Your First Business Should Be A Spreadsheet

Tagged withbusiness

One of the best decisions I made in 2020 was to open my calendar to everyone. People book appointments to chat about open-source projects, content creation, and business ideas.

When we discuss business ideas, the conversation often leans towards problems suited for startups, such as using artificial intelligence to find clothes that fit or building a crowdfunding platform on the blockchain.

While these are exciting ideas, they require significant persistence and deep pockets. It might be easier and less risky to join an existing startup in that domain.

In reality, most people are simply looking for something cool to work on and to make their customers happy. It turns out you don't need to run a startup to achieve that (and you probably shouldn't). Instead, starting a side project is less risky and can organically grow into a business over time.

Often, the solution is right in front of them: hidden within an Excel spreadsheet on their computer.

I Hate Excel

I spend as little time in Excel as possible, only engaging with it when absolutely necessary. My focus is on getting tasks done quickly, not on layout or design; I'd rather pay someone to do that work for me. And this is precisely my point!

The spreadsheets and lists you create to solve your own problems can also solve someone else's. This represents a business opportunity!

This approach has several advantages:

  • 💪 It solves a real problem.
  • 🥱 It's mundane, so people might pay to avoid doing it themselves.
  • ⚡️ It wastes no time on design or infrastructure, embodying the ultimate MVP.
  • 🐢 It's low-tech: no programming required. You can start with Notion and
  • 🐜 It targets a niche market: if there were an established service, you'd already be using it. Big corporations won't compete with you.
  • 🚀 It allows you to spend less time building and more time engaging with potential customers.


A few years ago, while researching static code analysis tools, I compiled a list, pushed it to GitHub, and moved on. Fast forward, and that side project now generates revenue from sponsors and consulting gigs.

Another example is a person who created a spreadsheet for remote work locations, shared it on Twitter, and then developed a website from it. The website is NomadList, and its creator, Pieter Levels, now earns $300k/year.

"Instead of building a site first, I simply made [a] public Google spreadsheet to collect the first data and see if there’d be interest for this at all." — Pieter Levels on how he created NomadList.

I've left a spot for your story here. Now, refine that spreadsheet (or list), share it with your friends, iterate based on their feedback, and build your first business.

    Thanks for reading! I mostly write about Rust and my (open-source) projects. If you would like to receive future posts automatically, you can subscribe via RSS or email:

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    Thanks to Mischa Helfenstein, Wolfgang Gassler for reviewing drafts of this article.