Eight years ago, Seattle-area entrepreneur Peter Polson decided to pursue what he perceived as a gap in the personal finance software market, inspired by the increasingly complex needs of his growing family to keep track of their finances and disappointed with the options available at the time.
Given the technology trends, he initially assumed that would mean a mobile app.
But the data, rightly so, offered a different solution. In their initial user research, Polson and his team went on to identify a passionate cohort of spreadsheet fanatics. At first, they saw this group as a lost cause. They would never move them to a mobile app. Then they realized: it was their people.
The result was Tiller, a subscription service that populates customizable spreadsheets with automated data feeds from banks and other financial institutions – tracking expenses, income, investments and budgets using models and a community of users who share solutions and workflows.
After initially prioritizing Google Sheets development, Tiller has been expanding on Microsoft Excel since last year, due to the popularity of what was then its limited Excel solution.
The payoff came with the announcement in May that Microsoft would recommend Tiller to its Microsoft 365 subscribers, offering Tiller a 60-day free trial, double the normal length. The bar costs $79/year after the trial.
Microsoft simultaneously announced that it would discontinue its own solution, Money in Excel, in a year’s time on June 30, 2023. Money in Excel was introduced in June 2020. Explaining the decision, Microsoft cited its desire to focus on other areas where the company believes it can have a greater impact.
With this announcement, Tiller saw an increase in the number of Excel users. Previously, most of the company’s subscribers were Google Sheets users, but that has now changed, with Excel accounting for the majority of its new customers. Registrations have more than doubled since Microsoft’s announcement, according to the company.
That makes sense, given the size of Microsoft’s user base, with more than 58 million Microsoft 365 Consumer subscribers according to the Redmond-based company’s latest earnings report.
Polson sees it as part of a larger trend.
“The spreadsheet, I think, is having a tremendous renaissance right now,” he said. “The way people use spreadsheets, the extensibility of spreadsheets, is on the rise. There are so many companies that are building on spreadsheets and making them more powerful to support everything we do every day.” 1
Tiller, he said, “is an example of that.”
Officially founded in 2016, the company has 14 employees. Tiller raised an undisclosed amount of funds from people Polson described as “veteran tech investors,” mostly in the Seattle area. The company has broken even and is becoming profitable, Polson said.
The company does not disclose specific subscriber numbers, but claims to have tens of thousands of customers. It has an average rating of 4.7 stars on Google Workspace Marketplace based on nearly 50,000 installs.
Tiller comes with a series of security precautions. The company says it never sees the usernames and passwords that customers enter into their financial institutions to authorize automated feeds of financial data that populate spreadsheets. The company was also an early adopter of Envestnet | Yodlee’s open banking technology to access banking data without sharing usernames and passwords.
Tiller’s Microsoft partnership closes Polson’s loop. As a student, he completed an internship as a program manager on Microsoft Money, responsible for integrating tax features into a new version of the software.
“I always thought it was ironic and funny, because what does a college kid know about taxes?” he called back. “I knew a little about personal finance, but very little about taxes.”
An alumnus of Seattle’s Lakeside School, he graduated from Middlebury College and earned an MBA from Dartmouth, working as a technology mergers and acquisitions analyst at JP Morgan Chase before entering the wireless industry. He served as CEO of Seattle-area mobile phone backup service Dashwire after its $18.5 million acquisition by HTC in 2013.
He took a fresh look at the personal finance technology market after he and his wife had their second child, and he wanted a more sophisticated tool to manage his family’s finances. Although the market had shifted to web and mobile technologies in the meantime, led by Intuit Mint, they wanted something with more power and flexibility.
This eventually led back to the spreadsheet. Tiller says it’s the only service that offers automated daily finance feeds in Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel.
Polson cited the need for people to pay more attention to their money to counter “overwhelming investment in technologies to accelerate spending”, including Amazon 1-click, services to delay payments, card offers credit and other tactics. Often, saving money is just about being careful what you spend.2
Next on Tiller’s roadmap: bringing its AutoCategory feature, aka “AutoCat”, to the Excel version of its service. This allows users to define rules to categorize different types of transactions. It’s a popular feature in the Google Sheets version of Tiller, and the company says it will be released for Tiller users in Excel this summer.
1 Asked to elaborate, Polson said, “Examples of other companies building on existing spreadsheets such as Google Sheets and Excel include DataRails, GlideApps.com, GoLayer and SuperMetrics. Spreadsheet.com, Coda, Equals, and Row are examples of companies launching new spreadsheet competitors.
2 I tried Tiller using the 60-day free trial for Microsoft 365 users, and so far I’ve found $47/month in various subscriptions for services we no longer needed, we didn’t know we still had or otherwise forgot to cancel.