For fun and edification, I keep a list of those tech innovators and products that have had the biggest impact on my life. Near the top of the list is Dan Bricklin and Visicalc. As a graduate student in finance in the 1970s, I had to do discounted cash analyses of the type presented in this blog – but I had to do by hand on paper. Every time a number was changed, I had to recalculate everything. The work was so boring and cumbersome that I generally resorted to approximations and rules of thumb as did most other analysts.
Then in November 1979, everything changed. Dan Bricklin’s new software program, Visicalc, went on sale for the Apple II. The software turned the screen into an electronic ledger that we now call a spreadsheet. Suddenly recalculating an entire discounted cash flow model amounted to nothing more than hitting the return key.