In this new series, Makerpad Deep Dives, we break down real-world solutions for you to clone inside your own organization.
Today we have David Peterson from Airtable on to discuss how Makerpad and Airtable created a custom solution for Cottage – a San Francisco based company that helps home owners design, permit, and build Accessory Dwelling Units such as a guest house.
Cottage came to us with a problem that many companies, especially startups face: how to manage, track and automate complex projects.
Using Hubspot, Airtable, and X.ai, Makerpad helped build a solution for them to automate & streamline complex, multi-party project management.
In this episode, Ben and David Discuss...
David - Airtable Podcast
Tue, 8/11 4:12PM • 24:55
tools, people, workflow, air, table, build, crm, hubspot, solution, startup, project management, zapier, companies, building, project, code, integrations, system, automations, team
Ben Tossell 00:00
Everybody, Stan here founder of make fat, a platform teaching individuals and companies how to build custom software workflows and tools without writing code. This show explores the people behind the no code tools and the stories of folks using them to automate work and launch companies. Okay, today I'm joined by David who is the partnerships he leaves partnerships at AIR table. And today we are talking about a deep dive that we've been working on with air table and HubSpot for a company called cottage cottage is backed by top tier seed funds including Susa ventures and prop tech FinTech, angel investors, the team or Bay Area natives, formerly Uber operations. Uber Eats growth and we will design and cottage is your A to Z Edu solution. So it's a platform that helps hohner homeowners design finance and build ad use. Now ad you might be wondering, is an accessory dwelling unit so caught This basically takes the stress out of designing, implementing and building and accessory dwelling unit in the Bay Area. So people build ad user generated rental income, create a home office boost their home equity. So what countries do is make building that centralized and easy. Now the solution that we built for cartidge included a way to manage all these complex projects and workflows. As you can imagine, there's lots of moving parts, different people involved at different stages. And some of the other tools we use in this build include Zapier, extra AI, Gmail type form, slack pandadoc. So there's quite a lot going on, but covers everything from project management, managing meetings, sending out design surveys, questionnaires, on site surveys, creating task lists automatically, and then generating and sending contracts to the stakeholders. So we were using air table as our One of the main pieces here. And what's interesting about this solution that we created was that when people use or think of air table, it's mostly around databases or keeping records of clients with automations, which has recently come more into the fold with without it. But where this, this solution is more like an end to end project management solution. And HubSpot is like the client database aspect. So can you talk a bit about the aspects of air table like the code and blocks, the integrations, the automations that make this really well pleased for this kind of project and build?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that this use case archetype is is surprisingly common. When you when you go into a business and see how they actually are using these tools, you know, air table is very often it's a part of the system. You know, it's a part of an ecosystem of tools that are being used. It's not the only thing So I think that this and what what makes that possible is one integrations with tools like Zapier Integra mat, you know, other tools like that, which make it really easy to talk between air table and and other tools. In this case, HubSpot. What also makes it really easy to, to kind of put air table in a broader system of tools is some of the stuff you mentioned, too, which is, you know, we're we're, we're adding more and more code to air table every day, even though we're kind of in the middle of the no code ecosystem. So that's just using air tables API, right, go to air table, that comm slash API, every base you build has a custom API. And you can use that to integrate with other tools, or using our scripting block, which lets you interact with third party services as well. So once you start, once you kind of realize that air table one is is very structured, you know, it's something where you can you can build a It's very structured, very flexible. So you can kind of build this kind of like custom workflow within air table. But you can also talk to any other tool in existence super easily, then you realize how common this type of this type of workflow, workflow really can be, and how powerful
Ben Tossell 04:16
Yeah, definitely. I mean, even just being behind the scenes of a business, you know, there's always multiple tools, multiple things to do, like, Oh, I use uddhav, like my notes in this place, or on paper or somewhere else, but then I've got to generate something for a client, based on what stage they're at in the funnel, and then move that stuff into another thing. It's all it's a lot of copy and pasting. Yeah, somewhere. But I see that in, in what the team built here. It's sort of it's like the jet auto generated task list from a crypt scripting block right where it's just like it comes up and you can just add stuff there super easily. There's the buttons that are used to generate things directly in answer, which is quite a new new feature, and just yet having it all in one place, and talking to these tools seamlessly, it just seems seems like a no brainer and seems like such an What do you see it from the outside? It's just like a it's an obvious use case. Right? Yeah.
