Why AI and Spreadsheet-backed Apps Change the 'Build vs Buy' Calculus

     Did you ever really want a toy that looked really cool, but when you got it, you cried because it didn't work how you thought it would? This feeling is the same feeling businesses have when they buy software—it's generally a huge disappointment. Not just because it's ugly or confusing, but because businesses end up having to contort their workflows and business around the software, rather than the other way around. How did we get here? Well, it's because traditionally software is very expensive to develop, and at a given moment of technological development, there is a trade-off between usability and flexibility. The more powerful a piece of software is, the easier it is to shoot yourself in the foot. The most powerful type of software is low-level programming languages like C, Rust, and Go. These languages can do anything, but require a lot of expertise to get working correctly. On the other side of the spectrum, you have something like a tic-tac-toe game, or a calculator app—these do one simple thing, and they're basically unbreakable. Most business software falls in a "no man's land" between these two extremes—complex enough to be difficult to use, but often not flexible enough to do precisely what your business needs.

Traditionally, software is very expensive to develop, and at a given moment of technological development, there is a trade-off between usability and flexibility

This dilemma is why large businesses invest millions of dollars into developing custom software that meets their exact needs. Custom software provides a competitive advantage to businesses by shaping itself to the needs of the business, and not the other way around. Why don't small and medium-sized businesses do the same? It's because, historically, the process of developing custom software has been really expensive, risky, and time-consuming, not to mention cumbersome to maintain.

One class of software has stood the test of time in being able to strike a better, practical balance between power and usability, and that's spreadsheets. Spreadsheet programs like Excel and Google Sheets are easy for non-coders to use and administer. So when we set out to change the economics of building custom software, that's where we started.

An entry-level developer can deploy their first SheetRocks app in just two minutes

SheetRocks is a new platform for building spreadsheet-backed apps. Combined with AI, it changes the economics of building and maintaining custom software for your business. Traditional web apps have layers or "tiers"—a database, a server level (for responding to requests), and a frontend (this is the code that runs in your browser). A spreadsheet-backed app is a web app that uses a spreadsheet as a database. People have been doing this in a hacky way for years, but SheetRocks is the first product to be built from the ground up for this purpose. It's built with database-like performance, an easy-to-use API, and serverless runtime so that small teams can get apps stood up quickly. In fact, an entry-level developer can deploy their first SheetRocks app in just two minutes.

Being able to run full web apps off a spreadsheet backend means that non-coders can operationalize the data coming in instantly—administrative actions like data entry, analysis, and audits can be done quickly and easily through the spreadsheet interface. It's the best solution for scrappy teams who need to stay in control of their data and workflows.

With the advent of AI-accelerated development, the cost to fine-tune the SheetRocks platform for your business has plummeted. We've had customers tell us other vendors were quoting them $50k - $70k for a complex software solution; we were able to build a more complete solution for just $5k, with negligible ongoing costs. More and more customers are realizing that, rather than cobbling together a hodgepodge of a dozen different apps that still don't all work together, you can use a platform like SheetRocks to do precisely what you need, and maintain it for a fraction of the cost.

It might be helpful to think about it in terms of toys. Off-the-shelf software is like a store-bought action figure: you get what you get, and you can't change it. Low-code tools like ReTool and Airtable are like Legos: pre-built blocks of functionality that you can snap together to do different things, but that still come with a lot of limitations. SheetRocks is like a 3D printer: you figure out the shape of software that you want, and you can rapidly assemble and cheaply maintain that functionality moving forward. Using AI-accelerated development combined with a low-maintenance spreadsheet platform really changes the calculus of building vs buying software: more and more small and medium-sized businesses are realizing they'd rather just have a single piece of software that does exactly what they need instead of navigating a labyrinth of tools.

SheetRocks is free to get started, and we'll help you or your devs onboard onto the platform. It's like a toy factory for grownups (without the choking hazards).
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