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Inside Intuit: How the Makers of Quicken Beat Microsoft and Revolutionized an Entire Industry Hardcover – September 4, 2003
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The two authors seem almost too infatuated with the story of Intuit to be fully objective about the company. It is a great US business story......typical start-up in a garage and the age-old entertaining saga of David versus Goliath with Intuit versus Microsoft.
I really found the section describing the purchase of Turbotax too complicated in terms of the strategy and use of options. Sorry, I only have an Engineering degree and an MBA....and I found this explanation too difficult too follow. An simpler explanation in "English" would have been preferable.
My opinion is that if Intuit had sold out to Microsoft........it would have killed the Intuit products.........either by dropping them in favor or home grown Microsoft products....or lack of attention to the Intuit software.
I was one of the customers who could not get a copy of the 1994 TurboTax. I found it entertaining........though sad........that Intuit accidentally shipped an entire skid of software to one customer........the customer called Intuit........they shipped him an entire 2nd skid of software........and then the customer asked if he could at least remove 1 copy from the skid to do his taxes. I came very close to dumping turbotax on this escapade.
In 2008, Turbotax tried to limit the number of print copies the user could make with one copy of software. I, like many other users, print multiple returns because I do tax returns for many family members. Fortunately, the public ruckus raised got Intuit to drop this ill planned marketing policy.
I found it ironic that Intuit could not make any money selling financial planning software (e.g. retirement planning software). Customers told them they would buy it, but in reality did not. Intuit learned a lesson....record what customers do......not what they say. Of course, they should not have had to learn this lesson. US citizens get zero education on investing and retirement planning from our school system.......and are therefore not prepared to do financial planning. My 2009 Quicken does include a fairly decent retirement planning package...so at least it is still available.
It is interesting to remember how so many companies (including Intuit) struggled with what strategy to use when the Internet went live back in 1994 to the public. Intuit floundered and wasted money like many other companies did at that time.
With 78 million Baby Boomers starting retirement in 2008 (1946 + 62 = 2008), I wonder why Intuit has not added on a Social Security optimization package to Quicken. It is challenging to figure out the optimum plan for a husband and wife to begin drawing SS. Should the wife start first at 62, then the husband waits until 67 so when the husband passes away first, the wife gets his higher monthly benefit? Or should the husband start withdrawing at 62, then pay back the benefits at 67 and start a higher monthly withdrawal? Seems like a common optimization problem that could be modeled as an add-on to Quicken.
All-in-all a good read on a company that succeeds......even against Microsoft. I would have liked the authors to have been a little more balanced (with respect to the several major customer problems caused by Intuit) with their view of the company.
If you're starting a company, it's inspirational and nice to know that most startups, even ones that go on to become $B+ powerhouses, really struggle in the beginning. I had no idea that Intuit couldn't get any traction for such an obvious (now) product, had to stop paying everyone, and initially was trying to distribute through banks. It's also impressive (exhausting!) to see how quickly they adapted to changing circumstances, and turned on a dime.
I would have appreciated the book even more if it had included some perspective from people outside of Intuit, or a bit more "inside dirt": there must have been more to the executive shuffles than the sugar-coated explanations provided in the book. Would also have loved to see some kind of chart of the competitive landscape, the mergers, the shutdowns, etc. (the book did fill in some missing holes for me, such as whatever happened to Parsons Technology, which is why this even occurred to me).
But these are all nitpicks: the book was much better than I expected, entertaining and informative.
Taylor's narrative, while certainly not dry, lacks depth, and is likely to disappoint any reader looking for more than a broad overview of Intuit's rise to market leadership. The narrative also lacks balance. The index of the book makes clear how much of the narrative's research centered around interviews with the firm's senior leaders, both past and present. But missing from this book is a counterpoint to these interviews with Cook, Dunn, Campbell, Harris, Prouxl, and others- interviews with those on the lower ranks. Missing is the view back up, the viewpoint that puts the senior leaders' words into context. Were things always seen the same way as Intuit's leaders thought they were?
As a result of the book's singular, top-down vantage point, management initiatives are often described in rosy, abstract terms, and are coupled with little to no first-hand sources that provide the reader with how such changes were perceived realtime amongst everyone at the company.
Also missing from this book is any analysis of the financial issues and questions Intuit and its managers faced during its rise to prominence. Relationships with VC funders, deciding how much equity to give key, early hires, the decision of how to finance acquisitions as the company got larger, the financial underpinnings behind decisions to divest of lagging lines of business. The authors provide no insight on these matters that could not be had with a quick perusal of public documents and periodicals.
Perhaps this was a conscious decision, made out of fear that too much focus on the financials would bog down the narrative and rob it of its thrust. A business writer, though, needs to be able to discuss the financial side of matters without losing their readers. Most readers of this book are likely not looking for a thriller. Someone who reads the history of a business is looking for insight into what makes great companies tick, and also how they confront all the financial and legal constraints standing in their way, and in the process make their vision a reality. In "Inside Intuit", Taylor gives the reader extensive insight into Intuit's values and corporate culture in a light, entertaining way; but ultimately, this book leaves the reader wishing for more meat with regards to financial and business hurdles Intuit overcame throughout its history