What do a 2003 BMW and Microsoft Excel have in common?

David Peterson
Angular Ventures
Published in
4 min readMay 25, 2022


The 2003 BMW E39 M5

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I’m not much of a petrol head, but I found myself absolutely engrossed by the first episode of the new podcast Car Show! with Eddie Alterman.

(Stick with me. I’ll bring this back to enterprise software in a minute, I swear.)

Host Eddie Alterman kicks it off: “Today’s cars are digitally remastered to perfection with all kinds of automated wizardry. All kinds of management software. And with all the flaws removed.”

He continues:

Pre-millennial cars are mostly just straight- forward mechanical parts. Straight up analog. By the sheer empirical evidence — like acceleration and fuel economy — the notion that the new digital car is better than the analog one is manifestly true.

And yet…here we are behind the wheel of a 2003 BMW E39 M5. And here I am with the claim that it is still, almost 20 years later, the best sports sedan of all time.

Alterman goes on to explore why the 2003 BMW E39 M5 is better, in his opinion, than the 2022 BMW M5 Competition, despite being far older and with far less behind-the-scenes software magic. Is his love for the 2003 M5 just nostalgia? Or is there something to it?

The whole episode is worth a listen. But I wanted to share one section in particular.

After driving the 2003 M5, he takes out the 2022 M5. About the 2022 M5, Alterman comments that while it’s “perfect, airbrushed, flawless,” there’s a “nagging video game-like simulation to the whole thing” because of the move from analog to digital.

In the 2003 M5, the shifter, steering, braking, suspension and rear differential were all mechanical. In the 2022 M5, they’re all digital. And in addition, the 2022 M5 is loaded with a whole host of digital features like electronically controlled all wheel drive, lane keeping software, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning..the list goes on and on.

The 2022 BMW M5 Competition

At first glance, these may seem like positive developments. But something about the addition of all these digital features, Alterman argues, fundamentally changes the way the driver relates to the car. It feels like the process of driving is now being “managed” by code and electronics. All the code, all the non-mechanical interfaces…they act as a “layer of mediation between the car and the driver.” The result is that there’s a gap between how the car performs (acceleration, horsepower etc.) and how it makes you feel.

True to form, as I was digesting this episode, I immediately thought of Microsoft Excel.

(Don’t say it. I’m embarrassed enough as it is.)

Excel is software at its most raw. Excel gives you powerful primitives, a workspace in which to play, and then let’s you run wild. There are no obvious guardrails, and no strict onboarding flows that force you down a single path. And there’s something utterly freeing and energizing about that. Let’s be honest, millions of people don’t use Excel every day because they’re forced to. They use it because they love it.

Microsoft Excel is the 2003 E39 M5 of software.

Whenever I open up a piece of enterprise software that has been overly optimized to get me to click that button, and then that button, and then upload that file, and then …I think that I know exactly how Alterman feels driving the 2022 M5. I feel managed. Yes, I’m safe. I won’t break anything. I won’t veer off the golden path. But I also don’t feel, well, much of anything at all. Certainly nothing close to love.

That’s not to say there isn’t a market for that type of software. (The Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car of all-time, remember!). But for modern enterprise software companies, finding the right balance between power and flexibility on the one hand, and safety and guardrails on the other, is the critical design challenge.

To all the companies revolutionizing [insert industry here] by democratizing [insert technology here], can you do so in a way that leaves your user feeling empowered and energized rather than managed and disconnected? Can you build a 2003 E5 rather than a 2022?

As a city dweller, I won’t be buying a car anytime soon, but I can’t help but be utterly enthralled with software that attempts to evoke the power, flexibility and sheer intuitiveness of the 2003 M5. So if that’s what you’re building, let’s talk!



David Peterson
Angular Ventures

Partner @ Angular Ventures