How to Turn a Little Add-on into a Powerful Product and, Heck, Why Not a Unicorn?
Interview with Yannick Rault, CEO & Co-Founder of Sheetgo.
Whether you love working with them or not, spreadsheets are a part of doing business. Spreadsheets are the most commonly used type of software in the world with literally billions of users. Fortunately, the days of boring old spreadsheets are over thanks to Yannick Rault and his startup Sheetgo. With Sheetgo, users can ask the question, “What else can I do with my spreadsheet?” They can create workflows and automate processes that lead to greater efficiency while running a business.
Yannick joined the latest edition of the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast with Roland Siebelink. The founder and CEO of Sheetgo discussed all of the ways that Sheetgo can impact the billions of spreadsheet users and so much more:
- How Google didn’t even know the idea behind Sheetgo was possible before they saw it themselves.
- How Sheetgo has been able to survive and thrive without as much financing as competing companies.
- Why finding partners early on played a crucial role in Sheetgo finding its way in a crowded space.
- The two types of investors that are best able to help startups realize their dreams.
- How starting out as an add-on ended up being the best option for Sheetgo.
Sharing below the full transcript of Roland’s conversation with Yannick Rault.
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink and I’m a scaleup ally for tech founders. I am very excited today because we have with us Yannick Rault of Sheetgo.
Hello, Yannick. How are you today?
Yannick Rault: Hi, Roland. I’m great. How about yourself?
Roland Siebelink: Very good. I’m sorry that I cut off the Dutch part of your name, even though I am of Dutch origin. But I think it’ll be easier for our audience to just remember your surname or R-A-U-L-T. Is that right?
Yannick Rault: That’s right. I don’t think people will know in the States Rafael van der Vaart, the football player. In Europe maybe.
Roland Siebelink: Exactly, exactly. Well, we do have an audience all around the world, both in the US and in Europe. Yannick Rault van der Vaart, the CEO and founder of Sheetgo. Yannick, let’s go into the product in your company. What does Sheetgo do and who does it impact?
Yannick Rault: I think the most important thing to think about is who does it impact. It impacts those spreadsheet users in the world. Spreadsheets continue to be the most commonly used software. The main impact here is what else can I do with my spreadsheet? We use it for data analysis. We use it to put together information. But it usually lives siloed into a single use and the data can be leveraged for other things that we do ourselves or that other people are doing.
We realize that and realize the acuity to build out entire processes with the data and with the intelligence that one puts into a spreadsheet. We built Sheetgo so that anyone without any coding skills could actually create processes or workflows with the spreadsheet that they’re using day-to-day in their organization.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome. By turning it from this individual software, individual siloed software, to the basis of data in a company, I assume that you’re looking to get to efficiencies, bigger growth impacts, just lots of business outcomes, right?
Yannick Rault: Right. So saving time. Even people that automate processes with softwares like Salesforce, it costs a lot of money to do that. It costs a lot of implementation. You need IT resources, data scientists if you’re using BI. You can just not do any of that and just use Sheetgo. It’s not going to solve everything. But it’s going to get you 80% of the way there and with 20% of the resources and time.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome. Really implementing the Pareto equation there. The amount of people in your target group must be enormous. Do you have a particular focus within just this group of end users who use spreadsheets?
Yannick Rault: Yeah. We divided into two types of users. We have those users that actually understand spreadsheets can be leveraged and want to actually create these workflows. And all of a sudden they find Sheetgo and they can start using it. For startups, it’s great to be able to automate almost any process from sales to inventory to products to HR marketing, project management, finance. And we even have templates around it. It’s for those that want to create the reports and want to create this workflow.
But we also find that there is another type of user. And those are the users that are using a spreadsheet and they may not even realize that Sheetgo was running in the background. They’re just looking at graphs. They’re looking at reports and information that for some magical reason is always automatically updated, and that’s thanks to Sheetgo. Or the inputting information. Somebody told them, “Hey, put this in information. I’m a sales agent. I need to put this information in here.” Only I can see that magically it appears at the manager’s spreadsheet because it’s being brought automatically by Sheetgo.
Those end users that don’t necessarily are part of creating a process are actually in that beautiful process just using their Google sheets or their Excel spreadsheet. Those are the two types of users. How big is it? Well, if you put both of them together, you could probably reach a billion. But slowly we’re working our way up to that. The amount of people using online spreadsheets is growing exponentially, especially since COVID. Some people say that the number of people using online spreadsheets is now 300 million, there’s 400 million, there’s 200 million. I don’t know. It’s big enough for us anyways.
