Early Days—Episode 3: Airtable with Andrew Ofstad
Andrew Ofstad, co-founder of the world's largest no-code platform Airtable, shares how three friends from college built an $11 billion dollar no-code empire that more than 80% of the Fortune 100 uses day-to-day.
Highlights From Transcript
Real lessons from real founders, the Early Days podcast by Antler.
Tyler Norwood 00:03
Hey everyone. My name is Tyler Norwood. And this is the Early Days podcast. A really exciting episode today with Andrew Ofstad one of the co-founders of Airtable. Andrew shares with us the story of how three friends from college open $11 billion no code platform that more than 80% of Fortune 100 use today. Let's dive in and hear what the early days of Airtable looked like. Andrew, welcome.
Andrew Ofstad 00:31
Hey, Tyler. Thanks for having me excited to be on the ship.
Tyler Norwood 00:35
Yeah, really pumped to have you here. And we'd love to hear just a quick intro of Airtable like how do you explain to people what Airtable is when they ask?
Andrew Ofstad 00:44
Yeah, so Airtable, we describe it as a connected apps platform. And really, it lets teams build their own apps that modernize their business processes. So over 80% of Fortune 100 use Airtable to build workflows that meet their needs. Whether that's, you know, doing a film production and making blockbuster movies, to design and marketing athletic wear, to distributing life saving vaccines. There are a lot of different ways that people build apps themselves that can empower their business processes. And really, our vision is to make it so that non technical people can build software for their teams and their companies and really build more efficiency into their work and kind of do things better, and really give people the superpowers we have as software creators. I've been so fortunate to be able to build software, and have an impact in the world and give that to a much broader audience of business users and make it simple enough where they can kind of build their own apps for work.
Tyler Norwood 01:43
Yeah. And you mentioned a factor that I found in my research 80% of Fortune 100 companies use Airtable, that's a crazy stat like, do you wake up and not believe that that's true? I can imagine that that's a pretty mind blowing stat to run a company that that's true for?
Andrew Ofstad 02:00
Yeah, it's pretty wild. I think in my mind, we're still the scrappy company where I'm thrilled somebody's like, oh, I've heard of Airtable. I'm like, oh my god, that's amazing. I never thought people would see this thing and use it. So it still kind of blows my mind. And it's always fun meeting customers and chatting with them and understanding how they're using the product. So definitely one of the most fun parts about building a product from scratch and kind of seeing it out in the world.
Tyler Norwood 02:27
I can imagine. And so you guys started Airtable in 2012 so it's about a 10 year old company. The latest stats has the company valued at around $11 billion. So I'd say that you guys are doing something right. And congrats on that growth. What I'd really love to talk about today, and really the focus of this podcast, is really diving into the founding story. So I know that you have two co-founders Howie and Emmett. Would love to hear the story about how you guys met. And we can kick it off from there. I think, my research I assume you guys met at Duke. But how did you and Howie first meet?
Andrew Ofstad 03:04
Yeah, so we met at Duke. Actually Emmett and I were in the same year at Duke, 2008 graduation, and Howie was the year before us and we met each other just through mutual friends. And I think we kind of bonded, we were the tech nerds, we were into computer games and programming. And this is back in Duke in 2008, where pretty much everybody was wanting to go into finance or consulting or, you know, go to med school. And those were the well trodden and aspirational paths for most students. And we're sort of the weirdos that always admired people that started companies and kind of followed things like Hacker News back in the day pretty early on. And so we kind of bonded over that and sort of the desire to eventually build a company and also just really enjoyed programming and creating things. We were like lab partners a lot in class. So that's kind of how we met and really kind of bought into that part.
Tyler Norwood 04:00
And you guys were among I mean, Hockey would have been there at the same time, right. Founder of Plaid?
Andrew Ofstad 04:08
Yeah, yeah. Will Hockey, but bunch of folks from that kind of cohort went on to start companies. Fred Ehrsam was I think the year above us or below us, maybe a couple years below us. But there's kind of a set of Duke people that came out of those early days, I think, have done really cool things. So it's kind of fun to see that cohort in the world 10 years later, or 15 years later, whatever.
