New to the Table
Building a business is about more than what you can give your customers. Sometimes it is an ally to other companies as well.
Zeb Evans, the CEO of ClickUp, made a productivity platform that helps consumers and his fellow business owners.
Sharing the same vision, Howie Liu, an emerging techpreneur who brought something new to the table and is making rounds to Silicon Valley–Airtable.
Early Beginning of Howie Liu
Howie Liu’s Korean parents immigrated to the United States from China. Born in 1989, Howie is a native of College Station, Texas.
A city in Brazos County, Texas, College Station is located in East-Central Texas in the heart of the Brazos Valley.
Texas A&M University's main campus, the institution that started the Texas A&M University System, is located in College Station. The city's name and foundation are due to the university's position next to a train.
1860 saw the beginning of the Houston and Texas Central Railway's construction in the area, which is when College Station first appeared. Eleven years later, the property was selected as the future home of the land-grant Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas.
The school renamed Texas A&M University in 1963, initially opened its doors in 1876 as the nation celebrated its 100th anniversary. It was the first public university in the state of Texas.
With ongoing projects supported by organizations like NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research, Texas A&M's triple designation as a Land-, Sea-, and Space-Grant institution reflects the breadth of the research endeavors it brings to the city.
Like Luis von Ahn, Howie Liu also enrolled at Duke University in 2005 to study mechanical engineering and public policy at 16. With degrees in mechanical engineering and public policy, he graduated from Duke University in 2009.
Howie Liu’s Early Career
During his 1-year and 5-month tenure at Duke University, Howie Liu worked on an independent research project on computational airfoil design. To help design airfoils computationally, Liu used genetic algorithms and neural networks from January 2008 to May 2009.
Howie Liu worked with Salesforce in the products division for one year, from January 2011 to February 2012. Liu oversaw the development of the CRM product while he was employed with Salesforce.
As a product manager at Salesforce, Liu had the opportunity to observe how an enterprise company operated firsthand. He attended meetings with Fortune 500 CIOs and spoke with clients from all industries.
Working closely with Salesforce's President of Products, Alex Dayon, daily taught him a lot of minor information about the industry he needed to learn.
However, Liu was only employed by Salesforce for roughly a year. He saw a chance to launch a new company where he could offer the resources for ordinary people to create better spreadsheets on their own.
Howie chose spreadsheets since he knew that most users needed to use them correctly and that they frequently turned into an unorganized collection of wordy blocks.
First Ventures of Howie Liu
It didn't take too long for Howie Liu to understand he could be like Jonathan Siddharth, Guillaume Pousaz, or Apoorva Mehta and become an insane overnight Silicon Valley success story.
Howie Liu co-founded his first business, CRM (customer relationship management) startup Etacts, when he was 21 years old after learning how to program at 13.
Etacts, Liu's startup, created an email and contact manager for salespeople. At Y Combinator's 2010 Demo Day, he was one of the 15 businesses presenting to a crowd of potential investors.
Soon after it ended, a man Liu only recognized from "That '70s Show" approached him–Ashton Kutcher.
"Awesome job, guys, my guys will contact your people," Kutcher said. The actor told Liu and the co-founders of his startup how impressed he was with their contact management system.
Kutcher soon joined the group of early Etacts investors. Howie Liu was only 21 when Salesforce purchased Etacts a year later.
Within a year of its debut, Etacts was acquired by Salesforce, and Liu joined the Marc Benioff-led cloud software powerhouse to lead the development of its CRM product.
"I personally made in the low 7 figures on day one at Salesforce," Howie admitted.
Liu wanted to accept Salesforce's offer, but it was more than just the money aspect of the agreement that motivated him. He claims several businesses, including a significant consumer brand, expressed interest in Etacts. Ultimately, Liu's ambition to gain experience working for a large corporation determined the outcome.
In the end, his decision proved to be the right one.
"Spreadsheets are really optimized for numerical analysis and financial calculations. But almost 90% of spreadsheets don’t have formulas. Most are used for organizing purposes," Howie stated.
