ExcelNation #3: who wants a piece?

ExcelNation #3: who wants a piece?

The spreadsheet market is enormous, but to gain a foothold you'll need to pick your spot.

Author: Circadian – circadian-capital.com



A quick history

Love ’em* or hate ’em, spreadsheets have been around for over 40 years so don’t expect them to go away – they’re just too useful. Microsoft was there from the start, and Excel is, obviously, king.

They’ve become more sophisticated, but in many ways spreadsheets haven’t evolved much over the last 40 years. Number crunching, financial models, sales forecasting, deal pipelines, budgeting, marketing reports, client lists. Excel does them all with ease.

Are there any businesses that don’t use Excel? Probably, but I’m not sure we can measure their output.



Market Size

Everyone wants to report its demise** but let’s ignore these ideas. So, just how popular is Excel? Here’s a fun MS press release from 1996:


Today those estimates have crept up a little, past c.1bn monthly users***.

Monthly Users 1 bn
Monthly Salary (totally made up) $5,000
Time spent on Excel 40%
Monthly Excel Spend $2,000 bn

So who fancies a piece of this market? Who wouldn’t, but like email, Excel is going nowhere.



Market Upstarts

Techradar does some great spreadsheet reviews**** and from its top 5 we get a flavour of what any excel-killing start-up should target:


  • Advanced number crunching (Excel, OnlyOffice);
  • Simple (Google Sheets);
  • Collaboration (Google Sheets, Zoho);
  • Free (LibreOffice); and,
  • Cloud-based (OnlyOffice).


  • Fewer functions than Excel;
  • No collaborative tools;
  • Interface dated and cluttered; and,
  • Poor charts.

Market Wants

Collaboration is a universal goal, but there’s also a market dichotomy: do you want something that’s easy to use or high-powered? Some users want simplicity, others complexity.

Keeping it Simple

Causal, a UK startup, wants to replace Excel as the standard way of running numbers on your computer. Given they’ve just pumped about £3 million into the venture, one presumes Causal’s investors – Accel, Coatue, Passion Capital, Verissimo Ventures – are pretty keen too.

I have no doubt these guys will be successful, the kit looks fantastic, but I wonder if their future works out a bit more like Anaplan…

Keep it Simple? Hhmm.

Back in 2014, Anaplan, a firm you may not have heard of, was generating headlines like this one:

“In Two Years, This Excel-Killing Startup Grew Sales From $10 Million A Year To $10 Million A Month”.

Given their lack of fame, the Anaplan story ends not where you think it might. A few months ago the NYSE announced Anaplan was to be acquired by ThomaBravo for $10.7 Billion.

Anaplan now describe themselves as a Financial Planning & Analysis platform, and whilst they mightn’t have replaced Excel, they surely did find a “niche” (that’s some niche).


Market Future

One suspects the future of Excel is safe. It’s awfully good at what it does, and what it does covers a wide range of use cases.

And whilst any startup worth its salt would love the glory of being able to say it killed Excel, it’s a seriously broad attack.

Once you’ve figured out the basics, the smart thing is to specialise – usually toward higher complexity.

You’d rather be Anaplan-following than Excel-killing any day.

They say they want simplicity, but they pay for complexity.


About Circadian

Transform your office procedures into services. Fund ranking, Model Portfolios, Client Docs, Client Comms. These are just some of the ways we build your business.



* For the avoidance – I lurve Excel, although I have to confess a soft spot for my first teenage crush, Lotus123. Ah, keystrokes I miss you. 🙂

** 2018 Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function report, Robert Half, Financial Executives Research Foundation.

*** Numerous sources online, point to between 750 – 1,200 million active monthly users. Business Insider, Harvard Business Review, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella 2017. 365UsersWorldWide

**** TechRadar

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