Inside Intuit:  How the Makers of Quicken Beat Microsoft

and Revolutionized an Entire Industry

 

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The Making of Inside Intuit

In one of our first interviews with Scott Cook, he said that if he had known how hard it would be to make Intuit a successful company, he never would have tried to do it in the first place.  At a few moments during the writing of this book, we felt the same way.  Thank goodness for naďve and optimistic thinking. 

This book started with a friendship.  Kathy and I met in the fall of 1988 when both of us entered Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.  Kathy, an Indianapolis Hoosier from Ford Motor Company, and I, a born and bred Californian from the Clorox Company, had five of our six core classes together.  Kathy is fair complexioned, unafraid to speak her opinions, and spontaneously creative.  I have dark hair and eyes, am more introverted than not, and plan methodically.  They say opposites attract, and in our case, that is true.

After business school Kathy returned to Ford in Michigan while I started working at a 150-person software company called Intuit.  I worked as product manager on Quicken for DOS, then one of the best selling software products on the market.  Going from my previous work experience marketing Fresh Step cat litter and Formula 409 spray cleaner to suddenly working on a software product with engineers, tech support reps, and customers who felt passionately about the product represented a big change.

Through my almost 8 years working at Intuit, I learned about building an enduring company.   New products, platforms, competitors, distribution channels, and technologies consumed our attention and efforts.  Intuit grew rapidly, from the introduction of QuickBooks in 1992 to an IPO and acquisition of ChipSoft (makers of TurboTax and MacInTax) in 1993 to the almost-merger with Microsoft that fell through in 1995 to full blown Internet businesses introduced in 1996.  Working at Intuit during these years of change taught me much more than I’d learned at business school.

After I left Intuit during the dot-com mania, I started a marketing consulting business.  Kathy had left Ford by this time, moved back to California, tried a couple of other jobs, and ended up working in business development at an Internet start-up.  After Kathy left that job, the two of us found ourselves at a crossroads.  Our friendship had grown and evolved over the years through marriage, kids, house moves, jobs, and mini midlife crises.

Kathy proposed that we teach a marketing class together as part of Stanford’s Continuing Education Program.  So we did, teaching a class called Consumer Marketing and the Internet in spring 2001.  We learned that we worked well together and, being opposites, also complemented each other quite nicely in our skills and knowledge.  After that experience, we decided to write a business book together.  It sounded fun, especially since Kathy had been honing her skills writing fiction for a while and I’d always thought it would be a great experience to write a book. But what the heck should we write about?

After talking to friends and brainstorming ideas, we realized that we wanted to write the Intuit story.   Intuit, almost 20 years old, had a unique and compelling business story that no one had yet written.  We also thought that we made up a uniquely qualified duo to tackle the job.  We started by fleshing out the story, talking to author friends who had invaluable advice to share, and working up the guts to approach Scott Cook.

We felt delighted when, during our first meeting with Scott, he quickly understood what we wanted to do and offered his support.  Many writers over the years had approached him wanting to write the Intuit story, but Scott had never before wanted to devote the amount of time it would require him to help create a great book.  He also empathized with us, even comparing our venture with how he and Intuit co-founder Tom Proulx started up Intuit together.  Even though they didn’t have experience as entrepreneurs, together they had the right skills—and enough will—to pursue their goal.

And so Kathy and I started our research by interviewing the people most critical to Intuit’s growth and success over the years.  These eye-opening interviews helped us see the Intuit story, and how we wanted to tell it.  Interviewees shared personal anecdotes, diverse opinions, and an overall very positive feeling towards their Intuit experiences.

We wrote up a book proposal and the first few chapters, and sent it to an agent in New York who had been recommended to us.  Then we waited…and waited.  Eventually the call came that the agent didn’t think our book had much potential.  He questioned our ability to do it right, and said he’d have to pass on our proposal.  We felt crushed.

But a few days later I emailed an Intuit alum who now worked for Harvard Business School Publishing.  I asked her if she thought Harvard Business School Press would be interested in this book, especially since Scott Cook graduated from Harvard Business School.  She wrote back the next day that yes, they were very interested, and introduced us via email.

Discussions with Harvard Business School Press progressed quickly and productively, and soon, without an agent, Kathy and I signed a contract—we were on our way to becoming published authors!  Harvard Press felt like a great fit for us and the book.  We continued to interview, research and write, finishing up the first draft within several months.  All together we conducted 130 interviews with 70 people.

Our intrepid editor, Kirsten Sandberg, held our hand as she helped us improve the manuscript.  We held animated conference calls to discuss the book chapter by chapter, did the necessary additional research needed and worked hard to develop the second draft.  One of the big structural changes we made necessitated breaking up 11 fairly long chapters into 22 shorter ones.  We also cut out 15,000 words to end up with a total of about 81,000 words.

A few months later, the second draft was done.  This time we’d made big strides forward, but we needed more professional help to take the manuscript to its final form.  Enter our developmental editor, Connie Hale, who with grace and clear sightedness guided us towards our final draft.  She helped us create more compelling scenes and character descriptions, develop catchy titles and sub-titles, and make the writing more punchy and easy to read.  Finally, we handed in the final manuscript and a set of photos to Harvard Press’ production group.  What relief and accomplishment Kathy and I felt that day, as we hiked in the Stanford hills together.

We then focused on a flurry of other activities.  We’d already worked with a graphic artist at Harvard Press to design an effective book jacket cover.  Next we worked both on production issues—finding typos and inconsistencies, developing an index, and the like—and on marketing related tasks including publicity, the InsideIntuit.com website, and co-promotions with Intuit.  The book took more than two years to go from idea to reality.

And so here we are.  Hopefully if you are reading this you have read and enjoyed Inside Intuit or plan to read it soon.  We would love to hear what you think.  It’s been a remarkable journey, from which we’ve learned about a wonderful company, interacted with many amazing people, practiced the art and craft of writing, made our way through the maze of the publishing industry, and built meaningfully upon our friendship, where of course it all started.

 

 

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