Intuit: Big Plans for Helping Small Business Work Smarter

Even though I have tracked Intuit for at least 15 years, I didn’t know that Intuit has about 100 patents pending before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office related to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and more than 30 machine learning systems in production—until I attended Intuit’s Innovation Gallery Walk in New York last week. Intuit uses the Gallery walk to showcase new solutions that it has recently brought to market, as well as those that are still in development.

At this year’s event, Intuit unveiled some of the ways it is using artificial intelligence, machine learning and other new technologies to “power prosperity for small businesses and consumers.” With 26 product innovations demoed at the event, Intuit has clearly been busy! While I didn’t have time to see all of these demos, I did learn about some of the ways in which Intuit is putting these technologies to work to help make it easier for small business to manage their businesses more efficiently, intelligently and profitably.

Getting More Insight, More Easily with Natural Language

For most small business owners, time is the most precious commodity. Intuit has created an open, natural language application programming interface (API) to develop conversational user interfaces for its solutions. For instance:

  • Intuit is testing a new chatbot, which let users query their phones in a Siri-like fashion to get answers from and execute tasks in their QuickBooks account. For example, a user might ask, “What clients owe me money?” and then take tell the system to send reminders to clients to pay overdue invoices.
  • Intuit’s Smart Mirror experiment turns your mirror into a virtual assistant by blending the power of natural language queries with the Internet of Things (IoT). While you’re shaving or putting your makeup on, you can ask the mirror to tell you what’s going on with the weather or the stock market, or ask it to pull information about your business from your QuickBooks Online account. The mirror is a potential proxy for an almost unlimited array of objects, and Intuit’s goal to provide QuickBooks users with information when, where and how its most convenient—whether your mirror when you’re getting ready for work in the morning, your car en route to a client’s site, or your Amazon Echo when you’re making dinner in the kitchen.

    Figure 1: Intuit’s Chatbot and Smart Mirror Experiment

 

Helping Self-Employed Workers Save Time and Money with AI and Machine Learning 

Intuit estimates that the percentage of self-employed—aka “gig” workers—will grow from about 36% of the workforce today to 43% in 2020. Self-employed workers often use the same accounts and credit cards for business and personal expenses. Managing and untangling this information can be difficult and time-consuming, and lots of information often falls through the cracks at tax time. In some cases, it all falls through the cracks: Intuit found that 30% of its QuickBooks Self-Employed users claimed no business deductions in 2015—and as a result, likely paid more taxes than they owed.

To help gig workers get organized, keep more of the money they earn, and gain more visibility into their businesses, Intuit is infusing AI and machine learning into QuickBooks Self-Employed. For example:

  • Expense Finder helps uses to identify more taxable deductions. QuickBooks Self-Employed securely connects to a client’s bank account, automatically finds and imports business transactions from the past year, and sorts them into Schedule C categories, to reveal potentially deductible expenses.
  • Automatic mileage tracking tracks mileage every time you drive your car, whether the QuickBooks Self-Employed app is open or not. At your convenience, you simply swipe to the left or right to tag mileage for each trip as a business or personal expense.
  • You can snap photos of receipts, and the app automatically reads all the relevant info from the receipt into the system so you don’t have to spend time typing it in.

Figure 2: Growth of the Gig Economy and QuickBooks Self-Employed Mileage Tracker

 

Inuit is also creating a new offering that combines QuickBooks Self-Employed and TurboTax, called TurboTax Self-Employed. This solution will make it easier for self-employed workers to separate business and personal expenses and file taxes more accurately.

