Start with a Spreadsheet

One of the things that keep me awake at night are good ideas.

They come so unexpectedly, a lot of times when I was on the bed with my mind running amok.

If I had the good fortune to wake up the next morning still remember and think that it is a great idea, I likely would do one of the 3 things below:

  1. Think of a great name
  2. Make a nice logo
  3. Get a domain name. .COM if possible

80% of my ideas become not so good after a few months, and they eventually faded. I would then be left with a bunch of rather useless (but pretty) things like domain name and logos that are irrelevant to my next Big idea.

Recently I have (mostly unintentional) been start working on new ideas rather differently. Instead of a domain name, logo or a product name, I go straight to a spreadsheet.

Hint: Type “sheets.new” in your browser address bar to immediately open up a new Google Sheet

As I do this a few more times, I started to recognize the value of this practice.


Some questions I always asked myself these days when evaluating new ideas is:

  • Is this sustainable?
  • Can I do this weekly / monthly for very very long time, possibly even for a whole decade?

This is because I believe consistency trumps good ideas, and I am just really bad at being consistent. Starting with a spreadsheet is a great way to help me build out a repetitive process of sorts and forecast how far I can go with the idea.

Here are some ways I have tried starting a new idea with a spreadsheet:

Building a Blog

The 2 things that matter in a good blog that attract high traffic are quality topics and the volume of it.

To do this, I used Google Sheet to list out a long list of blog titles, each elaborated with research sources and reference materials. With a posting frequency in mind (eg. 2 blog posts a day), I would map out a list of blog title that I definitely would write on for the next 3 months.

This allows me to not slack off on the excuse of out of topic, or lack of reference material. All I have to do is click on the reference URL and start writing.

Building a Software

While a user experience prototype is a typical starting point for software, I sometimes use a spreadsheet to map out the different navigation and screen flow first. This allows me to have a clearer mind what are the total scope I have to design before sharing it with my developer.

A spreadsheet is also a simple way to get your mind rolling on designing a database structure

I also use spreadsheet to for marketing purposes, like mapping out my SEO keywords, places to share my marketing materials (like FB group) etc.

Building a Directory / Listing Site

I once tried to create a directory site of… the easiest way to reach human support for all ecommerce softwares. Given all the ticketing support / auto-reply annoyance, I figured it could be a good idea: People would come to my website in flocks, and I could monetize with affiliate marketing.

This obvious silly idea was built out over a weekend with spreadsheet and this amazing tool called awesome-table.com. My spreadsheet would have in each row name of the company, contact details, URL, logo URL and affiliate link.

As you might have already know, this idea faded off pretty quickly, but the experience of being able to spin out a live website (it’s called supportbyhuman.com) over a weekend gives me great confidence on what I could achieve if I just put my mind to it and start with a spreadsheet!

Starting a Mailing List service

Another time, I started a mailing list service called BirthdayBeep.com

The idea is that you could subscribe to my list, and every year during your birth-month I would send you an email featuring all the birthday discounts you can claim in town. It lives for 6 months and got 125 subscribers at its peak.

Mostly thanks to a local personal finance influence (Suraya from Ringgit Oh Ringgit) for featuring it.

One of the things I have to do was to research and collect various birthday promotions, and you guess it, I used a spreadsheet.

So yup, start with a spreadsheet.

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