Smartsheet is exploding because it works like the tools we all know
Early this year, I was searching for a tool to help me coordinate CITEworld's workflow. We're a small team, but a couple writers wanted an easy way to check what everybody else was working on -- both to make sure that all our bases were covered on the big stories, and to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort.
I tried out a number of tools. Campfire seemed more like a real-time communication tool, which was overkill for our small team; I simply wanted a single place where everybody could see, at a glance, what everybody else was working on. Same with Salesforce Chatter and Microsoft Yammer. (Plus Yammer requires a domain-specific email address, which doesn't work with our mostly freelance staff.) Salesforce's Do.com wasn't intuitive enough -- I had trouble finding an easy way for writers to view all projects underway. A couple of our writers had objections to the way Asana worked with their computing platforms of choice. Another writer didn't want to create a Microsoft account to use SkyDrive for a shared spreadsheet. And so on.
Finally, I punted on the whole endeavor and went back to the way we were doing it before, and the way that most other publications used to do it back in the olden days: email and a spreadsheet. In other words, everybody emails me what they're working on, and I track everything in Excel. It ain't pretty, but it works.
Apparently, I'm not alone.
Smartsheet cofounder Brent Frei has turned that same insight into a thriving company. Smartsheet is an online project manager that looks like an Excel spreadsheet. But it works like a spreadsheet on steroids -- you can share individual rows, attach files to rows, coordinate events with a shared calendar, even attach Gantt charts (the project management charts best known from Microsoft Project). It's flexible enough to be used for small teams to track fairly simple workflows -- like us -- or for event company Populous to coordinate the SuperBowl.
Frei explains, "You go into any Fortune 500 company, and around that central core of Oracle or SAP, the whole business is run on spreadsheets and email. Our thesis around our product is don't go build the next Basecamp, the next Project, the next Yammer. Take the tool that people have already picked – a billion people know how to use this already – and fix it! Stick file sharing on the side of it, add a Gantt chart if somebody wants to see it, make it talk to your calendar so the dates were actually active."
The approach is working -- the Seattle-based company tripled its revenue and customer base each year from 2009 through 2011, and is now being used by 23,000 companies. That includes 100,000 paying Smartsheet creators, and as many as 600,000 "active" collaborators.
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