Reducing Friction With Partner Integrations

Over the past few years, Intuit has built out its partner platform to help extend the power of QuickBooks Online through third-party solutions. The platform has provided third-party developers with tools to build data integration with QuickBooks directly into their solutions, and Intuit’s app store has over 450 applications. Intuit continues to push ahead on this front, with new capabilities, such as:

  • A deeper collaboration with G Suite by Google Cloud, which gives QuickBooks users the streamline workflows. With the new integration, users can for instance, send invoices directly from Gmail to their clients.
  • Partner apps that are embedded in QuickBooks Online. T-Sheets and Bill.com have revamped their user interfaces with the QuickBooks Online look and feel, and embedded them in the QuickBooks online application to give users a fast, easy on-ramp to add new services. Via machine learning, QuickBooks Online flags when certain thresholds are met—such a number of employees or transaction volume—when a time sheet or bill paying solution would make sense. Users are offered a 30-day free trial, and if they decide to continue, pay the monthly charge from their QuickBooks account.

Intuit has also streamlined its online financing program. The vendor has simplified and shortened the application process to 5 minutes by using more of the data loan applicants already have in their QuickBooks Online system. With eight lender partners in the platform, Intuit is also providing loan applicants with easy to understand, comparative information on lending offers so they choose the offer that works best for their businesses.

Figure 3: Intuit Financing Application

 

Summary and Perspective

As Intuit CEO Brand Smith noted in his remarks at the event, Intuit’s mission is to “power prosperity around the world for consumers, small businesses and the self-employed through its ecosystem of innovative financial management solutions.” Founded in 1983, this now 34-old company has been able to thrive not by resting on its laurels, but by embracing change to stay ahead of the curve.

As evidenced at the Gallery Walk, Intuit is continuing this trajectory, investing to innovate with AI, machine learning, IoT and other technologies that will help its customers—and Intuit itself—with new and better ways to flourish well into the future.

StatX: Mobile Dashboards for Small Business

Laurie: Today I’m talking to Prasad Raje, president and CEO of a new company called StatX. I met Prasad this fall at Intuit’s QuickBooks Connect Conference, and was intrigued with the demo I saw of the StatX solution, which provides users with a mobile dashboard for QuickBooks Online and several other top small business applications. Before we talk more about the StatX solution, Prasad, can you first tell me a little bit about the company, and when and why you got started?


prasad-bio-1024x716
Prasad:  Thanks, Laurie, sure. StatX has been around since about the middle of last year. I and my co-founder Pablo Bellver founded the company. Prior to that, I was CEO of Instantis, a company that was also in the collaboration space, and was acquired by Oracle. Pablo had been at Google for about 10 years, and had built Google Now, which is a very successful Android app for consumers. We put our brains together and created StatX to deliver mobile relevant business updates to your mobile phone, no matter where they are. Our motto is that StatX lets you know what changed in your business via your mobile device

Laurie: I like the term you used in our earlier conversation–that StatX is like an Instagram for business–because it relays real-time information to you in a very digestible way, right to your phone

Prasad: That’s right, that’s the way we think about it. We want the information to be visual and easy to consume, so we built the StatX platform to do this. It doesn’t take up too much of your time because that’s the way people use their mobile devices.

Laurie: One of the top applications that StatX works with is QuickBooks Online. Can you tell us a little about this?
statx-qbo-dashboard-1200x876Prasad: Sure. If you use QuickBooks Online (QBO) to keep your books up to date, you want to be able to send updates and financials to your clients or co-workers. StatX directly connects to QBO. QBO authorizes StatX to fetch your financials from it, and StatX pulls that information into a set of visual elements that we call stats. Twitter invented the tweet, and StatX has invented the stat, which is a visual representation of numeric or status information. In the case of financials, it would represent things like income, expenses, cash, AR, AP, etc., in a beautiful, easy to consume dashboard. And it brings you live, real-time updates to information when it changes.

Laurie: How long does it take for a QuickBooks Online user to get productive with this?

Prasad: Very little time. We want to compete with the best of the consumer apps out there in terms of ease of use. So, if you are an accountant that wants to set up QBO with StatX, it should take no more than a few minutes of time to connect your QBO account and start seeing live data on your phone from QBO. From there it should take less than a minute to share that information with your client. By the way, the client doesn’t need to do any setup, they simply just consume the live dashboard information that you provide to them.

