The last year has been quite a journey for Openbox. The pace of change really picked up over the last couple of months as 500 beta users have tested Openbox and given us unbelievably valuable feedback.
We are now nearly ready to take the big step to version 1.0. We’ll be releasing this in early November.
We started a couple of years ago with the simple idea that there had to be a better way of building models. The early versions of Openbox were rudimentary. A very simple interface on a tool that only produced FAST models, and then only as long as they weren’t too complicated.
They say if you wait until you feel like the product is ready before you ship it then you wait too long. I don’t think we made that mistake, but sometimes in the early days I wondered if we’d gone the other way and shipped far too early.
But of course, the only way to know if professional modellers will find Openbox useful is to ask them. And ask early. Does it do something that makes their lives easier? Even though we’re professional financial modellers ourselves, we couldn’t be sure until we asked.
When we did ask, our fantastic beta users responded abundantly:
“What about actuals?” “Can it link to PowerBI? What about Xero?” “That would be much better in green, not purple”, “I want it to use the comma as the decimal separator, not a decimal point”, “What it really needs is more dashboarding”, “What if I update in Excel then go back to Openbox”, “How do I repeat a calculation for several products/ business units and then get a total?”, “We need a right-click/ context menu”.
As a result of those comments, we’ve made thousands of changes to Openbox. Some large, visible and obvious. Many small and “under the hood”.
We’ve made it easier to repeat calculations, easier to update in Excel or the preview window and read the changes back to Openbox. We’ve improved the way components work, making it clearer how they link to your existing model. We’ve added a feature to allow you to merge two whole models, so your team can now work in parallel on two parts of a model and then merge. You can now show a quick chart for any item, paving the way for a highly flexible dashboard in a version to come.
And of course we’ve addressed hundreds of bugs and little annoyances. Features are nice, but if the software doesn’t respond as you expect, that’s often a bigger issue. We have pushed out close to 100 updates, fixing bugs and smoothing things out in each one. In our most recent version, you can see the new, more polished interface with better drag and drop, a clearer layout and a more consistent look and feel.
If there’s one thing that really stuck out for me, though, it was everyone’s favourite question: “Can I read my existing Excel models into Openbox?”
Why would you want to do that? Isn’t Openbox a tool for making Excel models? Why do you want to go the other way round?!
For lots of good reasons. Maybe you have lots of great models on your computer, and you want to use the best parts in Openbox. Or maybe you want to get used to Openbox, and one way to do that is to see how a model you already understand in Excel looks in Openbox. Or maybe you want to use Openbox’s validation tools to review your Excel model.
But maybe you actually want to use Openbox to explain your Excel model to a non-modeller. Like software, a model is a tool – in this case, a tool for understanding and explaining a business or project or deal. A spreadsheet is good for doing the calculations, but it’s often hard to answer “Where does that number come from?” in front of a non-expert. So people have been using the Openbox Focus mode, which lets you step through a model in a simple visual way, to explain their models to clients.
It’s actually a great fit with our philosophy. We want financial models to be open boxes, not black boxes. Tools that truly help people understand the deal and make good choices. To do that, you have to meet people where they are. Do they want to see it as a spreadsheet? Great, here it is. Do they want to see a dashboard? OK. Do they want to see a diagram that lets them trace where (say) the project IRR comes from? OK, here it is. Building good models is a great start but using models well is where we all want to end up.
Beta users become Openbox owners
As we wrap up the public beta, we are also delighted that so many of our beta users have chosen to invest in the company via an Advanced Subscription round that we completed this week. Advanced Subscription, known as SAFE in the US, is a mechanism that allows early investors to invest now at a discount to the valuation of the next raise. It’s quick and easy and allowed us to make good on our commitment to allow beta users to benefit from being among the first capital in the business. This initial raise will allow us to expand our developer team and accelerate our progress on our near term roadmap.
What’s next for Openbox?
We have a very long list of features on the roadmap that we will be tackling immediately after the launch of V1.0. Top of the list are:
- A new “Excel canvas mode”, making it easier to work in a structured way but in a familiar environment.
- Improving dashboarding – letting you create a custom, live, dashboard within Openbox with just a few clicks.
- Improving the ability to read in existing Excel models. Back to everyone’s favourite question!
Longer-term we’re continuing work on including other modelling standards, Monte Carlo simulation, and many other features.
But for now, let me just thank again all the beta users who put in so much time and effort.