Growing Tomorrow’s Small Business Ecosystem

Millennials, schmillennials! For all the bad reputations today’s teenagers and young adults get (and some for good reason), last month my friend & colleague, Valerie Heckman and I had the privilege (and yes, it was definitely a privilege) of spending a day with 13 youngsters who will be running tomorrow’s SMB universe.

A few months ago, one of my national firms, Kellogg & Andelson in Woodland Hills, CA, shared with me that each year they host a Summer Internship program where they bring in a handful of high school students from the local Granada Hills Charter High School. Lorene Dixon, the VP over Bookkeeping at the firm, who is extremely active with the school, started this program as a way to give local high school students the opportunity to spend a week inside the firm to get their feet wet, and most importantly, to come out with a sellable skill. Her dream is to one day get a resume from one of these students after they graduate from college, and come back for a job at the firm.

Traditionally, she’s used part of the week to train the students on QuickBooks. As she’s moved her own clients over to QuickBooks Online this past year, she knew that in order to provide this year’s interns with the best possible skill set, the focus needed to be on the cloud. She asked if Valerie and I would be willing to come in and present QBO – and that’s just what we did.

With Intuit putting such a high value on serving our communities through our We Care and Give Back initiatives, I was thrilled and honored to be a part of this program. As is so typical when you find yourself in any sort of service role, I know we got so much more out of this experience than we gave. As Valerie said, “I absolutely loved the opportunity to show QuickBooks Online to this eager group of teenagers. Their reactions, their questions, and the stars in their eyes reaffirmed what I already know: QBO is designed for the firm of the future. You really can’t get more ‘firm of the future’ than a group of 16 and 17 year olds that are already interning at one! It’s exciting to think about how much we’ve grown as a culture in recent history so much so that the expectations they have as they enter the workforce are far different than what mine were and I’m only a little over a decade older than them. I find it thrilling that we at Intuit can and will continue to grow QBO to fit the needs of all generations of accountants and small businesses. Can’t wait to see where we’re headed”.

I have no doubt that our “baby sharks” (as Valerie dubbed them) will grow into future small business owners, accountants, app developers, and, maybe even an Intuit BDM and Product Specialist. These kids, or young adults I should say, were not your typical high schoolers. I didn’t see or hear a single cell phone, didn’t get one hint of adolescent attitude (not even when we got on our soapbox about what they should and should NOT post on Instagram, Facebook, and SnapChat). We almost forgot we were talking to teenagers until we asked them who had a bank account and not a single hand went up.

Their eagerness was motivating even to us. When we wrapped up the day, we had several students ask us how they could become QBO certified and where they could sign up to be a ProAdvisor. I encouraged them to start building their network that very day, and told them LinkedIn should be an app on their iPhones. That afternoon as we drove out of the parking lot, Val and I lit up when we both received a LinkedIn request from one of the students…she had gone straight home and built a pretty darn impressive profile. Her job experience? Intern at Kellogg & Andelson.

For as fast as we all run, as many planes we get on and typically feel like we’re never going to catch up…it was such an amazing experience to spend a few hours with this group – thank you, guys, for reminding us how important and rewarding it is to invest in our future. Don’t forget to come find me when you’re running the world some day! Go get ‘em!

KA

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Live from #TurboTaxLifeLine 2015

This week I had an amazing opportunity to join the TurboTax social team in San Diego for what Intuit calls “LifeLine”…the final push before tax day where Intuit employees gathered to help answer the thousands (and thousands) of last minute questions from customers before the filing deadline. I was asked to blog live from the front lines, and my updates were posted on Insights (Intuit’s intranet) and sent out via SNAP (Intuit’s internal newsletter). I thought it was such a great experience that I had to share it here too…

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I started yesterday (Monday) morning at 5am with a text exchange with fellow colleague Madeline Reeves (who was also here at LifeLine today) about how hard it was to get up so early & commute down to San Diego today (her from Seattle, me from Palm Springs)…after spending the day with the LifeLine team, I realize just how worth it that early morning was.