Laurie: It sounds like the accountant does a tiny bit of work and the client gets the benefit of that without really any heavy lifting at all.

Prasad: Exactly. Even for the accountant, it’s a one-time setup, then we do all the work on an ongoing basis to keep it live at all times.

Laurie: How do you price StatX?

Prasad: Pricing is very simple. We have a monthly per user subscription fee for each client or user using StatX. The fee is $10 per user per month when paid as an annual subscription. That allows the client to use StatX with QuickBooks Online, and with the other apps we have on our platform.

Laurie: Before we get into those other apps, can you clarify whether the accountant has to pay a user fee for each of the clients he’s pushing notifications out to, or just for his own use?

Prasad: For each user that has the app installed on their phone. So, if the accountant sets up 5 clients, the accountant would have one subscription for him or herself, plus 5 for their clients.

Laurie: Got it. So what are some of the other small business applications that StatX already has a mobile dashboard for?

Prasad: Our connector to WordPress is one example, we can fetch your daily visitor stats and see how it trends and you can get notifications for new posts, comments, visitors etc. Another one is MailChimp for email marketing. Instead of having to go to MailChimp every time you want to see how many people opened your email and how many clicked through, we just send you live updated stats as things change.

Laurie: I know StatX also works with Microsoft Excel and you work with QuickBooks Desktop. How does it work with these?

Prasad: For QuickBooks Desktop, you can export reports into Excel, as you normally do, and we have an add-in to Microsoft Excel that lets you connect that information with StatX. So, you can provide stats to your client’s phone with a single click in Excel or QuickBooks Desktop.

Laurie: Anything else that’s important for small business owners and decision-makers to know about StatX?

Prasad: In addition to being a powerful dashboard that connects to many different apps, StatX can be used to create quick and easy, succinct workflows. For example, if you’re collaborating with your team on a particular check list of items that need to be done, instead of sending e-mails back and forth, people can just check off items on the checklist via their mobile device, and everyone gets notified of the status. Say you need approvals from your boss for different things, you create an approval stat for that. We have many stats like this that help with collaboration and to coordinate workflows.

Laurie: Very interesting, and thank you so much for your time today and sharing this info.

 

Intuit: Helping Very Small Businesses Connect the Dots

There’s no question that cloud is the new normal for very small businesses (VSBs, with 1 to 19 employees).  Cloud computing has made it easy for VSBs to access, buy and deploy the business solutions that they need to automate operations, and to sustain and grow their businesses. SMB Group research shows that VSBs are increasingly opting for cloud solutions for flexibility, speed and cost benefits, and more (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Top Reasons to Use Cloud Solutions: Very Small Businessesslide1

 

Integration Lags Cloud Adoption

However, while the cloud has made it much easier for VSBs to access and use new applications, most still find it difficult to integrate them. In fact, 32% of VSBs have not integrated any of their applications. Among those who have done some integration, 71% rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom coding, instead of using more efficient integration solutions or pre-integrated solutions (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Level and Type of Application Integration: Very Small Businessesslide2

This isn’t surprising. While there are many solid integration solutions in the market, very small businesses lack the expertise, resources and money to use them (Figure 3). And while pre-integrated solution suites can be great, most small businesses adopt applications in an incremental way. They don’t want to pay for functionality they don’t use, and don’t have the bandwidth to get productive on more than a couple of things at the same time.

Figure 3: Annual Technology Spending and IT Resources: Very Small Businessesslide3

However, the cloud makes it easy for VSBs to add new applications as needed and as time permits. But over time, they realize  automation additional functions without integrating them only gets part of the job done. They need to integrate them to streamline workflows and to gain a unified view of what’s going on in the business.

Intuit: Evolving Messaging, Platform and Products to Help VSBs Connect the Dots

At it’s 2016 QuickBooks Connect conference last week, Intuit hammered home the event theme–that connected applications can help small businesses speed up workflows, save time, and gain a more complete view of their customers. The company showcased its open platform strategy and partnerships, and its goal to help its customers connect the dots between information and workflows in different applications.

