"They don’t want to just push buttons. They want to build."
Editorial

"They don’t want to just push buttons. They want to build."

Airtable's Howie Liu talks with Station F about entrepreneurship and how the nature of work is changing.

Station F is the largest startup campus in the world. Situated in a former railway station in Paris, it is home to dozens of startup programs, venture capital firms, co-living spaces, and a wealth of resources and events for entrepreneurs.

Howie Liu, Airtable's co-founder and CEO, caught up Roxanne Varza, director of Station F, on the organization's recent podcast episode. They discuss Airtable's early days and what to expect in the growing low-code community.

You can check out the full episode here, or read some of the highlights below:

Creativity is everywhere – people just need the right tools

"Creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit are very widely distributed in the world, even if they’re most visibly associated with centers like San Francisco, New York, and Paris. But I think it’s much more distributed than most of us realize. Entrepreneurial behavior doesn’t have to mean starting a company. It can mean going out there and taking the initiative to build something within an organization. Build an app, or a new program or initiative. If there’s an increasing theme we’re going to bet on as a company, it’s that we’re going to cater to this very widely distributed base of people who are not just in the big hubs, but live everywhere, and in every company, who can do extraordinary things if given the tools to do so."

How the nature of work is changing

“First, there’s been a behavioral and a generational shift in terms of knowledge work. You see more people in every role, in every company, who want to have more control over their software. They don’t want to just push buttons. They want to build. This is the same generation that’s being creative on consumer social platforms, and experiencing products like Minecraft.

The second trend is the power of what you can build with a product like Airtable has significantly expanded. Seven years ago, we didn’t have the vision or opportunity to connect all the different services and cloud products out there. The value that you can create when you daisy chain these services together is significant.

Finally, there’s this massive ecosystem of developers out there, creating these really useful open source modules on npm and react. As we build out our own platform, and allow developers to use those same technologies and libraries, there’s this incredible synergy we want to create between the true developer community and the community of non-developers with platforms like Airtable.”

It's important to deeply understand the problem you're trying to solve

“We ruminated on the opportunity for quite a while before diving head-first in. Airtable is a company that took three years from ideation to launching the v1 product — which is three times the entire life of my previous company.”

If you've built something useful, people will change their habits

“It’s one thing to create a product that’s useful. It’s another to create a product that’s so much better that people change their habits...We really wanted to see: can we even get even a handful of customers to actually switch their behavior...so we built the hackiest possible version to validate that.”

Focus on what your product can actually improve and recognize what they can't

“We were just really focused on making Airtable awesome for [organizational use cases], not even trying to compete against Excel or Google Sheets for any number-crunching use cases... [We] made sure we were not just 30% better, but five times better for those use cases. So picking a smaller subproblem, instead of going up against these products and saying we’re a categorically better Excel or Google Sheet, was the key.”

More for the record