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One of the highlights was sitting at the Social Team table with Jim McGinnis & Ken Wach – two Intuit VPs who surely could have said they had more important things to do than answer TurboTax customer questions…but there they were, sleeves rolled up, right with the rest of us. It was also humbling to see that in the midst of the numerous questions about why returns were $29.99 instead of free, or how they can get their money back for the duplicate TT purchase they made, there were questions that we were able to answer that somehow felt like we were making our customers’ life a little easier.

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As a remote employee, I miss most of the holiday parties, costume contests, and sadly, sometimes camaraderie…but today I felt like we all came together to Deliver Awesome to our customers.

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Wednesday, April 15, 1:37am

#TurboTaxLifeLine – Day 2

If Monday was a LONG day…the word for Tuesday was hectic!

Tuesdays in our AAG world are known as #TSheetsTuesday. One of our highest rated QuickBooks Online App partners, TSheets Time Tracking, has created a “can you top this” atmosphere where Intuit employees, partners, and ProAdvisors try to one-up each other each week with the best TSheets Tuesday photos featuring their trademark “supersoft Tshirts”. Yesterday, team AAG got to bring TSheets Tuesday to #TurboTaxLifeLine here in San Diego, and present Scott Cook with his first TSheets Tshirt.

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Since Starting at Intuit 18 months ago, I’ve repeatedly been impressed by our leadership team’s “do as I say AND as I do” attitude, which always inspires me. I mentioned Monday how much it meant to see Jim McGinnis & Ken Wach in the trenches with us. Yesterday the cafeteria was packed again with employees from all over the place, uniting for one common cause: to do the nation’s taxes. I was honored to have the chance to personally thank Scott for setting the example for us and showing us how we win together. Just like a proud dad, he beamed back at me and said “well, our customers need us this week more than ever” and off we went, back to the AnswerXchange queue to see if we could delight another TurboTax customer.

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In a company as big at Intuit – it’s so easy to feel like you’re such a tiny part of the big picture…but Tuesday we had this huge reminder that we’re all #OneIntuit.

Wednesday, April 15, 10:29am

Coffee!

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It’s officially TDay – the mood (and the music) is more tense today. Even the social table could be mistaken for the “anti-social table”. Lots of heads down. We’re in the home stretch, and the suggestion board sums up my thoughts quite nicely. I think the whole San Diego LifeLine crew is running on coffee and passion to deliver awesome to our customers – one more day, team!

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Thursday, April 16, 9:45am

Perspective. Exhaustion. Empathy. Gratitude.

I can sum up my lifeline experience in those four words.

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Coming from the QuickBooks world, I now have a new perspective on the role that our TurboTax care team plays – especially leading up to Tax Day. Having never been on the front line before, I had no idea the sheer volume, nor the vast array of topics that our customers struggle with to do their taxes. While some companies might feel that determining the depreciation schedule for chicken coops, whether someone should or shouldn’t be paying tax in Yonkers, or how to account for the $8,000 that a student earned from his father last Summer is not a software company’s problem, Intuit brought all hands on deck (including experts for each state), and did everything we could to help each and every one of them.

April 15 is sort of like the marathon finish line for most of my partners. They finally make it, but celebrating is the last thing on their mind – sleep is first. They’re exhausted. April 16 is a day of recovery for most tax accountants. With my partners, most of the last four weeks has sounded something like “That will be great, let’s talk after April 15”. This year, I finally understand (in a very small way) what that must feel like. We had agents chatting away until 9pm last night…it almost felt like a New Year’s Eve countdown…thank goodness it didn’t have to wait until midnight (everyone might have fallen asleep).

After this week, I have a new dose of empathy for my firms & what they go through. Yes, I only spent 3 days at LifeLine, but it makes me feel like I’ve lived in their shoes even if it’s for a short time. The pressure and the pace were just mini-windows into the end of tax season, and now I know exactly how my firms must feel.

Finally, I am so filled with gratitude to Intuit, and to the team who does this full time. I’m thankful that we have agents who sift through these questions and help these customers all day, every day. I’m grateful that our company chose to give the rest of us a chance to ride along for the week and see how it’s done. And I’m thrilled to have the chance to share it with all my colleagues and recommend LifeLine to anyone who has the opportunity to do it next year. I’ll happily save a seat for you.