In the developer track, Intuit emphasized its commitment to provide developers with the latest and greatest tools to help them easily integrate their apps with QuickBooks Online. For instance, the vendor touted Webhooks, which makes it easier for developers to synch data between QuickBooks Online and their solutions. Intuit also offered developers numerous sessions to help increase their understanding of how broader technology trends, such as machine learning/artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile and security (to name a few!) are reshaping business applications, and fuel interest in applying them to create more valuable and innovative solutions.

Intuit also announced several new, specific integrations to help VSBs connect the solution dots, including:

  • Integration with Google G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work). Customers can now buy QuickBooks Online in the G Suite Marketplace, and use single sign-on (SSO) to access QuickBooks from their Google accounts. New integration with Google Calendar also enables users to import time and billing data from Calendar directly into QuickBooks Online.
  • New payments integrations with Apple Pay and PayPal. These integrations enable users to invoice payments to their customers from QuickBooks Online, and then take payments from customers via Apple Pay and PayPal. Once a customer makes the payment from Apple Pay or PayPal, the integration automatically enters and categorizes it in QuickBooks Online. This saves customers from having to use a plug-in or manually reconcile transactions between QuickBooks Online and their payment systems.
  • Payroll integration with TSheets, an employee time-tracking and scheduling app. Users can now track, approve and pay employees from within their QuickBooks Online accounts.
  • Extended integration with Bill.com. QuickBooks Online users can now manage Bill.com functions, such as bill payment, tracking, transaction reconciliation and ACH authorizations within QuickBooks Online.
  • More integrated financing options. Intuit’s Financing platform has added new integrated loan programs for QuickBooks Online users. For instance, users can now apply for American Express Working Capital Terms for short-term loans via QuickBooks Online. Intuit has also incorporated BlueVine’s Flex Credit into its QuickBooks financing platform.

Summary and Perspective

Intuit is taking big steps to educate small businesses and accountants about the value of application integration, and is paving the way to make integration solutions easier to use and more affordable.

Intuit is also the top business solutions provider in the very small business market–one that many vendors find very difficult to crack in terms of broad-scale adoption. In addition, Intuit has the advantage of being the keeper of the crown jewels for many small businesses-their financial transactions.

From this vantage point, Intuit has distinct advantages to attract developers to its community and its mission, and to help VSBs finally start moving up the integration curve. At the same time, Intuit’s open platform, connected community strategy will also help power Intuit’s next level of growth in VSB market.

Note: Intuit is an SMB Group client, and paid my travel expenses to QuickBooks Connect.

QuickBooks Self-Employed: Built for the Business of One  

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), over 40% of all U.S. workers are now contingent, which includes the self-employed as well as temp workers, contractors, on-call workers and part-time employees. That number is up 10% from the previous GAO survey in 2006.

This trend spans across industries, from construction to pet care, and from professional services to Uber and Lyft drivers–and shows no This trend shows no sign of abating, with the GAO predicting the percentage of self-employed workers to rise to 50% by 2020. Self-employed workers need tools to manage finances, build brands and grow their business—but they must do all this on a shoestring budget and little or no accounting expertise.

I recently had the chance to speak with Intuit’s Cassie Divine, Business Operations Leader for the Self-Employed Solutions business unit of Intuit’s Small Business Division about the “gig” economy and Intuit’s QuickBooks Self-Employed solution , developed specifically for people that are self-employed.            

Intuit built QuickBooks Self-Employed to fill the gap between personal finance solutions, which are easy to use, but don’t address accounting and tax needs, and small business accounting solutions, which can be too complicated and expensive because they include many things self-employed people don’t need.

Whether you think of yourself as a business of one, solopreneur, freelancer, or contractor, QuickBooks Self-Employed can help you track and organize business and personal expenses, maximize deductions, estimate tax payments, and manage cash flow more easily and efficiently.

