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Published at Sun Mar 03 2024 in
Rows HQ

2024 W10 - Hacking is alive and well

Blog - Solve with AI. Rubik's cube. Challenge

Every week I post about one thing that happened at Rows. We're building in public!


The last few weeks I have ramped up solving spreadsheets with a few users. This is within the larger context of our team being ever closer to users and clients - we're clocking in some ~100 conversations per week.

Many of them want advanced stuff. Under the hood, a spreadsheet like Rows has a few skills that help users solve any challenge, but some stuff is better to productize.

This post is an exploration of one of those cases.

The user has a Form to submit orders for a US manufacturing company. They ran it with a simple traditional spreadsheet, but it involved emailing and tracking XLSX files. A spreadsheet and operations consultant working for them tried Rows and liked it. He followed a building guide like this YouTube video. So he got to work and built a system in Rows, but he and the manufacturing client wanted to make the process even better.

3 challenges were cool to solve with spreadsheets!

  1. How to connect multiple dropdowns to each other. Example: if you select a Country on the first, then you get Cities as options on the second dropdown. This is one of the solutions.

  2. How to clear cells in a spreadsheet using a button. Example: you have a form, or a calculator, or a model, and want to reset it with empty values (or some value). Here's 2 different solutions.

  3. How to send a whole table inside an email, using a button, from the cells! More things with buttons and actions. Example: you have a table with an order form, and you need to send it to the customer as proof of the ordering, or to the incoming sales department. You can use this email sender as a base.

No matter how many features we add to Rows, hacking spreadsheets survives. I think this is for 3 main reasons:

  1. Personally, it's fun and challenging to go beyond what's visible, and try to accomplish more and more.

  2. Actually, adding features makes the next hack more likely instead of less likely. This is because in a "building tool", components compound their power on top of each other, especially given our open structure. Example: our cells support a powerful data type (json) which lets you interface with APIs, cloud services and more. With that and a couple of functions alone, you can build nearly everything.

  3. End of the day, users want to solve problems. you want to stay within the guardrails a lot, but for that extra touch of fit, sometimes you have to go off-product and into-the-custom-development round. Luckily enough, our "custom development" is just building a fancier spreadsheet.

Other stuff, of course, can't be hacked simply! Like adding more Chart types. Well, it can be done, like you call an API that generates Charts from a cell, then load the resulting imagine inside another cell.

And that's the spreadsheet hacking of the week.


See you next week!