I had a visit yesterday from Steven Ginzberg and Jack Schatz of Gray Box Software. They showed me a new financial analysis and modeling tool - RulesBase. A mutual friend had noticed a resemblance to a product from my first start-up, Javelin Software, and suggested they seek my advice. I've spent quite a bit of time recently advising startups on other technologies with which I've worked - audio, video, wireless, social networks - but this was definitely a flash from the past.
Javelin was a financial modeling package that was based on formulas instead of cells, and used GUI and windowing before Windows (Steve Balmer paid us a visit and asked us to consider porting it). It beat Excel for Infoworld's Software Product of the Year, much to the consternation of Bill Gates. The company never did displace Lotus 123, but Lotus did pay the compliment of implementing many of Javelin's features in Lotus Improv. The company was acquired by IRI which later became part of Oracle.
Like Javelin, RulesBase uses formulas, like GrossMargin = Sales - CostOfGoods instead of C23=C21-C22. The variables can represent vectors, so one formula can define multiple time periods or product lines. The idea is to offer a more intuitive and less error-prone method of building sophisticated financial models. RulesBase doesn't have the full set of features we built into Javelin, such as time series or pivot tables, but I think that's a good thing. I recommended Gray Box follow Jason Fried's advice in Getting Real:
Make each feature work hard to be implemented. Make each
feature prove itself and show that it’s a survivor. It’s like “Fight
Club.” You should only consider features if they’re willing to
stand on the porch for three days waiting to be let in.
Or as I've said before, iterate in the marketplace, not the conference room.
Sometimes an old idea becomes new again when some breakthrough occurs, such as an increase in processor speed or the availability of a graphical user interface. Those things will benefit RulesBase, but perhaps the most promising development is the adoption of object-oriented and agile development methodology. Not only will those advances aid in the building of the product, they also can be applied to the development of the models built with the product.
A pre-release version of the software can be downloaded from the site.