QuickBooks Self-Employed may be just what you need to streamline these tasks, get better visibility into your finances, and make tax time a whole lot easier to deal with. Watch this video to learn more!

This post is sponsored by Intuit.

Intuit QuickBooks Financing: Speed, Ease and Low Fees for Small Business Loans

Small businesses are very diverse, and so are their needs and sources for financing. For small businesses, borrowing money, or debt financing, is one of the most common sources for funding. While small businesses can seek out loans from many sources, including friends and family, banks, savings and loans, credit unions, commercial finance firms, and the government, the borrowing process can be frustrating, difficult and time consuming for many small business owners.

So I was excited to talk with Rania Succar, Director and Group Leader for QuickBooks Financing at Intuit, about financing considerations and options that are available for small businesses today. Rania recently joined Intuit from YouTube, motivated in large part to her desire to help fuel the economy by helping small businesses succeed in area that is ripe for innovation.

In this video, we discuss trends in small business financing, and what Intuit doing to give small businesses more options and easier access to financing. Rania noted that on average, small businesses spend 33 hours to pulling together all the documentation they need for bank loans, but are declined by banks 70% of the time.

Three years ago, Intuit decided to address this problem with QuickBooks Financing, focused on delivering “speed, ease and low fees,” according to Succar. Intuit’s financing service automatically compiles loan documentation by pulling in data from the small business’ draws QuickBooks account–dramatically slashing time from the loan application process. Then, Intuit matches the small business with one or more of the dozen lenders, including Fundbox, OnDeck and Kiva, on its platform. Loan decisions get processed quickly, and small businesses can compare the different offers they get and select the one that’s best for them.

If you need access to working capital to smooth out cash flow for a seasonal business, or to expand your business, watch this video to learn how QuickBooks Financing can help.

This post is sponsored by Intuit.

BizSlate: Weaving QuickBooks Into ERP for Small Businesses

Laurie:  Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and today I’m talking to Marc Kalman, who is the CEO and founder of BizSlate, which provides inventory management solutions for small businesses. So, welcome Marc!

Marc:  Thank you. Glad to be here today.

Laurie:  Thanks for coming. We’re here at the QuickBooks Connect conference, a very appropriate place to be talking about small business solutions. I’m wondering, before we get into the specifics of what BizSlate does, can you tell us about your role how the company got started?

Marc:  Sure Laurie. I’ve been in the supply chain technology field my entire career. I started off as a software engineer right out of college, did that for about nine years and had the opportunity then to move into more of the practitioner side of things where I was an EDI (electronic data interchange) analyst for a while, I was a supply chain specialist at companies like Coach Leatherware, and then I had the opportunity to direct a team for a nine division accessories business in New York City. From there, I started my last company, which was, and still is a successful EDI provider, Easy Come Software.

What we found was, because of our unique way of addressing the market for small businesses, we were upwards of 90% more efficient than any of our competitors as far as a supply chain capabilities around EDI were concerned. That led to our customers calling up after a while saying, “Hey Marc, this is great what you’re doing for us in the world of EDI. While in our case it might be 70% or 80% of our business, it’s two customers and we have a thousand customers and we’re using QuickBooks and we want to see our inventory and we can’t keep track of things correctly. And people are traveling and need access to real-time information quickly to make important decisions and keep up with the market.”

So it caused me to look at what was going on in the supply chain space for small businesses and I saw that it was a big problem. I’m very passionate about the space, I’ve been involved with it for a very long time and decided, you know what? I’m going to go do something about it and so here we are.

Laurie:  So, what specifically does BizSlate do?

BizSlate_Logo2Marc:  So, we obviously we do integrate with QuickBooks, predominantly focusing on QuickBooks Online right now. That seems to be the direction that QuickBooks is pushing everybody towards anyway, and we want to be the forefront of that.

