Your First Business Should Be A Spreadsheet

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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 talk about business ideas, people usually gravitate towards problems suitable for startups. Things like using artificial intelligence to find clothes that fit or building a crowdfunding platform on the blockchain.

These are all great ideas, but they require lots of persistence and deep pockets. It's probably easier and less risky to just join a startup in that field.

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

Usually, the solution is right in front of them: in some Excel spreadsheet on their computer.

I Hate Excel

I never spend more time in Excel than I absolutely have to. Normally, I need to get something done quickly. I don't care about the layout or the design; I care about getting over it. Probably I'd pay someone to do that work for me — and that's my point!

The spreadsheets and lists you create for your own solve a real problem: yours; and chances are, someone else has the same problem. That's a business opportunity!

This approach ticks all the boxes:

  • 💪 Solves a real problem.
  • 🥱 It's boring, so people might pay for not having to do it themselves.
  • ⚡️ No time wasted on design or infrastructure. It's the ultimate MVP.
  • 🐢 Low tech: no programming required. You can start with Notion +
  • 🐜 Niche market: if an established service existed, you'd use it. BigCorp ain't gonna eat your lunch.
  • 🚀 You spend less time building and more time talking to potential customers.


A few years ago, I looked for static code analysis tools. I did some boring research, started a list, pushed it to Github, and that's that. Fast forward a few years, and that side project is pulling in money from sponsors and attracts consulting gigs.

Another example: a guy built a spreadsheet for places to work from remotely. He shared the spreadsheet on Twitter. People added more places, and he created a website from it. The website is NomadList, and the guy is Pieter Levels. He pulls in 300k/year from that website.

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 left a spot for your story here. Now brush up that spreadsheet (or that list), share it with your friends, iterate 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.