Learn to build the future

Weekly tech analysis, market deep-dive & strategy. Discover profitable industries in consumer tech and platform economies. For founders, VCs, analysts & innovators.

Read free report

Unbundling of Excel and the Future of SaaS

Excel is SaaS’s biggest competitor

In a pre-SaaS (software-as-a-service) world, nearly every industry relied on Microsoft Excel. Accountants relied on it for finance management. Managers used it for project management. HR used it for payrolls and employee directories. The sales team used it for lead management and CRM. Individuals used it for to-do list planning.

As companies adopt digitization, operations and workflows become more complicated. Businesses need to find a way to automate and scale efficiently. Teams need to collaborate internally and externally. Specific use cases gave rise to the unbundling of Excel—businesses are created to replace spreadsheets with alternative tools that cater to a niche target audience, interest, and job-to-be-done.

Turning Excel templates into software companies

Despite new players arise, Excel has yet to be completely replaced due to its decade-long usage, programming capabilities (i.e. Excel formula), and reliability.

In fact, most SaaS apps are simply products unbundled from Excel. These are businesses that turn spreadsheets into profitable software companies:

  • Salesforce, one of the earliest SaaS businesses founded in 1999 replaced CRM spreadsheets in Excel
  • Trello, Jira, and Asana replaced project management and Gantt chart Excel templates
  • Xero, QuickBooks replaced bookkeeping in spreadsheets
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more business categories are born out to replace Excel templates
  • (📥 Full version) 14 more company examples across business categories

Unbundling of Excel: Era 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0

To understand the future of SaaS, we need to zoom into the transition of Excel unbundling. I call it Excel 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 of Excel unbundling:

  • Unbundling of Excel 1.0: The Internet was born. Rise of cloud-based apps such as cloud-based CRM (Salesforce, Hubspot), document management (Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Online), and cloud accounting (Xero). Softwares are created to replace spreadsheet functionalities with a better interface, user experience, integration, and workflow optimization.
  • Unbundling of Excel 2.0: Rise of collaboration tools. Softwares are created to empower team collaboration. For example, project management (Trello, Asana), document collaboration, communication tools. (📥 Full version) 9 more company examples across segments.
  • Unbundling of Excel 3.0: Rise of no-code, low-code tools. Softwares are created to turn spreadsheets into apps without any technical knowledge. Airtable & Coda turns spreadsheets into interactive databases. Glide, Adalo turns spreadsheets into mobile apps. (📥 Full version) 5 more company examples across segments.

What problems do they solve?

  • Break down technical barriers. No-code and low-code tools empower non-technical developers to build websites, apps, automated workflow, and infrastructure.
  • Reduce blockers. Most team collaboration apps solve this problem by allowing internal collaboration within an organization.
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more valid problems existing players are solving. Understand these problem statements will help you build something people want. You’ll also learn:
  • Problem definition 1: What problems does Firebase solve?
  • Problem definition 2: What problems do collaboration apps solve?
  • Problem definition 3: What problems do low-code apps solve?

Business models

A SaaS typically makes money through a monthly or yearly recurring subscription membership model by providing access to the product features. There are different ways to charge access for users, for example:

  • (📥 Full version) 4 more strategies to help you layer different revenue streams and build a profitable SaaS. You’ll also learn:
  • Strategy 1: If you’re just starting out with a SaaS MVP, you can monetize immediately using this pricing model, then add more revenue layers as you go.
  • Strategy 2: If you want to scale the pricing, this model is a good addition.
  • Strategy 3: If you’re creating a SaaS for creators monetization, this is a strategic business model.
  • Strategy 4: Most common way to create additional revenue streams on top of your core SaaS features.

Why now?

There are massive opportunities to build in the SaaS space. This section explores the key takeaways, the future of SaaS, and the “why now” questions (most important slide in a pitch deck!) for your investors:

  • To compete in today’s SaaS world, it’s not enough to create a SaaS business by offering better UI and UX. Customers have rising expectations—does it offer automation? Integration? Speed? API? All-in-one feature for the price of one?
  • (📥 Full version) 4 more market evidence in detail to help you answer the “why now” questions. You’ll also learn:
  • Evidence 1: new problems that are emerged from remote work and why new SaaS solutions are needed
  • Evidence 2: new problems that are emerged from freelancing entrepreneurship and why it matters for SaaS businesses
  • Evidence 3: why this cultural shift in the workplace will give rise to new SaaS solutions?
  • Evidence 4: where the future of SaaS is heading?

