Incoming Intuit CEO: Think AI

At the start of next year, Sasan Goodarzi will take the helm at Intuit. And he will have some big shoes to fill. Brad Smith, the CEO for the past 11 years, has led the company through a wrenching transition from the desktop to the cloud and mobile. During his tenure, the customer base and revenues have more than doubled. The total return for shareholders has also been an impressive 600%+, handily beating the S&P 500.

So what can we now expect from Goodarzi? What are his plans? Well, I had to chance to meet with him this week at the QuickBooks Connect conference.

He certainly has an interesting background. When he was nine years old, he immigrated to the US from Iran and within nine months, his dad died. With little money, the family started a business.

Goodarzi would eventually go on to get a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Central Florida and an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He then would start his own business and from there, go on to become an executive at Honeywell.

But it was in 2004 that he joined Intuit, where he would quickly rise through the ranks. Consider that he would run both the TurboTax franchise and the Small Business and Self Employed unit.

“While at Inuit, I’ve definitely learned a lot,” said Goodarzi. “First of all, it is really important to be insanely focused on the customer and to ensure that the customer guides how decisions are made. No matter what the role is, you need to know the compass. Next, I learned about the power of being clear about the vision. This gets the heartbeat of the employees going. Finally, you need to do whatever it takes to maintain and accelerate the pace of innovation. Seldom have I met a customer that is satisfied and does not want more.”

As for the vision of Intuit going forward, it is certainly clear. It includes three main parts:

  • Smart Money: This is about getting paid instantly as well as having access to capital. For small businesses, being without cash for even a few days can make a big difference.
  • Smart Decisions: Intuit has the benefit of having large amounts of data, which can lead to personalized insights.
  • Smart Connections: With this, Intuit has been building an ecosystem of experts, vendors and service providers.

The Customer

“Spending time with customers is intertwined in my day,” Goodarzi said. “My calendar is color coded for this.”

He also reviews Intuit’s Slack channel every day. This provides real-time access to ratings/comments on the app store and product feedback. “If you ever think things are doing great, then you will be quickly humbled when you start going through the feeds,” he said. “I’ll ping the team if I see issues. The focus on the customer is part of my DNA.”

The customer obsession has definitely paid off in a big way. Not only has Intuit grown its tax and accounting businesses, but the company has also launched successful offerings in areas like small business lending and payments. All these have helped keep up the growth rate, despite the company’s large scale.

The Future

Goodarzi believes that – during the past century – there have been two main platforms of innovation: electricity and the Internet. But now he thinks we are seeing the emergence of a new one — that is, AI (Artificial Intelligence). “This will ignite things we cannot think are possible,” he said.

Unlike the move to the cloud and mobile, Intuit is not playing catchup with the AI megatrend. Keep in mind that the company has been building a strong patent portfolio and has also rolled out innovative apps, such as QB Assistant. For the past year, it has processed over 1.5 million questions. “QB Assistant has not answered everything correctly,” said Goodarzi, “but it is learning quickly. This is really powerful.”

He believes that AI is still in the early days and that Intuit must not rest on its laurels. Let’s face it, there are many well-funded fintech companies that are gunning for the opportunity.

“Success is not just about the technology,” said Goodarzi. “We still need to be focused on the customer. How can AI be used to revolutionize how we engage with the customer? How can we make much better recommendations? How can we eliminate more and more clicks and data inputs from the user? All these are just some of the questions we ask – and AI will be a big help.”

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