An eye on the future

Charles Stack doesn’t glance over his shoulder to see who’s there. Although it happened once before, he says he isn’t worried that someone will catch up with him and cash in on his great ideas.

Stack, the owner of, sells digital software components online, and if you ask him, it’s the next big e-commerce application.

“True reusable software is when you can take a component, plug it into the architecture of another program and it expect it to work,” says Stack. “It will move software development from craft to science, and bring with it lower costs, bug reduction and reduced maintenance. We’re trying to make a fundamental change in an industry.”

He’s not alone in his thinking. Trade publications and online journals laud Stack for his vision, saying Flashline’s concept could have major impacts on the emerging reusable software component industry. Stack estimates he’s about six to eight months ahead of his competitors, who are sure to follow suit with deeper pockets.

But affecting change is something Stack is uniquely familiar with; he’s done so twice before. In 1984, he founded Parallax MicroSystems Inc., which designed and implemented custom software for law offices. That venture made him among the first in the nation to cash in on the windfall surrounding asbestos liability claims.

Then, in the early 1990s, Stack turned a simple telnet dial-up computer program into the world’s first online bookstore, Book Stacks. That was a good three years before anyone ever heard of

So in early 1998, while anxious would-be entrepreneurs were climbing all over each other to develop and finance Internet sites, Stack dug into one of the notebooks he keeps filled with ideas and founded He recruited software developers from around the globe to supply reusable software components, then hung his virtual shingle at

“One of my favorite exercises is projecting where an industry is headed and how it’s going to develop,” he says. “That’s what I perceive my job to be — to digest information and come up with a vision of where I think the industry is going, then to fit a business model around that.”

He accomplishes that by tapping into the hobby that helped him conduct what may be the world’s first retail online transaction: his love of reading.

“I consume printed materials in vast quantities,” he says. “Books, magazines, online journals, newspapers. Before I started Flashline, I literally read everything that’s been written about software components in English.”

Stack compares his methods to those of science fiction writers, who take a premise then spin an entire world around it to see how the story plays out.

“It’s like play acting,” he says. “You have to look at the ramifications of whether something works or not, and how the industry would react.”

Once that’s done, he says, it’s a waiting game to see if the industry bites. So far for Stack, it always has.

Though Book Stacks never reaped the financial rewards of its followers, it established Stack’s place in history as someone with one eye on the future.

How to reach:,

Dustin S. Klein ([email protected]) is editor of SBN.