What keeps the Intuit CEO awake at night? The 'unseen competition'

Not the street lights. Not his barking dog. And not the kids. At least, not his own. It's the ones working in their college dorms who are secretly building the next big thing.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Image: ZDNet

NEW YORK — Nobody wants a rough night's sleep. Intuit's chief executive Brad Smith heads up a strong company, with good people, and products that millions of people use worldwide.

But there are some nights he doesn't get the shut-eye he needs.

Intuit builds financial and tax preparation software and services for individuals and businesses. The company may be best known for its TurboTax software, designed for U.S. and Canada-based customers. It also facilitates mobile payments through through GoPayment, and has a notable presence thanks to its 2009 acquisition of Mint.com for $170 million. Its last major deal in September saw the firm announce new integration deal with mobile payments giant Square.

Smith and I sat down in a bustling hall at Intuit's Innovation Gallery Walk in New York this week to talk about the company, its ecosystem, and what he loses sleep over.

ZDNet: Tell me a little bit about Intuit's deal with Square. 

Smith: It's actually a perfect synergy between the two companies. The reason being is because today when you look at the small business landscape, there are about one-third of the companies that interact in a face-to-face way. They have a retail location, like a restaurant, and there are a lot of people there transacting with payments. Square has done a wonderful job in focusing on that market.

There's another large population that are service-based businesses. They're remote workers, or they mow lawns, or paint houses, and clean pools. They send invoices, and that's where we spend most of our energy on our payments business. At the end of the day, though, customers need a payment to flow into something. We have that ecosystem with QuickBooks Online. So, our ability to allow a small business to accept payment with whatever method that works for them — whether that's Square, or our own products — but to have it flow directly into QuickBooks eliminates the pain of the customer having to enter in the data twice. 

It allows [Intuit] to focus on the service-based businesses, and allows Square to focus on retail and restaurant businesses, and basically have everything work seamlessly. That's why it's been a big win for us: it reinforces that we're an open platform.

ZDNet: In regards to GoPayments and Square, is there any conflict there between the two?

Smith: I think historically we tried to take GoPayment and sell it to everyone. But we have found that the place where we can create a stronger competitive advantage is when it's tied more closely to the rest of our products. And QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online — while it serves many businesses — it's strongest in these invoice and service-based businesses.

In doing the deal with Square, it enables us to focus our energy on where we need to focus, which is on service-based businesses. And there may be some overlap. But at the end of the day, if they use Square, it works with QuickBooks, or if they use GoPayment, which works with QuickBooks, we're going to win.

ZDNet: So it's more of a complement rather than a conflict?

Smith: It's absolutely a "complement," and not a conflict. 

ZDNet: What's the next business opportunity for the company? Intuit is kind-of old, but it's been able to keep ahead of the curve. What's next?

Smith: Our big opportunity right now is we've transformed the company to have products that focus on two goals. One is be the "operating" system behind small businesses' success around the globe. And the second, is to do the nation's taxes, today in both Canada and the U.S. What we've done though is tear down all the walls in the products, by opening them up as platforms — platforms that enable our own products to be seamless, but also allow products like Square and others to work with ours as well. 

I think the one biggest opportunity we have right now is to do with accelerating our ecosystem around the globe.  

ZDNet: Around the globe? Are you branching out to international markets?

Smith: We are. When we rewrote QuickBooks Online, we built it global-ready. We now have paying customers in more than 100 countries, whereas we had paying countries in five countries in last July. But we have chosen four markets we're focused on: Canada, the U.K., Australia, and India. And we're going to find our model there.

ZDNet: What keeps you up at night?

Smith: The competition I can't see. With the barriers coming down of mobile devices and public cloud, the competitors are coming out of garages and college dorm rooms, and the bedrooms in their home. And they're innovating in ways that keeps us on our toes. So I want our teams to keep their radar open and make sure that they're scanning the landscape for the next big disruption.

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