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Turning 1 Billion Spreadsheet Users into Programmers

Current spreadsheets softwares were created 30 years ago and are broken; We’re Actiondesk, a spreadsheet software that lets you build internal applications using only your spreadsheet skills.
Jonathan Parisot

TL,DR: 

  • Spreadsheets are the best way to work on data and build internal tools with it
  • Current spreadsheets softwares were created 30 years ago and are broken
  • We’re Actiondesk, a spreadsheet software that lets you build internal applications using only your spreadsheet skills.
  • Our mission is to turn the 1 billion spreadsheet users into programmers.

 

There is a lot of hype these days around low code / no code tools. I am very bullish on this space. The best proof of the high potential of that category is the success of spreadsheets. Whether you consider Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, spreadsheets are some of the most used softwares in the world. 

 

Spreadsheets are the ultimate low code tool and have turned 1 billion people into lightweight programmers. 

At Actiondesk, we’re building the next generation spreadsheet software, enabling you to gather, control and collaborate on all of your company data from one spreadsheet interface. 

With Actionesk, you can build internal applications and automations using only your spreadsheet skills.

 

Let’s explore the current state of spreadsheets, what’s wrong with it and what the future holds.

 

1/ Spreadsheets are the ultimate low code tool

 

Spreadsheets are:

 

  • Programmable: spreadsheets let you use various functions enabling you to build advanced and highly customized logic.  
  • Flexible: because spreadsheets are programmable, it’s easy to build highly customized tools - adapted to your own business processes.
  • Formattable: in spreadsheets, you can choose your font, color, apply conditional formatting, essentially building a graphic interface. 
  • Visualization: by nature, the grid structure is simply the best format we humans have found to visualize data. 

 

Don’t believe me yet? Think about the number of times you extract data from a software to Excel. 

Rumor has it that export to csv is the most used feature of most softwares. 


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2/ Current spreadsheet softwares are broken

 

Excel was designed more than 30 years ago. Google Sheets was designed more than 10 years ago - and was for the most part a copy of Excel with two key features: live collaboration and being a cloud app.

 

Considering the two most used spreadsheet softwares were designed so long ago, it’s not surprising that some things are broken about them.

 

a/ Static data vs live data

 

In Excel or Google Sheets, you manipulate static data. This is great for adhoc analysis but not when you build a tool based on external data that you need to refresh often. 

 

In interviewing more than 1,000 companies, we’ve observed that a large majority of them have built tools on Google Sheets or Excel that rely on data coming from one or several external sources (database, Customer Relationship Management software, billing software, etc). 

 

What happens then is that someone wastes time having to extract the relevant data from various systems and copying and pasting it to the spreadsheet tool. In fact, this is one of the most common operations performed by workers all around the world. 

 

b/ Multiple sources of truth

 

So, this is why every IT department in the world hates Excel. 

 

The logical consequence of copy pasting data from one system to a spreadsheet is that you basically create a parallel system of records. People will then edit the data in a spreadsheet, add additional information (add columns), etc. 

 

This created multiple sources of truth, and make it hard to reconcile.

 

c/ Spreadsheets do not give you power on the external world

 

As noted above, spreadsheets are highly flexible and very powerful but only within spreadsheets. 

 

A common spreadsheet tool we’ve seen in many companies is simply a list of all customers with the date of their contract renewal. There is usually a column calculating the delta between today and the contract renewal, and it is filtered on the records where that delta is less than a certain number of days (meaning that this contract renewal is approaching). 

 

In this case, you might want to take action, maybe send an email to that customer, or create a task in your CRM to remind your account manager to call that customer and make sure they renew. 

 

Wouldn’t it be great to automatically do that directly from your spreadsheet instead of the usual manually process?

 

3/ Empowering 1 billion programmers

 

Although there are no official numbers, the number of spreadsheet users is probably close to 1 billion. We want to give them new superpowers and let them build highly customized internal applications, working hand in hand with all other apps they use in their business.

 

At Actiondesk, we believe spreadsheets are the best way to visualize, edit, and work on data. We are recycling the building blocks of Excel and Google sheets and adding 3 key building blocks: 

 

  • The ability to import data from any data source only with an excel formula - no coding skills required - and having that data updated on a defined schedule.
  • The ability to tie in data from a spreadsheet to data in another system (CRM, database etc). When changing data in one, change is reflected into the other, preserving a single source of truth. 
  • The ability to trigger “actions” with an excel like formula: sending emails, creating tasks in external system, sending slack messages, etc - on a one off basis or an automated schedule.

 

Actiondesk users will be able to build internal applications, completely integrated with other business applications. Here are a few examples of what Actiondesk users can build: 

  • For an e-commerce company: an application fetching late orders and sending a slack message to the person responsible for fulfilling each order
  • For a SaaS company: an application listing customers, calculating the number of days until their contract renewal and creating a task in salesforce when the contract renewal date is in less than 30 days.
  • An application fetching failed payments from Stripe and automatically sending an email to those customers.

 

Those are only a few basic examples, the only limit is your imagination!

 

As recreating a full fledged spreadsheet software will take a bit of time and resources, we've launched a first product to let anyone automatically push data from any data sources to Google Sheets. Check it out here.

 

So in short: 

  • Spreadsheets are the best way to work on data and build internal tools with it
  • Current spreadsheets softwares were created 30 years ago and are broken
  • We’re Actiondesk, a spreadsheet software that lets you build internal applications using only your spreadsheet skills.
  • Our mission is to turn the 1 billion spreadsheet users into programmers.

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