Yeah. You know, I think that I think that very often people look for tools, or they they look to tools to solve all of their problems. You know, they say we found this CRM. So this is going to manage everything about the sales process, you know, that from from start to finish. But the problem is like most CRMs are not unless you have like a very specific type of sales process. That CRM probably isn't going to help you with your particular process, right, like your business is unique. And that's like the classic case here, where for cottage you know, they use HubSpot as their CRM, HubSpot is a great CRM, you know, when I work with startups, very often that I tell them you Use HubSpot to start like if you're doing a normal sales process that it's a great one to start with, even though air table is often thought of as as being a good CRM, but you know, like a lead gets to a certain stage for cottage and that kicks off a very, very unique project management flow that requires them to, you know, this is an ad you write, so it requires them to actually go physically to the hats and survey the land, it requires the architect to start to design the ad you like this stuff does not and should not exist in CRM, you know, those types of workflows, but it makes a ton of sense in a flexible tool like air table. So the fact that we have like, it's a slick Zapier integration, once a lead gets to a certain stage kick off the project and air table, you know, and yeah, I think it makes a lot of sense and, and there are examples like this in like every team, every industry, you know, and I think it really is a matter of starting to think about like what is the what is The ideal process that your team that your team should run with, regardless of the tools that you have access to. So don't get locked into your particular your CRM to do everything with your CRM, because that's the tool that you bought, like, how can you augment it? You know, with these other tools?
Ben Tossell 07:19
Yeah, I think a lot of people just get tunnel vision with a tool and try and have a tool be the be all and end all for we've got to have everything here. But like you said, cottage has people go on site to do certain things and needs to, like interact with that client record in a certain way that like maybe being on a laptop at that time is not the easiest way to do it, or they needed to send something down is something from an email like scheduling a meeting or something that just like people were across different tools, and there's a reason for that. And certain things are best suited for different types of formats, tools and things just it's beneficial to see that so many of these tools And now opening up their integrations and working well with others. Yeah. allows this this type of work to happen.
Yeah, no, that's that's a great point. I feel like we're kind of, we're like newly entering this age of horizontal products. Yeah. But what's nice about these horizontal products in this day and age is that they talk with vertical products really well. And that that feels like that feels different than the past and, and like a real superpower for people like us who are like trying to run businesses. And now we can build something with a tool like air table, which is really horizontal, but then integrate it with panda dock to do contracting. Very simply, you know, and if you were trying to build a contracting solution, like yourself with an air table, it would be really hard, and it would be hard to do that with any horizontal tool. So the combination of the two is really cool.
Ben Tossell 08:50
Yeah, exactly with that specific workflow, to generate a contract on the fly, like while you're traveling or whatever. It's all it's difficult to get the best of tools anyway. So we have a table and have something automated from there that triggers something and panna Doc, and spits out this thing that sends it directly to the right people at the right time. Is it just so much more efficient? If you've seen a table used as a piece of, like, project management workflow in other industries as well?
Yeah, yeah, this, this is really, it's really common, it might even be kind of the most common archetype. I think, if we were to, if we were to say the archetype is like, you know, there's work being done somewhere else. And whenever that work gets to a certain stage, it kicks off work in another team, or at another company, like that archetype is really common. So like, some examples might be, you know, you, it's kind of like a classic request workflow in some ways, right? Like you're, you're running a marketing team, and you get a request from somebody else. on your team for help, you know, building a campaign. And so it's like whenever somebody requests that, that kicks off work for your team, and you have a whole system that's different than their system. And you can kind of build your own perfect, you know, project management solution for marketing, because, you know, marketing projects are unique. And we see the same thing with design teams all the time. I think that that's probably that's probably one of the most common ones. Another another interesting example I just, I just thought of is we work with a lot of media companies, and, like a pretty common use case for media companies is they have like a slate of all of their, you know, their entire archive, and all of their, like, upcoming content, upcoming movies, TV shows, whatever it might be. And, you know, that's, that's a massive database very often it's too big for air table, right? It doesn't make sense for that to be an air table. So it's in some SQL database, and that they keep, they keep in the back end. But a lot of people do projects based on that content. You know, like the whenever whenever a, a movie is is gets to a certain stage in production, now that's going to kick off the legal team to go work on something the marketing team to go work on something, right you can go down the list like they're all going to start working on it. So very often, you know, the the slate of content is kept in some database somewhere. But the minute that a movie gets to a certain stage that kicks off projects and workflows, and those are all unique, you know, custom built project workflow, project management workflows that each of those teams have created. You can see that that would actually log replace someone's like before someone would have to be that project organizer that you will pay to pull that piece in this piece and say, like, this now needs to kick off this other workflow and and this person, yeah. But actually, it's like built in a way that it's like templates, double check. And you can switch pieces out and tweak them for different teams, design teams and things like that. So you can really see what I was doing. saved in this is more efficient. I mean, it's almost like that API call, like replaced an employee, like the API call from once the movie gets to this stage kick off all this work that used to be that used to be like a full time job managing all that. And now, because we're all kind of empowered to build our own systems, and they all talk to one another, yeah, we can, we can automate a whole host of it.
