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Cloud Startups Chip Away at Excel’s Stronghold

John O’Connor of wealth management firm Rincon Advisors should be the model buyer for Microsoft Excel, the Redmond giant’s stalwart spreadsheet software. For a dozen years as a financial professional, Mr. O’Connor tapped the program for intricate company financial models, portfolio tracking and generating chart-filled reports for clients.

But a couple of years ago, he ditched Excel for many of those tasks and started using Addepar, a subscription software tool for wealth managers. The primary reason: Addepar vastly reduced the manual shuffling of data among scores of tabs and sheets, reducing the likelihood of errors in a report to a big client.

Mr. O’Connor is still paying for Excel but using a lot less of it. And he says there may come a day when he doesn’t need it at all.

More such startups appear each year—young firms aiming to sell subscription software in fields as diverse as payroll, inventory management or accounting. They are targeting the legions of mom-and-pop shops and sole proprietors who carry out those tasks manually, most often using Microsoft Excel. The software has features and formulas that make it powerful for computational tasks well-beyond traditional spreadsheets.

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“What people don’t realize is that it’s really easy to start a business now and have an actual system instead of trying to make your system in Excel,” said Josh Stover, founder of Atlanta-based 3D Printing Tech.