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. 👇
- Pandora began as the Music Genome Project. They categorized over 10,000 songs in a massive excel spreadsheet.
- Tim Chen, founder of NerdWallet, created a spreadsheet to compare credit card options. His friends and family found it so interesting, they spread it to their friends and family.
- YNAB (You Need a Budget) started as a spreadsheet. The founder used it to track and manage his family’s budget. One day, he started to sell it.
- John Doherty compiled a big list of consultants to create the first version of Credo.
- Arram Sabeti, former CEO and founder of ZeroCater, started his idea with zero lines of code and a list of restaurants in a spreadsheet. When it surpassed 500 columns and started to break, he looked for a technical solution.
- Three former Kayak employees started Lola with a spreadsheet of different types of assistants.
- One of our own clients, Steve Shulman, refined a spreadsheet model for years before hiring us to build out software. He now partners with several Ivy League universities.
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.
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?