Tyler Norwood 04:38
Duke is low key pumping out unicorns. It's not really on the map when people talk about universities that are creating unicorns, but there's a lot that have come out of Duke
Andrew Ofstad 04:46
Yeah, for sure. It's great school. And I think it's, you know, obviously there's Stanford, the MITs and they crank out a ton of good entrepreneurs, but I think Duke kind of has a bit of this, chip on the shoulder. I personally tried to get into Stanford, didn't get in and I went to Duke. So it's like, oh, now we get to prove ourselves. And obviously it's an amazing school. But I think on the tech side, I think we're not really known as the tech school or computer science and that type of thing, at least back in those days. So I think there's maybe a bit of a mentality of like let's go out and prove ourselves.
Tyler Norwood 05:18
Sure, there's some Duke administrator out there listening to this episode saying, I can't believe we were his backup school. This is the fourth episode of Early Days that I've recorded. And I think one of the most consistent things that I find with really successful technology entrepreneurs is they were all into gaming. Gaming was everybody's foray into tech. And we sort of grew up, you and I are very similar age, like we grew up in the era where gaming really became a thing, I think that we got out of the flat part of the exponential curve. And games became a really big part of our life and was a great way to pull people in from an interest wise into technology and CS. So walk me back. So you and Howie and Emmett met on Duke's campus? Had you come, you know, I read a quote from Howie saying, I went to Duke to find an idea to drop out of school. So you know, his story is very much like, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, even before I went to undergrad. When did you sort of first realize that being an entrepreneur was like a career path that you wanted to pursue?
Andrew Ofstad 06:26
Yes, good question. I think, going way back before Duke, I always had this desire to kind of build things and do creative work. And I think that that was kind of planted. I grew up in super rural Montana in the mountains and have two older brothers and three friends who lived down the road about the same age. And we didn't have a lot of structured activities, we just kind of entertained ourselves in the mountain like running around. And I think, you know, in the fall and spring, we lived on this big lake, and the whole lake would kind of drop down just be like this mud flat. And I have this distinct memory of us just being like, bored out of our minds, and realizing, hey, let's just go mess around this mud. And we started building sculptures and little dams. And I think we just kind of had this mentality of like, let's entertain ourselves and make something out of nothing. And that kind of became, I think, an important part of me. And so to your point about video games, that was kind of a similar thing, where in high school, I got into video games, playing them initially. And just because it was fun. It was something to do in the mountains when the weather was bad. And then it was a curiosity of how do these things work? And how do you sort of manifest this magical world out of nothing, people just typing on a keyboard. And suddenly, there's this crazy environment where you can explore and play with your friends. And that was just magical to me. So I think it was more about how do you take a path in life where you can create and kind of have that purity of something from nothing, and starting with that mudflat, or that blank screen and like manifesting something into the world. So for me, I guess I didn't fully realize that entrepreneurship was a good path to that maybe until college, and I learned that people started these companies and learned about this thing called Silicon Valley where, you know, there's kind of the scrappiness and this mentality of like, let's get together and kind of build something from scratch and get it out to the world. And especially with software, you can sort of distribute it at great scale and low cost. So I got super excited about that aspect of it once I learned about it. But I think really, for me is always more about let's build something and get it out in the world and having that creative freedom. And that's kind of what attracted me to the path more than anything. And I think there's opportunities to do that within big companies. There's opportunities to do that outside of work and, you know, kind of creative endeavors. But really, entrepreneurship has been the most kind of rewarding and kind of the best path for me, at least in that regard.
Tyler Norwood 08:54
Yeah, like the mudflat of being an adult, right. It's like, we can build anything we want. That's really exciting. So you and Howie and Emmett met in school, you guys diverged. You graduated, you went to Accenture, went to Google. Everybody kind of went on their path. So did you guys talk about starting a company while you were in school, and then like, hey, let's go get jobs and then kind of came back to the conversation, or did it happen organically? Like, how did it all come together from the first time you met to you guys sitting down in a room and saying okay, we're all gonna go full time and build Airtable?
