In conversation with Nikhil Arora, Vice President and Managing Director, Intuit India, on the company’s strategy in India, its product development process and the salient differences between the U.S. and Indian markets
S. PREM KUMAR
Last month, I caught up with Nikhil Arora to understand Intuit’s India strategy and furthermore, a perspective of how a Silicon Valley firm approaches the Indian market. Intuit is a US $4.15 billion revenue company (2012 revenues) that sells financial management, tax and online banking software solutions to consumers, small and mid size business owners, accountants and financial institutions around the world. In this interview, Arora delves deep into the company’s game plan in India.
Excerpts from the interview:
I heard your CEO, Brad Smith, talk at the Nasscom Product Conclave two years back and he referred to Intuit as an 8000-people startup. Please take me through the startup-like culture at Intuit?
Yes, that is one of Brad’s favorite lines and it revolves around a simple philosophy that if you break up large companies into multiple small ecosystems you solve your customer’s problems very well. At Intuit, we refer to such small, nimble teams as two-pizza teams – ones that can be fed by just two pizzas. It helps the same person perform multiple tasks – say, triple up as a product manager, engineer and marketing person.
The other aspect that makes our culture similar to that of a startup is our focus on lean experimentation. We don’t make large investments without going to the market. Rather, we’d quickly launch a minimum viable product, take it to 10 or 20 customers and get them involved in the development of the final product. Essentially, both these aspects helps us stay nimble and lean.
Take me through how the Indian market compares with the U.S. for QuickBooks, your business finance software product?
In the West, we’re probably at a different lifecycle when it comes of usage of software among small business owners. Having said that, our hypothesis is that, be it mature or emerging markets, the tasks that small business owners are trying to get done are the same everywhere. Business finance revolves around payments to be received, payments to be made, credit periods etc. It is only the constraints that are different. For example, in India, the partnership with accountants becomes more and more crucial. In emerging markets, we’re working on identifying such India-centric processes and that’s typical for any new market that we enter.
A simple philosophy we follow at Intuit revolves around how if you break up large companies into multiple small ecosystems you solve your customer’s problems very well. We refer to such small, nimble teams as two-pizza teams – ones that can be fed by just two pizzas. It helps the same person perform multiple tasks – say, triple up as a product manager, engineer and marketing person.
What is Intuit’s grand vision for the Indian market over the next decade?
Over the next ten years, we want one in four small businesses to be an Intuit customer. Our strategy is to keep our QuickBooks product at the center and all our other products (payroll, payments for suppliers) will revolve around it. In the U.S., we have a product to help small business owners scale up, another product called Demandforce to help with sales and marketing communications; such products could come into the Indian market as well, but with QuickBooks at the core.
Take me through the competitive landscape in India.
There are many products in the QuickBooks world. I’d say we compete with a whole range of other options – from pen and paper and Microsoft Excel to products like Reach Accountant and Tally. As is often said in India, the market is so large that our bigger challenge will be to understand the habits of prospective customers. If we’re able to understand their working style, we’d be able to help them perform a particular task more efficiently.
Please take us through your process of launching a product in a new market.
Just to give you little bit of background, Intuit launched QuickBooks Online in various markets around the world simultaneously. Typically, we launch globally and tweak locally. It is actually not very different from how a car manufacturer would launch globally and modify to a right hand drive for the Indian market. In the case of India, partnerships form a huge part of our strategy. For example, we work with tax experts here to include the tax rates in relevant places. Also, to sell to different verticals, say hospitality or retail, we may explore partnerships. So at a broad level, we believe such partnerships are crucial.
For our other product line in India, Intuit Money Manager, we partnered with ICICI to offer this product to its online banking customers with analytics features to manage their personal finance better.
From a marketing strategy perspective, I’d say, we focus broadly on three things – awareness, access and affordability. We have direct marketing channels of our own to reach out to prospective customers and show them our offering. Once customers sign in, our on-boarding team communicates with them, helping them solve any specific problems they have. We also work with accountants treating them as partners who could help on both accounts – customer acquisition and improving our product. The whole wheel of direct marketing, on boarding, customer service and relationship management happens in tandem.
In line with Intuit’s strategy globally, we follow the customer at home and at work, identify their workflow, dividing it to into various processes and our solutions will fit into the workflow of our customers.
Nikhil Arora, VP and MD, Intuit India
Core Focus: Build and grow Intuit’s business in India, partnerships and spot trends in mobile, social and other global market trends as relevant to emerging markets
Prior work experience: Over 18 years of global experience in Corporate Strategy and International Operations. Headed India operations for Laureate Education, a US $2 billion education company with a network of innovative higher education institutions in 28 countries
Intuit’s current products in India:
QuickBooks Online, a business finance product for small businesses
Intuit Money Manager, a personal finance product