Ben Tossell 12:23
Yeah. And that's the big clue is replacing people. We it's right, more like this bit. Everyone's scared of what lots of people are scared of automation, taking their jobs. I think this one is a prime example to show that it would take out the repetitive work of like just sending emails all day, every day sending slack messages following up with people and you then as a project organizer, you get to build the systems that then you can take this hundred percent works being done for you on a fly.
Yeah, I would actually say that there's a really cool, there's a really cool job in here that we're starting to see it more More companies, which is the the person that is building all of these systems. You know, so maybe that that that person used to be, to your point, kind of having to deal with the bureaucracy of sending all these emails, now that person can actually build these systems and have, you know, 10 times the impact, because all this stuff can really be automated. So that's been really cool to see, too.
Ben Tossell 13:23
Yeah. Awesome. So yeah, another question is, why, why? Why build this? What was the what's the purpose of like, building this whole system?
Yeah. You know, so, from my conversations with startup founders, early employees, I mean, even employees at fortune 500 companies, I worry that we in like, the no code space, you know, aren't doing a good enough job of showing the true potential of these tools. Yeah. So there's, there's kind of like two two thoughts on that in particular Which makes me really excited about this college example. So the first is that I feel like so much of the focus in the no code space is on stuff that you can see. You know, it's the Airbnb clone, or the slick webflow site or the mobile app built with $1. Oh, and by the way, like, all those tools, incredibly powerful. I love playing around with them. But and it's very inspiring. But I worry that for most business users out there, these examples are just like completely irrelevant to the work that they actually do. You know, most people are faced with problems that should be solved by that shouldn't be solved by building a website or an app. Right? They should be solved by like, building an iterating on an optimizing some internal system. Yeah. And, and I know code tools are perfect for that. Like I think that's actually where they are. They're at they're at the height of their power is building internal systems, but we don't We, for some reason, we don't talk about it enough, I don't think we found a good way to like, show off how internal work is done. So that's, that's kind of my First Crusade, which is like, how can we get more people talking about how they actually run their business? You know, like, what's the process draw me the diagram, like that stuff is fascinating. You need to be sharing that more. So in some ways, this is like a first attempt at that, like, Can we show off how this stuff actually works?
Ben Tossell 15:26
Yeah, I think it's like, it's almost seen as that unsexy version, that version of the of the no code space, whereas lots of the no code tools, sort of automatically you're defaulted to be an attractive for creators or want to be entrepreneurs, which is, which is great, which is like part of the piece, but even webflow. The main thing is for marketing teams to be able to generate landing pages and convert things that way, air tables for teams that have workflows and project management that way, there's just there's I think it might may also be like the startup Twitter circle of people saying a new project. Well, I know air table webflow and Zapier, I'm gonna string these together. And then that's how I built this new thing. So those things are definitely coming to light really quickly because they're easy to show off and say, This is my new new startup. And this is what it looks like. But for something like you said, with cottage and this is like a game changing project, which changes like, so much time from someone or a team of people. And it's, it's this is the like, I think this is the biggest benefit of no code out of anything is that this is 100% case of yet how do we continue to show off these solutions, which obviously why we're, we're sort of on this podcast talking about Yeah, we can try to build it for sure.
Yeah, I think that's absolutely right. And I wonder if I wonder if more people realized that these no code tools could enabled them to build these types of solutions? Would they actually spend more time kind of introspecting on what the ideal process for their business would be? If they realized that they had the power to, to solve it, maybe they would spend more time thinking about it and really mapping out solutions, because we're mapping out processes, because I actually think that, you know, from working with, you know, our customers, I think that's often the biggest challenge. It's that traditional software, like the CRM, you use, the project management solution you use is super opinionated, you know, it has a point of view on how you should do your work. And very often, you don't, you don't realize that actively, you just kind of follow what it says to do. And whatever kind of breaks whenever it doesn't match the way that you want to do your work. You fill in the gaps by using a spreadsheet or writing up a ton of Docs or emailing reminders, you know, whatever it might be, and that's kind of like miserable, but you just were all just like, well, that's the way that it works. You know, and it, I wonder if people realize that if they can use these tools to build a solution that actually matches how they do their work, you know, maybe they would maybe people would be more they would put in the effort to really think about, like, what is the system that I'm building? Like, how should this process actually work? Like, I think that that process is really hard. It's hard to get people to go through that, because they're so they're, they're so used to not having the power to change it. But so I hope this will also inspire people to start like introspecting on their own workflow. They like what what is broken? Because you can probably solve it with these tools.