Andrew Ofstad 09:33
Yes, so after college, I went to, like you said, Accenture. I worked in their research and development lab just kind of building prototypes, and Emmett went to Microsoft initially. Howie was still in school for another year. And when Howie graduated, I actually lined him up with a job at Accenture in the department I was in. And they're super excited he got hired it was like, Oh, Howie's awesome. Thanks for referring him, Andrew. And then the day he was supposed to start he just didn't show up, and there was a desk next to me that was empty. And the manager is like, what the hell you said this guy is solid and he's not here what's going on. And then Howie called me in like a sort of nervous, anxious state, like, I'm sorry, I just can't do it. And was like, I'm gonna start a company. He's like, I decided. And he fully committed to starting this company. And at that point, he asked me if I wanted to join him. And I was like, no, I just got this job, I'm not going to do whatever
Tyler Norwood 10:26
I gotta go fight from my job now, man, because you didn't show up.
Andrew Ofstad 10:29
I'm about to get fired. Yeah. So he started the company, he went through Y Combinator, and they were eventually bought by Salesforce. And in college, we'd always talk vaguely, oh, let's work on stuff together. Let's do a company. And kind of had a desire to work together long term amongst the three of us. And then, you know, eventually, I was at Accenture then Google as a product manager for a few years, and Howie was at Salesforce. And Emmett was at Microsoft and Fog Creek. And I think, at that point, as a product manager at Google, I was working on cool stuff, but a lot of it was like the larger company. Kind of managing the organizational aspects, as opposed to pure creation, and kind of designing and coding and building things from scraps. So I'd been super interested in getting back to that. And I think I was interested in the, how do you take something that's really complex and only accessible to somebody technical and make that really simple. So like, website builders, and that variety of thing, and design tools. I was super into like sketch and just inspired by how much simpler that is for product design versus something like Photoshop, which is designed for more pixel photo manipulation. And just kind of thinking through other products that are like that, where you kind of come up with a new primitive, and that makes the product a lot simpler. And simultaneously Howie was at Salesforce, where I think he saw that most business applications are just kind of basically reinventing the wheels, like a database, some interfaces on top, and a business logic layer. And we both had a desire to kind of take this thing and make it really simple for people to build useful business apps. And really kind of the core insight came from Howie at Salesforce and we started working on this thing together, and really trying to simplify it. And tried to convince Emmett that first year to kind of, you know, join us early on, and finally, like a year later convinced him to join us. And he's the best engineer we knew. And we were super excited to work with him. But that was kind of the path. And we initially just kind of started. We were both kind of at the point in our jobs as product managers where I think we wanted to get back to building from scratch, and were a bit, you know, kind of bored and doing stuff on the side. And we spent a lot of time just kind of like reading computer history books, and experimenting with different things. And I think we kind of knew, we wanted to work in this database idea. But there was a lot of intellectual exploration and prototyping before we fully committed, you know, quit our jobs. And there was kind of a period of like, a few months where we were doing some prototypes and having deep discussions about what we see as the future of computing and so on and so forth. And really kind of like theoretical intellectual stuff and thinking from first principles, and then slowly started building and, you know, really kind of double down on on the concept
Tyler Norwood 13:22
I love that. I mean, you mentioned first principles and kind of just walked through the logic of that. There are like five key things that we think it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. And number three is first principles thinking. Being able to take a step back. And it sounds like you guys sort of amalgamated your interest in creating accessibility to sort of esoteric fields within computer science and enabling more people to build things. And then Howie's more sounds like practical experience with hey, like 99% of business applications are redundant. And we don't need to build custom databases, and custom business intelligence layers and custom UIs. It makes me think of how you guys have described yourself before. It's like Lego blocks. It's like, can we just build these things and have people, I assume you use that reference because you grew up with Legos, like, besides video games my other jam was Legos. And just the concept of here's the constraints, here's what you can do. And then you can create anything that you want out of that system. It unlocks this incredible creativity, because I think creativity needs constraint. Like without constraints, it's very hard to be creative. So one of the things I read is, you guys took a while to build out Airtable right. I think you sort of famously, you didn't launch a product really fast and iterate with customers. You actually spent a lot of time building out the first version of the product before you released it. Can you talk to me a little bit about your framework and approach to, okay, we start honing in onto this database idea. And, you know, we think there's customers out there that need just a much lighter way to build business applications and your sort of desire and passion to enable more people to be able to build things. How did you guys approach it from a framework perspective? How did you choose which direction you're walking in and kind of get out of that spin cycle of intellectual? Because I know that cycle, right? It's like trying to figure out, but it's kind of spin cycle. At some point, you got to pick a direction, just move. Talk to me a little bit about how you guys decided as a team like, alright, this is what we're gonna do. And how did you start?