Roland Siebelink: Huge numbers anyway, right? Before we go more into your go-to market and your competition, let’s talk a little bit more about you, Yannick. What’s your background and how did you become the CEO and founder of a company like Sheetgo?
Yannick Rault: Okay. I was living in the US originally. In Europe, as we previously spoke, I’m a bit of a Euro trash. I was living in the US. I was an athlete back then. And I went to university; I really didn’t know what to do. I decided to do industrial engineering, finance, marketing, and also computer information systems. I was working, bartending on the weekends to make ends meet.
But when I was 19, I was able to get a job, building an intranet for FedEx. This is a while ago. This is 25 years ago. I thought that would be really cool, and that’s what I was doing. And that’s how I got involved in Internet business, in software, and eventually I worked for large corporations and into Silicon Valley, doing software and tech roadmaps. And that’s what I did in my twenties until I went into a different type of world in my thirties.
I wanted to do something real, not just software. And I ended up building homes, thousands of homes over in Latin America for lower middle income folks.. And, that was an incredible experience.
Roland Siebelink: A scalable home-building product for affordable homes, it sounds like?
Yannick Rault: Exactly. Scalable and ecological and all these great things. But you hit it right there, Roland. The issue was that it was never scalable enough and it was a bit frustrating because as big as we were able to do it with private equity involved, you still have a lot of government involvement. You still have to deal with construction materials, logistics, and we actually ended up realizing that to be able to do that properly, we had to manage everything online. And we actually built an entire ERP out of spreadsheets. That’s when this idea came out. If we were able to actually create an entire management system with dashboards online ourselves, why shouldn’t other people be able to do that?
And, then, I decided that for my forties, I wanted to go back into software. And even though we’re not doing ‘real’ things, What’s beautiful about software is just how scalable you can make it.
Roland Siebelink: That’s why Marc Andreessen says that software is eating the world, right? Because it’s so much more scalable than other industries.
I did want to jump back a little bit on where you said the whole genesis of Sheetgo was that you built an ERP system out of spreadsheets. Talk to me a little bit more about that. You did have a bit of a software engineering background, as I understand it. How did spreadsheets get so much momentum that it became your whole ERP?
Yannick Rault: It started with the versioning control of budgets. When you’re doing a lot of projects in construction, you need to do a lot of budgeting. And then you end up with version two, three, five. Of course, we went into Google docs back when it was really young as well. But once we started getting all the planning done properly, then I wanted to be able to feed the actual information of what was going on into that planning.
There wasn’t any software where you could easily have that online. So, we said, “Okay, let’s leverage what we already have online connected with the actuals.” Then once we had the actuals, we said, “Okay, I really want to know what’s going on in construction.” Is there some software out there where people can use a phone or the iPad (that had just come out) and put a check mark on things. And we couldn’t find anything. So I said, “Well, let’s do it ourselves.” Same thing with sales. On the ground, we had 10 different sites and we needed people to put sales in. And so, if we were to implement CRM, then how would that integrate with the rest of the system? And then it had to be online. Let’s just do that also. That’s how it all started building into this entire management system. I think the first version was 2009.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome. I do believe in the best startups being based on what they call the founder scratching their own itch in a way. Something that’s built in practice and only later do you realize, “Oh, we might actually have company potential with this one.” Does that feel like that’s what happened?
Yannick Rault: That’s exactly what happened. We actually wanted to do it back then, or in 2010. We spoke to Google. They invited us over to Mountain View to show them what we had done. They said, “We have never seen anyone do this. We didn’t know this was possible.” This is 2010. so back then, I really only dreamed of doing something like Sheetgo. But back then
One: we didn’t have the example, an Elon Musk type of CEO that could run two companies. Not by any means do I consider myself Elon Musk, but there wasn’t any example like that.
Two: not that many people using documents online. And I remember giving a speech somewhere about cloud computing in Europe. And people looked at me really weird and they were like, “This is not the future.” And I was like, “I see this as the future. I don’t know how you do not see it.”
Third: how do you do something like this without the necessity of consulting services? And that took a lot of thinking. We only started Sheetgo six years later. We wanted to start it in 2014. I just couldn’t get off my responsibilities fast enough. But it took a long time to really think about how do you make that scalable?
Maybe that’s one of those things that you have to really think through. The other part of services - making a product that’s easy enough that you don’t need services takes a lot of time and a lot of iteration. Even though we started probably more - not probably, for sure - more bootstrapped than our market counterparts - also because we didn’t have as much financing - it really pushed this to really iterate and understand thousands of users. How are they using spreadsheets for what? Because it is such a horizontal product. It really forced us to go to market early and iterate and understand.
Roland Siebelink: How do you deal with such a crowded space with so many offerings? So many companies with momentum, how do you carve out your own space in there and become successful?