Ben Tossell 18:40
Yeah, I think a lot of people actually need to also struggle to think of what like we've got loads of processes that we do, we don't know what where to start. And also the Yeah, a lot of companies don't know what they don't know. So it needs to be. This is how you can manage this type of process and then you've got to have certain someone at a company like that. That thinks in a slightly different way that thinks, oh, we could do that. But for this, so yeah, slowly moving parts in it, it's definitely trying to trying to figure out how to get that out to get the message out there and, and empower people to do it. Oh, yeah.
Yeah, I mean, I think a big part of it is inspiration too. It's like it to your point, you don't know what you don't know, most people don't know as much about no code tools as you do, or about air table as I do. So, you know, I hear a problem. And I immediately know if their typical solution or not, you know, and, but that's not true for most people. So like, very often my conversations with startups and you know, and, and other companies isn't really about air table at all. It's just about all of the problems that they're running into. And then at the end of the call, I'm like, by the way, these three you can solve. So like, let's figure out how to do that together, but spend the vast majority of your time are just talking about business problems.
Ben Tossell 19:55
Yeah. And it's, it's about creating a framework for thinking about these problems, too. Look, I, for me personally over the years just figured out in my head, it happens automatically now that whether I know what tool is going to work for what thing and how I would stitch them together, and it just is automatic. So it's, it's a, it's a difficult lens for me to look through and think how can people not see? Yeah, like this process is so slow, let's change it and you can just like, put a few things together. But yeah, it's just a victim of my own of my own community that created
Yeah, you're too You're too in the weeds. Now. You can't you need to you need to get out and see the world, you know, through fresh shots.
Ben Tossell 20:37
Yeah, yeah. So as Yeah, as we talked about startups here, and this solution, especially as cottages a pretty new new startup. So things can be changed in an instant steps added removed, tweaks, add a new tools to the stack, and it can really fit in with the realities of running startup. Things change month 123 through six to nine or whatever it is. It's always like different things, different challenges happen. And this system has that flexibility. And that's part of the beauty of these these types of systems is that it's not like you're investing in a new tool that has to do everything. And if it doesn't do something quite as you wanted it to, then it's redundant. It's more like, well, there's ways to like do other pieces of this. Yeah, your workflow. But what Yeah, what do you think? I guess I've probably said, a few there. But what are some of the key features that made this style of project automation work with it? It will?
Yeah, no, I mean, the first thing you said I think is right on, which is, you know, air table is part of an ecosystem of tools. So Zapier our own automations. Any other integration with the API like we were talking about before, you know, air table doesn't need to do everything for you. You can integrate with a ton of other tools and we just make that dead simple. So that's, that's really When you don't know what you need yet, that's like, that's the biggest thing I think with when I when I talk with startups is, you know, they're very cognizant of the fact that they don't know what they need, you know, they and and that makes searching for a vertical specific piece of software, high stakes and stressful because they don't want to pay for something that's going to not serve them in three months time. You know? So that that's one of the main benefits I think of air table early on, is just that it you know, air table can kind of be, it can be whatever you need it to be, you know, maybe it's your CRM to start. In six months later, you've scaled up that you need to start using HubSpot, but no big deal. Now you can use air table as a project management solution alongside HubSpot as your CRM no can constantly evolve and fill in gaps. When I say that we're I'd say that phrase like filling gaps all the time with startups. I think that's like how it how it really provides a lot of value early on and to your other point, it's it's super flexible, like, you know, you're like I think about how painful it can be to like, update your schema in Salesforce. Like, you know, if you've ever implemented Salesforce before, you know, this is like a six month project, updating anything, just could take weeks with air table, you know, it's like click a button, it's you can just like evolve it so quickly. So that's really nice when you just don't know what you need yet.
Ben Tossell 23:25
Yeah, exactly. Well, I'm really, really excited for this solutions come out and show off in our hopefully sexier way, like what's possible. So behind the scenes of running a startup, so with cottage this system is a huge upgrade to what they're currently doing or just think it was more of a touching, touching the surface with what's possible with air table and then through what we've all been doing together, to really bring light to this huge process that can now be all brought in from different tools it's fine to use a different tools. It's flexible, you can add it, you can change it. If you like email. This is how you can like respond to something and trigger something with an email or through slack or whatever you want to do is is is all possible so I'm really excited for this solutions come out and it's been great working with you and HubSpot outage altogether to bring this to light. So yeah, really appreciate that.
Yeah, thanks Ben. I'm really excited to do the deep dive and and show this off like build tutorials templatized it like I want everybody to see the power of this and then go get inspired to go build something yourself your own company.
Ben Tossell 24:37
Thanks for coming on. Yeah. Thanks, man. Thanks so much for listening. You can find us online at maker pad.co or on Twitter at make Pat. We'd love to hear if you enjoyed this episode and what we do next.