Andrew Ofstad 15:43
Yeah, yeah, I think we were partially inspired by the story of Bill Atkinson, and designing for the original Apple Mac back in the day. And there's a story in this great book called Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge where he talks about the diet of neck pain, where basically you just sort of program all day and design and make some change to the product. And then like, go show it to a few people in the office and see what they find confusing. And next day, go fix those problems, and just have the super tight iteration loop with just basically the core interaction patterns of the product. And so we kind of did that initially. We didn't build an isolation, like, I think we separated the concept of launching the product from getting feedback, and, you know, smoothing out the rough edges of the product and making it as easy as possible. So we definitely started with a prototype that was purely about de-risking the question of whether we could actually make databases simple enough for normal people to use. And that was our core risk and our core challenge. And so we had a super hacky prototype that was purely like, client front end. It didn't persist anything, you'd have to reload the demo every time to pull in this same fake data. So just kind of smoke and mirrors that worked to test the product and see if it made sense to people. And that was just something where we iterated on that for six months initially. And just tried it ourselves, showed people what's confusing, and go fix it, like build out this piece, that piece. And then that was kind of like the foundation of when we first raised our seed round, where we kind of pitch to investors, like, hey, here's this thing, you can try it. And you know, for nine out of 10, it didn't really click. They'd say, is this just a spreadsheet, I don't get it. One out of 10 be like, Oh, my god, that's amazing I've always wanted this product. Makes so much sense. And so I think that was a nice piece of validation there, like one out of 10 people, or maybe even less, would be like, this is awesome. So that kind of was one nice boost, I think. And then I think for us, like the MVP of the product was, you know, people would compare us to a spreadsheet. That bar is pretty high, right? That's a product that's been worked on for over 40 years, it's very feature complete, people have all these assumptions about it. So it really just kind of took us a long time to build what we thought was the minimum viable set of features to kind of satisfy a basic use case. And, we sort of, like I said, separated concept of launching from getting user feedback. So we had early alpha customers. We had a friend that started using us for video production and organizing, you know, all the cast and the shots he was doing, and the camera equipment, and so on and so forth. And he was super passionate about the product. We had an early nonprofit, that was using us as an alpha user. And so we go super deep with those customers, and like, really understand what's hard for them, how they're using the product, so on and so forth. And so it was more like quality over quantity over early days. And then eventually, we're like, man, you got to launch this thing. I think it's in pretty good shape. And, you know, but there's still stuff we wanted to finish, we just kind of kept cranking on it. And I think the thing that we probably could have done faster to be honest, we didn't do things perfectly for sure. But like, I think the things we did do right is like one, we knew that this was a product that would take a long time to build, and that we were sort of in for the long haul. We kind of wanted this to be our life's best work and something we worked on for 10 plus years. And we were committed to that and enjoyed the intellectual aspect of building it. So that worked really well. And it kind of helped us through that long slog in the beginning. I think the second piece was like we always opted for raising as much money as possible, like in our first seed round, and not optimizing for dilution and that type of thing. Because we wanted to have that extra buffer because you knew it was a hard product to build. It's hard to find customers something so horizontal. And so I remember we would send investor updates and be like, we have eight years of runway they'd be like you guys got to hire more it's ridiculous. But we kind of pushed back on that and we needed to get the core concepts right for the product and that just took us a long time. And then honestly once we did launch, it was kind of a slow build like we didn't find product market fit right away. It kind of like see some customers here and there and trying to talk to them and deeply understand what they're doing with it. But it definitely didn't take off right when we launched it. And it was a slow build up to that, too. So it's probably four or five years before we kind of started seeing an inflection point where you get viral adoption and a flat kind of spiky curve that's way down the y axis starts to kind of inflect upwards. And yeah, just took us a long time.