Yannick Rault: Yeah. We’ve really gone always with the idea that we need to take advantage of the stack that most people use. We, early on, were partners with Google. We shared roadmaps to understand them. Make sure that we’re really complementing each other. We don’t pretend to create a Google Sheet. I think it would take a lot of resources to do that. There’s some players trying to do that.
At the same time, now this year we’ve launched with Microsoft. We’ve also worked very close with their engineers to understand what they’re doing. What they’re doing now with Microsoft Excel, especially this year, especially now, they’re pushing new features out there, leveraging the cloud. And again, I don’t think we can pretend to ever be able to do that.
But what we do pretend to do is take advantage of knowing those two great stacks and making more of it. Because those stacks are already in the companies. The Legacy Excel is there. I think the most important thing is being close to our partners, being very honest, transparent, and finding ways to find synergies.
Roland Siebelink: Just for the listeners who are not aware yet, where is Sheetgo based now? How did you decide to start the company there? And what’s generally been your experience with location-based decisions and how this helps or hinders your startup?
Yannick Rault: I still don’t know if it hinders it. I think only time will tell. We’re based out of Spain, our headquarters. But we also have teams in Brazil. Our engineering is over there and more than half of our customers are in the US. We have clients in another 70 countries.
But I think - this is pre-COVID. We have four offices in different parts and then some people working from home. Now, because of COVID, everybody’s working from home. We do have one office that’s open. A few people go to it. For us, we are already used to it, so there wasn’t that much of a setback with this. Maybe that’s been something good.
And then the other thing is when you need resources, you become also smart on how to use your resources when you have limited ones. Our engineering team, actually, had the opportunity to move to Europe, and they decided to stay in Brazil. We have great resources there. We’ve created a great team, great ambience, a great culture. From music jamming to sports online, to gaming, depending on what people like to do.
The idea of location, I think now is a huge factor. You’ve heard DropBox, who is also a partner of ours, has also gone remote first. Location, I’m not sure how it’s gonna play into things in the future.
Roland Siebelink: Right, right, right. I hear you. And what about attracting investment? Do you feel it’s still necessary to have a base in Silicon Valley in order to attract the top investors?
Yannick Rault: I think you have to have a - I’m not sure if it’s the right way to say it - but this American mindset of you can become a unicorn and that you’re gonna eat the world. That’s the mindset I think we all need to have. Even if you’re in Spain, Luxembourg, Brazil, wherever you are. I think that’s what VCs are looking for.
Of course, in our case, more than half of customers are in the US, that is more attractive. Also, I’m part American. If it wasn’t for COVID, we would be living in the US, my family and I, because of business. But because of COVID, I’ve been stopped. But we were moving there because at the end of the day, there is some serendipity by being with amazing people thinking big like there are in the US. Having said all that, the response to your question, I do see that VCs in the States are starting to become much more open-minded about international talent.
Roland Siebelink: Just generally, what do you feel about the decision-making about when to raise money? Should you go for as much as you can or should you be very cautious about it? What’s been your experience with raising money and making the calls as to when to go for it?
Yannick Rault: I’ve done it all and I’m not sure if I’m ever right. The previous company, we started with a million and then raised 20 million within a year, which was crazy back 10 years ago. In this company, we’ve raised in total, probably about a million over the last four years.
I am known to be a bit of an extreme person, so probably good balance is good. And depends on what’s available to you. Right now, there’s a lot of money in the market for crazy ideas, anyone that wants to eat the world up. If you can raise it, do it. As long as you can keep the mindset on your dream intact. I think that’s really important and it’s very difficult.
And everybody says this, it’s almost too common to say this, but really, try to find money that’s not going to drag you in any way, shape or form. Either nobody’s going to ask any questions or bother you at all, or money that’s really going to help you because there’s some really smart investors out there. You can find those and they can really push you. You’re going to have tough moments. And if you have an investor that’s a pain in the ass, in those tough moments, they’re even more a pain in the ass.
Instead, have supporters. You have those hard moments and you have that investor: “Come on. I believe the dream. Let’s do it. What else can you think of? Let’s go for it. Let me present it to someone.” I think if you can have that kind of investor, that’s incredible.
Roland Siebelink: Talk to me a little bit, Yannick, about your go-to market. How has Sheetgo started to attract users? What are some tricks or tactics you figured out that work for you and how are you proceeding to get to these billion users?
Yannick Rault: I’m not sure there’s any right or wrong here. We decided to start as an add-on of a part that was up and coming in that time was Google, Google sheets, now called Workspaces. And that was really useful because we really were able to bring in and start working with that early adopter. And really start to work with them and see what they were trying to do.
