How a Biodiversity Informatics Expert Is Helping Protect Brazil’s Plants with Grist’s Relational Spreadsheets

Organization. Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden Research Institute

Creator. Eduardo Dalcin, Ph.D., Biodiversity Informatics

To Conserve a Species, You Need Data About Its Caretakers

Eduardo Dalcin, Ph.D. works at the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden Research Institute, which falls under the authority of Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment. One of his many responsibilities is to prospect new technologies that could be applied to biodiversity and conservation problems.

The research institute maintains a master list of over 50,000 Brazilian plants, and performs risk assessments of endangered flora. The list, built between 2005 and 2010, contributed to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), a 16 point plan adopted by the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity. During that time, the research institute received thousands of spreadsheets from hundreds of taxonomists. Each spreadsheet was exported from different tools and had different naming conventions.

Looking at this massive influx of data, Eduardo saw the opportunity to answer the question, “Who is expert in, and responsible for, which groups of plants?” If he could answer that question, he could have a clearer picture of which plant groups are being studied and looked after by botanists, and which need extra attention. Using the power of Grist’s relational spreadsheet, Eduardo set out to answer that question.

Relating Botanists to Plants and Each Other, in a No-code Relational Spreadsheet

For his first Grist use case, he started compiling a database of expert botanists to better understand in which plant groups Brazil had the greatest expertise. The list contains 900 botanists and their specializations, as well as their educational information. For each expert, Eduardo captures their graduate and post-graduate schools, and their supervisors and students.

Eduardo summarizes this ever-growing database in charts and graphs that let him easily see which universities and schools are graduating the most advanced degree botanists, and in which categories. This is important because in order to hit GSPC targets for all endangered plant groups, the Coordination for Flora and Fungi of Brazil must know of any knowledge gaps that might exist. Eduardo’s charts also summarize botanists by employment and degree type, and other helpful measures.

Taking his data analysis a step further, and using his experience with graph visualization in other projects, Eduardo also assigned special generated codes to the supervisor-student relationships in his database. He exported that data from Grist to Gephi, a graph visualization tool, to create an interactive map of professional expert relationships. This graph gives him a high level view of which professionals in which specialties are contributing the most to Brazil’s botanical knowledge transfer. Eduardo is also using Neo4j, a graph oriented database, to explore the data and its relationships.

Grist is amazing for me because I can gather data from different sources, organize it, and prepare that data to eventually feed another tool, such as Gephi and Neo4j, to do a different analysis. This is a very nice thing.

Eduardo Dalcin
Using’s Grist’s relational spreadsheets, Eduardo was able to map experts’ professional relationships and visualize them in other tools.

Embedding Grist Relational Spreadsheets in Brazil’s other conservation efforts

Having had great success with Grist, Eduardo wanted to help others like him adopt the tool. The research institute also hosts The National School of Tropical Botany which offers Ph.D. and Masters courses. Eduardo teaches biodiversity information management at the school, and introduced Grist to his students to help them organize and analyze data from their field work.

Using relational spreadsheets to present post-graduate field work!
Using relational spreadsheets to present post-graduate field work!

People are in their comfort zone using spreadsheets. I am trying to show them that if they spend some time learning a new tool they’ll have more power to do their work and research. I said to one of my students, “You will be very very happy using Grist because you are miserable using Excel!”

Eduardo Dalcin

Eduardo also works regularly with analysts and coordinators at the Ministry of Environment. He is currently using Grist to help the Ministry build a data standard to consolidate data from different sources that will be used for prioritizing conservation actions for plants and animals.

Biodiversity and conservation always motivates me to understand and organize data for analysis to get relevant insights.

Eduardo Dalcin

MissionSource didn’t know it had a data problem, until Grist fixed it

Company. MissionSource Digital Marketing
Creator. Chris Scott, Co-owner and Director of Strategy

Taming the data organization mess

MissionSource is a boutique digital marketing agency with 8 full-time employees and a handful of regular contractors. They specialize in paid advertising, SEO, and marketing analytics. Prior to finding Grist, MissionSource used Stackby and Google Sheets for internal data visualization and management. By integrating Google Sheets with Stackby, MissionSource could force a relational structure on their spreadsheet data.

However, they could not move fully away from Google Sheets, because data entry in Stackby was too limited by the product’s layouts. Stackby’s UI lacked the flexibility of a spreadsheet. Though working in Google Sheets had its problems, too. The spreadsheets were scattered across many folders, and sometimes the same data had many copies. Still, the unconventional data flow worked — or so they thought.

