Mobile. Social. Global. That's where Brad Smith sees small business heading, and he's a guy who should know. As president and CEO of Intuit, maker of QuickBooks, the future of his company is closely aligned with the future of all small businesses.
I sat down with Smith for a one-on-one conversation as Intuit was launching GoPayment, a new product allowing small businesses to collect credit card payments on their mobile phones. GoPayment is one of those game-changing technologies that Intuit often initiates — obvious but indispensable. It is, I'm certain, destined to become a big hit with small companies who conduct business away from a central office or store. And it reflects Smith's commitment to mobile solutions.
Before taking over the helm of Intuit INTU, Smith headed up their Small Business Division — the company's largest unit. That's a reflection of how important small business is to Intuit, and I've often said that Intuit has small business in their DNA. They regularly do research on the future of small business and stay close to the small-business community.
Nevertheless, Intuit, as a company, was often unknown to its small-business users. They may have loved QuickBooks but not related to the name "Intuit." That's why Smith launched a major rebranding effort, especially since Intuit has acquired — and is still acquiring — a full stable of services for small businesses.
"We were a house of brands, not a branded house," Smith said. "Intuit is an umbrella brand for small business because small business needs many things."
After Intuit's historic emphasis on back office operations like bookkeeping, Smith says they're now focusing on "front office" services, such as marketing. In the past few years, they've acquired a leading website hosting company (Homestead), and they're seizing on the tremendous interest in social networking and online communities.
Intuit is both acquiring companies that focus on social networking — such as Boo-Rah enabling small businesses to see what users are saying about them all over the Web — and also building social networks into existing Intuit products. For instance, a QuickBooks user will be able to ask a question and get an answer from another QuickBooks customer.
Moreover, Smith sees social networking as a way to build and improve products. "Users want to contribute to the products they use. We can use 'crowd sourcing' and social media to get our customers involved."
On the global front, Smith is particularly focusing on India and Southeast Asia which is exploding with small, entrepreneurial businesses. Intuit has brought to India their long-practiced market research method known internally as "follow me home," where they actually spend time with a company at their place of business to learn how they really operate.
As part of Smith's emphasis on mobile, Intuit launched GoPayment on May 20. GoPayment's a service that allows a small business to accept credit cards on any mobile phone with an Internet connection. And it means you can get paid a lot faster.
Let's say you're a plumber, a telecom installer or a mobile dog groomer. When you come out and do the work for your customer, you can get paid on the spot instead of having to go back to your office, send an invoice, and then wait to get a check. Instead, you can have money in your bank account right away. With certain phones, you can also add a device to swipe the card (instead of entering numbers manually) and even print out a receipt. You can learn more about GoPayment at www.mobilepayment.intuit.com.
How does Intuit compete, especially in this economy? Smith sees their competition as "six guys and ladies in a garage" rather than big corporations. Smith asks his employees to keep an eye on what young, hungry, cutting-edge companies are doing, and come back and tell him what they loved about them. "We're looking to learn from and embrace what smaller, new companies are developing." In fact, Intuit has busily been acquiring some of those companies.
"We're playing offense in a downturn, even if we have to give it away free," Smith answered. "We're staying focused on the long-term, staying focused on the customer."
Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her newest book is Successful Marketing: Secrets & Strategies. Register for Rhonda's free business tips at www.PlanningShop.com. For an index of her columns, click here. Copyright Rhonda Abrams 2009.