Move Slow and Make Things Image Credit: Forbes
Move Slow and Make Things Image Credit: Forbes

Move Slow And Make Things

Airtable’s Howie Liu has quietly built a software giant by emphasizing substance over speed. but can a tech tortoise win the data race?

Steven Bertoni

In the frenetic world of tech, where the ruling ethos is to move fast and break things, Howie Liu moves at a glacial pace. With Andrew Ofstad and Emmett Nicholas, he launched Airtable in 2013. They wanted to create a spreadsheet with the power of a database. Then they spent three years building a prototype.

The trio pored over academic papers on collaborative software theory, agonized about the Node.js architecture and obsessed over the speed at which windows popped open. After reading Kenya Hara’s design book White, Liu spent months focusing on the interplay of color and empty space.

Liu, 30, is sitting in his San Francisco headquarters dressed in a black leather jacket and` black shirt, slacks and shoes. It’s a minimalist uniform à la Steve Jobs, the guy who would fuss forever over the shade of white of an iPod: “Instead of trying to rush a new product out the door, we introduce a period of forced delay, so people have a chance to sleep on an idea,” he says. “It’s a concept we call the simmer.”

Now Airtable is coming to a boil. Liu’s cloud-based software has taken hold in 80,000 organizations, from Netflix to small nonprofits. Revenue is on track to jump 400% to $20 million in 2018, mostly on word of mouth.

Investors have noticed. In March, Airtable raised $59 million from CRV, Caffeinated Capital and Slow Ventures. Last month it snagged another $100 million from Benchmark, Thrive Capital and Coatue

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