Unicorn startup Airtable lays off 27% of firm, shifts focus to big clients


Airtable, the code-free software company that was recently valued at $11.7 billion, today announced that it will lay off 237 people, or 27% of the company.
Howie Liu, co-founder and chief executive officer of AirTable, smiles during a Bloomberg Technology television interview in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, March 15, 2018. Liu talked about the gap his company fills in Silicon Valley. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Howie Liu, co-founder and CEO of Airtable. Image source: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Howie Liu, Airtable’s founder and CEO, says the cuts are part of a plan to focus the company on winning large enterprise clients and get spending under control. The cuts follow a December 2022 layoff that shed 254 people.

“The market has tipped towards favoring efficient growth over growth at all costs,” Liu tells Forbes. “We must operate the business in a more mature way that puts us on a path to become a public company and to have durability and efficiency in how we grow.”

Liu, 35, says that Airtable, a Forbes Cloud 100 honoree, had been swept up in the hiring frenzy that spread across the tech world following the easy-money days that followed the COVID lockdowns of 2021.

“I let myself get caught in the hyper-competitive environment at that time. We had the capital and said, ‘let’s hyper-scale; let’s recruit as many smart people as we can and just throw them into the business and see what they can do,’” says Liu, adding that Airtable will be cash flow positive after this round of layoffs. “It’s a sickening feeling. I made the decisions that got us here, but it would be even worse to not make a change because if business continues on in this way, it would not be ideal for anyone––the employees, the investors, or the company.”

Liu says the cuts will be company-wide, with the largest layoffs hitting product and sales teams that were focused on selling and servicing smaller clients. “We are realigning to go after bigger use cases, and therefore bigger deals. We want to consistently get customers with million-dollar-plus spend rates, versus supporting lots of little ten-thousand-dollar customers from a sales touch standpoint.”

2023 has been a rough year for tech workers. After years of steady growth, technology companies laid off people by the thousands as interest rates surged and investors began to value profit over breakneck growth. During the first quarter of 2023, more than 136,000 people were let go from the tech sector, led by large cuts from giants like Amazon, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, according to Forbes Layoff tracker. There have been many more since, from public companies and startups alike.

Liu, with cofounders Andrew Ofstad and Emmett Nicholas, launched Airtable in 2013 as a cloud-based spreadsheet startup to rival Microsoft Excel. It has since grown into an $11 billion (valuation) company that offers more than 50 collaboration apps to more than 450,000 companies, including S&P 500 corporations like Amazon, Netflix, and Nike.

Like his top clients, Liu has public company aspirations. “We still have strong fundamentals. In fact, we’re doing this because we have the conviction to set a path to a winning outcome–to be a really strong independent company.”

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com

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