Laurie:  Right. And new companies are starting more with cloud-based offerings.

Marc: Exactly. We are web-based, and we focus on helping small businesses improve how they manage everything–customers, orders, vendors, inventory, logistics of the supply chain–and give them the tools that they need to succeed this very intense, omnichannel market.

Laurie:  Does it plug right into QuickBooks, Marc?

Marc: It does, seamlessly. We connect right to QuickBooks through APIs, so as you process documents in our system, let’s say like you post invoices or you receive inventory, if you go into QuickBooks you would instantly see those transactions.

Laurie:  It sounds like it kind of fleshes out QuickBooks beyond accounting and basic financials into what other companies would call ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning, with functionality that manufacturers or distributors might need.

Marc:  Correct. And you know, QuickBooks is great from an accounting system perspective. But certain businesses, particularly product-related businesses that have to track inventory, as they evolve, the operations aspect of QuickBooks doesn’t always keep up with the rate of growth. This causes companies to start looking outside of QuickBooks, at companies like MAS 90 or Dynamics. And until now, QuickBooks really hasn’t had a lot of defense against that. In fact we just did a demo for someone earlier and they said, “You know, QuickBooks plus BizSlate equals NetSuite.”

Laurie:  What are you finding in terms of the sweet spot of customers that are interested in BizSlate? I would expect you have a lot of QuickBooks users that say, “I like QuickBooks but I need more.” Any other kinds of people coming by that are interested?

Marc: There are two key areas that customers are attracted to us. One is what you just described, where someone is using QuickBooks, loves it, or their accountant wants them to stay on QuickBooks. They don’t want to have that disruption of having to change the whole system, they just want to expand functionality. We give them a nice path to be able to do that with a system that will help them not just today, but sustain them for the future. Also, the power that we offer is at a very affordable price. So we also find companies that use solutions like NetSuite that maybe aren’t capitalizing on all of the capabilities that NetSuite offers, or it’s too complex, it’s too big, it’s too expensive. This is an opportunity for them to get the same efficiency but easier, and more affordably.

Laurie: Is there a sweet spot in terms of company size for BizSlate?

Marc:  We are primarily focusing on businesses that are fifty million in revenue or less. Industry-wise, we have a lot of traction in apparel, footwear, also housewares, consumer goods, and electronics

Laurie:  A lot of companies are targeting small businesses who are outgrowing QuickBooks. So why BizSlate? What makes you different?

Marc:  That’s one of my favorite questions. Because we get it. We understand small businesses. Small businesses today are understaffed and overworked. People are doing fifteen different jobs at the same time and that’s on a good day. They don’t have time to sit in front of a computer processing documents. Every single person at that company needs to focus on the growth and profitability of that organization. It’s actually detrimental to the business in a very aggressive market to have people who are wasting time on a lot of data entry.

When some vendors target small businesses, they just don’t understand what these small businesses need. They say that they do, but they don’t. These providers, what they say is, “Well, for a small business it has to be affordable,” right? It does. Has to be easy, and it has to be easy, right? But to get there, the typical provider does that by removing value. But this removes ROI. So where BizSlate is different is we bring enterprise value, the kind of tools, the intelligence that small businesses really need to be able to capitalize on the market. But we do it in a way that is affordable and easy and gives them tools that to really rev the business up and focus on things that are more important to the company.

Laurie:  I think you hit the nail on the head. Time is usually the most precious resource for many small businesses. So how long on average does it takes somebody to get up and running on BizSlate, and how do you help them get productive more quickly?

Marc:  Every customer’s a little different. There are different levels of complexity. We start our promise to our customers with ease of use by making sure that the software itself can be learned and trained and used without anybody ever having to teach somebody something. Now that said, that doesn’t mean we don’t support our customers. In fact, I believe we’re one of the few, if not only, providers of this type that offer free unlimited phone support.

Laurie:  That’s a big deal.

Marc: Because we want to make sure our clients succeed, it’s not just about selling software here.