MissionSource’s co-owner and Director of Strategy, Chris Scott, likes software and is always game to try something new. He found Grist on AppSumo and decided to give it a try. After importing his data to Grist, he immediately saw what it solved: data organization. Their internal data was messy. The Stackby-Google Sheets solution was generating more mess, not less. Grist shined a light on that problem and offered a great solution.

Data visualization for the agency and their clients

Mission Source started off by using Grist to track the time employees spent on projects. Chris liked that it was a source of truth that could be built collaboratively, with everyone seeing the same data. His co-owner liked that he could use Grist to build a business dashboard that gave him a detailed view of which market segments yielded the best leads that converted for the agency.

What I like about Grist the most is its focus. It appears simple, but it’s very powerful in a focused way. There’s a lot of Grist competitors like Airtable and Stackby that are messy and distracting which is why I never used them consistently.

chris scott

As a digital marketing agency, MissionSource already uses many marketing tools that generate a lot of data. With Grist, Chris could export data from those tools and build a more centralized picture. For example, Chris uses Grist to track SEO rankings and meta tags in a layout that makes sense for his workflow.

On the client-side, Grist transformed paid advertising data from clients’ campaigns into insightful charts and reports that drill into the data in new and illuminating ways.

MissionSource digital marketing uses Grist for data visualization, analysis, and processing.
MissionSource digital marketing uses Grist for data visualization, analysis, and processing.

Grist as a data processor

Chris has also built a series of data cleaning processes in Grist. His templates take data from marketing tools, then clean and transform the data into lists which can be used in other marketing campaigns. He also imports data from cold callers and sales representatives to extract valuable insights in a simple, but powerful and fast tool.

I consider Grist a no code data analysis platform. All spreadsheet data is going into Grist, because it’s really the only tool that makes it easy to compile all this data and transform it into something I can export to complete other tasks either in other Grist docs or in another marketing tool.

Chris Scott

How a Law Firm Built a Custom CRM That Met Their Needs

Company. Leavitt & Eldredge Law Firm
Creator. Jennifer Bledsoe, IT Tech & Graphic Designer

One-size-fits-all law practice software did not fit all

Leavitt & Eldredge practices patents, trademarks, and business law in the United States and abroad. Their work generates a lot of data about customers and matters, and billing requires particular workflows. All of this data is interconnected, and many team members interact with this data on a daily basis. In order for the firm to perform efficiently, everyone must have access to up-to-date, accurate data.

The firm had tried specialty software such as PracticePanther to tame its growing data needs, but the software was too restrictive. Like most specialty software, its layout dictated how business data should be organized. Like many small businesses, Leavitt & Eldredge’s unique data workflows could not fit in a one-size-fits-all solution. They needed a simple, custom CRM that empowered the firm to work on their terms.

The hunt for the custom CRM unicorn

That’s when Jennifer Bledsoe, the firm’s IT tech, set out to find a solution that could serve as a single source of truth for data. The CRM had to be flexible enough to meet different stakeholders’ workflows. If the tool could also be simple for Jennifer to get started with, that was a huge plus, because she only had a few months to get this done.

Jennifer looked at over 50 no-code CRM builders, including Monday.com. Because she was under a time crunch, she began migrating her data to Monday.com even though she was struggling to customize its UI to meet her team’s needs.

That’s when she found Grist, and with only a month until her deadline, she hoped this was the one.

When I tried Grist I was like “No way it can’t be this easy.” But it was!

Jennifer Bledsoe

Jennifer imported her data into Grist and quickly built a working CRM application. The CRM tied matters and litigation data to clients in drag-and-drop dashboards that linked and surfaced data in an intuitive way. Soon she had something the firm’s staff could use in their daily workflows.

Sample screenshot of Jennifer's custom CRM build in Grist.
Invoice management is just one part of the firm’s custom CRM.

Building a custom CRM in Grist was just the beginning

Because Grist is flexible and extendable, Jennifer built other functions on top of the CRM, such as a billing and invoicing system, and a way to track funds in IOLTA accounts. Originally, Leavitt & Eldredge had bought PracticePanther to manager billing and fund tracking. But after running into PracticePanther’s limitations, Jennifer was relieved to discover that Grist handled that data just as well, while also tying those functions into custom workflows seamlessly.

