What have I learned in 40 years of developing software products that people use?
Bio – Dan Bricklin is currently president of Software Garden, Inc., a small consulting firm and developer of software applications that he founded in 1985. He is best known for codeveloping VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet, while he was a student at the Harvard Business School. VisiCalc is widely credited for fueling the rapid growth of the personal computer industry.
Until early 2004, Mr. Bricklin served as CTO of Interland, Inc., after it acquired his previous company, Trellix Corporation, in 2003. Prior to founding Trellix in 1995, he served as president of Software Garden, Inc., where he developed a variety of software programs, including Dan Bricklin’s Demo Program. Mr. Bricklin also cofounded Slate Corporation, a developer of application software for pen computers, as well as Software Arts, the developer of VisiCalc. Prior to forming Software Arts, he had been a market researcher for Prime Computer Inc., a senior systems programmer for FasFax Corporation, and a senior software engineer for Digital Equipment Corporation.
Mr. Bricklin is a founding trustee of the Massachusetts Software Council and has served on the boards of the Software Publishers Association and the Boston Computer Society. Mr. Bricklin has received many honors for his contributions to the computer industry from the ACM, IEEE, MIT, PC Magazine, the Western Society of Engineers, and numerous others. Mr. Bricklin holds a BS in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science from MIT and an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. He received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Newbury College, and was elected to be a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
Dan Bricklin doesn’t need an introduction so doesn’t get one. The audience is quite literally in awe. Everyone seem to have an old book by Dan. Dan’s DNA is embedded in software across the world and across the decades.
What has Dan learned about software along the way? Think about the ‘job’ that people will hire the software to do. Software is being used as an alternative to employees.
The History of Visicalc is a good illustration:
In the 60s people did accounts on bits of paper.
Dan was one of a group of students who lived and breathed computers but they worked out calculations on bits of paper.
Computers were very hard to run. Dan was at Dec so there was an assumption that any software would come with its own hardware as it would need it – truly integrated solution.
“I went to Harvard Business School to learn the magic of business in 1977.”
Visicalc was a typical startup. Set up up in an attic though in those days, state of the art equipment involved acousitc couplers. Broadband, not so much…
First ad for Visicalc was in Byte Magazine May 1979. Teaser ad said, “How did you ever do without it?”
Dan was doing a case study at Harvard at the time involving John Scully at Pepsi Cola as he was developing final version of Visicalc. Dan used Visicalc to run the numbers but had to push the envelope of the software’s capability to getthe answers as Visicalc couldn’t do division yet…
Dan launched Visicalc at a huge press launch, June 1979.
All hail Visicalc! Eventually…
Dan now has a plaque at Harvard Business School recognising Visicalc changed the world of computing forever. Cool.
So what was the job of a spreadsheet? Why was it widely used?
- It could do the application someone wanted, whatever it was
- Promoted unanticipated uses
- ‘Tailoring at the Ends Rule’
- Lets people get rid of the tedium, but didn’t define the problem
- A framework
What did we learn from selling it?
- Easy sale if it met their needs exactly and helped a lot
- Payback could come in two weeks. EDS sales guys selling mainframes used them to calculate their commissions…
- People will pay more for things that can meet their needs now and their likely future needs
- Products that can do all the common things plus the one special thing that you want it to do are the most valuable kind of products
- Palm – people bought Palm Pilots as they sold the core basic applications bundled on the device but also gave you access to a huge range of other apps. People bought the core apps plus one from the long tail…
Value to purchaser
As computers and distribution models evolved, there are opportunities for new leaders. Look for the opportunities for leadership.
Ingredients for success and opportunity
The most important thing to remember when designing software:
- What to leave out.
You had to be there…