Laurie:  Yes, in a subscription model you really want to keep them once you get them.

Marc:  Exactly. And we’re passionate about small business, I come from the space. Half the employees at BizSlate come from the space. We are really here to make a difference and we want our clients to be successful. As great as our software is, we want to be known for the service that we offer and really make a difference.

Laurie:  Last but not least, is there anything here at QuickBooks Connect that you’re highlighting that you’d like to just give a shout out for?

Marc:  We have two very exciting themes here at the show. Number one, we just found out that we were selected as one of the top twenty cloud providers of 2015 by CIO Review magazine.

Laurie:  Congratulations.

Marc:  Thank you, we’re very excited. Also we’re just finishing up QuickBooks partner certification. In about a week or two, we should be listed on apps.com so everybody will be able to find us.

Laurie:  That’s great. It looks like you’re having a good time at the show too.

Marc:  I’m having a great time. I’m meeting lots of great people, having great conversations, and excited to see that there’s a lot of interest for what we’re doing.

Laurie:  Well Marc, thank you so much for talking to me today and sharing this information so people can learn more about BizSlate and connect with you.

Marc:  Thank you.

Intuit: Finding New Footing In the Small Business Cloud

For Intuit, small business is big business. The company has long dominated the very small business, or VSB (1-19 employees) accounting market in the U.S. (Figure 1), and in the last few years, has also been campaigning hard to win global business against incumbents in countries such as Canada, U.K., India and Australia.

Figure 1: U.S. VSB Accounting Solutions Purchased/Upgraded in Last 24 Months

Slide1

Yet Intuit has had a mixed track record in terms of evolving from a traditional package software model to a cloud-based services and platform company. Although Intuit initially launched QuickBooks online in 2004, the vendor seemed conflicted about how best to navigate its own transition to a cloud based business model for several years. However, it started getting serious about the cloud a few years ago, and today QuickBooks Online has grown to serve over 1,150,000 small businesses.

Meanwhile, the company has continued to wrestle with how to grow its business beyond its core QuickBooks franchise. This past summer, Intuit announced plans to divest several businesses, including its original Quicken consumer finance product; QuickBase, a collaborative workspace to build custom apps; and Demandforce, an automated marketing solution for small businesses. In addition, the vendor laid off about 5% of its workforce this past August.

Given the opportunity to attend this year’s QuickBooks Connect conference, I was curious to learn more about Intuit’s transformation strategy, and how it will grow its small business footprint. At the event, Intuit emphasized plans to:

