Terrible MVPs in 10 Minutes with Google Sheets

I can't program. But, I can join up bits and pieces without having to. If you can work IFTTT, and write a formula in Excel, know basic HTML and can copy-paste snippets from Bootstrap you can build basic products.

Note to startup founders: Any motivated non-technical founder can use this to get a simple product setup in an afternoon.

Start small: creating code snippets

The use case: I want to create repeated snippets of HTML for a website.

A proper web developer could make a database, put in a variable name and change {firstName} {lastName} according to what user ID's are requested.

But I don't know how to do that...

I can make a "database" in a Google Sheet with all the variable names as columns and records as rows. Then, I can use the concatenate function to piece together the code between {firstName} etc.

Something suitably dreadful like this...

It works! I can alter the records depending on what I want, and spit out usable HTML every time.

Takes 5 minutes to assemble.

Stepping it up a notch. Dynamic content…

So that's kind of helpful, but what if I wanted to use a tool to find something out? Beyond just fiddly copy-pasting…

I'm a plane nerd. One of my plane needing activities is finding absurdly cheap flights. The key trick (for long haul from the UK) is to fly from mainland Europe, taking advantage of the lower origin-to-destination fares (particularly during sales), absence of UK Air Passenger Duty and so on.

You can find these with ITA Matrix (think having hundreds of Kayak / Hipmunk / Skyscanner / airline search results open concurrently - awesome!) but it is still dependent on user input.

What if there was an app which knew which key destinations I want to go, and alerts me to the cheapest fares and when?

We can build this in Google Sheets!

Using the ImportXML function, we can write XPath queries to scrape and parse HTML (such as airline's offers pages). We can also use ImportHTML to pull in raw tables and lists.

So, by creating a list of all sales offer pages by each country specific airline website, scraping destination and price tables, converting the prices into £'s using the GoogleFinance function to get the latest spot rates, then sorting the results by price, it's possible to (at a glance) get an overview of the cheapest places to depart from.

ba-offers-page.png

Takes about an hour. Boosh!

Full Read-Write MVPs

So far we've only really created things which create things to consume. What about creating and saving things too.

Yes, you can happily hack that together with Google Sheets and a tool called Gridspree.

Google Sheets has an API endpoint for those who can use that, but for mere mortals you can signup with your Google account to Gridspee and it will read (and write to) your Google Sheets.

Gridspree's designed for a web interface, so you get a handlebars HTML template to adjust and one line script to turn your rows and columns into something dynamic. It can only do this to the first sheet in a whole spreadsheet, but that's not the end of the world in MVP-land.

Better still, it gives you the form fields to save content back to your spreadsheet. Wonderful!

So now we can build a simple, single-user app. You could try to use this as a basic backend to bolt on actual code to (logged in, many users etc.) but that's getting into the world of real products. This is enough to test ideas with.

Quick, filthy ways to make MVPs in Google Sheets. Try it, if only to humour your proper developer friends :)