As the story goes, one day Scott Cook and his wife were sitting around the kitchen table asking the age old question, “how do we balance this checkbook”? In their mind there had to be a better way. Scott, based upon his experiences at Proctor & Gamble, when coupled with his awareness of the emergence of personal computers thought there might be a market for software that would help people keep their checkbooks balanced as they paid their bills.
A short time later, Scott Cook, began looking for a computer programmer and found Tom Prolux, with whom he formed Intuit in 1983. The first version of Quicken was coded in Microsoft Basic for the IBM PC and Pascal for the Apple II; by 1984 they were beginning the first testing of Quicken. Not only was Quicken innovative in its functionality from a personal finance standpoint but it quickly made computer software history by becoming the fastest installing program which permitted users to print a check. By 1985 Intuit was also doing something no other software vendor had done, ‘shrink wrapping software and manuals’, within a few years every other major software vendor followed suite.
Despite these ‘firsts’, competitors were popping up everywhere, and Intuit was struggling financially. Even though ‘every day users’ seemed to love the way Quicken worked, the product was not well received by the accounting industry because it didn’t use ‘’double-entry’ accounting. Even with that limitation Quicken had become the most popular software of its kind by 1988, but competition was soon to rear its head again. While Quicken was migrating from DOS to Windows, Microsoft introduced its personal finance software ‘Money’ in 1991 and began shipping it out with their Windows Operating System software to hardware manufacturers. To win retailers' loyalty Intuit undertook ‘another first’, they included a $15 rebate coupon, redeemable on software customers purchased in their stores. This was the first time any software company had offered rebates.
Intuit purchased the right to use the double-entry accounting program called MoneyCounts from Parsons Technology; after some streamlining with Quicken like features the resultant program was named QuickBooks when it was released in 1992. The software soon began growing in popularity with small business owners who had no formal accounting training.
While Intuit had initially been incorporated in California in 1984, they re-incorporated in Delaware and went public on March 12, 1993 when they began being traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market. The IPO brought with it a greatly improved capitalization of the company that would permit many future acquisitions to bolster the company’s offerings, but it also brought the interest of Microsoft, this time in the form of an attempted buyout in 1994 which was ultimately squashed by the Justice Department.
Intuit isn’t so much a software engineering company as it is a consolidator of financial products, the key acquisitions which have been made have always been focused at meeting the foundational goals of the company, whether the products were intended for use by everyday customers, accountants, tax preparers, or merchants. From Quicken to QuickBooks, from TurboTax to Lacerte tax software, and any number of other offerings, these products are always focused on changing the lives of their users. Throughout the corporate climate there is an emphasis on empathy with the end user, and listening to customers, accountants and partners about what needs to be enhanced, improved or sometimes ‘just fixed’.
I think this was best demonstrated to me last year, when I attended the VIP-Summit at Intuit’s Mountain View Headquarters. During our ‘Design for Delight’ session, I barely noticed Scott Cook pull-up a chair and sat down about 2 feet behind me. While our group debated and bantered back-n-forth over ideas, he quietly took notice and notes on every idea. Not long thereafter he got up and as he was leaving he summarized our efforts most eloquently in a single sentence, and pointed us to a common core of understanding. Obviously Scott Cook has learned a thing or two about ‘listening’, but more importantly identifying with his target audience. I suspect that everyone at Intuit has taken their founders skills to heart in striving every day to focus on the company's mission.
But Intuit isn’t only about ‘insight’ into their customers, they are all about ‘insight into the future’, and that future is ‘in the cloud’. With nearly a 15-year history of internet based technology since the introduction of QuickBooks Online in 2000, Intuit is leading the way in providing financial and tax preparation products ‘to the world’. The globalization of QuickBooks Online with multi-cultural flavors has led to phenomenal growth over just the last couple of years. The expansion of the QuickBooks ProAdvisor program embracing not only traditional QuickBooks desktop users but QuickBooks Online users in every country Intuit serves will go a long way to insure the growth of QuickBooks Online. But equally the ‘opening up’ of the QuickBooks Online platform to developers who wish to build integrated applications to expand QBO capabilities to meet the specific needs of users around the world will insure the growth of Intuit’s Cloud Kingdom.
This year's QuickBook Connect conference presently underway in San Jose, CA is all about bridging these two 'visions' of acute customer awareness and providing visions of the future. People from around the globe are in attendance for training, demonstrations and product announcements, but also to contribute their ideas. This isn't just an 'accounting show' it is so much more involving small businesses, accountants, advisors, product developers and Intuit staff. You can also bet that somewhere Scott Cook is listening and taking notes striving to achieve his company's goal.
Intuit has come a long way from Scott Cook’s kitchen table, and in so doing continues to accomplish their mission of “improving their customers’ lives so profoundly that they can’t imagine going back to the old way.”