Unlocking the Secrets
Behind Airtable's Horizontal SaaS Growth
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of Airtable, the Lego of software that's capturing users' hearts worldwide!
Whether you're looking to create custom workflows or build unique apps with shared data, Airtable is your one-stop shop. With its unparalleled versatility, the platform provides an endless array of possibilities, making us wonder: Is there anything you can't do with Airtable?
From managing cattle vaccinations and pregnancy checks on an Idaho-based ranch to tracking rocket parts for Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Airtable has proven to be a reliable solution globally.
But it's not just for businesses - individuals have also found creative uses for Airtable, such as mapping out events and managing hobbies like book clubs, craft supplies, and recipe databases.
No, we aren’t exaggerating.
Airtable's Winning Formula
Ranked among the top 10 on the prestigious Forbes Cloud 100 list, Airtable has become the go-to platform for over 300,000 organizations.
But how did this remarkable product capture the hearts and minds of so many? Let's dive into the strategies that drove Airtable's success.
Using Customer Feedback
to Build a Top-Tier
Building a horizontal product goes beyond having a great idea. It requires getting close to customers and understanding how they use the product.
The Airtable founders knew this well. They launched a private invite-only alpha for 100 customers, working together for two years to build the MVP. Even before the public launch in February 2015, they tested the product's resonance with a beta launch on Hacker News.
This customer-centric approach enabled them to quickly deliver features without suffering a feature bloat.
Getting the Narrative Right
for Varied Personas
By collaborating closely with customers at the grassroots level, the Airtable team not only built solid relationships but also tackled one of the biggest marketing challenges horizontal SaaS products face— defining their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and refining their messaging.
To achieve this, the team collected user information during signup and established personalized 1:1 connections with potential product evangelists through targeted email triggers. The information gathered from the signups and follow-up calls helped them build their ICP, which guided the creation of look-alike ads, engaging landing page hooks, and persuasive ad copies.
Here’s a quick look at their Facebook ads. Notice how the messaging is on-point and tailored to different personas.
Ads targeted to marketers
Ads targeted to product managers
for Driving Organic
Once they cracked the ICP, the next important technique was to drive organic product discovery and ensure that more users find and use their platform. To get this organic traffic, they employed several strategies, including:
Creating Airtable Universe To Showcase User’s Creativity
Recognizing that customers love showcasing their solutions created using the platform, Airtable made it effortless for creators to share their work through the Airtable Universe publishing page and in-product sharing. This approach generated a continuous stream of positive word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied users.
Psychology Insight #1: "When people invest their time and effort in building something, they develop a sense of pride and great attachment with the final product and want to showcase it to others." - IKEA Effect
Using Templates To Entice New Users
To attract new users and help them overcome the initial learning curve, Airtable created a wide range of industry-specific and use case-based templates. These templates serve as a starting point, making it easier for users to get started with the product.
Although not an intentional SEO strategy, these templates generate over 8500 monthly organic traffic through SERP. If your business has an SEO advantage like this, we recommend getting on that train!
Referral Marketing Embedded in the Onboarding Flow
Airtable leveraged the network effect by integrating referral marketing directly into their onboarding process instead of as an afterthought. During sign-up, users were offered $10 worth of Airtable credit for each referral, increasing awareness and incentivizing users to refer others. Isn’t that genius?
From the early stages, Airtable recognized the importance of building a strong community around its product. What began as a forum for users to ask questions and share tips has grown into a thriving community of over 53,000 customers.
Through Simplified Signup
When it comes to ensuring that there is a low barrier to entry, the team at Airtable has championed the game. Here’s how.
Increase Conversions with a Powerful Strategy: The Reverse Trial
PLG companies navigate a balancing act between two key metrics: user growth and revenue growth. Traditionally, they face a choice between freemium models or free trials for revenue. However, Airtable took a different approach—reverse trial.
During signup, users are automatically granted access to the Pro Plan, the top-tier self-serve offering, for a 14-day trial period. This gives users ample time to explore the product. At the end of the trial, users can choose to upgrade and continue using the features by subscribing to a paid plan or opting for the free plan.
This reverse trial strategy leverages the concept of loss aversion, where people tend to feel the pain of losing something more intensely than the pleasure of gaining something of equal value.
Psychology Insight #2: "People feel the pain of losing something twice as intensely as the pleasure they experience from gaining something of equal value" - Loss Aversion
“We feel this (model) strikes the best balance of giving value away freely while helping users understand what’s possible with our premium offerings”
- Lauryn Isford
Ex-Head of Growth at Airtable
Enhanced User Experience through Guided Onboarding
Onboarding new users in the self-serve era can be daunting, especially when you are a horizontal SaaS business. However, Airtable's product design team took a fresh approach by introducing an immersive wizard to guide users through the onboarding journey and beyond.
The journey begins with targeted questions to understand users' specific needs and goals with Airtable. Then, users are treated to a personalized tour of the product's key features, ensuring they get a tailored onboarding experience. A brilliant way to keep them hooked, don’t you think?
Embracing the B2B and Enterprise Realm
With a flood of positive reviews from its diverse user base, Airtable set its sights on the B2B and enterprise landscape, unlocking a realm of new possibilities. Recognizing that a self-serve approach wouldn't be enough, they fearlessly experimented with alternative strategies in 2017. Wondering what they are? We'll fill you in.
Identifying and Nurturing Product Champions for Bottoms-Up Sales
Building on their existing approach, Airtable targeted individual users who could become advocates for the platform within their organizations. As mentioned earlier, they even implemented an automated email workflow, offering personalized 1:1 onboarding sessions to potential evangelists. The goal was to support these champions and foster organic growth through their endorsements.
Incorporating user feedback, Airtable refined its product to cater to specific use cases, like marketing and operations, with future monetization in mind.
Layering in sales & customer success on top of PLG
Additionally, Airtable adopted a "Land and Expand" go-to-market strategy, adding inbound sales and customer success to drive product adoption across organizations.
They focused on long-term retention and expanding into different departments. Close collaboration among customer success, IT, sales, and implementation teams was crucial.
The customer success team worked closely with users to ensure effective platform usage and gathered additional functionality requirements. Implementation specialists and integration engineers then tailored Airtable to meet specific customer needs, maximizing its value.
In order to identify sales opportunities, the company tracks important indicators of product usage, including W2 active users (users who develop a habit and return in week 2), W4 Multi-User Active or team activation metrics (the number of active users in week 4), and build metrics (users who have created something meaningful and advanced in the past month).
Once specific benchmarks were met, the IT team initiated the sales process, leveraging usage data as social proof. This approach facilitated horizontal growth within organizations and maintained a low churn rate.
And the results? Airtable's enterprise revenue is growing at an impressive 100%, and their net dollar retention from existing customers exceeds 130%! [Source]
Airtable: A Journey of Innovation and Success
Airtable shines bright in the promising world of no-code/low-code enterprise solutions. As the market booms and businesses seek flexible and customizable options, Airtable stands out as a leading player. With its versatile and user-friendly solution, the company steals the spotlight in an ever-evolving industry.
We're already diving into research for our next fable. Stay tuned!
P.S. If you’re new to our blog, make sure to check out our previous Fable Champs’ post featuring the incredible story of Scratchpad, a product that revolutionized the lives of millions of sales professionals.
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