Please do not be confused by two consecutive posts on finance. I will return to the broader meanderings of my mind as soon as possible. Also, do not be confused by thinking "things in finance deserve to be remembered" might be a theme for a series of posts.
Why should we remember the history of VisiCalc. As the post "Spreadsheets for Life" in Flowing Data points out, spreadsheets have been around for 35 years. I remember the first spreadsheet I used on a Wang mini-computer about 1982. It was love at first site. Having built many, many spreadsheets by hand with a slide rule, it took about 10 minutes to come up with the use case for this amazing, amazing app.
Actually, VisiCalc, the first PC-based spreadsheet app, came on the market in 1979. VisiCalc can claim many honors:
- The app that really launched Apple
- The app that launched personal computers as business machines
- The app that changed the way people think about a business
VisiCalc and every spreadsheet app thereafter gave the user the ability to mathematically model their business, systematically apply what-if analysis and immediately see the changes in revenue, income and cash flow. This first automated step in financial modeling probably launched or expanded the use of key performance indicators (KPIs) and dashboards. From KPIs it was easy to make the jump to "business model". Amongst the many beneficial parts of a business model, the underlying assumptions for the key business drivers of the business are paramount. So from one app--Visi Calc--which launched the modern spreadsheet, we can trace a path through to most of the important parts of modern financial management. That's why VisiCalc deserves to be remembered.
This is a nice story from 1984 reprinted on Medium about VisiCalc and a new program called Lotus 1,2,3. My favorite quote is:
"A virtual cult of the spreadsheet has formed, complete with gurus and initiates, detailed lore, arcane rituals – and an unshakable belief that the way the world works can be embodied in rows and columns of numbers and formulas."
Everybody today wants their product to become a habit. Maybe we should set a higher standard and aspire to be a cult.
Image credit: RadioShackCatalogs.com