  • Double down on small business financial management-related services that leverage the QuickBooks Connect platform. With plans to take Quicken, QuickBase and Demandforce off its plate in the works, Intuit can free up resources to concentrate on innovation in small business financial management. The vendor announced new solutions to help retailers and e-tailers automatically connect QuickBooks to inventory and sales data across multiple channels. This includes integrating data from e-commerce providers like BigCommerce and Shopify, as well as integration for QuickBooks Point-of-Sale. Intuit also showcased a new QuickBooks financing option, offered in partnership with OnDeck. The QuickBooks FinancingLine of Credit uses small businesses’ QuickBooks accounting data to qualify applicants for lower-rate loans than those available from traditional lenders. Intuit also highlighted its partnership with Fundbox, which provides advanced payments for outstanding invoices in QuickBooks to help improve cash flow.
  • Bet the future on the cloud and big data. While Intuit will not abandon desktop users, it has shifted its resources (and partner ecosystem, see the next bullet) to the cloud. According to Intuit, QuickBooks Online accounted for 60% of new sales in FY15, and the company expects that to jump to 70% in FY16. As it transitions more customers to the cloud and the QuickBooks platform, Intuit gains access to more customer data that will enable it to create–and monetize–a broader array of financial services for small businesses.
  • Ramp up its ecosystem and platform play. Over the past year, Intuit has grown the number of third-party apps that integrate with the QuickBooks platform from just over 300 apps to more than 1,500. At the event, Intuit announced that it has set up a $4 million co-marketing fund to help developers promote apps developed on the QuickBooks platform. Through the program, the vendor will double developer partners’ marketing investments of $10,000 to $20,000. For example, if a partner spends $10,000, Intuit will double the match to $20,000.
  • Boost its focus on the self-employed sector. Last fall, Intuit announced QuickBooks Self-Employed, its somewhat late counter to rival Freshbooks, which launched in 2003, and now claims to have over 5 million users (though Freshbooks doesn’t disclose the number of paid subscribers). Designed to provide the rapidly growing self-employed segment with tools to organize and manage their finances, QuickBooks Self-Employed enables users to connect bank and credit card accounts to import transactions, and categorize them as either business or personal. The solution also automatically assigns them to the proper IRS Schedule C deduction category. According to Intuit, QuickBooks Self-Employed currently has about 25,000 paid subscribers. At QuickBooks Connect, Intuit highlighted a new partnership with Stride Health, which integrates Stride Health’s personalized approach to managing health insurance, healthcare and compliance within QuickBooks Self-Employed.
  • Strengthen its accountant solutions and network. Intuit introduced Trial Balance within QuickBooks Online Accountant at the event. The solution helps accounting professionals save time by pre-mapping most of the accounts from QuickBooks Online Accountant to an Intuit Tax Online form, reducing or eliminating manual data import, export and entry work. It also gives accountants one, centralized location to store the work they perform for clients. Intuit also launched a New ProAdvisor Fathom Partnership, designed for accounting professionals who want to deliver more frequent, engaging advisory and management reporting services. The new partnership provides ProAdvisors with exclusive benefits, including a free Fathom single company license for life, discounts of up to 50% off licenses for their clients and dedicated support for ProAdvisors and their clients. Intuit also hosted a special VIP event for key accountant partners. Intuit used the VIP event to provide partners with deeper insights into Intuit’s plans, and to tap into partner ideas and recommendations to strengthen QuickBooks small business and accountant solutions and programs.
  • Grow globally. Intuit currently provides localized versions of QuickBooks in the UK, India, Canada, Australia and Singapore, with plans to launch in France and Brazil later this year. Intuit’s commitment to global expansion was underscored by a large accountant and developer representation from these countries, especially the UK, Canada, India and Australia.

Perspective

Intuit has traveled a somewhat rocky road to the cloud, but now seems to be finding its footing. It has elevated QuickBooks Online to flagship status; significantly ramped up developer activity on the QuickBooks platform; is gaining awareness and customers in new geographies; and continues to have a large, loyal accountant network.

This doesn’t mean all will be easy climbing from here on in. Intuit needs to play an aggressive catch-up game in the race to win self-employed customers. Furthermore, while Intuit is focusing on helping small businesses better manage their financials, VSBs (businesses with 1-19 employees) seem more concerned with business growth. According to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, VSBs rank growing revenue and attracting new customers as their top two business challenges–ahead of improving cash flow, maintaining profitability and obtaining financing (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top U.S. VSB Business Challenges

Slide2

Meanwhile, competition for customers in new geographies will be fierce and nuanced with global complexities. And, in all cases, Intuit is competing for limited IT dollars: 62% of VSBs spend just $1,000-$9,999 on IT annually (SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study).

Figure 3: U.S. VSB Annual Technology Spending

Slide3However, Intuit’s tack to build new, data-driven services for small businesses–such as its new lending service–provides the company with an exciting opportunities to disrupt the status quo and create new revenue streams, such as Intuit is doing with QuickBooks Financing. While other companies may launch similar services, Intuit’s dominant market share in the U.S. provides it with a unique advantage. While its too soon to know how this will actually play out, Intuit’s ability to capitalize on this potential will likely prove to be the biggest factor in spurring the company to the next level of growth.

Note: Intuit hosted me at QuickBooks Connect and paid for my travel expenses.