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Going the Extra 1,000 Miles

With a quick glance at my Twitter feed, you’ll find out pretty quickly that I’m extremely passionate about customer service. I probably choose to exercise my Twitter voice a tad too often when I’m frustrated by any of my frequent vendors, or receive poor service in general…and I know I’ve already blogged about the topic here too. But it’s a two-way street – I expect and expect to provide others with exceptional experiences. It’s part of why I feel working at Intuit fits me so well – after all, our final core value is Deliver Awesome.

When I personally experience a disappointing customer experience, I often find that the way it’s handled is even more of what sticks out in my mind than the initial problem in general. For example, I was recently mischarged at CVS for a few items (nothing earth shattering, but it was more the principle of it), and hadn’t caught it until I was already home and on my way out of town. I brought in my receipt when I got back, and explained what happened. While the woman did refund my money (finally, after an argument about it), she made me feel so stupid and frustrated that while I got my $10, the experience was far more expensive & I left a frustrated customer really questioning whether I wanted to shop there going forward (after all, there’s a Walgreens down the street). Or on a recent flight delay, I finally argued United into Super-Shuttling me home instead of making me stay at LAX (25 minute flight from Palm Springs) overnight, but not after they gave me such an attitude that I actually Tweeted to American Airlines asking if they would match my United status.

I sometimes feel like a broken record talking about how proud I am to be wearing Intuit Blue and representing a company who puts Employees and Customers so high up on their priority list. This past month, however, I’ve been involved in a situation that takes that pride to the next level and beyond.

The scenario starts off with every employee’s worst nightmare – a partner, and their customer, having major problems and unable to get straight answers from support. To add insult to injury, there was a delay in getting an escalated support agent in touch with them. I’ll just come out and say it – it was bad. I was mortified that balls were dropped, and absolutely fell on my sword with my partner accepting full responsibility for the delay, and the poor experience.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, all of this culminated the Friday night before Christmas…but that’s actually where the story starts getting good. Around 5pm local time, I had a VP at Intuit on the phone, walking the halls of the office, recruiting an army to fix it.

I’d love to say it was an easy fix – and that by Monday morning that next week they were up and running, but that’s not how it went. If you fast forward – you’ll skip through multiple hospital visits (don’t ask), numerous long nights & weekends worked (including middle-of-the-night file imports), several holidays ignored to ensure deadlines were hit, and a plethora of other bumps in the road…all with one goal in mind: Deliver Awesome to this customer.

No, we couldn’t make up for the poor initial experience, nor could we snap our fingers and make this particular problem go away, but what we could do is provide our partner & customer with the determination to get them back up and running and not give up on them. After one of our numerous status calls, I wound up in a back & forth conversation with our Care Leader who’s been spearheading this operation – and I told him then how much I knew he’d done – and appreciated him & the team so much. I couldn’t help but feel, in the midst of this nightmare, so much pride to be on their team. We jokingly asked each other about a theme song for this entire project – his suggestion seemed too fitting to argue – he and the team have definitely gone the extra 500 miles – and 500 more!

What a Difference a Year Makes

The end of October marked one year since I started at Intuit. I remember walking into the room at #Solutions13 only 6 days on the job, and breathing a big sigh of relief…I felt like I had just come home.

As much as I felt at home, I realized how much had changed in the 15 months since I’d left the VSB Apps world to focus on internal accounting firm solutions. I mean, who the heck is TSheets and why is everyone wearing their shirts?

The sense of home is a bit ironic – for those who know me, I’m rarely home. Between extensive travel for work, and commuting between OC & Palm Springs – in 2014 “home” sort of became my suitcase and me, wherever that happens to be that night.

As I fast forward to today and look back on what 2014 brought professionally, I’m amazed to see in 14 short months not only that that I finally settled in, but grew the most amazing roots I’ve ever had professionally.

I’ve never been so proud to represent a company than I am working for Intuit. I’m surrounded by amazing, inspiring leaders who give me confidence that we’re well on our way to the next phase of Great. I’m every bit as grateful for teammates like Emily, Valerie, Woody, and the one & only Leary, who show me that they personally care about the success of our partners and customers too.