To Jennifer, what set Grist apart from other no-code databases was its granular access rules, custom page layouts, and custom widgets. With drag-and-drop page layouts, she could design the application the way the firm’s staff works.

And because Leavitt & Eldredge handles sensitive data, Jennifer used granular access permissions to restrict who can see or edit which data. She also used access rules to set logic that locks records that are no longer editable to create an immutable historical record.

Most CRMs don’t work the way Grist works. Grist’s layouts are simple and do exactly what we need.

Jennifer Bledsoe

Custom widgets empowered Jennifer to streamline other aspects of their workflow, too. For example, she built a custom widget that generates invoices with unique “pay now” links. Staff can export an invoice as a PDF, send it to a client, and then the client can follow the unique link to the firm’s online payment portal with key information prefilled in the payment form.

A sample invoice generated in the custom CRM using relational data, and a formula.
Invoices are generated in the custom CRM using relational data, and a formula.

You’re a life saver. I cannot express enough the difference it has made. And while your software is amazing, you also have the most incredible customer service. I was put on the spot. I had a month to get this done and I needed help. Customer service came through.

Jennifer Bledsoe

Today, Leavitt & Eldredge’s attorneys and administrative staff use the CRM on a daily basis. Each of their workflows is captured in easy to use dashboards that make it possible to find and update data with a click, all in one database that serves as a single source of truth.

Introducing Free Team Sites

Grist is most powerful when it is used collaboratively. People collaborate on data all the time. Group-maintained spreadsheets are useful whether you’re a team at a company working towards the same goal, an amateur sports league organizing a tournament, a family tracking their ancestry, or an online community curating a list of best Elden Ring builds.

That’s why we’re offering free team sites to bring the power of Grist’s spreadsheet-database to your group projects, for business or personal use.

Invite as many people as you like and store all your documents in one place under a custom subdomain, such as yourcompany.getgrist.com or hutchinsonwedding.getgrist.com.

Realtime Data Collaboration with Granular Access Rules

Example of access rules in action, ensuring data collaboration doesn't lead to sensitive data leaks.
Owners see all employee payroll data. Employees only see their payroll data.

With real-time data collaboration, you always see the most up-to-date version of your data. Granular access rules make it possible for everyone to work on one copy of your spreadsheet data while only seeing and editing what’s relevant to them (e.g. prevent Mom from adding her entire knitting circle to the wedding guest list!)

Say goodbye to the days of juggling multiple versions of spreadsheets and keeping track of who has access to what — or worse, giving too much access and hoping someone doesn’t break your spreadsheet. All data and permission rules are captured in one place, putting you in control of your data.

Build efficient workflows with drag-n-drop layouts and relational data that surfaces what you need, when you need it.

Each Grist document is your no-code database: capable, flexible and easy to use. With drag-n-drop layouts and relational data linking, you can build dashboards that streamline your workflows helping your team work more efficiently. Tame your data your way.

Documents in free team sites are fully featured, including custom layouts, summary tables, conditional formatting, Python and spreadsheet formulas, granular access rules, and more.

Documents on a free plan can have up to 5,000 rows and 1GB of multimedia attachments, and even get automatic backups, kept for 30 days. See more about document limits for free plans on our pricing page.

Start making sense of your data now. Get started on fast by building on one of our templates.

Why a City Guides App Needed an Open Source Spreadsheet

Industry. Publications, Personalize City Guides

Creator. Stephen S., Owner

Shifting to a relational, open source spreadsheet

Stephen is the founder of OurQuietPlaces, a website and app in-development that will help busy urbanites find moments of respite and cultural enrichment. He and his team manage a lot of data such as statistics, geolocated records, reference images, and maps. Stephen designs and maintains the company’s data infrastructure, which is necessary for his team’s research and publication work.

For the app’s core data, he had found a system he liked using technical tools, databases, and applications self-hosted on several Linux servers. While that stack met his tech-forward needs, the rest of the team needed an easy-to-use, flexible and collaborative data tool to handle inventories, worksheets, publishing plans, and more. It wouldn’t be cost or time effective for Stephen to build GUIs on the hosted database to meet those needs. Members of the team needed to be empowered to create and edit their own documents.

