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Howie Liu on Airtable’s Inspiration and AI’s Role in Tech’s Future


Howie Liu, the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Airtable, shares his insights on the inspiration behind Airtable and the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the future of the tech industry. Airtable is a connected app platform that enables organizations to create and customize apps using shared data through a no-code platform. Howie Liu’s journey in tech began during his college years when he developed apps, including a unique “maps apartment listing mashup” that integrated Craigslist listings onto a map, a concept ahead of its time.

However, he recognized that it wasn’t a sustainable business model as he lacked ownership of data and relationships with realtors.

After graduating from Duke University, Liu gained experience through an internship at CrowdFlower, a technology company in Silicon Valley. He then joined Y Combinator’s winter cohort in 2010 to work on his first startup, Etact, a customer relationship management software platform. The Y Combinator experience was transformative for Liu, providing him with a supportive environment and valuable connections.

Etact was eventually acquired by Salesforce, and Liu’s work there inspired the creation of Airtable. He envisioned a platform that allowed users to build flexible apps without the need for administrators or extensive resources.

Airtable has since grown significantly, with over a thousand employees and substantial funding. Liu believes that AI, particularly large language models, will play a significant role in shaping the software industry’s future. He emphasizes the importance of incorporating AI into the go-to-market strategy and delivering value to customers through AI integration rather than simply adding AI as an afterthought.

Liu’s perspective on the role of AI in technology highlights the potential for AI to be a transformative force, creating winners and losers in the software industry. Airtable aims to leverage AI in a foundational way and is clear and opinionated about its approach to AI, emphasizing its potential to deliver value to customers.

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