Tyler Norwood 20:21
Yeah, the flat part of exponential growth is tough. It's a lot flatter and a lot longer than a lot of people assume. And yeah, as an investor, if a teams sent me, they have eight years of runway, I'd be concerned just because of how far of an outlier it is from what you'd normally see. I mean, there has to be something to be said, though, about just relieving pressure, like giving you guys maximum creative space to not worry about. I think there is something to be said for teams who every eight months, they have to worry about fundraising. And so, they're constantly like ripped away from product and ripped away from customers, and have to run this like totally separate process. So hey, there's something in there. So talk to me about how did you guys figure out who your early adopters were? Right? So you had this thesis that we want to make databases more accessible for everybody, which you guys are on your pathway to do that. I think airtable is a pretty well known tool. And you've definitely moved into mass market adoption, or the beginning of that curve, in my opinion. For early adopters, what did you start to see, like, what's similar? It sounded like these people were very different, like one guy's running a studio, someone's doing something else. Were there some commonalities that you started to see where like, if this is true, about somebody, air table is probably a really good solution for them.
Andrew Ofstad 21:48
Yeah, it took us a while. I think it's still hard to put a specific demographic segment around the sort of ideal airtable customer. Early on, I think we thought it might be more like very early days, like power spreadsheet users who do a lot of modeling, stuff like that, and, financial analysts and consultants. And that wasn't really the case, because I think they already use spreadsheets and spreadsheets are super good for number crunching and financial modeling. So they didn't really need Airtable. I think the people that early on really appreciated us, were kind of like the systems thinkers, like very process oriented, I gotta have all this stuff down and structured. And also kind of early adopter kind of tinkerers, you know, they like messing around with things and tweaking stuff. And, you know, the way I've thought about it sometimes, like, they're the people in high school who change the background on the computers and are always messing with the screensaver and just kind of like playing around with tools. So that was kind of like other seed of initial adopters. And then I think over time, we kind of started to see patterns in terms of maybe the psychological profiles like the tinkerer, or the systems thinker, or the process oriented person ends up being a really good fit for Airtable. And then separately, like, once we sort of had some word of mouth traction with that profile, that was all over the place, right, like small businesses doing like automotive parts, to cattle ranchers, to, you know, everything in between and large companies. But then we kind of start to see pockets of similar use cases, like Netflix was an early customer, right. And so they started kind of a small pocket there. Started using us for video production. And then you kind of see somebody at some other company that's doing original content use Airtable, and it kind of spreads amongst that community of original content. It becomes the tool for that, which is a very niche thing and there's not existing software that served them. You know, likewise, for marketing, you start seeing more marketing teams doing content production. So after a while, we kind of cast this wide net, and we had pockets of usage. And then we honed it in the places where we saw patterns of traction within the use case, or the verticals. And then we kind of double down on those from a marketing perspective and started creating content for them. And, you know, kind of adjusting our roadmap more towards the features that are good for content planning, and so on and so forth. So that was kind of the process. Like cast a wide net, find this persona of the person who's a tinkerer who the structure of Airtable just kind of clicks and then they seed adoption in different places, you see it expand in organizations for these certain use cases. And then you can sort of start speaking the language of the use case in your marketing, the templates you create and the way you build the product. So that was kind of our process, but took three or many years for that to play out.
Tyler Norwood 24:57
Yeah. And now I mean, I think one really entertaining thing is there's like a whole cottage industry on YouTube of people who build things on Airtable. Like, they'll take an app and they're like, I'm just gonna rebuild this app from scratch on Airtable. I think they just do it for Youtube views. And they're like you said, they're just a tinkerer. They just like the process of like, intellectually trying to figure out how all these features work, like, how do I how do I run an algorithm on this stuff? How do I do likes, dislikes? And that must be cool to see.