The spreadsheet made sense, but quickly ran into problems. It was unstructured, there was no way to relate data in different tables, and complicated sheets became a nightmare to modify and share. Then he tried Airtable for its relational-spreadsheet hybrid approach. It worked well, but was expensive. Worse yet, when Stephen tried to move data off of Airtable, the experience was painful. Because data could only be exported as CSV tables, they lost their relational structure. Further, some data types did not convert well, leading to data loss. He spent days piecing it all back together.

In a crowded field, Grist was the clear winner

The more I use Grist, the more I LOVE it. I have been surveying self-hosted database GUI tools, and I was consistently disappointed with their shortcomings or bugginess. Grist is the first to have tilted the balance the other way.

Stephen S.

Burned by a bad experience, Stephen looked for a spreadsheet-database product that would not sequester company data, was easy to use, robust, and low cost. If it could be self-hosted, all the better. He tried dozens of startup products such as Retool and nocoDB, but rejected all those tools either because they were buggy, limited in features, or increased his database overhead. His exhaustive research led him to Grist, which met and exceeded his expectations for an open source spreadsheet.

Specifically, here’s what I love about Grist:

  • It is open source and self-hostable using Docker.
  • It is opinionated, providing a totally new way to manage data that is quite disruptive, but convincing, even for database specialists.
  • Thanks to Grist’s use of SQLite, data is portable and not sequestered.
  • It is modest. Grist keeps it simple and does what it does superlatively.
  • It requires only a soft learning curve with lots of potential to dig deeper with outstanding documentation.

Stephen S.

Today, OurQuietPlaces uses grist-core, the open source version of Grist, to manage its data and hardware inventory, technical infrastructure (hosted apps, storage), publication schedule and writers’ assignments. Grist has been a key tool for this remote team of four who needed a real collaboration tool that made sharing easy.

Grist v. Airtable

We get asked all the time how Grist compares to Airtable. Both products straddle the line between spreadsheet and relational database, and have a variety of column types such as dates, formulas, and attachments. But there are key differences between Grist and Airtable. In fact, many Grist creators were Airtable users who made the switch to Grist to better meet their unique data needs. Grist is much more customizable, putting the creator in control of laying out their data in productive ways. Grist also has more robust formula support, a different philosophy when it comes to data ownership, granular data access permissions, and, to top it all off, a lower price point.

Highly Productive Layouts

Both Grist and Airtable make it possible to relate records across different tables. In Airtable related records pop-up in a card as a quick reference to related information. In Grist, you determine how to pull up data, in part or whole, and whether it’s a card or table.

It is possible to create many different views of the same data, which lets you build different productive dashboards for your work. For example, the grant application tracker in the Grist template gallery offers several convenient views of the same underlying data.

Dashboards can also summarize key figures in summary tables, and be used as a selector for underlying records. Dynamic charts update as you select and drill into data.

The ability to custom build your own highly productive layouts makes Grist a more flexible data tool for any project or business.

Grist and Airtable both offer columns of several types, such as NumericTextDateChoiceReference, and Attachment. This is a database approach, and is a shared differentiator when compared to traditional spreadsheets. Both offer convenient widgets, such as a calendar picker for dates, and a dropdown with auto-complete for choices. For some widgets Airtable limits options — such as limiting choices to 7 colors — except on the highest-priced plan. In Grist, all widget options are available on all plans, including the full palette of choice colors.

For technical users with some coding ability, custom widgets open up more possibilities. Custom widgets can read and/or write data in your document and express it in new formats, such as building invoices or mailing labels. It can also pull in external data, such as a map, and pin locations stored in your document. Custom widgets are similar to Airtable’s Blocks SDK which enable Airtable users who write code to create their own custom apps.

Airtable super users are probably wondering how Grist compares to Airtable’s scripting apps. Scripting apps, available on the Pro plan which costs $20/user/month, allow users to do things like create multiple templates for a record or validate emails. Some of the things in the Scripting app marketplace are already possible in Grist, such as embedding Google Maps, randomizing values, or attaching multiple files to an attachment cell in bulk, but others automations are not yet available. Automations are something we plan to implement. Keep track of our progress in Grist’s product roadmap.

Formulas

Grist, like Airtable, supports Excel-like functions such as IF(), CONCATENATE(), COUNT() and so on. Visit our help center to see the full list of functions supported by Grist. Creators comfortable with spreadsheet functions will quickly adapt to Grist functions. The autocomplete feature makes writing formulas easier and faster by reading your document’s structure and listing available fields that filter as you type.

