Data Sheet—Intuit CEO’s Radical Transparency

October 20, 2017, 12:54 PM UTC

The line about it being hard to teach an old dog new tricks is enduring aphorism for a good reason: It’s true.

That’s what makes Geoff Colvin’s new deep dive into the stunningly durable success of tax-software maker Intuit such a gem. Intuit is well into its fourth decade, an age few software companies survive in top form. And yet as Colvin elegantly describes, Intuit is doing more than surviving. It is thriving.

Its management tricks include many of the bromides management-theory gurus like to state: Be transparent. Reinvent yourself. Listen to your customers.

The difference is that Intuit, especially under the leadership of Brad Smith, who has been CEO for 10 years, has perfected processes for truly embracing these maxims. As a result, it has been shockingly successful—Colvin enumerates the financial metrics that prove it—at staying a step ahead. As an example, Intuit created an open platform to allow even its competitors to build products on top of Intuit’s. Revenue was neither the goal nor the result. Rather, the move resulted in greater loyalty by Intuit’s customers.

These are merely the highlights of enlightening article. Colvin goes deeper on other Intuit precepts, including the value of small teams (raise your hand if you’re part of a project whose team rosters keep growing); openness leading to faster decision making (anyone work someplace where senior management hoards information?); and punishment-free acknowledgement of mistakes, particularly by top brass (as if!).

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One other thing … there’s a lovely anecdote in this article about CEO Smith being criticized for being too nice. Having known him for years, I can attest to Smith’s niceness. He’s a gentleman in a business community where that quality can be in short supply. Sometimes nice guys finish on top.

Have a great weekend.


Fresh capital. With the successful IPO of MongoDB this week, the stock market is attracting a growing number of tech companies. The database software maker ended its first day of trading with a solid 34% gain and a valuation of about $1.6 billion. Online shopping site Stitch Fix and email manager SendGrid just filed to go public.

Up and down. In the quarterly earnings dance, PayPal attracted more shoppers, sending revenue up 21% to $3.24 billion and earnings per share up 31% to 46 cents. Both figures beat expectations and PayPal's shares gained 7% in premarket trading on Friday. SAP disappointed as continuing investment in cloud products cut into profits. Revenue increased 8% to $6.6 billion and adjusted core profit rose 4% to $1.94 billion, both figures slightly short of analyst forecasts.

Battle of the future taxi kings. While gaining traction in its war with Uber, Lyft raised another $1 billion at a rate that valued the company at $11 billion. The CapitalG VC unit of Google's parent Alphabet (that's a mouthful) led the financing round. Lyft said it has already expanded to markets reaching 95% of the U.S. population, up from 54% at the beginning of the year.

Old fashioned transparency. Facebook, Twitter and Google could be forced to disclose who is paying for political ads that run on the online platforms. Proposed legislation backed by Republican Senator John McCain and Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner would subject online political ads to the same rules as ads sold for TV and radio.

Cut off. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise said it will stop selling custom-designed commodity servers to big cloud customers like Microsoft, which HPE calls Tier 1 service providers. It will, however, continue to sell higher-end (and more profitable) servers to them.

Further revelations. Three women accused tech entrepreneur and evangelist Robert Scoble of sexual and verbal harassment, Business Insider reported. The first was journalist Quinn Norton who published an account on Medium on Thursday recounting a groping assault that occurred in "the early 2010s." Scoble planned to address the allegations in a video to be posted to his Facebook page, Business Insider said.

Camp out starting now. Apple will only have 2 or 3 million units of the new iPhone X available when the phone initially goes on sale on November 3, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says. But production should scale up quickly by year end, Kuo says.


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False information has enflamed political tensions and brought about all manner of ills in the public arena. So where do we go from here? The Pew Research Center assembled an array of scholars, experts, futurists and others to discuss what's happened and what might happen in the future. The lengthy read out is two parts thought provoking and one part alarming, but worth reviewing. Here's a sample of the views of one optimist and one pessimist:

Tom Rosenstiel, author, director of the American Press Institute and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, commented:

Whatever changes platform companies make, and whatever innovations fact checkers and other journalists put in place, those who want to deceive will adapt to them. Misinformation is not like a plumbing problem you fix. It is a social condition, like crime, that you must constantly monitor and adjust to. Since as far back as the era of radio and before, as Winston Churchill said, ‘A lie can go around the world before the truth gets its pants on.’

Tom Wolzien, chairman of The Video Call Center and Wolzien LLC, said:

The market will not clean up the bad material, but will shift focus and economic rewards toward the reliable. Information consumers, fed up with false narratives, will increasingly shift toward more-trusted sources, resulting in revenue flowing toward those more trusted sources and away from the junk. This does not mean that all people will subscribe to either scientific or journalistic method (or both), but they will gravitate toward material the sources and institutions they find trustworthy, and those institutions will, themselves, demand methods of verification beyond those they use today.


A few interesting longer reads I came across that are suitable for your weekend reading pleasure.


Tony Fadell’s Next Act? Taking on Silicon Valley—From Paris
Fadell is the star of the show, and he knows it. His self-confidence is well earned but can come across as overweening—especially to those who suddenly find themselves in his shadow. “Any VC who tells you that you have to move to Silicon Valley,” Fadell says at one point, gesticulating wildly, “is being very lazy.” Two of the other people onstage are, in fact, from Silicon Valley venture capital firms, and their collars seem to squeeze a bit tighter. Fadell, in comparison, is supremely comfortable: relaxed and expansive in a pair of bright red sneakers—no socks—and a polo shirt.

The Creator of Bitcoin Comes Clean, Only to Disappear Again
Technology is constantly changing the lives of people who don’t really understand it — we drive our cars, and care nothing for internal combustion — but now and then a story will break that captures the imagination of the general public. I was one of the people who had never heard of Satoshi Nakamoto or the blockchain — the invention underlying bitcoin, which verifies transactions without the need for any central authority — or that it is the biggest thing in computer science. It was news to me that the banks were grabbing on to the blockchain as the foundation of a future “internet of value.” If it hadn’t been for my involvement with Assange, the story of this mythical computer scientist might never have come my way.

WeWork: A $20 Billion Startup Fueled by Silicon Valley Pixie Dust
Similar investor hopes surrounded IWG, the flexible workspace provider, which was called Regus when it went public in 2000. Demand plummeted in the dot-com bust, leaving it with high fixed lease costs and sinking rents from subtenants. Its U.S. business sought bankruptcy protection. IWG is valued at around $5,600 for each desk, compared with WeWork’s $135,000 per desk.

Why You Can Focus in a Coffee Shop but Not in Your Open Office
The quiet chatter of colleagues and the gentle thrum of the HVAC should help us focus. The problem may be that, in our offices, we can’t stop ourselves from getting drawn into others’ conversations or from being interrupted while we’re trying to focus.


NASA has upped its virtual reality game, creating an even more immersive set of 3-D environments from photos taken by the Curiosity Rover on Mars. There's even background sounds simulating the planet's windy plains, giving listeners "an eerie sense of Martian aloneness," as Geekwire noted. Let me know if you spot any little green men.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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