Andrew Ofstad 25:27
Yeah. Yeah, no, come to think of it we've had a lot of traction with audio video types, like the video production, or recording and stuff like that. I think a lot of those people have that tinkerer mindset. Where like, Oh, I gotta get this new microphone, and the production equipment and the software, and it's kind of you know, that demographic it definitely makes sense.
Tyler Norwood 25:49
Yeah, yeah, there's a creative element to it as well. So going back, you guys were co-founding team of three. How did you guys originally decide? Was there like one conversation? Or did it happen organically? Like, how did you guys sit down and decide who's gonna do what? What's everybody good at? How do we divide responsibilities? How do we work together? How do we disagree? For the foundation of you guys, as a founding team, you guys been together for 10 years, which I think is a huge testament to something. Or at least you guys working really well together and building an $11 billion company is probably a little bit stressful. So you've gone through really hard times? What did the foundation look like? Was it a deliberate conversation? Did it just happen organically? Do you guys like document things and agreements on how you talk to each other? Who's responsible for what?
Andrew Ofstad 26:42
Yeah, I mean, I think one thing that helps just having that foundation of friendship from college and great respect for each other. So that's definitely like, it was a great thing to build on. And I think the way, we kind of broke down responsibilities happened naturally initially. I focused more on the design side, because that's where I kind of spiked and the front end engineering, because it was close to design. Howie wrote a lot on the back end. And we also paired him the product stuff and design, like Howie's very design minded as well. So that was, the early first year, that was the breakdown. And then I think one important thing we did from day one is we decided who was gonna be CEO, that's an important conversation to have. I've heard a lot of founders or founding teams who that's not clear and there's a lot of tension around that. So we threw that out of way like I didn't necessarily want to be CEO and Howie, he doesn't love it, but he's very good at the external part of the company and talking to investors and that thing, so we agreed on that. And then once Emmett joined, he sort of took over the backend engineering side, and Howie did some of that as well, because that's where we had to build out things and I kept working on the front end design. So it's kind of just like, what are the gaps? And what are the skills people have. And I think, mostly, by coincidence, in those early days we kind of had the things we were strong at and divvied things up accordingly. But over time, I think the way we worked together was pretty iterative, I would say. We just kind of make a fast change and show it to the three of us and we kind of come to consensus. I think end of the day, if there was a disagreement we couldn't resolve, we just defer to Howie as CEO, and he'd make the call. So I think having like, the CEO being the ultimate decision maker is actually a good structure. And of course, we tried to make as many decisions as possible as a group, but ultimately having one person who can make the final call, I think is important. So that's kind of the structure I think. As a founding team, you're together all day every day and working and stuff like that. I think it was important for us to kind of keep the friendship aspect alive as well and lighten things up a bit. So after work, we'd play Starcraft together or go out to dinner and just occasionally hang out. You're together so much working that you don't always feel like you have to hang out but it was good to just kind of have those moments of, hey, look at how far we've come looking back and that type of thing, which we don't do naturally. So I think celebrating the milestones has become important as we've got further along as well. But, you know, it's definitely something where, like you said, there are really good times and hard times. And I think just having that foundation of respect and friendship is pretty important.
Tyler Norwood 29:33
Yeah, love it. So, Andrew, if you were to go back and start 2012, you're going to do it all over again. You have the experience and all the lessons that you've learned from building Airtable and getting it to where it is today. What do you think like the biggest thing you would do differently would be? What do you think your biggest lesson learned is from this trip?
Andrew Ofstad 30:05
I think it's good question. I should probably think about that more. But I guess
Tyler Norwood 30:12
You think about it now.
