In the middle of a pandemic, Airtable, the low-code startup, has actually had an excellent year. Just the other day, the company announced it had raised $ 185 million on a whopping $ 2.585 billion valuation. It also announced some new features that take it from the realm of pure no-code, and deeper into low-code territory, which allows users to extend the product in new ways.
Airtable CEO and co-founder Howie Liu was a guest today at TechCrunch Disrupt, where he was interviewed by TechCrunch News Editor Frederic Lardinois.
Liu said that the original vision that has stayed pretty steady since the company launched in 2013 was to democratize software creation. “We believe that more people in the world should become software builders, not just software users, and pretty much the whole time that we’ve been working on this company we’ve been charting our course towards that end goal,” he said.
But something changed recently, where Liu saw people who needed to do a bit more with the tool than that original vision allowed.
“So, the biggest shift that’s happening today with our fundraise and our launch announcement is that we’re going from being a no-code product, a purely no-code solution where you don’t have to use code, but neither can you use code to extend the product to now being a low-code solution, and one that also has a lot more extensibility with other features like automation, allowing people to build logic into Airtable without any technical knowledge,” he said.
In addition, the company, with 200,00 customers, has created a marketplace where users can share applications they’ve built. As the pandemic has taken hold, Liu says that he’s seen a shift in the types of deals he’s been seeing. That’s partly due to small businesses, which were once his company’s bread and butter, suffering more economic pain as a result of COVID.
But he has seen larger enterprise customers fill the void, and it’s not too big a stretch to think that the new extensibility features could be a nod to these more lucrative customers, who may require a bit more power than a pure no-code solution would provide.
“On the enterprise side of our business we’ve seen, for instance this summer, a 5x increase in enterprise deal closing velocity from the prior summer period, and this incredible appetite from enterprise signings with dozens of six figure deals, some seven figure deals and thousands of new paid customers overall,” he said.
In spite of this great success, the upward trend of the business and the fat valuation, Liu was in no mood to talk about an IPO. In his view, there is plenty of time for that, and in spite of being a seven-year-old company with great momentum, he says he’s simply not thinking about it.
Nor did he express any interest in being acquired, and he says that his investors weren’t putting any pressure on him to exit.
“It’s always been about finding investors who are really committed and aligned to the long term goals and approach that we have to this business that matters more to us than the actual valuation numbers or any other kind of technical aspects of the round,” he said.
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In addition to testing out a new format for conversations within a prototype app called twttr and other features like a “Hide Tweet” button, Twitter today confirmed it’s also developing a feature that would allow users to subscribe to individual conversations taking place on its platform.
The new option was first spotted by Jane Manchun Wong, a reverse engineer who often peeks inside popular apps to discover their yet-to-be-launched features and changes.
Twitter is testing "Subscribe to conversation" so you can get notified over a conversation without liking or replying pic.twitter.com/6hpSQcMJZD
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) March 15, 2019
Wong tells TechCrunch she found the “Subscribe to conversation” feature within the Android version of the Twitter app, where it’s a user interface prototype for now. The button simply reads “Subscribe to conversation” and is positioned at the top right corner of a tweet view, she says.
Reached for comment, Twitter didn’t provide details about specific launch plans. It noted the feature was under development, and pointed TechCrunch to its tweet confirming this. The company’s short statement reads, “This is part of our work to make Twitter more conversational.”
This is part of our work to make Twitter more conversational https://t.co/jB4PWv3A04
— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) March 15, 2019
Healthier and better structured conversations are among Twitter’s top goals at present, as the company tries to make its app easier to use and less prone to abuse.
The new subscription feature would allow someone to follow a thread without directly signaling their interest, or having to join in the conversation themselves. With a click of the button, users could instead opt to receive notifications when new tweets were added to that conversation.
To some extent, this feature is another example of how the change from stars to hearts as Twitter’s favoriting mechanism has had a ripple effect on Twitter’s development. The star had indicated interest, but didn’t convey an emotion. Twitter wanted to evoke a more positive vibe, so it shifted over to hearts several years ago. But as a result, people felt they could no longer save tweets they wanted to later reference using the default engagement mechanism, as it indicates an endorsement. (And not all tweets you’re saving are those you support.)
Twitter later addressed this problem with a separate tweet-saving feature, Bookmarks.
Now it’s creating yet another way to track tweets – and, in this case, the resulting conversation, too.
If Twitter had kept stars, it could have built out its “Likes” page with all these variations on tweet-saving and more. It could have added toggles for notifications, and who knows what else – keyword search across your saves? bookmarking with tags? private and public boards or collections, like Moments, but built from bookmarked collections?
Aggregating these features in one place could have made Twitter a valuable reference and “Read It Later” tool to rival apps like Pocket and Instapaper – or even web browser bookmarking itself.
But that’s not the path Twitter took, so now we’ll have Likes (hearts), Bookmarks, and conversation subscriptions, it seems.
Twitter declined to say when the new feature would arrive.
Update: 3/15/19, 5 PM ET to clarify Twitter spokesperson also directly confirmed the development of the feature, as did the tweet the company posted.
A line in a new court filing by the Department of Defense suggests that it might reopen the investigation into a possible conflict of interest in the JEDI contract RFP process involving a former AWS employee. The story has attracted a great deal of attention in major news publications, including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, but a Pentagon spokesperson has told TechCrunch that nothing has changed.
In the document, filed with the court on Wednesday, the government’s legal representatives sought to outline its legal arguments in the case. The line that attracted so much attention stated, “Now that Amazon has submitted a proposal, the contracting officer is considering whether Amazon’s re-hiring Mr. Ubhi creates an OCI that cannot be avoided, mitigated, or neutralized.” OCI stands for Organizational Conflict of Interest in DoD lingo.
When asked about this specific passage, Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb made clear the conflict had been investigated earlier and that Ubhi had recused himself from the process. “During his employment with DDS, Mr. Deap Ubhi recused himself from work related to the JEDI contract. DOD has investigated this issue, and we have determined that Mr. Ubhi complied with all necessary laws and regulations,” Babb told TechCrunch.
She repeated that statement when asked specifically about the language in the DoD’s filing. Ubhi did work at Amazon prior to joining the DoD and returned to work for them after he left.
The Department of Defense’s decade-long, $ 10 billion JEDI cloud contract process has attracted a lot of attention, and not just for the size of the deal. The Pentagon has said this will be a winner-take-all affair. Oracle and IBM have filed formal complaints and Oracle filed a lawsuit in December alleging, among other things, that there was a conflict of interest by Ubhi, and that they believed the single-vendor approach was designed to favor AWS. The Pentagon has denied these allegations.
The DoD completed the RFP process at the end of October and is expected to choose the winning vendor in April.
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