doerr.pngThere is lots of wisdom in John Doerr‘s (Kleiner Perkins) introduction to Inside Intuit (emphasis added):

“Inside Intuit is a tale of missionaries, not mercenaries. It’s about a founding team that prevails through tenacity, frugality, and an obsession with the customer experience…

“Kleiner Perkins first learned about Intuit in 1985… But when it came to large numbers of households using their home computers to manage their checkbooks, we just couldn’t see it…

Neither [of the founders] had created a new product nor started a company from scratch, let alone single-handedly faced nearly forty competitors. So when Intuit’s flagship product, Quicken, began to take off in the marketplace, my partners and I at Kleiner Perkins… took notice.

…the “bake-off” [that founder Scott Cook] staged to help him choose from an array of eager potential investors really distinguished him from the crowd. More than a dozen venture capitalists vied to get a piece of Intuit. Cook and his team tested each finalist with a new, pressing, real problem: What should Intuit do if Microsoft entered the personal finance market to compete with Quicken?

“…we soon saw that Intuit differed in more ways than merely its approach to venture fund-raising. At the first Intuit board meeting I attended, I was surprised: more than half the meeting took place at Intuit’s tech support center, listening to tech reps answer customers’ product questions and fix their problems. Cook’s uniquely intense focus on happy customers and firsthand customer feedback impresses me to this day…

“Cook has an unusual ability to ask the right questions (which my partner Vinod Khosla insists is more important than getting the right answers; in business, there are often several right answers).

“In 1993, Cook realized before any of the rest of us that Intuit needed a new CEO to help the company reach the next level. How unusual, I thought at the time, for a company founder to know and admit that he might be holding his company back…

“Great CEOs are great teachers… What is unusual about Intuit is that… three leaders are all still actively engaged in building the company. As CEO, [Steve] Bennett has “the last call,” setting the tempo, directing the team. As chairman of the board, [Bill] Campbell [former CEO] holds sway from an off-campus office, advising the team, turning up on campus, and walking the halls. And Cook, as founder and chairman of the executive committee [and former CEO] provokes and celebrates strategy rethinking, inspires innovations, and continues, as ever, to obsess on the customers. As a leadership trio, they are unique in Silicon Valley.

“Not every businessperson aspires to be an institution-builder. Some simply want the freedom to be their own bosses, to achieve financial independence, to call the shots. Others want to solve problems and push the boundaries with their solutions; they work hard to “change the game” by innovating, rethinking, or breaking the rules. And yet, for all their efforts, business to them will always be just that—a game.

“For still others, however, and they’re a rare breed indeed, business is about striving for something more fundamental: to alter and improve their customers’ lives. These people aim to create companies that will transcend their creators, that will remain strong and productive from generation to generation. They aim to build lasting innovation…

I’ve always been awed by entrepreneurs, by how little they have to work with when they start and by how much they sometimes accomplish.

Related: Bill Cambell interviews Danny Shader of Good Technology.

Topics Books · Case Studies

3 comments · Show

  • Quicken User

    Unfortunately, Quicken has turned into one of the buggiest software I have ever used. Their tech support nowadays are worthless and incompetent. I almost always gets a nonsensical answer from an India call center guy. To this day, Quicken software cannot reliably update my stock quotes with the latest data. Everytime I sync, I have to check my quotes to ensure they are updated, sometimes they aren’t but I have made it a point to check *every* time. This remains a simple problem they are unable to resolve to this day.

  • Jonathan Gill

    I realized long ago that sometimes the one to build the ship isn’t necessarily the best captain. I’ve used the analogy a few times because it points out the difference in skills needed to perform the set of tasks involved in starting and running a company. I have no problem admitting that I’m not sure that most entrepreneurs are capable of doing one or the other or both (or even if they should from a cost/benefit or value add perspective).

    As an entrepreneur of a company that you do not intend to be solely a lifestyle company (e.g. lifestyle

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