Howie Liu’s next act would become an even bigger success. As a result, Airtable was created.
Users can organize columns much more sophisticatedly, like spreadsheets on steroids. Each data block can contain any text, file, or image and be linked to other spreadsheet files.
Simultaneous collaboration is also possible on the same file. Pre-built templates for different industries and verticals are also recommended for new users.
As soon as Liu had his prototype ready, he approached Kutcher for seed funding. Kutcher invited Liu to come down to his Los Angeles filming set while he was filming "Two and a Half Men."
"We actually drove in to the Warner Brothers studio area, and Ashton Kutcher literally had his outfit on." Howie Liu said.
Kutcher finally finished filming after about 45 minutes and asked Liu and Andrew Ofstad in the movie trailer to pitch the company. Liu explained Airtable to Kutcher.
Kutcher told Liu, "I can really see this taking off, beyond Hollywood, even in my own world, I could see hundreds of different use-cases. They have spreadsheets tracking all these different stuff, it’s one giant organizational problem."
Almost immediately, Kutcher decided to invest in Airtable. Later, he joined an investor group that included Michael Birch, the inventor of Bebo, and Josh Reeves, CEO of ZenPayroll.
Although Airtable was created in 2012, its product has been developing for nearly two years. Since it just had its official launch earlier this year, there currently needs to be publicly available statistics on its user base or revenue.
However, it quickly introduced new features, and on Thursday, it just made its public API builder, which enables customers to create more tailored features, available. A feature that allows users to integrate customized content listings directly into their websites has been implemented.
According to Liu, the business has secured an additional $52 million in funding in a round co-led by CRV and Caffeinated Capital and included Slow Ventures and Freestyle Ventures.
The goal is to create a system that abstracts away even the act of programming. Still, there will always be a limit to how complex a plan can be with what essentially amounts to a collection of logic operation Legos.
This objective is to condense all of the most typical sets of operations, leaving the long tail for most programmers (and larger enterprises often have these kinds of highly-customized needs).
Small and medium-sized businesses represent substantial market opportunities at a time when businesses are increasingly chasing their long tails, the ones not directly connected to the grid.
Additionally, those companies are unlikely to have the means to hire programmers. At the same time, digital giants like Google and Facebook set up shops on university campuses to recruit students who graduated with technical specialties.
However, Liu said that kind of philosophy should be able to be taken a step further. Liu said the opportunity for Airtable was to go horizontal from day one. This is part of why Excel became so popular it tried to abstract out a lot of complex operations necessary to run a business.
More than 250,000 enterprises already use Airtable's services. This pandemic inflated the startup's valuation to over $5.8 billion in its most recent fundraising round.
Liu’s Investments and Collaborations
Howie Liu’s Recognition
Being a rising entrepreneur doesn’t exempt you from being recognized for what you can bring to the table.
Howie Liu’s entrepreneurial talents have been acknowledged, and it is evident through the following recognitions:
- Howie Liu was named one of Fortune’s 40 Under 40 in 2021
- Airtable ranks #6 on Forbes Cloud 100
- Airtable recognized as a “Rising Star” in low-code app development
Personal Life of Howie Liu
It was official on November 5 when Howie Liu married his long-time girlfriend, Kristine Leahy. The wedding took place in a beautiful location in Montecito, California. A private wedding was held, and only close family and friends attended.
Leahy has been a sports reporter and currently hosts television shows. "Fair Game with Kristine Leahy" was the name of the Fox Sports 1 show hosted by the Chicago-born reporter.
As a host of shows such as The Herd with Colin Cowherd and American Ninja Warrior, she gained great popularity among viewers.
Key Takeaway: Howie Liu
Howie Liu is a perceptive young CEO who brought next-level technology to the table. He is a long-term visionary who materializes his ideas.
Howie is patient, persistent, and focused on his goals. It is a no-brainer why his technology reflects his core characteristics.
Imitate Howie Liu to advocate for what you envision yourself to be in the future and imitate his generous quality of sharing it with the world.