01 Mar 2012
Making Finance Personal
Scott Cook / Intuitby Garry EmmonsTopics:
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but as Scott Cook (MBA 1976) can attest, an unhappy spouse can be a powerful prompter of innovation. Spurred by the complaints of his wife, Signe Ostby (herself an MBA), about the hassle of paying bills and organizing household finances, in 1983 Cook cofounded Intuit with the novel idea of producing—as it did with Quicken, its initial offering, and later with its acquisition of TurboTax—financial software as a consumer-oriented, customer-delighting product. In so doing, Cook established the primacy of ease of use over engineering-driven solutions in the consumer-software space and showed that simplicity trumped bells and whistles, an important lesson for subsequent entrepreneurs in those early days of the computer and software revolutions.
That cutting-edge leadership in products and strategy would continue as Intuit went public (in 1993), grew enormously (today, it has nearly 8,000 employees, and annual revenues are around $3.9 billion), and routinely won accolades as one of America’s most innovative companies. As chairman of the executive committee, Cook remains closely involved with the company’s culture of innovation that has seen Intuit expand into small-business and web-based products.
The key to entrepreneurship and innovation, says Cook, a 1996 recipient of the School’s Alumni Achievement Award, is “solving the problem that other people have ignored or can’t fix.” To find those solutions, he has aggressively implemented the notion that customers, through their implicit choices or explicit actions (what Cook calls a “user contribution system”), and his brainstorming employees (in small groups within the company and time off to pursue their own projects) have the capability to inspire, formulate, and drive new and improved product design and development, even without specialized knowledge. With its consumer base, for example, Intuit went from conducting a single experiment with customers of TurboTax, its biggest product, to running 600 experiments in 2010. Explains Cook, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in business, it’s the power of rapid-fire experimentation: enabling your team to test, rapidly change, iterate, and test again. Run experiments with customers and let them vote, instead of relying on the boss’s vote. Nothing makes a team more creative and agile than that.” And nothing, he might add, keeps a business as innovative.
Class of MBA 1976, Section G