Andrew Ofstad 30:14
I mean, I think there are times where we went a little bit too deep on things. For example, it's kind of a blessing and a curse, but we kind of obsessed over this, our initial iPhone app release. And we at the time were like, maybe Airtable will be a product. Because back then Evernote and Dropbox were the big successful SaaS products. And we were like, people might adopt this on a personal basis to organize their shopping list or apartment hunting. And everybody's talking about mobile all the time. So alright we gotta double down on mobile and make this awesome polished app. And, you know, there's only like three people in the company back then. So we all just worked on mobile for like eight months to a year, something like that. We tried to make it perfect, feature complete, which is nice having that app, but I think we over invested on that and there are other things where we went a little bit too deep and got a little too obsessed with making it perfect before we released it. And I think there are definitely parts of the product where that's necessary. But there are other parts where, you know, there's good enough and you kind of move on and velocity is more important. And getting it into the hands of users is more important than polishing up the perfect thing. So I definitely think we could have moved faster. And we could have been more deliberate about things we invest a lot of energy into, and make really good. Obviously, we want the whole product to be really good. But it's like, do better with less and cut the scope of certain features. So I think we probably needed a better job of prioritization. I think yeah a lot of other lessons, but that's one comes that comes to mind, especially from the early days.
Tyler Norwood 31:53
I think that's a great one. I mean, focus and prioritization. And I mean, you just sort of revealed to what I think is a massive challenge for every founder, which is, I think, part of the temperament of wanting to start a company is like some sort of perfectionism and wanting to build really perfect, fully complete things and sort of constantly fighting that battle of how perfect does it need to be before we release it? Yeah, you know, what you mentioned in the very beginning, which is like you're sort of alpha alpha, it's really tight, iteration loop. And the longer you keep something in the workshop and perfecting it, the longer you're delaying having that iteration loop, where you actually start learning what customers want, and not what you think they want, which are always two different things.
Andrew Ofstad 32:36
Yeah, for sure. Yeah, we did some things right, like that prototyping early on where we had that loop. But there's a period where we were like, before launch, we got to perfect this thing. We only have one shot to launch this and make a splash. So a few times too much of that.
Tyler Norwood 32:49
There's also I think, sometimes there's perception that if everything's not perfect, there's gonna be people with pitchforks at the front of our office. Like they're getting so pissed off and upset. And then you realize, nobody even cared or noticed. Or people were actually pissed off about something totally different than what we thought that they would be mad about.
Andrew Ofstad 33:05
Yeah that'd be an awesome problem to have, like, if you had enough people so angry about your product they had pitchforks like great.
Tyler Norwood 33:10
Yeah exactly. You tell an investor look at our customer engagement. There's literally people outside of our office right now. Throwing eggs at our front door. So Andrew, you talked about you guys very early on decided that we want to be patient, we want to go slow, we're taking a very long horizon on this. I think you mentioned 10 years, like we're all willing to put 10 years of our best work into this. And I applaud that. And I think it's probably a huge part of why you guys have been so successful is just taking that time horizon. How impactful do you feel that's been on the success of Airtable to just decide from day one that we're gonna spend 10 years doing this, right, we're not trying to get rich quick. We're not trying to flip something fast, we're not gonna rush the process. We're willing to invest the time on an appropriate time horizon to build a real valuable and sustainable tech company.
Andrew Ofstad 34:09
So the question is, how important is that?
Tyler Norwood 34:11
How important do you think that deciding that upfront was to Airtable's success?
Andrew Ofstad 34:17
I think it was important, I think the more important thing was aligning that this is a problem that we're super interested in and passionate about that we actually could stand. You just don't want it to be a total grind where it's like, oh, man, I'm committed to this thing and I don't really like doing it. I'm interested in this other stuff. So I think part of it too, is making sure that we were bought into, and authentically cared about what we were doing and enjoyed the work and sort of wanted to work together. So I think it's not as much about saying that and committing to it as much as it is having something that you care about and that you get excited about and sort of see yourself getting out of bed with a pep in your step 10 years later to go work on. So I think that was the more important part. And I think it was nice for us because we had this more exploratory period of like three to six months before you really sort of started building the company. And I think we're doing a lot of reading and intellectually getting excited about things. So I think that was kind of an important aspect, but definitely, making sure that it's a product we care about and a field of work that you can really see yourself going deep on.
Tyler Norwood 35:29
Love it, love it. So Andrew, I'm gonna flip over to the more personal side. So one of the things that we talk to founders all the time about, and I always love hearing insights from people who have walked through the process of building and scaling companies, you know, mental health, like balance within founders. And I use this metaphor of founders should think of themselves as professional athletes. You're not playing a sport, but if you're going to be successful as a founder, I think you have to operate on a very similar level. And I think mental health is a huge aspect of that. So I'd love to just hear of your approach to staying balanced and staying motivated. And how do you keep yourself in shape both physically and mentally while you're doing something so incredibly tasking?
