Start with a Spreadsheet

Our favorite prototype tool

News flash: I’ve started composting. 🌱

Well, I bought a composter, and I’ve started saving kitchen scraps. But now that I’ve told you I’m composting, I’ll do it--honest. 

The most surprising thing about this backyard adventure? So far, it’s how much I can buy. To be clear, we’re talking about turning throwaway food into dirt here. 🍌Even so, I could purchase a composter ($20-$400+), compost starter ($5), and a shiny bin for my kitchen ($30+) so I look awesome storing food scraps. If I find the whole process too overwhelming, I could even buy a service that collects my throwaways and returns soil. 

All this to make good dirt! 

But really, getting started on anything is a similar experience. Especially a startup. There are a load of things you could buy to “do it right.” But something we’ve learned at Krit is you don’t need a swanky office chair, a city view, or even code to get to work on your idea. 

Many founders simply need the most accessible, functional, and un-sexy thing you can think of: a spreadsheet. 👀

Disclaimer: we really like spreadsheets 📚

“I have a spreadsheet” is music to our ears. Not because we’re nerds (okay, we are) and not because we’re old-fashioned. It’s because spreadsheets make excellent prototypes. 

You can start without any code 

Sure, it may help to know basic math or spreadsheet formulas. But you know what? You can google all that--or click the resources we list below. You don’t have to learn a coding language to get started. You just need a computer and something useful to put in the spreadsheet.

You can make quick changes

Want to change a formula? Double click. Need to move things around? Copy and paste. Want to edit? Single click. The point of your prototype is to elicit feedback. Spreadsheets make it easy for you to incorporate that feedback. 

You’re not locked into a specific technology

On his blog, Product Habits, Hiten Shah makes a great point about spreadsheets. He says, “Choosing tools too early can unknowingly limit the way you work. It forces you to build within the dashboard or the pipeline in front of you. A spreadsheet is one of the most basic, flexible tools at your disposal, and it’s a great place to start.” Shah is talking about processes within your business here, but the flexibility concept applies to your prototype, too.  

You start lean

At this stage, I doubt you’re rolling in cash. Creating a free prototype will cost you time, but it won’t put you into debt. That’s a good thing since you’re not sure whether your idea has any merit yet. 

One other thing: If you can sell a spreadsheet, you can definitely sell a better-looking version down the road. 

It’s not shiny, but it works 👏

More than one successful business has used a spreadsheet as a starting point. 👇  

By the way, many founders on this list are non-technical! 😁 

When a spreadsheet is a good idea 💡

You want to manage a large amount of information 

It involves other apps, but check out the system Ben Tossell created to organize content for a roundup newsletter.  💥

You want to show data visuals 

Such as the way this mental health app helps entrepreneurs visualize burnout. 📊

You need to run complex calculations

This is why one of our incredible clients started with a spreadsheet.  

Resources to get you started 💫 

You could crack open Microsoft Excel, but check out these two alternatives before you do. They’re more collaborative (note: get feedback!), and they let you connect to other tools in fewer steps. 

Google Sheets

Ben Collins is your information treasure trove here. Start with basics for Google Sheets and, if you need to visualize your data, don’t miss creating a dashboard

Airtable 

What we use for our content calendar. If you don’t want to start from scratch, check out their templates and some things Tossell has done with the app. It’s a surprisingly robust tool.

Remember the purpose of a prototype 💬

Your prototype doesn’t need an awesome logo, a stunning color palette, or the sweetest set of features a customer has ever seen. It does need to validate whether you’re solving a real pain in a compelling way. 

What idea could you start in a spreadsheet?