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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

New product feedback - FormulaDesk

I'm close to launching a new product: FormulaDesk http://www.formuladesk.com

It's a free Excel add-in that makes understanding, fixing and editing complex Excel formulas much easier.

I'd really appreciate any advice, suggestions or insights that you are able to share with me regarding the product, website, marketing ideas or anything else that I can improve.

Thanks so much!
Gareth Hayter Send private email
Sunday, July 06, 2014
Shallow feedback: don't auto-scroll your screenshots. It's very frustrating to try to understand what a screenshots shows only to have it disappear.

Make navigating between screenshots manual.
Krzysztof Kowalczyk Send private email
Sunday, July 06, 2014
Thanks Krzysztof - great feedback. What you say makes sense. At the moment the auto-scroll pauses if you hover your mouse over the image. I'll disable auto-scrolling and show 'Next' and 'Back' links instead.
Gareth Hayter Send private email
Sunday, July 06, 2014
That's interesting, although I can't help thinking it is a solution looking for  problem to solve.

Do you have any evidence that breaking a complex formula into separate lines like that makes it easier to understand/fix?

It'd be nice to see some actual complex cases in the screenshots too, as the ones you have seem trivial.
Scorpio Send private email
Monday, July 07, 2014
Hi Gareth,

I have the same idea probably year ago. It was after probably a month doing some software customization in big corporation and I was working with employees that struggles with wrong result calculated using formula they created. And I was thinking it would be great to simplify that to something like formula debugger but for employees who never heard of word "debugger" :) It was just an idea and after I finished my job there I forgot about it and switched to another projects.

What about web site/product/marketing:
* Add video to web site. One minute video of how to use it. How that simplify life for employees from the big corp. I was talking about.
* I have not tried your product because I don't know how to do this! After the setup screen is appeared the red text is saying - "Warning - Cannot install: FormulaDesk only supports Excel 2010 and 2013." But I have Office 2010 installed. What's the problem? And the "Next" button is enabled, so I have installed software and the last page of setup process shows me - "Run Excel", so I pressed Finish and that's it - Excel doesn't show up! OK, I have started Excel and where to find your add-in? I have started typing formula and nothing happens, no magic there. So I have uninstalled software. That's it.
* By the way - why free?

What's I'm taking about is that you must show to the user step-by-step how to solve there complex formula just using there mouse button, so they have more free time and no headache.

Good luck!
pgrii Send private email
Monday, July 07, 2014
The auto scrolling image is very jarring and dizzying. Also even if you click a button manually scroll to the next image, slow it down. It's much to fast.

The Topic buttons, Understand, Edit, Errors, Others should also scroll back up to the beginning of the topic when you select them. Currently if you're scrolled down on the page and select another topic it switches still scrolled down to the middle of the page. Also it just may be me but having the content of a page scroll left and right to implies you can swipe left and right to switch content.

"Graphical decomposition of formulas: display in a workflow format with resulting values displayed on each connecting line." If this is target at people who need help breaking down and visualizing  excel formulas this statement needs to be simplified, expanded, and needs an example formula showing what it all means.

Didn't try the app itself but from the images, it was initially confusing and I didn't realize looking at the formulas that the contents of an expression were dropped a line below.
TrippinOnIT Send private email
Monday, July 07, 2014
Thanks Scorpio. There are two views available in the editor: Edit and Explore (understand). Based on your comments and others, I see that I need to explicitly show these as separate options.

The standard Excel formula editor pretty much displays a long line of text, maybe wrapped over multiple lines. Longer formulas get quite difficult to understand, even when you've written them yourself.

The Explore view displays a formula in a rolled-up, discoverable style. sub-functions and sub-expressions are initially rolled-up and all you see is their results. Clicking on the result expands the next level of detail of the sub-function etc. This makes exploring formulas easy, and users can quickly discover where a fault lies in their formulas.

The Edit view is an interactive editor that makes writing formulas easier. Users can quickly see if they're missing a parenthesis, parameter etc. Errors are displayed in realtime as you type. The editor also shows you exactly where the error is, instead of #REF! or #VAL!, leaving you to hunt down where the error lies in the 1000 character-long formula.