Andrew Ofstad 36:23
Yeah, I think, I guess I realized pretty early on that I can only do good work if I do exercise and sleep well. And so that's something I learned about myself in college. And I always hear about people like, oh, I only slept four hours last night, I was out partying. And I'm just like, What the hell? How do you do that? Doesn't make any sense. Like, I would totally flunk if I did that. So I think I just kind of knew that about myself. So I've always tried to exercise and sleep well. And those are the two important things for me. And if I don't performance suffers. And then obviously there are times where we have to crunch and work super long days. And we had a lot of nine to 10, six day a week slogs. But like I said, we enjoyed working together, enjoyed the work we were doing and it didn't feel super stressful at times, it felt fun, and obviously it was stressful at times too, but making sure that you're passionate about it helps as well. And then I think the other thing is, I think making sure you have a stable foundation of relationships and people you care about. And that support system. You know, I think most of my co-founders like having that long term relationship amongst other friends, and my girlfriend now wife, and that type of thing. I've just always found a lot of stability in people who you know are fully behind you and dedicated, and I think I see some people being very transactional in their relationships at times, I think that that makes it really hard to do things for the long haul and be committed to something. So those are kind of the two things. Long term relationships and for me at least, I can only perform if I have the necessary ingredients of exercise and sleep. I wish I could sort of just like crank all the time, but I'm not really that way.
Tyler Norwood 38:18
Yeah, you gotta you gotta reel back. And I love, I think it's Naval Ravikant talks about, the most effective people he knows sprint. So they'll sprint really hard and then pull back and integrate and rest and figure out what the next thing to focus on is and sprint really hard again. So this concept of sort of ebbing and flowing and productivity and effectiveness, but being okay with that. I think sometimes people panic, like, Hey, I'm having an off week and they try to push harder, and they dig themselves into this hole instead of taking a step back and like, hey, look, I don't need to crush everything this week. I need to keep the ball rolling. But I also need to rest and integrate, figure out what the next big rock I'm going to try to move is and then go after that really hard with maximum effort.
Andrew Ofstad 39:00
Yeah, the third thing I'll add is I think finding that intrinsic motivation is important too. And sometimes for me that happens through talking to a customer and seeing the cool stuff they're doing with the product. They're like, oh, man, this is great, we got to keep building this thing. Or just thinking about the bigger picture and a bigger problem you want to solve and what actually you're doing on a day to day basis where you're trying to kind of build towards. That's kind of a way that I can sort of refresh my motivation, excitement around a problem as well.
Tyler Norwood 39:26
Yeah, just replenish that intrinsic motivation well that you're pulling on when you're grinding away doing stuff. Well, Andrew, this has been great. Is there anything else? I mean, just in closing, for founders who have companies and are in the process of building right now or people who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs, any other nuggets of wisdom you'd like to share for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Andrew Ofstad 39:54
Don't really, I mean, I guess just find what you really care about. And I mean, pretty generic advice and then just find people you love working with and just go to town on it. And I think like, you don't always have to chase the latest thing, just whatever it is that's piqued your interest since childhood. You know, just double down on that and early on I think explore a lot too to find out what really gets you excited and then just focus your life on that and, you know, build build around that. So I think that's my advice.
Tyler Norwood 40:25
Awesome. Yeah just get out in that mud pit and make sculptures and build dams.
Andrew Ofstad 40:29
For sure. Yeah. Do some mud swimming too.
Tyler Norwood 40:35
Well, Andrew, thanks so much for coming on. It was really great to speak with you. And I'm really, really thankful for all the lessons that you shared here. And I think there's gonna be a lot of really happy listeners that can take these lessons and apply them to what they're working on. So thank you so much for the time. It was great to meet you. And we'll talk soon.
Andrew Ofstad 40:52
Yeah, thanks a lot Tyler. I really appreciate it.
Tyler Norwood 40:56
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