Making QuickBooks a platform of choice for developers


While balancing the books might not be the most exciting part of your business, it is unavoidable. The team at Intuit have worked to make QuickBooks the platform of choice for small business app developers by investing in care, a developer council and a prize-winning showdown. Jarred Kenealy explains how they did it in this talk from DevXCon San Francisco 2018.


My name is Jarred Kenealy, and I’m the Developer Relations Director globally for Intuit, for the Intuit developer group. And the reason I go to work every single day is to make developers successful. And I want to share a couple of stories with you about how we’ve done that. And then hopefully, that’s something that you can just take away and potentially use to help make your developers successful, as well. So, a bit about me, if you didn’t believe me before about loving going to work every day, I’ve been with Intuit for 18 years. And that’s kind of a lifetime in Silicon Valley. But I’ve only been here for three years, I moved here from Boston if you can’t tell by the fact that I don’t pronounce the letter “R.”

So the first half of my tenure was spent as a Software Engineer, worked in multiple different groups at Intuit. And eventually, I kind of started, you know, trying different things, and I headed over to developer relations. And now I head up the Developer Relations team for all of Intuit. I’ve been around for a while, and so I’ve seen the first QuickBooks SDK release in 2001, I’ve seen the first time we tried to charge a developer to use an API, didn’t go over well. I’ve been there when we hit a billion API calls per month for third-party developers. So I’ve seen a little bit of everything from beginning to end for our platform.

Challenging our developers

Let me tell you a little bit about the life of a small business. These are not stock photos, these are real customers that Intuit has, that Intuit goes out and talks to every single day. So you might look at this picture and think, “What does cheese and accounting have to do with each other? Absolutely nothing.” So he went into business to make cheese and to deliver wine. And he really is not interested in learning about accounting, trying to figure out accounting, enter his expenses, do his payroll, do all those type of back office things that just take away from what he wants to do every single day, which is provide a good product, go to work every day and do the thing that he loves.

So, unfortunately, accounting is a vital part of everyday life. And QuickBooks kind of helps to take that burden away from the small business owner. And we’ve kind of done more than that, we’ve expanded to a platform that enables third-party developers to expand on that and to help them solve some of those small problems. And those small problems for small business actually add up to pretty big problems. And I’ll tell you about that in a second. So, we rally around solving those problems. And how do we do that? And how do we get developers excited about solving an accounting problem? It’s pretty boring. So the first thing is, we challenge the developer to solve small problems with us, sorry, small business problems with us.

And we know developers love to solve problems, so giving them something to solve kind of really challenges them. The second is, we show them what the real business opportunity is, and how they can actually build a legitimate business around solving a small business problem. This is not just playing around, this is not just trying a hackathon, this is not just for fun. You can actually build a business with Intuit on our platform, and you can solve a small business problem, and you can make a difference in someone’s life. And then lastly, remember to fall in love with the problem, not with the solution.

Small businesses, big opportunities

So, how do you get developers excited about writing code for it? Accounting, small business, tax, global tax, e-commerce? Again, pretty boring stuff. Well, Intuit sees the small business opportunity as 800 million businesses worldwide, accounting for about $40 billion in sales. I won’t kill you with the numbers. But the fastest growing are the self-employed, no employees, 3% growth, 750 million self-employed worldwide and driving $90 billion in revenue. So, that’s a pretty compelling story to someone who wants to solve a small problem for this space. And so as more of these businesses move to the cloud, then this obviously becomes a gigantic opportunity for developers to build on our platform. Per our study, SMBs, small businesses are using an average of four applications to run their business, and they don’t talk to each other.

And if you actually consider Gmail, or Excel, or something along the lines to be an app to, then it’s 17. So, 17 different applications to run your small business, they don’t talk to each other, it doesn’t synchronize the data back to the accounting engine. And it just adds up to a lot of time spent and a lot of time wasted, not making cheese, but instead doing expenses and doing books. So back to inspiring a developer to do something interesting. So we’ve done studies that show 6 to 18 hours per week are spent in the back office, expenses, chasing people down for money, sending invoices, 800 million worldwide. So if you think you want to inspire somebody, can you imagine, you know, solving a small business problem that can save somebody six hours a week across the world? That’s a pretty big problem to solve, and it’s a pretty hefty challenge. And that’s kind of what we’ve done at Intuit.

So the platform that we’ve built currently has more than 25,000 developers actively creating QuickBooks Online applications. And we have enabled those developers to succeed with our platform, with our go-to-market strategy and with all of the different channels that we make available to them. So right now, we have even more than this for other Intuit products, but we’re just talking about small businesses and self-employed right now. And our developer ecosystem has grown to more than 6,500 applications, 560 of which are published on our app store, the other 6,000-ish or so are not published, they’re just available out in the world. And, you know, we’ve done that by making it easy for developers to build on our platform. We’ve made it so they have tools, we’ve made it so it’s customizable, we’ve customized the platform specifically for developers, we’ve made accounting invisible.

Investing in care and sales

Accounting is hard, accountants spend a lot of time learning how to do accounting, and we don’t want developers to worry about that. We want them to solve a small business problem, and not worry about those types of things. And then we wanna reduce the time to market. And then we want to really exceed their ROI, make sure that they actually have some type of investment when they choose to build on our platform. So what are the opportunities for growth aside from that? So with this in mind, we’re always trying to make it so that we have other channels for developers to market. We have close to 400,000 accountants on our platform, not just an app store. So we can connect with those 400,000 accountants to be trusted advisors for their clients, recommend these applications. So it’s just another way in which we can make those developers succeed.

