In honor of Entrepreneur Month, I’ve been writing here and at Harvard Business Review with my paired leadership partner Mary Michelle Scott, Fishbowl president, about launching and scaling a company in a high growth phase. We’ve been hitting some hot buttons, particularly in our Forbes article “The Case for Hiring ‘Under Qualified’ Employees,” June 14. The responses have been phenomenal. (216 comments and some 144,000 views. Keep them coming, folks—I’m loving the dialogue.)
In that same vein, I’d like to continue discussing the entrepreneurial skills required to run a great company. We’re talking today with Brad Smith, president and CEO of Intuit, one of the world’s largest and most successful financial software companies. Intuit, of course, is maker of the QuickBooks accounting software we have fully-integrated with our Fishbowl Inventory software, that we offer to midsize companies as a complete business management solution through Fishbowl Enterprise (FBE) software, and that we use to run our own growth company as well.
Intuit is a public company with nearly $4B in total revenue, currently, and a market cap of approximately $16.5B. Even more importantly (in my opinion), Intuit has been consistently ranked one of Fortune’s “Best 100 Companies to Work For” and one of Fortune’s “Most Admired Software Companies” over the past several years. Here’s what Brad says about the importance of entrepreneurialism from the helm of Intuit (which I’ll compare and contrast to the task of running a 100-person growth company such as our own).
David: What entrepreneurial traits of your own and of your company’s have most influenced your company’s path?
Brad: I’ve always valued and encouraged teamwork, and that collaborative spirit of “we” versus “I” is core to Intuit’s success. Innovation has been part of Intuit’s DNA for nearly 30 years. We pride ourselves on two core capabilities that differentiate us and allow us to deliver solutions that truly change people’s financial lives. The first is customer driven innovation, a mindset and methodology that helps us uncover important, unsolved problems. Customers are at the heart of everything we do. We conduct nearly 10,000 hours of follow me homes a year where we observe customers where they live, work and do business – from home offices and coffee shops to rural farms in India. Customer driven innovation was at the core of Intuit’s first product, Quicken, and it continues to guide us as we look to solve new problems in areas like mobile payments. Products like Intuit GoPayment and the IntuitPayment Network are helping small businesses get paid faster, keeping cash flow strong and their business healthy.
The second process, Design for Delight, enables us to create better ways to deliver what’s most important for customers. Design for Delight is grounded in deep customer empathy, going broad with ideas then narrowing with possible solutions and finally, rapid experimentation with customers. These principles were integral in a product we recently launched called Snap Payroll, a free, mobile application that allows small businesses on the go to calculate paychecks in minutes and determine how much to set aside for taxes.
Collaboration, customer driven innovation and Design for Delight, allow us to continually reinvent ourselves to deliver for the future and provide our customers anytime, anywhere access.
David: How does being an entrepreneur at the helm of a very large enterprise differ from entrepreneurial leadership of a small startup or growth company?
Brad: Regardless of whether you are leading a large enterprise or a small team, you need to remove barriers to innovation and get out of the way. At Intuit, we operate like a company of startups. We create and foster a culture where our nearly 8,000 employees worldwide have the courage to take risks and grow by learning from success and failure. Idea Jams and unstructured time give passionate employees opportunities to collaborate on new ideas to solve customer problems. To keep ideas moving and teams nimble, we embrace the “Two-Pizza rule,” making sure product development teams are no larger than two pizzas can feed.
At the end of the day, it’s about empowering individuals to contribute ideas and make an impact, as well as setting goals that challenge employees to step outside their comfort zone. We realize the importance of recognizing employees for their innovative work. Recognition comes in the form of Intuit co-founder Scott Cook’s annual Innovation Awards, patent rewards and the opportunity for employees to showcase their work at Innovation Gallery Walks held throughout the year. The best reward for employees is seeing the profound impact of their work on the lives of our more than 50 million customers.
David: It’s interesting that at a much smaller scale, the approaches you are taking are what we’ve been trying to accomplish at Fishbowl as well. As each new hire begins, as with all employees, we expect them to assume the role of their own business within our business. I call it “Me, Inc.” That perspective accelerates everything they do –from the questions they ask to the programs they propose. The creativity goes through the roof. They are in a position to be creative, to be more efficient, and to find ways to increase revenue and reduce the bottom line. We have no managers; we have leaders who are resources and examples of what we espouse. While I have an open door, I expect individuals to come to me or any leader with several proposed answers to the questions they have. Nine out of ten times, they have the answer and my role is to support them.
We train them not to come and ask me to answer the question, or what I think they should to do. Our “Me, Inc.” approach flavors their experience from the very beginning – and quite frankly, without this approach, our company wouldn’t be where it is today.
It’s very heartening to hear those same messages resonate within a company as large and as successful as Intuit.
So—in conclusion—I would say that a company is never too large or too successful to continue to behave and think 100% as an entrepreneur. Innovation is as critical as ever. It’s safe to say that making a company a great place to work is essential for a successful global company, too.