I recently had a chance to speak with Vinay Pai, the Vice President of Intuit Developer Relations. Pai is no stranger to the world of startups and small businesses, and so he was able to share some insight into what small business owners are looking for in a software solution and, on the flip side of that coin, what developers can do to help small businesses grow.
Over the course of our discussion, we covered the QuickBooks “ecosystem” and how open platforms, developer communities, and an adaptive mindset, are necessities for business growth.
An Introduction to QuickBooks Ecosystem
QuickBooks, the flagship product of Intuit, is a cloud-based accounting software that helps small businesses manage their own payroll and payments.
“We’re in service to help small businesses grow,” Pai said.
As an interesting note, Pai told me a story about two previous startups he worked for.
One of the companies was ahead of its time, offering cloud solutions before businesses were ready for it. Even though the company continued to burn through money each month and knew that customers weren’t receptive to the product, they charged on because the alternate solution just wasn’t glamorous enough. In the end, the company shut down.
It was at the other company where Pai saw how a more practical approach to spending money could help a company succeed. At this particular startup, they invested their money in building a product the customer wanted. And by reviewing the data every month, they were able to better gauge which direction to take the company. In the end, this company succeeded.
This is part of what inspired Intuit’s decision to build a QuickBooks ecosystem. Intuit took notice when a majority of their 1.5 million small business customers were using third-party apps in their day-to-day use of QuickBooks. 62 percent of them, to be exact.
As head of Developer Relations, Pai understood that their product would only be as good as the tools that surround and integrate with it. This is why they’ve encouraged developers to contribute apps to their platform.
There are currently over 1,200 apps that integrate with QuickBooks, and they each work to extend the software’s capabilities, giving customers a more fluid and comprehensive solution to managing their accounting and payroll. These apps aim to help customers save time, reduce bottom line costs, and grow quicker.
Without the ecosystem of developers surrounding QuickBooks, none of this would be possible, according to Pai.
Learning from the QuickBooks API
Intuit isn’t just in the business of providing a software product to small business owners and accountants. They’re also in the business of providing an API to developers who want to build their own app and integrate it with QuickBooks.
Currently, there are over 400 apps published in QuickBooks’ app store. Each of the apps found there has been vetted by the Intuit team for technical as well as support issues. In addition, Intuit has a partnerships team that provides support and helps contributing developers grow their businesses.
When I asked Pai what startup software developers could learn from the QuickBooks API model, he had a few suggestions:
- Think about the problem you’re solving with your product. Then think of what the benefit is to the customer so you can open your API up to the right type of integrations.
- Focus on the network effect. The larger your network becomes—this includes both the customers and the developer community—the more powerful your solution will be.
- The easiest way to start growing your business is to attach yourself to someone else’s platform (like the QuickBooks’ developers do). Build your product and business there first.
- If you want to build your own ecosystem, think about what you can offer your developers. It’s not just about opening your platform; it’s about building a community and being able and willing to support that community.
At the end of our talk, Pai left me with one lesson that every small business owner and developer should take away from this: