Product Development · Product Marketing

Considering offering spreadsheet to application conversion service/product - good idea? Naming?

Eric Lentz Business Improvement Through Software Application Development

November 22nd, 2016

Most tools that offer spreadsheet conversion are self service. I'm considering offering a service whereby people can submit spreadsheets and the spreadsheets will be converted for them, at a very reasonable cost, into a web application which will eventually provide charting/dashboards, reporting and some other features. The web application would be hosted and there would be a monthly subscription for that.

I'm a software developer with my own business, so I'm not asking about technical practicality and I have the infrastructure to deliver on it. My question is:

Do you think there would be appeal for such a product from small companies? I know that I can create an MVP and test the market. I'm asking for your opinion as a start for testing the market.

Does anyone have any thoughts on a name for such a product?

Rob G

November 23rd, 2016

reaching the SMB market, specifically small manufacturers as you mentioned, will be tough then convincing them that they have a problem then convincing them to take the time to address the problem and understand your solution and then pay for your solution will not be easy.  I would be inclined to research the large company market: more resources, bigger problems, bigger budgets, bigger deals.  Look at departmental solutions: lots of big companies with big IT backlogs with departments that are not getting the support they need from their IT dept. 

K. Robbins Head Moose at Moose WorldWide Digital

November 23rd, 2016

It is an interesting idea, as Excel is used to do many things.  We have a fairly complex spreadsheet that we use to track job costing I would be happy to show it to you.

I respectfully disagree with Rob, as small companies penetrating large corporations - and getting on the approved vendor list - is difficult compared to  an SMB where you can get the CEO on the phone.


Rob G

November 23rd, 2016

also, educating customers who don't know they have a need is very time consuming and expensive and generally not very lucrative.  If they don't understand the pain/need very quickly then move on.  
I can tell you unequivocally that large companies like MS can and do contract for stuff like you are proposing - if a company like MS with all the tech resources they have, including a bit of expertise in spreadsheets, has a need for consulting services and custom dev then you know other large companies with lesser technical expertise have needs as well. Yes, getting on the official "approved vendor" list can be difficult, but where an internal manager/director/VP has a need there's a way. If you have a unique solution to their pain they will find a way to get you in the door.  

Rob G

November 30th, 2016

Eric, you are wise to focus your efforts narrowly and taking an 'opportunistic' approach is smart too at this stage.  the market for 'spreadsheet users in small to medium manufacturing companies' (for example) is still a very big market.  don't try to boil the ocean.  When it comes to marketing and selling your product/service it is important to focus.  You are an army of one - correct me if i'm wrong and not a well funded battalion.  1) focus on what you know at an expert level.  When it comes to the ground-level tactics of selling and marketing you need to connect with individuals and those individuals need to know that you not only understand their pains, but you are an expert with a potential cure.  2) Go for the low hanging fruit first then pattern match later.  Don't try to force-fit your sales/marketing plan.  Get your first customer, get them referenceable then go find others with like attributes.  After you've closed several sales you will likely see some common patterns/attributes and some common sales and marketing tactics that worked well and many that didn't. I think you will see more success earlier by being the worlds foremost expert on _____ (building on Yoram's post) dashboards for managing carbon offset credits, for example, than trying to be all things to all spreadsheet users. 

Sebastian Pereyro

November 22nd, 2016

I think it is a great idea! from the technical aspect of it, I am not sure the market for it, I think would be great if you could showcase few examples. Maybe do it as a proof of concept for someone and then be able to showcase it. Also it sounds like good niche to be in and once you have developed the app for them continue to give support. 

Spreadapp is the only name I can come up quickly :D

David Austin Relentless problem solver and innovator.

November 23rd, 2016

You're right, I misunderstood.  It's for those who are using a spreadsheet as an app ... basically converts it to an app, yes?  I recall seeing something similar about 6 years ago to what you're proposing.  Wish I could remember it.  I don't know what happened to it.  Seems like a good idea.

Dean Slawson Co-Founder at (Startup)

November 25th, 2016

Eric, you may find this one interesting as a reference (although more geared for mobile):

https://www.openasapp.net/

I've worked in this space previously at Microsoft (and happened to meet the founder of this particular one earlier this year)

I agree with other comments here that there are significant challenges as well as opportunities in this space. I'd start by serving the customer I can serve first. 










Alexander Ross Head of Business Development at Verifide

November 25th, 2016

Hey Eric,

I've thought about a similar business a lot but was working on another startup at the time so never moved it forward much- but I think I get where you're coming from. Here are a few quick thoughts:

Re SMB vs Enterprise- You probably know this but it's all about Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) vs Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). Broadly speaking, both CLV and CAC will be larger for a corporation so there is no textbook right answer. Also, SMB is so broad a category that it's almost useless. A 2 person "mom and pop" retail shop is a different beast from a 10 person insurance office is a different from a 200 person which may start acting like a larger enterprise. You probably want to think about (or start talking to companies to figure) where on this scale your ideal customers are.

Personally, I've found there are a couple inflection points for a product like this as a company grows. The first is when they get a single full-time IT person of their own (maybe around 20 employees) and the second is when they have someone full-time who is a dedicated developer (harder to peg on organizational size).

Overall, I would recommend looking at enterprises but finding "innovators/early adopters" who, despite the enterprise organizational inertia, are already screaming for a solution. The type of customer who, rather than trot out the long laundry lists of reasons why not, but will stop and ask you "holy shit, I want this warts and all". They may not pay much up front but will help you shape your MVP and get customer references. And this may be only 5% (to pick a number) of all enterprise prospects but it's worth sorting through companies to find them.

You might want to try Salesforce/Force.com User Groups since, in my eye, Salesforce's Force.com platform comes closest overall as a widespread PaaS type but still has many flaws and I don't think you can do the spreadsheet application definition you mentioned.

If you wish, I can also probably connect you with my brother. He's the CIO for the city of LA and is interested broadly in similar solutions. He's got a large, cumbersome organization which he'd love to short circuit to get some applications up quickly.

It's still an area of interest of mine but I'm focused elsewhere these days. But I'll PM you, would love to help if I can. The world needs solutions like this...

Cheers,
Laszlo

Yoram Bernet CEO, Scope 5

November 25th, 2016

My experience with Scope 5 might offer some insight here because it effectively does what you're suggesting, for just one type of application - greenhouse gas reporting. Many companies were (and still are) using spreadsheets for fairly complex GHG reporting. We've created an app that sucks their spreadsheets into a SAAS application and then enables them to do all sorts of reporting, charting, analysis, etc. on their spreadsheet data (and of course to continue to add to it).

Here are some things to think about:
1. Deep customer support is key - we're finding that we really need to handhold each customer. As intuitively obvious as we believe our user interface to be it's still new - it's not Excel. Many of our users were not Excel whizzes to begin with - they had learned to do just what they had to do in Excel and now they were needing to do it in a new application. And, surprisingly, a significant portion of our customers are not comfortable with data.

2. You don't mention data maintenance - I assume they'll be able to keep adding data to the (now virtualized) spreadsheet.

3. Sales is complicated - those who are feeling the spreadsheet pain are generally not the budget holders. If your service is really inexpensive, that's not a problem. Our experience is that the amount of work that we do (between development and support) dictates a price point that is above the ability of any rank and file spreadsheet using employee to sign up for. (Our customers are medium to large enterprises and municipalities). Monthly pricing might circumnavigate the problem in some cases but then you have twelve times as many 'collection' events.

Yoram

Lydia Sugarman Entrepreneur. CEO + Non-Technical Founder. Seeker. Thinker. Drinker of bourbon.

November 25th, 2016

As I read your proposal I was reminded of all the Sales Operations analysts and managers who struggle to make sense of data in SalesForce for management. It's become another employee expense for companies already spending a lot of money on the software, the additional employee who manages implementation, training, etc. Generating reports requires that they export all data into big, very messy Excel spreadsheets and then, turning that into comprehensible reports. Companies with fewer than 50 people that are very heavy on salespeople would benefit greatly from your proposed solution.