Business opportunities

  • (📥 Full version) 3 specific product ideas and business opportunities that are solving problems. You’ll unlock:
  • Opportunity 1: SaaS idea that helps cross-functional teams collaborate
  • Opportunity 2: SaaS idea that helps product team build the right product features
  • Opportunity 3: SaaS idea in automation

Want to go in-depth? Get the full version.

Buy 3-Month Membership

$100 USD / for 3 months

Exclusive full version report

4 new reports every month

Delivered straight to your inbox

Covering consumer tech & Internet platforms

No auto-renew. Re-subscribe anytime after expiry.

Get Weekly Pro Report

Upon purchase, you'll receive an email to access all Members-only full report. New reports will be sent to your inbox (weekly).

E-commerce roll-ups and the rise of Thrasio biz model

The rise of e-commerce roll-ups

In the past, roll-ups were mainly proceeded by private equity firms, large conglomerates, and institutional buyers whereby companies acquire businesses in the same market and merging them under a single entity to scale.

Today, there are new companies that consolidate independent private label brands with decent revenue. They are the aggregators of e-commerce brands. Unlike marketplaces that connect buyers and sellers to acquire or sell off their brands (e.g. Flippa and Exchange Marketplace by Shopify), roll-up platforms are operational and resourceful. They:

  • have a thesis around e-commerce product categories they want to acquire
  • search across marketplaces like Amazon and Shopify
  • find winners and merge these companies
  • operate like a private equity firm, may fund and invest in buyout businesses
  • platform-agnostic or vertical-focused
  • grow them collectively using built-in technology, infrastructure, data analytics, operational expertise, capital, and economies of scale
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more specific strategies on how aggregators operate and scale

Key players around the world

  • Amazon-focused aggregators: Thrasio (made $100 million in profits, acquired more than 100+ brands), Heyday, Perch, and Branded
  • Shopify aggregator: OpenStore
  • Home living & consumer electronics roll-up: Berlin Brands Group
  • Asia-Pacific focused consolidator: Una Brands (raised US$40 million) targets acquisition on Tokopedia, Lazada, Shopee, and Rakuten using a platform-agnostic approach by focusing on Shopify, Magento, or WooCommerce.
  • (📥 Full version) 1 more company that focuses on the Amazon platform
  • (📥 Full version) 5 more companies from emerging market

What problems do they solve?

  • Not being able to find ideal buyers ➝ help sellers get acquired. Roll-up platforms help successful e-commerce merchants or direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands to exit their businesses lucratively.
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more valid problems they are solving that actually make these platforms super profitable. You’ll also learn:
  • how do roll-up platforms create values for their clients?
  • what are the user pain points in getting a business acquired?
  • how do they tackle complexities in selling off businesses?

Business models

Roll-up companies are running the business using a private-equity model. They act like collaborators, operators, and venture capitalists (VC) at the same time. For example:

  • Thrasio acquires third-party sellers on Amazon focusing on everyday consumer brands, scale the business, and offer exit options for the sellers. In 2020, Thrasio profits $100 million on $500 million in revenues.
  • Heyday provides tech stack, capital, advice, and insights to help consumer product brands accelerate the next level of growth.
  • (📥 Full version) 2 more specific ways to monetize as e-commerce aggregators. You’ll also learn:
  • different ways to partner with potential acquisition targets
  • different ways to expand your roll-up portfolio

Why now?

As e-commerce entrepreneurship is exploding, there will be more successful independent merchants who will need to find a way to exit their brands. Here is the market potential snapshot:

  • Growing numbers of independent sellers. In 2020, more than 50% of Amazon's gross merchandise volume (GMV) was coming from third-party, independent sellers.
  • (📥 Full version) 3 more market evidence in detail to help you answer the “why now” questions for your investors or partners. You’ll also learn:
  • insight from Amazon financial statement
  • impact of D2C brands
  • insight from the emerging e-commerce markets and why there are untapped opportunities to monetize

Business opportunities

  • (📥 Full version) 4 specific product ideas and business opportunities that are solving problems. You’ll unlock:
  • one specific product idea in SaaS
  • one vertical-focused roll-up platform idea
  • solution to help aggregators find the next acquisition winner
  • specific business idea to participate in a roll-up partnership

Want to go in-depth? Get the full version.

Buy 3-Month Membership

$100 USD / for 3 months

Exclusive full version report

4 new reports every month

Delivered straight to your inbox

Covering consumer tech & Internet platforms

No auto-renew. Re-subscribe anytime after expiry.

Get Weekly Pro Report

Upon purchase, you'll receive an email to access all Members-only full report. New reports will be sent to your inbox (weekly).