AppSheet is a DIY solution for mobile applications

“Have you ever built an app?” Praveen Seshadri, CEO and cofounder of AppSheet, asks me as he’s preparing to demonstrate his company’s platform at Eastside Incubator in Redmond.

“No,” I reply. “I mean, I’m OK with computers and technology. I’ve always wanted to, and I think coding and data have become such important aspects of journalism. But I haven’t made the time to learn, but I know I should.”

The query wasn’t meant to draw a defensive answer, but there it was. Seshadri explained that if he had asked if I’d ever built a document, spreadsheet, or Powerpoint presentation, my answer probably would have been a confident yes.

“So why should it be any different with apps?” he asks.

That line of thinking is at the core of AppSheet, a platform that lets you create apps from spreadsheets. AppSheet was recently named the Most Innovative Product of the Year at Bellevue Chamber of Commerce’s Eastside Business Awards.

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Seshadri, who taught computer science at Cornell in the late ’90s, joined forces with one of his former grad students, Brian Sabino, in 2012 to build a startup. The duo had spent time at Microsoft working with databases, and Sabino had experience with startups and mobile applications. Photo by Rachel Coward.

“The general thought was that mobile apps were being used in plenty of consumer settings, but not as much in business environments. Let’s see what we can do,” Seshadri says.

The founders pivoted often in the company’s early stages. Sabino and Seshadri tried to build apps for specific industries like real estate, retail, and trade shows.

“We learned it was really difficult and expensive to build these apps,” Seshadri says. “We talked to all these potential customers who wanted custom apps, but certainly couldn’t spend, say, $20,000 to build it. We also found that customers would give us their data so we could understand their needs, but data were always presented in a spreadsheet. Every small and medium business in the world pretty much has data in a spreadsheet. That’s what people interact with. Why couldn’t it be possible that anyone could build an app, just from the data in a spreadsheet?”

Answering that question laid the company’s path. AppSheet’s target market is the small- to medium-size businesses that need apps but don’t have money to spend hiring high-priced developers or employees with coding knowledge. The startup’s website has a sample gallery featuring dozens of apps that handle store inventory, client lists, sales reports, media budgets, and more.

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Cofounder Pravee Seshadri, marketing director Santiago Uribe, and marketing and communications manager Julia Guthrie, work together at Eastside Incubator in Redmond. Photo by Rachel Coward.

Seshadri showed me how to create my own city-guide app in minutes. This particular template allowed me to input data into a spreadsheet about a city I’m traveling to, and then create a custom guide with photos, maps, and other pertinent tools.

To build an app with AppSheet, a user needs four things — data in a spreadsheet (Excel, Google Sheets, or a Smartsheet file), access to a cloud service (Google Drive, Office365, DropBox, Box, or Smartsheet), AppSheet’s app editor, and an iOS or Android device. You can create unlimited apps for personal use or prototype generation for free, and there are tiered plans for small businesses, publishers, and larger companies.

Since its launch in October 2014, AppSheet has served more than 10,000 app creators from more than 100 countries. The company runs a Google Community forum where users can connect with each other, discuss app ideas, request new features, and solicit troubleshooting (premium users can get support directly from AppSheet rather than relying on the forum).

“Right now, many of our customers are professionals in small business. We want to make sure our product grows with this audience,” Seshadri says. “The next step is larger companies. Eventually, we actually think there will be a billion users of mobile apps that are custom-created for them, and there will be a million creators of those apps. Employees at every company and individuals in every organization will be creating apps just like they do documents.”

How It Works

  • Start with one or more spreadsheets stored in the cloud with Google Drive, Office 365, Dropbox, Box, or Smartsheet.
  • Choose the type of app you want to build. Pick from a growing list of app types, from lead tracking and sales report apps to contact directories, city guides, and more.
  • Fine tune and modify your app with AppSheet and instantly distribute to others.
  • You can run the app on iOS and Android devices and on any Web browser.