Thursday, December 14, 2006

My First Book Review

I just finished reading my first business-related book, “Inside Intuit” and now I can be one of the cool kids on the block by writing a review. ;-)

The book basically tells how Intuit got started and all the trials and tribulations that they had to overcome to become the #1 money management software for individuals and small businesses. Being a QuickBooks user myself (for I was able to connect to a lot of the issues they faced while developing the software. Being a part of a start-up company, I was able to relate (sort of) to the hardships Intuit had to overcome in order to succeed.

One day in the fall of 1982, the founder (Scott Cook) was listening as his wife was balancing their checkbook and trying to pay their bills. She was tired of how time consuming it was to track their finances and the amount of time it took to write checks to pay the bills. Cook sat down with her and discussed the things that would make the job “easier”. As his wife made suggestions, Cook started thinking that if his wife hating balancing her checkbook, then surely many others felt the same way. That’s how it all got started.

The first employee of Cook was a Stanford electrical engineering (closest to a computer science degree that was offered at the time) student, Tom Proulx, who just happened to be outside of the engineering building when Cook approached and asked, “Where is the best place to post these fliers”. The flier boasted of a great opportunity for an innovative PC program. The job required to write in the computer programming language BASIC. Proulx asked a few questions and then took a flier. Within two weeks, Cook and Proulx started working on what was known at that time as Kwik-Chek.

In order to make Kwik-Chek successful, Cook knew that if he conducted surveys among individuals who had to balance their checkbooks and pay bills, they could create a product that could address those specific needs. This led him to call several people that he knew as well as random people to ask them a couple questions on what would make their life easier with regards to paying their bills. This grass-roots approach reminded much of the early days. Although I was not directly involved, I do remember the stories of our co-founders’ visions.

The book continues on about how they eventually grew to like 5 employees and were working on their first software release. As with any software release, sometimes its hard to make it 100% bug-free. So they had to overcome not only missed deadlines for release, but fixing bugs as they became known. This required working more than 24 hours straight for Proulx. How many times have our developers seen 24+ hours of coding and debugging?? There are so many instances in this book that I can replace “Intuit” with “” in many of them.

They saw hardships and barely survived in their first years of operation. But one thing that held them afloat was their dedication to their customers. Everything they did was done with the customer in mind. They listened to all customers. At one point, all employees of Intuit were required to read the “comment cards” that were sent in from customers. (Wow, comment cards?? OLD-SCHOOL!) But as the employees read the comment cards, they were able to think of new ways to improve their product. They would even invite local townspeople into one of their labs to study and observe every move the townspeople would make while using the software. This attention to customer detail allowed Intuit to streamline their areas of needed improvement of its software. These study groups provided the co-founders with indispensible insight into the market that they would soon dominate.

As the company grew, its focus grew to more than just individuals. They thought that if individuals needed this type of software, then small businesses might have interest in the software as well. Besides, most small business owners were made up of 1 or 2 individuals that were faced with similar tasks. They were able to mold their software to accommodate the needs of the small businesses. This would soon become known as QuickBooks.

In my opinion, Intuit was presented with a lot of opportunity during its growth. They were a company that started out with software on floppy disks, and then experienced the CD-ROM boom, to eventually the Internet. With the birth of the internet, Intuit needed to be creative to stay at the top of their game. They were able to capitalize on all of the bru-ha-ha that the internet created. But their gains into the internet world did not come without some recognizable failure.

Some of the failure that Intuit faced was its decreasing focus on the customer and soon its employees. At one point, 10% of Intuit’s workforce was laid off (a total 420 employees out the door!) just to announce the next day (literally) that they were going to align with a company to the tune of a seven-year deal at $40 million. Talk about a slap in the face!

The company faced leadership changes throughout its growth. The current President and CEO, Steve Bennett was hired in January 2000. With his appointment came the leadership qualities to move Intuit past the $1 billion dollar revenue point. He brought back the faith of Intuit’s employees and outlined core values to “wow” customers. Their goal is to not just satisfy customers, their goal is to “wow” them.

Overall, I thought this book was great. It helped shed some light on areas of my company, such as customer care and why it is so important. It provided insight on how important it is to be innovative and not just be complacent about your products or services. It re-emphasized the greatness of individuals and what they can accomplish when the odds are against them.

One of the immediate realizations that I had after reading this book is that our company is still small but yet growing. Having worked at a $6 billion manufacturing facility, it was more of culture shock coming to a privately-held small business. All of my dreams to “number-crunch” were quickly dismissed when I came to But that’s ok! I realize (better) now that we are still growing and we will soon be at a point when I will be able to crunch numbers until my heart’s content. But until we get to that point, I can focus my talents and abilities to help our company stay in line with its #1 goal, to provide the best email hosting service and maintain its dedication to its customers. I definitely recommend reading this book.


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