So, to answer your question, no, there is no evidence that FormulaDesk makes working with formulas easier, but give it a try and tell me what you think, or even better, let me know how it can be made even more useful ;-)
Gareth Hayter Send private email
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Thanks pgrii. Video - great idea, definitely added to the list. Your failed install - hopefully this is fixed in the latest version. If not, please let me know via the contact form on the website. Why free - marketing decision.

Agreed, I need to improve the message so that visitors on the website can see within a few seconds how it could benefit them.
Gareth Hayter Send private email
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Thanks TrippinOnIT. I'll take your insights about the webpage behaviour and apply them - there;s definitely a lot of room for improvement! I need to display benefits and features in a more cohesive manner.
Gareth Hayter Send private email
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
The web site does not open - "The resource could not be found."
Kuzmitskiy Dmitry Send private email
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
I'm not really convinced that this adds enough value to the built-in Excel formula editor. I've just played with it and it seems to do everything that you say your product does, including preview of results, on the fly help with functions, parameters, etc. Also, it is familiar, as it is part of Excel, and anyone who is a candidate user will already know how to use Excel to a very good level.

Sorry to sound so negative, but I really don't get it. I've done work on non-trivial Excel spreadsheets (e.g. Bond pricing and trading, telecoms fraud analysis, etc), so it seems like I would be a likely prospect for your product.

Hopefully, that is just a case of your website not doing such a great job of telling me WHY it is so much better than Excel and showing me HOW it will make my life easier. If so, it should be relatively easy to fix.
Scorpio Send private email
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
I cannot believe how painful that rapidly sliding image is on the front page. Do you hate your potential customers? I was racing for the back button.
Racky Send private email
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Scorpio: Thanks for your insights. Can you think of any way that FormulaDesk can be morphed into something that would be useful to you?
Gareth Hayter Send private email
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Gareth, I think I am so used to Excel after all these years that you'd have to work hard to convince me that there was "a better way". I suspect many of the people who use Excel a lot would feel the same way. This is why I was drawing attention to your messaging in my previous post.

Perhaps you can pivot to address the needs of intermediate Excel users who are intimidated by the potential complexity of creating non-trivial Excel sheets?

It'd possibly be easier to convince that cohort and they are potentially a larger group too, so maybe a better target for you, from a purely business perspective.

In my experience, for any given platform, everyone gets the trivial stuff and a few make it to be "power users" on their own, but the real value-add is getting the first group over the chasm to join their colleagues, swimming in the deep end (too many metaphors there!).

Of course, I'm just thinking out loud here and maybe that doesn't fit your plans at all, but IMHO, it might be worth exploring.
Scorpio Send private email
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
Hi Scorpio. That is a very eloquent, spot on reply.  In fact, I love your point about getting intermediate users over the chasm so much, that I'd like to quote it in a book I'm writing that helps intermediate Excel users do just that.

My thoughts echo yours: most of the horrendously complex formulas that I see that need parsing in order to be understood are written by intermediate users. Because Intermediate users know just enough to get themselves into serious trouble. WHereas beginners rarely stray past SUM or VLOOKUP

So what constitutes an intermediate user? Those with spreadsheets topping 100mb and recalc times of many minutes. Those who don't understand the things I cover in my post on volatility and recalculation over at http://chandoo.org/wp/2014/03/03/handle-volatile-functions-like-they-are-dynamite/ or Charles William's article http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff700515.aspx#Office2007excelPerf_FindingPrioritizingCalculationBottlenecks
Those that don't know what an array formula is.

The only time I could really really use a formula parser is when I inherit their workbooks, and have to untangle their web. But then the first thing I do when I inherit spagetti like that is to tell management "It will take me two months to understand it enough so I can fix it, or one month to rebuild it from scratch so it's smaller, faster, and more maintainable".

So like you I'm probably too set in my ways to change to bother using a parser. Or rather, because i speak formulas very very fluently, I can parse them on the fly in my head, with a little F9 evaluation action added when really needed.

