The new tech contender? What we think of Airtable

Unicorn startup Airtable certainly seems to be having a moment in 2020. As an adaptive information management tool users can co-design to meet their needs, it’s the dream bundle for team collaboration. And their whole value prop seems to be about empowering people to get what they want from their software.

As they’re a new tech player we’re crushing on here at Kolmeo HQ we thought we’d take closer look at what Airtable have to offer to the work and technology landscape in 2021. Our product coach, Daniel Schrader, tells us why he’s a fan of this essential app for both his professional and personal projects.

What is Airtable and what does it do?

Airtable is basically a single tool to replace spreadsheets and databases. Both of these information management systems have been around for decades and so many organisations rely on them for storing, organising and sharing data. But it’s different to other apps because it’s designed to be highly customisable by users. What that means is you can really enhance your information management and adapt it to how different teams work together and how you manage everything from product development to customer relationships.

Not only can you use Airtable to create your own templates and apps for everything from calendars to campaign management, you can also integrate it with lots of other apps you might be using. Triggers from outside systems can create workflows and comprehensive views of tasks, data and reports you can slice and dice in all sorts of ways.

For small companies Airtable makes an amazing foundation for their systems, data and communication. I’ve come across businesses running just about their entire operation on Airtable templates and apps. If you’ve got a team with an appetite to learn and experiment with technology tools, you’ve got a really powerful tool on your hands. For larger companies, you could have some performance issues start to creep in but that hasn’t stopped the likes of HBO and IBM from using it.

How have you been using Airtable?

Airtable has been one of the tools we use for developing and refining functionality for the Kolmeo app. It helps us understand the scope of work, what all the working parts of the app are and the context in which they all operate – the persona and their requirements for example. Let’s say you’ve got key management as a function for the app, and you’ve got all three personas—property manager, owner and tenant— associated with that function. With Airtable, you can link together the functions and the personas. And then you put the tasks associated with developing key management into a Kanban view, the popular agile software development framework, and use that to track progress and how any changes will impact on each persona’s view as well as all the other app functions and requirements. Because everything is linked, you can trace the connections and as you deliver those bits of scope, we can see how things are tracking and what’s being held up so you can anticipate potential bugs and bottlenecks in product development.

But I only started using Airtable at work because it had been so useful in a personal project of mine for a few years. The app caught my attention back in early 2017 and I immediately tried it out as a tool for building my own library collection – all the books I’d read, the ones people recommended I read, who recommended them, authors who recommend other authors and works in their books, and so on.

I could see great potential to make all this information connected and useful so I could really draw on the best of what I was reading, keep discovering new writers and explore cool ideas. It also reminds me to check in with friends who’ve referred me to a book or writer and let them know what I thought. And with the cross-referencing to related titles, I can share my recommendations with them on the basis of writers and themes we’re both interested in.

Do you see Airtable taking over like Google or Facebook have?

All the successful tech companies truly understand the outcome their users want to achieve and then get the job done. If their job is to entertain, like Netflix for example, then they need to be doing it brilliantly. Airtable have definitely delivered a new approach to information management that offers value to their users and, so far, they’ve been doing that really well. In terms of accessibility and interoperability they’ve gone beyond what a spreadsheet or database can offer.

That doesn’t necessarily mean this app can take over and make other apps redundant. Plus there’s a bit of a lifecycle with a product like Airtable, as there often can be with innovative tech. Many people are used to what they know and it can take time for them to come around to the new way of thinking and working that comes with a more adaptive, flexible tool. But once you get past these barriers, it’s pretty clear that companies are getting a lot out of using it, in their level of efficiency, transparency and collaboration.

What do you love about the Airtable app and brand?

The thing about Kolmeo that gives me app envy is that they got there first. I knew there was a need for a tool like this and I sort of wish I could have been part of the solution. But I get to use it, so that’s a win too. The other thing I’m a bit in awe of is their integration, which has just exploded recently. They’re really starting to nail that optionality by combining Airtable with pretty much every other popular app. And that’s really clever, both commercially and in how it’s making everything easier for the user.

And this is where I see similarities with what we’re working on here at Kolmeo. We’re really focussed on making our app exceptionally user-friendly for every single person. So whether that’s the property manager, tenant or owner, we’re aiming to make every interaction as simple as possible. Too many tools like ours can be complicated and overwhelming and it just doesn’t have to be. We’re focussing on everything that can make the UX design super streamlined and intuitive, so that each interaction is as effortless as possible.

The other thing we seem to share with Airtable is a real freshness and personality in our brand. There is a playful quality to their visual identity and we have that in our company culture too. And that translates to how we go about things. By not taking things too seriously, it keeps that passion alive for our purpose and our users. And the products and services I’ve seen who stay true to that sort of approach, just seem to get better and better over time.