the chart. Why aren’t there more jet manufacturers? Constraints in the market. Lots of them.