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I now know what TSheets is, and absolutely adore them…and I’m the proud owner of not just one – but two of the world’s softest TSheets TShirts. Kelly, Jen, Matt, Kelsie, and Victoria – you are all so amazing and make me thrilled to call you partners. Just so I don’t get accused of playing favorites (except it’s my blog, so I can), Jules, Chris & Team Tallie, Maddy & my pals at Avalara, and one of my newest friends, Caroline from Palo Alto Software (LivePlan) – are just a few more of this year’s highs – I can’t wait to continue bringing the QBO Ecosystem message to accounting firms everywhere.

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Spending nearly 90% of the year away from home this year was made immensely easier because of amazing work friends…who’ve now become friend-friends. Stacy, Richard, Mark, Jan, Gail, Shayna, Cathy, & Chelsey – I am so thankful that “work” includes you.

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On a personal note, it was a year of change too – Auntie Kim welcomed a new niece and nephew, and I said goodbye to my first grandparent…both have given me a new sense of urgency to capture every moment – even if it’s a 30 minute visit en-route to the airport, a 4-hour layover in Houston, or that late night phone call to tease Grandpa about his Tigers…you never know when you won’t have that chance again.

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Something tells me that more change is on the horizon this year – so I’ll anxiously await exciting new adventures, and embrace different challenges, and hey, maybe even take on a new last name…

Happy New Year – wishing you all the best in 2015!

16 Things I Learned on #QBConnectOrBust

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I’m in the car on my way to #Solutions14. Of course, there are no @Intuitaccts challenges, only two of us in the car, and it’s just about 4 hours to Vegas instead of 443 miles to San Jose…but before I close the book on #QBConnect as the last big conference, I had to recap what I learned during this journey.

  1. Hotel room keys typically work best when trying to enter the correct room (right, Jan?)
  2. There is exactly a right amount of cream that Kelly should put in her coffee – and Brian can tell her when “that’s enough”
  3. When Richard warns you that you’ll likely want to throw him out of the car during the drive – keep in mind, he might be so right it happens before you leave the parking lot
  4. 3 people can spend 4 hours putting together a 12+ hour playlist, and the most notable song of the trip may still have been sung to the tune of “Wheels on the Bus” accompanied by a kazoo
  5. After 4 hours, not even one of those 3 people will think to test the audio connection in the vehicle to ensure it is actually equipped to play from an MP3 player
  6. When you need tech support – you’re extra thankful you invited a millennial along for the ride, Madeline to the rescue!
  7. When half of the passengers in a car were born in 1983 or later, the question “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” will invoke Siri and Google maps for reference material (now we all know to ask Gail)
  8. Kazoos are not as easy to play as you may think
  9. It’s completely possible to convert 3 QuickBooks Desktop files to QuickBooks Online from the backseat of a car filled with 6 #QBConnect Attendees (in fact, a few of them might even help out a little) somewhere between Valencia and Fresno
  10. Writing “Honk if you love QuickBooks Online” on the back of a Ford Expedition gives the driver an excuse to cut off traffic whenever necessary to elicit additional honks/ “likes”
  11. It’s entirely possible to stretch a 6 hour 41 minute drive to 10 hours by stopping at 3 Starbucks, 2 McDonalds, 1 In-N-Out Burger, and a gas station (plus the emergency AV cord recon)
  12. Posing with David Leary’s head on a stick can double your social impressions
  13. The aftermath of 6 business professionals in an SUV for 10 hours resembles a typical college dorm room on a Sunday morning – one word: HazMat
  14. A great way to redeem yourself after almost being thrown out of the car 5 minutes into the trip is reminding Brian to check the gas gage at 4 miles till empty (can you say Thelma & Louise?)
  15. The best way to assure you’ll leave #QBConnect more exhausted than any other conference is to arrive there already wiped out from a day in the car
  16. If you ever want to get to know, love, and appreciate 6 of your “favorite industry colleagues”…call them up and invite them to take a ride to San Jose. You’ll remember it for a long long time – Do I have any takers for #QBConnectOrBust 2015?

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Genuine

There’s just something that bugs me about seeing someone’s news-ticker Twitter feed. You know, the one that never seems like a real a person, but just a constant stream of recycled & retweeted content over and over and over. Dave Cieslak from Arxis Technology has often said it best: “I want to know your thoughts, not what you think about everyone else’s.”

