Excel is SaaS’s biggest competitor
In a pre-SaaS (software-as-a-service) world, nearly every industry relied on Microsoft Excel. Accountants relied on it for finance management. Managers used it for project management. HR used it for payrolls and employee directories. The sales team used it for lead management and CRM. Individuals used it for to-do list planning.
As companies adopt digitization, operations and workflows become more complicated. Businesses need to find a way to automate and scale efficiently. Teams need to collaborate internally and externally. Specific use cases gave rise to the unbundling of Excel—businesses are created to replace spreadsheets with alternative tools that cater to a niche target audience, interest, and job-to-be-done.
Turning Excel templates into software companies
Despite new players arise, Excel has yet to be completely replaced due to its decade-long usage, programming capabilities (i.e. Excel formula), and reliability.
In fact, most SaaS apps are simply products unbundled from Excel. These are businesses that turn spreadsheets into profitable software companies:
- Salesforce, one of the earliest SaaS businesses founded in 1999 replaced CRM spreadsheets in Excel
- Trello, Jira, and Asana replaced project management and Gantt chart Excel templates
- Xero, QuickBooks replaced bookkeeping in spreadsheets
- (📥 Full version) 3 more business categories are born out to replace Excel templates
- (📥 Full version) 14 more company examples across business categories
Unbundling of Excel: Era 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0
To understand the future of SaaS, we need to zoom into the transition of Excel unbundling. I call it Excel 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 of Excel unbundling:
- Unbundling of Excel 1.0: The Internet was born. Rise of cloud-based apps such as cloud-based CRM (Salesforce, Hubspot), document management (Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Online), and cloud accounting (Xero). Softwares are created to replace spreadsheet functionalities with a better interface, user experience, integration, and workflow optimization.
- Unbundling of Excel 2.0: Rise of collaboration tools. Softwares are created to empower team collaboration. For example, project management (Trello, Asana), document collaboration, communication tools. (📥 Full version) 9 more company examples across segments.
- Unbundling of Excel 3.0: Rise of no-code, low-code tools. Softwares are created to turn spreadsheets into apps without any technical knowledge. Airtable & Coda turns spreadsheets into interactive databases. Glide, Adalo turns spreadsheets into mobile apps. (📥 Full version) 5 more company examples across segments.
What problems do they solve?
- Break down technical barriers. No-code and low-code tools empower non-technical developers to build websites, apps, automated workflow, and infrastructure.