We invest in our care and sales. And so we train them how to use the third-party applications, how to extend the features of QuickBooks through these third-party applications and make it so that they can actually recommend them, just another way. And then lastly, through all of our CUI and through all of our chat channels, you can actually start typing, “Hey, I need help with this in QuickBooks.” And it can actually start recommending applications for you. So these are just more of the things we’re doing to make developers successful on the platform.

Nail the developer experience

So what can you do? Three pretty simple things, actually. First is nail the developer experience. So what does that mean? Collect as much data from the developers as you can. How many API calls are they making? What tools are they using to make the API calls? How many errors are they making? Capture everything that you possibly can.

Are they making…what’s their first-time use like on your platform?  Capture PRS everywhere you can, request feedback from them constantly. And then you can actually iterate on that and make changes to specific areas where you know things are not working. We’ve done exactly that. And we’ve done…we’ve made tremendous improvements in the overall platform. And we can measure the developer experience from the day they sign up until the day they publish, until the day they get a customer, until the day they get their a thousandth customer. And we can see every single touch point along the way, and their journey, and we can measure it, and we can pick and point exactly where we need to improve and where we don’t.

So always ask your developers for feedback, and you really have to nail that experience. They need to get in, they need to build the integration, they need to get out. Create meaningful connections. So your developers are gonna come to your website, they’re gonna try out a few different things, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re building a meaningful connection. You actually have to build trust with your developers because they are going to build their business on your platform. This isn’t a joke, this isn’t something that can go down, this isn’t something that they can’t trust you on, they’re actually handling financial information for their customers. So you have to build that trust.

So what have we done to do that? We’ve established a developer council with 10 or 12 of our most trusted advisors. We fly them in at our cost two times a year, and we have a four-times-a-year webinar with them. This is required of them to be part of this council. And when they join, we give them early access to our new GraphQL APIs, we give them exercises, if you will, some homework, if you will, to walk through and actually give us feedback on our new APIs, on our new models that we’re thinking through, on the new design of the APIs. And it allows them to actually give us early feedback. And then we also have some food, we also have some fun, and we also have some drinks. And we’re actually not just getting feedback. We’re not just building empathy within the company for them, we’re actually building trust between these developers and our platform, and our team.

Celebrate your developer successes

And when we do that, they actually provide us much more valuable feedback than anything else we could possibly have done. The last one is to celebrate your developer successes. So this is an actual picture of a company called ShopBox. Every year, we have a program and a contest called the “$100,000 Showdown.” And if you publish on our platform within a year, we put you in a contest, we market you to small businesses, to accountants, everybody gets to vote on you, goes through a long process. The top 10 get flown to our conference in San Jose. And the winner gets selected by a panel of celebrity judges after they pitch. And the winner gets announced on the main stage of our QuickBooks Connect Conference, which is the biggest conference of the year. If you haven’t been to QuickBooks Connect before, we’ve had Oprah Winfrey, we’ve had Tony Hawk, we’ve had multiple different celebrities.

So this is a gigantic deal for them to be announced on the main stage as the best app of the year. And we give you $100,000 to go off and spend any way you deem necessary. You can add new sales, you can add more features to your product, you can do anything you need to do. And then we follow that up, where we follow these 10 developers who make it to the finals, including the winner, we follow you for six months, and we make sure that you’re doing well, we make sure that you’re using the money the best that you can. We’re making sure if there’s anything else that we can help you succeed with, we will help you with that. All right, just recap, three things, nail the developer experience, create meaningful connections, and then celebrate your successes with your developers.

Questions: two kinds of developers?

Matthew: Thank you very much, Jarred. Any questions for Jarred? We’ve got a couple of minutes. Leslie?

Leslie: Yeah, thank you for your talk, Jarred. I’m wondering if you find that you see any great difference in the developers who are working on accounting applications versus, say, like, developers at some fancy pants startup. Because I’ve heard an argument that there are, like, two kinds of developers, and I believe this to be untrue. But I would like to learn from your experience. Sure. So, like, do you find that there’s any significant difference between the developers that you’re interacting with in sort of this enterprise environment working on accounting apps versus developers you may encounter in, say, a startup environment?

Jarred: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a pretty drastic difference. I think the developers that we come in contact with are two-fold. One, they have customers, and they have asked for the developer to integrate with QuickBooks. And so they’re just coming and they’re like, “Tell me how to do this. I just want to do it as quick and painless as possible, get it built.” The other is, “I’ve got this really great idea, it’s gonna be an awesome small business solution. You guys need to market me, you need to do this, you need to do that, get me in front of all of your customers.” And in those cases, we have programs specifically for them to sort of prove that out.

So, okay, cool, go develop this integration, we can help you get in front of small businesses, we can help you get in front of accountants, we can put you in the app store, you know, all those different things, but we track all that data. And when you sort of proven out that that works, we can have additional conversations about that. And we have additional programs to kind of continue on with that developer success. But I haven’t really seen anybody sort of, kind of outside of that. They really either have a very specific small business solution in mind, and they’re interested in Intuit’s customers or their existing customers are demanding that we integrate, that they integrate with QuickBooks, and then we’re just trying to, solving a different problem. We’re just really trying to make it as easy as possible for you to integrate with QuickBooks.

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