Granted, I think it’s great to represent your company, be a team player, and share exciting news – that’s part of what enables us to be an extension of our corporate brand. It just can’t be everything that it’s about.

When Twitter feeds turn into news feeds, they lack personality…and somehow, I feel they also lack authenticity. How do I know that person is even the one tweeting? It could be coming from any PR agency, Marketing department, or Personal Assistant & nobody would be the wiser. 

Part of what I love about social media is the ability to get to know people I work with that live miles away and I only get to see in person once or twice a year. In order to do this, you have to let your personality show, you can’t just be a CNN headline factory.

Just last week I hosted an Intuit Women’s Network (IWN) “Coffee Chat” in our Tucson office. I thought it would be great to have an Intuit partner share thoughts on being a woman business owner with our group, so I was thrilled to invite Gabby Luoma as a guest speaker. When I introduced Gabby to the group, I mention the fact that before I ever met her in person I got to know her on Twitter. When I got the opportunity to finally meet her face-to-face, I felt like I already had spent hours with her. 

Gabby shared her perspective on being transparent in her business and on social media, and sharing some of her personal life experiences with her professional contacts. I immediately relate to her on this topic, as I too have tended to take on the blurred lines between work-life and home-life. In a world where people do business with people they know, like, and trust, creating a personal brand and letting it show on social media is an amazing and powerful tool. 

Some of my closest professional friends are people I first met via social media as opposed to in person. They are people I saw online, and based on their online presence I knew I wanted to be their friend. If they didn’t let their personality shows through, and just retweeted somebody’s content, I never would have known how much I wanted to know them.

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Stop & Smell the BBQ

One of the things I’m always trying to explain to people about my frequent travels is that regardless of where I go on my business trips – every city looks the same: airport, cab, hotel room, conference center. Whether I’m in North Platte, NE or Waikiki, Honolulu, HI – I tend to have about the same amount of free time to “explore”…none.

Every once in a while though, I feel like I hit the jackpot. Over the past year or so, I’ve been privileged to connect with some extra-gracious locals, who have taken the time out of their lives, to ensure that my visit isn’t “just another day at the office”.

My colleague, Rachel, and I spent this week in Kansas City (“Home of BBQ and Jazz”) for the kick-off of the Boomer Technology Circle meetings. I’ve attended several other Boomer events here in KC, and have still managed to see about the same amount of the place: Westin Crown Center, taxi cab, Jack Stack BBQ. This week however, we fell into a tub of BBQ sauce, thanks to Scott Morrill from Boomer. Along with one of the other sponsors, we were whisked out of the Crown Center and off to famous Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ – where you can eat your dinner in a gas station. On the way back, we took the scenic route, and he provided us a tour of the various city landmarks including the new Plaza, the WWI Liberty Memorial monument, and Union Station.

Last Summer, while Brian & I were visiting a firm in the Detroit area, we were honored when an executive cleared his Friday evening at home (a rare occurrence if you know his travel schedule), to spend it showing us around. After a great dinner and a trip to see the Woodward Dream Cruise pre-show, we took a detour and were treated to an incredible tour of Cranbrook, which boasts a campus filled with architecture to take your breath away and keep you talking about it for years.

To be filed in the “once in a lifetime” folder, on a visit to Honolulu for the Hawaii Society of CPAs annual conference (trust me, it was still a work trip, filled with frustrations, 4:30am conference calls, and missed flights), my new customers showed me the Royal Hawaiian treatment. Swooping in for me in Waikiki, we quickly made our escape, explaining that they only go downtown if they have to. We proceeded to drive up a mountain just as it started to pour down rain. Determined to show me their favorite lookout spot, we made it to the top, made the mad-dash to the side of the cliff, and captured the most beautiful rainbow spanning the entire island of Oahu. Afterward, they showed me a great time filled with dinner, donuts, and moochi, as we sampled all of their favorite local spots.

It’s funny how these three experiences seem so simple – all they did was spend an evening with us. Yet the effort from these individuals to provide us business tourists with a little glimpse of something that we surely would have missed without a local there to guide us makes these seemingly small gestures so hugely meaningful.