What do Oprah Winfrey, Jessica Alba, Bill Rancic and me have in common? We’re all entrepreneurs and we’ll be speaking at Quickbooks Connect, a three-day gathering of thousands of small business owners, accountants and software developers November 2-4 in San Jose, California.
While Quickbooks Connect is an educational and networking event covering all aspects of how to launch, run, and grow a small business, it’s also an opportunity for Intuit to highlight the changing role they see for the company and their new product—Quickbooks Online (QBO)—in the lives of small business owners.
There’s also a lesson here for all businesses facing tectonic changes, whether in their market, industry, or as a result of new technology. How do you re-invent yourself yet keep serving your current customer base?
A few years ago, Intuit had a very real problem. Their accounting program, Quickbooks, was insanely popular with small business owners—they controlled 75-90 percent of the market of all small businesses that used any accounting program. Accountants, too, loved Quickbooks. Quickbooks users were fiercely loyal.
What’s the problem? Wouldn’t every business want a huge market share and devoted customers? Well, those customers were using Quickbooks on desktop computers. And the world was changing.
“We knew something was going to change in the market,” said Dan Wernikoff, Intuit’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of their Small Business Financial Solutions group. “Customers were passionate about mobile. They also wanted more about data and insights than just accounting.”
The platform gave us the opportunity for a new level of innovation,” said Wernikoff. And it gave Intuit’s leadership a challenge: how to retain the critical function of Quickbooks—keeping track of finances and customers—while re-envisioning Quickbooks altogether. “We asked ourselves: if we’re starting over, how would we do it?”
“You can do something different with mobile than (on a desktop),” Wernikoff explained. “It becomes more of a business management system. You can be waiting in line somewhere and see everything in your business.”
Intuit executives regularly use the phrase “small business ecosystem” to describe what they’re developing with QBO, but I suspect few entrepreneurs really understand what an “ecosystem” means to them and how it can help their business.
Think of QBO as the backbone to which many—if not most—of your company’s functions can attach. After all, a company’s customers and finances are at the core of virtually all of your activities. QBO provides the fundamental structure—and data—that other applications can connect to. This enables an almost unending array of services to be developed to work with your critical data, without the necessity of duplicating entries.
You may do this already with the desktop version of Quickbooks. In my office, we use Quickbooks Payroll and Intuit Merchant Services. But an online version—with an open API (application programming interface) opens up a world of possibility.
“It takes 15-20 applications to run a business,” said Wernikoff. “You can’t use Quickbooks for everything. We want Quickbooks Online to be a place where other people create businesses to serve Quickbooks customers.”
With more than one million QBO subscribers, developers have jumped on the opportunity to reach this large base of small businesses. You can search apps that integrate with Quickbooks Online at www.apps.com. They include apps like:
- T-Sheets – employee time sheets
- Method CRM – customer relationship management program
- Bill.com – automating payables
- Square and Stripe – payment processing
- Shopify – online stores
Of course, there’s still that loyal installed user base of desktop Quickbooks. “We faced the risk of alienating many businesses, especially some accountants,” said Wernikoff. “Many accountants have built their businesses around Quickbooks.”
“We’re listening to their feedback—trying to help them (accountants) manage the transition. But the newer breed of business owners want to be online. And others felt that they weren’t going to be relevant if they weren’t.”
At the same time, Intuit is not giving up its support and future development of the desktop version of Quickbooks. “There are three million active desktop users,” said Wernikoff. “The desktop version is really durable. The average price is $199 every two years. That’s versus $25-$35 a month for Quickbooks Online,” said Wernikoff. “But if you’re running your whole business on it, it’s basically less than $1 a day. You have to figure that’s a reasonable cost of doing business.”
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on October 23, 2015