And I think that helped a lot. Then when we moved to our own standalone web application a couple of years back in 2018, we realized just how hard it is to have a standalone product that’s not just an add on for a product. We went through that. I think it was good to start as an add on because we could really iterate and understand the user.
Having said that, it really was tough to have them change the mindset to have a product by itself. In fact, it’s changed so much that, if you can imagine, before we were an add on for a spreadsheet. And now with Dropbox, with Google, and it’s coming out of Microsoft now, you opened Sheetgo by itself as an application and we embed the spreadsheet itself. So, who’s the add on now? It’s beautiful that we can leverage the stack that Excel and Google have done and their storage systems of them and Dropbox so that you can start doing beautiful, wonderful workflows from our product.
Roland Siebelink: Can you talk a little bit, Yannick, about how big Sheetgo’s team is right now? And especially, the question I get from a lot of founders, how have you divided up the number of people between, let’s say the product engineering side and the marketing/sales side?
Yannick Rault: We’re very product driven. Maybe because I’m a bit of a geek on that side, but we’re very, very product driven. Our marketing and sales team is also very customer driven. I know that everybody says that. But we really think about happiness with our customers. We don’t have a big marketing commercial team, which is tough. We focus our attention to onboarding, to understanding the product, and to the backend.
It’s very data intensive, very technology intensive to be able to do what we do. I’d say we’ve gone around and been very product and more commercial, and then a bit more commercial.
Roland Siebelink: Yannick, what’s next? What are some of the key targets that you’ve set for yourself and for Sheetgo? And if some of our listeners are interested, how can they help you with them?
Yannick Rault: We’re going to go a little bit beyond spreadsheets with things that are complementary with spreadsheets that we have found over the years, and that we’ve worked a little bit in some alpha programs that these companies with to make sure that we we’re going to be doing it right. We’re working on it right now and we’ll be releasing in 2021 some of those really cool things.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent teaser to see what’s to come. Everybody, please go to sheetgo.com, I believe it is right.
Yannick Rault: Yeah. There’s a free version. Use it and abuse it? Please connect me up on LinkedIn. There’s not that many Yannick’s at Sheetgo. If you have questions, if you have feedback, crash it if you can, our customer support team is always super happy. There’s these pop ups that you’ll see that my team wants to talk to you. They really do. Come visit Sheetgo.com.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome. And if any investors are interested to get an intro to Yannick, I’m also happy to provide as well, of course. Anything that you want to leave our audience with, Yannick? What’s the key learning that you have made in your several entrepreneurial ventures that some of our founders listening to this podcast might learn something from?
Yannick Rault: The more you know, the less you know.
Roland Siebelink: Very humble. I love it. There must be some Dutch blood in you after all, right?
Yannick Rault: Yeah, I do sound a bit American, right? There is some Dutch blood, that’s for sure. In this startup, I’ve received so much help and so many people at Microsoft, at Google, at Dropbox, so many other startup CEOs, so many accelerated programs, anything we can get into, we’ve really rallied for a lot of help. And I’m really, really thankful for that because - I don’t know, we really need to know a lot of stuff and we still do.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. It sounds like one point of advice to our founders is definitely seek help where you can and don’t think you know it all, would that be correct?
Yannick Rault: I think so. Although there’s a lot more smarter startup founders out there that might not need all that. But for sure, we do. Especially the younger ones have so much ideas, so we hire young.
Roland Siebelink: Hire young people. Okay. And if anyone is interested in working with Sheetgo, what kind of jobs do you typically hire for? And in which locations are you looking?
Yannick Rault: We look mostly - now everything’s remote, so we have people in the US, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Brazil, all over Brazil. We’re starting to see more folks living in their dream home or dream place, even here in Spain. They want it to live on the beach or live in a small town and leverage that because we can leverage that as well. If you want to live your dream and with a great team that’s really transparent and open, come join us.
Commercial side, we’re always looking for great people that can onboard customers. If you’re over in Brazil, we do prefer our technology team to be in Brazil if you’re tech. And then content people, if you love processes, workflows, spreadsheets, and you want to be part of the content that we have so much need to create, come join us. Make sure you speak good English and write good English, and join the dream.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Thank you so much, Yannick Rault for joining us at the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast, CEO and founder of Sheetgo. This was an amazing interview and we will be keeping a great eye on Sheetgo and your next accomplishments.
Yannick Rault: Thank you, Roland. Appreciate it.
Roland Siebelink: Absolutely. And thank you everyone for listening this week. Next week, we will have another founder from another place in the world. That will be equally absorbent episode. Thank you so much.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.