Only Grist supports the full power of Python to create more powerful formulas that deepen data analysis and computations in Grist. For example, here’s a cool code encrypter and decrypter using Grist.

Double click on the formula columns (begin with = ) to see a multi-line Python formula.

This formula uses a lot of Python — it’s a lot for a spreadsheet, it’s only a little bit for a Python developer. Python developers can also import standard Python libraries. This empowers creators to build truly useful, custom apps, and expand Grist’s power far beyond what is possible in Airtable, Excel, or Google Sheets.

In Grist, data columns may also have associated formulas, called “trigger formulas” which set a value when specific events happen, such as adding a new record or updating a particular field. These can be used to set when a record was changed, or who changed it, as well as perform data cleaning.

Data Ownership

We believe that you own your data and we shouldn’t get in the way of that ownership. That’s why there is no data lock-in with Grist. Airtable users cannot export their databases in full and must export each individual table as a CSV, which is time consuming and cumbersome. With Grist you can download the entire relational structure as a .grist file, which is a SQLite file that can be opened in other SQLite software. If you’d like to export tables as a spreadsheet, tables can be exported individually as a CSV, exported to Google Drive, or downloaded as an Excel workbook. Your documents are also automatically backed up, and snapshots can easily be exported in full. If you make a big mistake, you can also restore your data from a snapshot right in Grist.

It is also possible to self host Grist’s open source version, grist-core. The hosted Grist product is built from grist-core. We believe Grist being open source is important for all users of Grist, because a deep general-purpose data tool has a very long tail of features vital to someone somewhere. Open-source products can aggregate those features in a way closed-source products can not, benefiting everyone. Having the source open makes it easier to build extensions to handle crucial-but-unusual needs. This makes storing data in Grist a solid and durable bet. We expect people to host their Grist documents with us not because they are locked in, but because we offer great service at a good price!

Custom Access Permissions

Businesses often need the ability to decide who can see and modify which data. Excel and Google Sheets allow protecting certain ranges from modification. Airtable allows sharing filtered views of individual tables. But only Grist allows detailed filtering based on who is looking at the document.

Grist’s granular access permissions give you more control over your data, letting you set up rules that determine who can see or edit which data, down to each table, column, and row. You can assign members of your teams specific roles, and based on those roles, permit them to only view or edit parts of your Grist document.

For example, say you’re the head of HR at a small company and manage the company’s payroll. You may share the same document with each employee, and permit employees to only see records that pertain to them.

Price

When it comes to pricing, Grist is appreciably less expensive than Airtable, too. Grist’s Team plan costs $8/user/month. Airtable has two premium options: Plus costs $10/user/mo and Pro costs $20/user/mo.

New creators often ask how many records can they store in a document. Airtable’s free plan only goes up to 1,200 rows. The Plus plan gets you to 5,000, and the Pro plan to 50,000. Grist limits are far more generous. The rule of thumb is that data is limited to 100,000 rows, although the exact limits depend on the total amount of data and the amount of computation done in formulas.

Moving beyond storage, Grist’s free plan is quite full-featured. For example, it is possible to import additional data into existing tables, create charts, and summarize data into key figures on both the free and team plans. In Airtable, additional data imports, charts, and summary tables (called pivot tables in Airtable) are part of the Pro plan at $20/user/month. Grist’s custom widgets, which are similar to Airtable’s Blocks SDK, are also available on the free and team plans, whereas in Airtable, Blocks SDK will be available on the free and plus plans until March 2022, thereafter they will only be available in the pro plan.

The table below captures features and pricing differences between Grist v. Airtable.

🟢 Grist Team = $8/mo/user
🟡 Airtable Plus = $10/mo/user
🟠 Airtable Pro = $20/mo/user

Notes:

  1. A Grist team site is analogous to a Plus or Pro workspace in Airtable. Within a team site, Grist allows organizing documents into folders called ‘workspaces’, which is not available on Airtable.
  2. Grist documents are equivalent to Airtable’s bases.
  3. Grist summary tables are equivalent to Airtable’s pivot tables.
  4. Grist’s function list.
    Airtable’s function list.
  5. Grist’s custom widgets are similar to Airtable’s Blocks SDK.
  6. Custom access rules give you more control over your data, letting you set up rules that determine who can see which data, down to each table, column, and row.
  7. On Grist’s product roadmap.