Andrew Ofstad is the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Airtable. Previously, he led the redesign of Google’s flagship Maps product, and before that was a product manager for Android. Andrew studied Electrical Engineering and Economics at Duke after a childhood in rural Montana.
He will be speaking at 1,000 Upvotes: Meet Top Product Hunt Makers on Tuesday, April 25th @6 pm. Click here to get 20% off tickets to the event.
Q. When you were growing up, were you always interested in entrepreneurship?
A. I wouldn’t say I was interested in “entrepreneurship” per se. I did always know that I wanted to build cool things and have some amount of freedom to be imaginative, but I didn’t really put much thought into the type of career that would make this a reality. So entrepreneurship was more of a means to that end.
Q. What were some early influences on your career choice?
A. I was really into video games in high school. I liked playing them, but I was also curious about how they worked. It seemed pretty magical to me that you could build these virtual environments that were hyper realistic and interactive. I was inspired to learn more and picked up some programming, and eventually started writing my own little games and game engines. Over time it evolved into a more general interest in computers and software.
Q. What did you study in college?
A. I majored in Electrical Engineering and Economics. As I mentioned before, I learned a bit of programming and CS in high school, and was curious about how things worked at a lower level. I also thought that I might not want to sit in front of a computer all day, and had this notion that electrical engineering would be more “hands on”. I later realized that you’re going to spend your working life in front of a computer regardless of what you do, and I really don’t mind that, and it’s a lot easier and cheaper and faster to build things in software. So I ended up taking more CS classes towards the end of college. I’m not really sure why I did Economics, I think at that point I decided that “business” could be interesting and that seemed like the most relevant major for that.
Q. What did your parents do?
A. My dad is an optometrist and my Mom was a teacher. My Mom stopped teaching when she had kids and was able to spend a lot of time with us. My Dad spent most of his time painting and woodworking outside of work. I had a pretty creative and adventurous childhood in the mountains of Montana.
Q. Tell me about your first job.
A. My first job after college was at Accenture, which is a systems integration consulting firm. I worked in their R&D lab as a developer. Our job was to build prototypes that were then used to pitch clients. The point was to show clients that we were on the cutting edge, so it was kind of cool in the sense that our prototypes were always built with the latest technologies. It was a nice way to get exposed to a lot of new things early in my career, but ultimately I decided I wanted to work for a real product company and build something of lasting value.
Q. What were some early lessons you learned about business?
A. It’s really hard to focus. There’s a huge sense of urgency, and you feel like you should be trying everything, and there are a million distractions constantly popping up. The hard part is figuring out what the most important thing is at any given point, and then making sure that you’re executing on that.
Q. How have you funded Airtable? How did you first attract investors?
A. We started out with a seed round after self-funding and working on a prototype for about 6 months. It definitely helped to have a really polished prototype that investors could actually play around with and get excited about. My co-founder knew a number of seed investors from his previous company, which he had sold to Salesforce, so we started with a few of those. It then cascaded from there, with one investor introducing us to another, and at the end we were able to raise $3M in seed funding. Later on, we raised a Series A from CRV, bringing our total funding to $10M.
Q. What career advice would you give to young people today?
A. I think the most important thing for any career is to keep learning. This is especially true in tech. If you’re trying to build a company or move your way up a career ladder, you’re going to have to understand and solve new problems in new disciplines. I think the problem for a lot of people is that they get intimidated by something new that they’re not already good at, or they label themselves as a engineer or designer or marketer, and are afraid to work outside of that domain. But the best people, and the ones that can take more responsibility for larger swaths of a company and/or start a company in the future, are those that can cross those boundaries and have some operating knowledge of all of them. So it’s important to not be afraid to dive into things outside of your comfort zone, and stay interested and active in learning as you progress.
Q. Hardest part of being a entrepreneur?
A. You have to do a bit of everything, and it can be hard to juggle everything at once. There’s a lot of context switching, which can be hard.
Q. Favorite part of being a entrepreneur?
A. Working on a product that you love with people who you like working with. It’s also really gratifying to understand a product on a bunch of different levels, and to look back and see how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned.