Intuit QuickBooks Connect: Where Small Business Is Big Business

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Intuit’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from Intuit’s 2014 QuickBooks Connect event. The second post, Intuit’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Intuit’s approach in the SMB market.

QBconnectLast week, Intuit held its inaugural QuickBooks (QB) Connect event in San Jose. The 4,000-plus attendees included accountants, developers, small businesses, press, influencers and analysts. The agenda included a good mix of updates, announcement and inspiration from an all-star line-up of speakers. Below are my top takeaways from each of these areas.

Turning the Cloud Corner

While newer competitors, such as Xero, have made a lot of noise, they haven’t had much of an impact on the market. Instead, Intuit’s Small Business Group continues on its growth trajectory, especially in the cloud. QuickBooks Online’s U.S. subscribers grew 32% in 2014. QuickBooks is no longer just a U.S. solution, however. Intuit now sells QuickBooks in 124 countries, and has translated the solution into 12 languages. As of September 2014, the company has 705,000 paid subscribers for QuickBooks Online, and a total of 32 million customers worldwide.

cloudIntuit has clearly turned the cloud corner. In 2009, just 5% of new users were online, now the majority opt for QuickBooks Online over packaged QuickBooks products. In addition, 80% of QuickBooks Online customers are new to the Intuit universe, indicating the cloud version is doing a good job of pulling in net-new customers. The event signaled that Intuit will be doing more thought leadership as well, as evidenced by offering entrepreneurs one-on-one speed mentoring by Lean Startup Productions at the event.

Intuit’s QuickBooks Online development platform is also growing. Developer booths were in the spotlight at the event, and hundreds took Intuit’s Hackathon (link() challenge for a shot at winning a chunk of the $100,000 pot. Method:CRM took home the $55,000 grand prize for its Method:Donor app. Payments Cloud by Cloud Conversion, Safety Net by Jobber, and Service Titan won the $15,000 runner-up prizes.

Finally, Intuit’s Accountant Partner Network has always been essential to the vendor’s small business success. Throughout the event, Intuit speakers discussed “the power of we,” and ways in which the company is enhancing Intuit’s QB Accountant Edition to reduce the amount of time accountants need to spend on low-value data entry chores and increase the time they spend providing their customers with strategic business advice (some of which I note below).

Of course, the combination of a healthy pipeline of new QuickBooks Online customers plus a vibrant developer and accountant ecosystem bode well for continued growth.

Sometimes Less Is More

As Intuit CEO Brad Smith noted, Intuit is not focusing on creating more and more features for fewer and fewer small businesses. Instead, the company is looking for ways to make things easier for small businesses. According to Dan Wernikoff, senior VP and general manager of Intuit’s Small Business Group said, Intuit’s goal is to “make accounting completely invisible to small business owners.”

To that end, Intuit is plowing much of its R&D budget (which is about 16% to 17% of its revenues) into making its products simpler for small businesses, accountants and developers to use. Key announcements unveiled at the event included something for everyone:

Small businesses:

  • A full-service payroll solution, that handles payroll tax complexities
  • Automatic synching for bank and credit card transactions in QuickBooks Online
  • Easier ways to create reports, such as P&L and balance sheets in QuickBooks Online
  • Ability to accept credit card payments in QuickBooks Online in under a minute
  • A new payments offering that enables invoicing, accepting payments and updating books
  • A new QuickBooks Self-Employed solution to help freelancers, contractors and home-based business to separate personal and business finances

Accountants: 

The big news here was the new QuickBooks Online Accountant edition, which gives accountants the ability to work on their clients’ books anywhere, anytime and provides:

  • Customizable dashboards that provides snapshots of action items and deliverables.
  • Toolbox for one-click access to any client, from anywhere within QuickBooks Online.
  • Books-to-tax integration, so users can automatically push bookkeeping data to Intuit Tax Online.
  • Integration with Box, to give accountants a better, easier way to share content and collaborate with their clients.

Developers:

Intuit is striving to create a “drop dead simple environment” for developers to build and sell their apps. To that end, Intuit introduced:

  • New developer experience, featuring seamless cloud integration, new SDKs, and simpler documentation to make it easier to call on QuickBooks Online APIs.
  • New payments API to allow deep integrations with QuickBooks Online.
  • New Apps.com marketplace to enable developers to reach more QuickBooks customers with their solutions. Over 400 apps are already integrated with QuickBooks Online and available on Apps.com.

Inspiration On Tap

qbconnect speakersUnbelievably (this from someone who attends many events and co-manages a small business!) all the speakers featured at QuickBooks Connect were inspiring and informative. The speaker line-up was very diverse, but one commonality is that all are successful entrepreneurs. You can watch them on demand at www.qbconnectlive.com. Pearls of wisdom were flowing like water, but here are some of my favorites, which I hope will inspire you too! 

  • Arianna Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post: Stop wearing “busy” like a badge of honor! It’s not! Success is more than the metrics of money and power. We need health and well-being to be truly successful and happy.
  • Debbie Blox, CEO of Goldieblox, and winner of Intuit’s 2014 Super Bowl ad contest: You need to put yourself out there, and ask for what you need, because it takes a village to create a successful, sustainable small business! Be specific about what you want, and get advisors.
  • Tristan Walker, CEO of Bevel: You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and trials are really blessings in disguise.
  • Martha Stewart, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, reminded us that we need to work really hard to be successful but must be compensated fairly for our hard work, and that once you’re through changing–you’re through!
  • Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary: Find people who share your passion and empower them to break things. The future of business is to upend the unacceptable.
  • Marc Andreessen, cofounder and partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz: There’s a pivot happening with web, cloud and mobile enabling small businesses to use tech more aggressively.
  • Earvin “Magic” Johnson, chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and NBA legend: Have the courage to say I don’t know everything and to get help! Also, know your customer, serve them well they’ll keep coming back
  • Scott Cook, Intuit Founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee: Every one of Intuit’s successful businesses takes off via word of mouth.
  • Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit: We strive to be the operating system behind small business success.

Perspective

Intuit may have been born in the era of green screens and DOS, but it is now all in with solutions for today’s cloud, mobile, social and analytics technologies. However, one thing that hasn’t changed at Intuit is its commitment to helping small businesses thrive. This combination of strengths bodes well for fueling the next era of innovation for Intuit and for small businesses.

Disclosure: Intuit paid for most of my travel expenses to attend QuickBooks Connect.

Can Standards Clear the Clouds?

With market adoption of cloud computing forecast to skyrocket, no one in the tech industry wants to be left on the ground. But, as cloud computing platforms, models and definitions multiply, they’re becoming as numerous and diverse as Mother Nature’s clouds—and just as easy for customers to get lost in.

Last week, Ben Worthen blogged in the WSJ about how the tech industry’s “old guard”—including Cisco, Citrix, EMC, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, VMware and others—are forming a new group, the Open Cloud Standards Incubator, to develop standards for cloud computing. Their objective is to define technical standards to ensure that businesses can easily move information between clouds. But, as Worthen noted, there’s just one hitch–the new guard of Internet behemoths, such as Google, Amazon.com, Salesforce.com have yet to get on board.

 Vendor Politics vs. Customer and Partner Interests

Commercially, each vendor is the anchor tenant of its own cloud, with a vested interest in strengthening and extending its cloud footprint to upsell, cross-sell, and tighten their bonds with customers. Internet companies have had their own secret sauce for a while, and have used it to their advantage. For instance, Amazon has its own AMI standard, which allows customers and partners to build their own Amazon-standard clouds; Salesforce.com has Force.com, which speeds application development for the salesforce.com platform.

While vendors’ internal standards make it easier and quicker to develop new solutions, on their platforms, however, there is a catch. Commercial developers have to place careful bets on which clouds platforms will be provide them with the best market potential. Today, Salesforce.com may look like the best bet—but in two years, maybe Microsoft will offer a better opportunity. But, unable to afford development and integration costs for multiple cloud platforms, many smaller players will get stuck on a cloud.

Meanwhile, as more of a customer’s solutions get tied into those of an anchor vendor, it becomes increasingly difficult for the customer to extricate itself from a cloud, or to integrate applications that reside in different clouds.

 A Ray of Hope

While history and cynicism make me skeptical about whether its possible for this group—or any other–to gain the critical mass necessary to ensure broad-based cloud interoperability, I do see a ray of hope.

Developers and customers are sick of vendor lock-in, and the risks associated with it. Part of the promise of cloud computing has been freedom—the ability to deploy and run IT solutions quicker, better and more easily and affordably. Developers want the freedom to transport their applications to multiple clouds as new market opportunities present themselves. Customers want the freedom to integrate applications residing in different clouds, public and private. To make this possible, they need the economies of scale, cost and time-to-market benefits that standards can provide.

It’s still early going for cloud computing. Vendors may have to put aside some of their own bickering, and clear the way for cloud computing adoption to live up to its promising forecasts.