Why some Googlers use this competing spreadsheet instead of Apps

smartsheet user
Credit: Smartsheet

Smartsheet for project management.

Smartsheet, the online project management tool built around a spreadsheet, has some unexpected fans: Google employees.

Smartsheet is announcing $35 million in new funding today and used the opportunity to talk about some big name customers. One of them is Google.

Smartsheet executives wouldn't say how many people inside Google are using the service but said adoption was on a similar scale as other customers highlighted on Smartsheet's website. Those companies all have around 2,000 Smartsheet users.

Smartsheet's founders argued that their product isn't directly competitive with the Google Apps spreadsheet. Smartsheet offers more features that make the service nice to use for collaborating and not just on spreadsheets full of formulas. People typically use Smartsheets for task and project management.

However, Google positions its Apps suite of products, including the spreadsheet, similarly as products that enable collaboration. You could argue that the products don't compete, but only because the Google Apps spreadsheet doesn't have the full suite of features that Smartsheet does. 

Google employees who wanted to use Smartsheet had to explain why before Google would allow it, Smartsheet CEO Mark Mader told us. "Users had to say why they couldn't use a Google app," he said. Those employees cited things like the way information is stored and structured in Smartsheets and that Smartsheet allows for date- and time-specific reminders, he said.

Google is known to be reluctant to allow workers to use cloud services so asking employees to prove they need to use an app could be standard practice. Google didn't reply to a request for comment.

screenshot of smartsheet Smartsheet

Brent Frei, Smartsheet's founder, says Smartsheet offers many more collaboration features than standard spreadsheets. "They're discovering they fall short when it comes to creating timelines, viewing work graphically, having the spreadsheet talk to their calendar, the way they can control interactions with people outside the company," he said.

The use of Smartsheet inside Google is additive rather than a replacement for Google Apps, Mader said. "Google employees who use Smartsheets are I'm sure using Google spreadsheets for a certain set of use cases," he said. "But certain work flows that are collaborative, that require the updating and tracking we provide are not possible with Google. It's an extension, as opposed to 'power down your use of Google.'"

In fact, Google Apps are integrated with Smartsheet so that Smartsheet users can attach Google Docs, sync project dates to Google Calendar, and embed project workflows into Gmail. 

Smartsheet says it has more than 42,000 paying customers, including Groupon, Netflix, and Office Depot. While the vast majority of those customers came in through the back door, initially with small groups of users that grew as they collaborate with more people, the company has begun targeting corporate-wide deals. Those larger agreements tend to come when companies make a broader shift to the cloud, by switching from using Office software to Google mail and Apps, for instance, Mader said. 

The $35 million investment, from Sutter Hill Ventures, Insight Venture Partners, and Madrona Venture Group, will fund engineering as well as sales and support, Frei said. "I can count on less than one hand the number of companies that have the breadth of opportunity we have," he said. "There are a billion spreadsheet users. A large share are using spreadsheets to track work."

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