Kat Norton is dancing her way to internet fame—but not in the way you’re probably thinking. On TikTok, where Norton has about 650,000 followers, she has an ulterior motive when she busts a move.
To Gary Lee Clark Jr.’s cover of “Come Together” by The Beatles, Norton gyrates as she shows her followers how to combine two separate columns on a spreadsheet. It’s boring stuff delivered with verve. Norton just wants to teach the masses how to use Microsoft Excel.
It’s a modest goal that has transformed this 27-year-old’s life. Through lighthearted skits and dances, Norton teaches her followers shortcuts in Excel and Google Sheets so they can become more efficient at work. It’s a skillset that first helped her accomplish tasks at lightning speed in a consulting job—a job she has since left to pursue a career as a full-time spreadsheet influencer.
TikTok is known for churning out viral hits and making stars overnight, but Norton, known as Miss Excel on the app, said she had an intuition that her peculiar skillset would also resonate on social media.
Pivoting in the pandemic
Norton didn’t always like attention. As a student and in her early 20s, she says, she was often nervous, soft-spoken, and reluctant to stick out. She struggled with anxiety and public speaking.
At Protiviti, a consulting firm where she worked for nearly five years on securitization reviews for banks (“which is just as fun as it sounds”), she started developing an Excel training course in her spare time. She relied heavily on the software when she was in business school at Binghamton University in New York, where nearly all of her classes depended on Excel. Eventually, a work colleague encouraged her to show the training to higher-ups at the firm, who embraced the idea and started sending her around the US to conduct trainings.
Norton traveled most weeks for work, so she lived at her parent’s home in New York when she wasn’t on the road. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, she found herself at home, sleeping in her childhood bedroom, with extra time on her hands. She decided she needed a change. She needed to find her “life’s purpose,” she says. She liked her employer and her colleagues but didn’t love the work. So she embarked on a spiritual journey to figure out her priorities.
“I just kind of dove into inner-child work, shadow work, subconscious reprogramming, meditation, manifestation—all these different things, really trying to, like, get down to the layers of myself and why I act the way I act, and why I had certain limiting beliefs,” she says.
Months later, when confiding to a friend about her professional angst, the friend recommended she start posting her Excel tips on TikTok.
“Left foot up, right foot slide”
TikTok was having a breakthrough moment in the US, an instant smash of the pandemic economy with millions like Norton stuck at home. “I didn’t even have a TikTok, I didn’t know how to use TikTok, I didn’t know how to video edit,” she said. “I just had this vision of the Drake song ‘Toosie Slide’—’left foot up, right foot slide’—to the left and right function. And I had a vision of it above my head.”
After two days of conflicting feelings about whether or not to post, Norton did her hair and makeup, watched an hour’s worth of video-editing instructional clips on YouTube, and made her first post. She posted new videos for four days straight. The fourth one—it’s about Excel’s XLOOKUP feature and set to DMX’s “X Gon’ Give It To Ya”—quickly accumulated 100,000 views.
By the sixth day, the CEO of a tech firm reached out and asked if she could create instructional videos for Google Workspace products. A few weeks later, one of Norton’s videos went truly viral, with more than 3 million views. “Now what do I do?” she asked herself. “I didn’t know how to do influencer-y things. I barely knew how to use TikTok!”
Thriving in the creator economy
In fairly short order, Norton branched out to Instagram, quit her consulting job, started her own business, and was honored by Microsoft as a Most Valuable Professional, or MVP. MVPs are technical professionals who “passionately share their knowledge with the community,” the company says on a webpage about the recognition.
But like many who have found success in the so-called creator economy, the revenue share from her main platform is paltry. The TikTok creator fund, which doles out ad revenue to popular TikTok accounts based on views, pays her only about $50 a month, she said. But it did allow her to launch a business. (Creators often use social platforms like TikTok, YouTube, or Twitter to grow an audience and then monetize that audience through newsletter subscriptions, merchandise sales, or other means.)
“I’d say 95% of my income is course sales,” says Norton, whose “Excelerator” course—which comprises more than 100 videos—costs about $300 and is filmed in a similarly jovial style as her TikTok posts. She also does corporate training for schools like the New York Institute of Technology and for companies like Enterprise Rent-a-Car and her former employer, Protiviti.
A personality clash
Norton’s success likely comes from the fact that she is the opposite of what most of us might imagine a software instructor is like. She is buoyant, unabashedly spiritual, and unafraid to brag about her accomplishments or talk about money. In conversation, she talks seriously about manifesting: the spiritual art of believing something so intently that it becomes reality.
“In April, before I started, I knew I was going to be rich and famous and run this business,” she says. “My body was there, I energetically was there, and then it just hit two months later. Right now, I can look you in the eye and tell you I’m going to own a multimillion-dollar business, but I’m just, like, riding through time to get there.” She had her first six-figure month in April, she says.
Norton and her boyfriend have lived the life of digital nomads recently, bopping between places like Sedona, Arizona; Hawaii; and California. When we talked, she was in Austin, Texas. She still relies heavily on the meditative practices she credits for fueling her success—visions of viral TikTok videos often come to her while meditating, she says.
Norton appears to thrive off of her contradictions, off of the ridiculousness of what she’s doing, owning the gray space between boring Excel code and her own high-energy delivery. “You have to have an element of polarity,” she tells me. “When you take something as boring as Excel and something so different like dancing and combine them… people are flabbergasted.”