But boy, could I have used a parser back when I was an intermediate user!
Jeff Weir Send private email
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
There are actually some other formula parsers out there. But Gareth's by far is the slickest looking one I've seen in terms of what you see AND in terms of the install process. And it's still in Beta.

I'm betting that once Gareth has a better handle on the pain points of users where formulas are concerned, he'll be able to turn this into a very compelling product indeed.
Jeff Weir Send private email
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
Hi Jeff. Thanks for the positive feedback, I really appreciate it.

Of course, I agree that intermediate users are the most dangerous, as they don't know what they don't know. I think Microsoft Access was a pretty good case study in that. I know many consultants who made a good living doing databases properly after someone had tried to build something mission critical in Access.

Your comments about untangling spaghetti code reminded me of some past adventures. One case in particular, where a VB app used hundreds of lines of code to concatenate ludicrously complex SQL statements to fire at a database. My solution was to rip it all out and re-write it from scratch. Did it in less than a day, but I suspect I'd have wasted a lot longer trying to understand what it did and where it was going wrong.
Scorpio Send private email
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
Hi Gareth,

Similar to Scorpio I have a lot of experience in spreadsheet development having spent 15 years in IBs dealing with spreadsheet nightmare's (> 150MB + >500K formulae with 30min+ calculation times). These monsters don't belong in a s/s but that's another conversation.

I think there is a market for your app, but as the thread as alluded to so far, defining your target market (specifically) and communicating  to them how this will cure their spreadsheet ills will be crucial.

In banking there's probably too much hubris at a trading desk level to see your app adopted there.

However I can see it finding a home in peripheral areas such as risk (specifically model risk), compliance (including regulatory compliance) and auditing (internal and external).

As an aside, regulatory compliance is a strong selling point - if you do explore this route focus you communications of the costs of non-compliance rather than the benefits of accurate spreadsheets. From that perspective, this becomes a grudge purchase (like buying tyres) - you do it because you gotta, not because you wanna.

Perhaps you can touch bases with someone at Eusprig (http://www.eusprig.org/) to see how they 'sell' the cure for the spreadsheet risk pain.

Another marketing approach is a JV with a complementary product such as FastExcel (an excellent niche product BTW) promoting "Seed AND Accuracy" (see www.decisionmodels.com).

Finally, look to see how you can expand the product to add more value. Can it be tied in to Excel's innate auditing tools? Could it have automated error logging to a dbs? Could it generated automated reports for auditing? And so on.

All the best -
Marcus from London Send private email
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Scorpio, Jeff and Marcus: Wow, amazingly useful feedback from all of you! I've got quite a bit of thinking to do regarding the marketing message and positioning as well as possible pivot points for the product. Your thoughts are a good basis for me to build on. Once again, thanks so much. I'll post an update here at a later stage once I've made some changes.
Gareth Hayter Send private email
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Well if it is free than it isn't a product....
alexandar Send private email
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Disclaimer: I recently released a set of Excel utilities and auditing tools [1], and an equation editor / expander is on the v2 feature list.

As you probably know, there are a lot of existing Excel formula editors, both free and paid, and they range from simple expanders to sophisticated formula builders and diagnostic tools. However, I think big issue you'll face is getting traffic to the site. I assume you won't be running an AdWords campaign since your add-in is free, and there are thousands of well established sites that write about Excel, making the organic traffic competition fierce.

The main thing I wanted to chime in on, though, is some general commentary about the Excel auditing tools market. I did not do a very good job of market research before developing my add-in. I knew that there were plenty of Excel utility add-ins, but the market for auditing tools is much more saturated than I thought.

I've seen some outstanding tools that do not appear to have great market penetration and mediocre tools that do. The difference is that the big players have offices in New York and London with a bevy of sales staff. Surveying the competition was one of the most humbling experiences I've had as a one-man operation.

[1] http://www.breezetree.com/spreadspeed/
Nicholas Hebb Send private email
Friday, July 18, 2014

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