Inuit TurboTax does not work with Intuit Quickbooks Mac

I manage our business on a Mac.  I bought the latest copy Quickbooks 2010 for Mac.   I knew it a little bit quirky because to send to the accountant running Windows, you need to export as Windows.  No biggie.

Aa   The corporate tax returns were due Monday.   But I wasn't worried.   The books were reconciled each month and up to date.   I installed TurboTax Business in my Windows virtual machine (Intuit hasn't gotten around to developing a Mac version yet, because they must believe real accountants don't use a Mac).   I exported the qb file to Windows.  And tried to import them into TurboTax.

TurboTax puked: "unsupported file format".

I ended up having to print out the P&L statement and keypunch every number into TurboTax.  And after doing some research, found out that Intuit TurboTax does not work.....ever....with Intuit Quickbooks Mac.   Now that's good product planning.  "Choose Easy"

False Choices: The Challenges for the Product Manager

I was going to write about implementing a CRM system, but listening to the President talk about "false choices" got me thinking about those false choices we run into as a product manager.  My favorite is "To be competitive, you have to outsource as much as possible".


The false choice here is between not being competitive and sending work where there is cheap labor.   I call it just being lazy.    Instead, focus on design of your products and processes.   I have done it twice in two high tech companies.  Production and support were all domestically based.   And we were competitive in both price and margins.

How?  One huge advantage of being domestic is the ability to quickly change your product and service.  Providing, of course, the processes and design is correct.  By doing this you actually have an advantage over your competitors.   Not to mention happier customers.

Being Competitive is not enough

Delta airlines after the merger decided to charge for all check bags now (unless of course you are Medallion).   Southwest does not.   Since we live far away from our family this starts to add up.

So I contacted Delta and got this reply:

We appreciate you taking the time to share your comments regarding the
changes in our baggage fee. By implementing the first baggage fee in
combination with lowering or eliminating several other fees Delta
remains competitive
in the airline industry. As always, your business
is appreciated and again, thank you for your feedback
So I asked just what fees were being lowered: 
  • no more fuel surcharges for Skymiles travel ($25+)
  • phone reservations now $20 instead of $20
  • elimination of $3 Skycap fee

But you get hit with $15 for the first checked bag.  Yeah, this is remaining competitive.

But being just "good enough" does not win the trust and loyalty of your customers.  You have to excel.  In something.  Anything.   As long as it is relevant.

Reminds me of working at Novell where HR stated "We hire only the best people."  And then found out they pay median wages.   Does not compute.

So in my book "competitive" = "we don't care but hope you don't notice".  Be noticed.  Be better than competitive.

After the Acquisition, Talk to the Sales Group....Please

When you're putting together your product roadmap, sometimes it is better to license / acquire a technology rather than build it.   Looks good on paper, much harder in the execution.   You need to build a compelling case for sales to actually offer the product to your customers.

Which could be rough.

A You see, the sales people have quotas and make good bonuses / commissions based on hitting those goals.   So you need to make sure you can a) make the case for the new product in meeting their goals and b) make sure they have all the tools necessary.

I saw this not happen years ago after Novell acquired Unix and other products.   The sales group only knew how to sell NetWare boxes through 2 tier distribution and not how to engage end customers directly.  A few years later those product lines were sold to other companies at a significant loss.

Just last week I had a similar experience after I downloaded a paper on an acquired technology from an email company.   Sales followed up with me after two days and tried to sell me on their mainstream product, not the new one I had asked. 

And that is product marketing's problem.

Product Strategy

Defining a product road map and executing against it is a fine balancing act.  A You want to keep up with customer demand and competitors, while making sure you are delivering what you need today.   

One of the biggest challenges is keeping engineering focused on "maintenance" and bug fixes for the current product.   I once worked for a secure email company who would get an alpha release ready and then immediately start developing the next release.   Needless to say it was hard to get customers to use the product (well it did work *most* of the time).

When it comes to prioritization just remember this one truth:
"The best customers are the ones you already have".

From a pure dollar and cents perspective, current customer revenue is cheaper than new customer acquisition.   

Marketeer In Residence

Entrepreneurs in Resident (EIR) are popular with many Venture Capital firms.  These people have run companies before and they provide support for the VC's portfolio start up companies.    Lately I've been working with many seed stage startup companies and they all sorely lack good marketing talent.  Usually you get a brilliant engineer and someone who can sell and / or raise money.   Marketing is on the road map for later.

So what happens to these new startups?   They spend about $1M going to market, find out they didn't quite get it right, and then spend another $1M getting it right.

Wouldn't it be more prudent to get it right the first time?   And that requires marketing.  Experienced marketing.   So I'm proposing every VC should have an MIR.  The result?  Less investment, more success.  Faster time to market.

Sensitivity Analysis: A Lost Art

I like numbers and statistics.  But as a tool, not the end all and be all.   Which is a good reason why my Masters was in Decision Support Systems.   So when looking at a new system or a new product I would do a sensitivity analysis for the financial outcomes which gave probability results.  Imagine my surprise when no one understood it at all!   I had greatly over-estimated the intelligence of management ( Scott Adams makes a living by going in the opposite direction). 

I've seen two types of behavior in this arena.   The first I call "Does it Stick?".  Darts These managers hear something cool, throw it against the wall, if it doesn't stick, they keep doing it over and over again just knowing that one day they will get it right.   The second are the financially challenged.   They think by knowing some Excel spreadsheet functions:  sum, add, subtract, multiple, then Viola they have the insight into the future.   Everything is linear.   When asked about their assumptions there answer: "It's an assumption and I know it's wrong" and that's all the farther they get.  So they save the spreadsheet and use a fraction of a penny's worth of disk space and that's about what that model is worth.

What to do?

Compromise of course.   When you build out your model make sure you have three values for each assumption: Best Case, Worse Case, Most Likely Case.   Both on the revenue side and on the cost side.  Now you can have some fun.    First off run a table with everything turned Best Case, Worse Case, Most Likely Case.  You can see the spread of possibilities (put it into a graph).   Now just start flipping assumptions one at a time.    By looking at the resulting graph you'll get a really good idea what are your critical areas of influence.

Next iteration.   Turn everything to Most Likely Case and just run the three cases on your critical areas.    Chances are you will see your future.   Make sure you can survive on the downside, but never, ever manage to that downside because it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

And this will prevent you from making a typical rookie mistake.   You think that 20 good qualified customers will generate 3 orders.  Chances are the number is 200.   And this approach will keep you from going down that rat hole, because you will have a strategy to shift priorities if this becomes reality.

I like hands on. Keeps you honest!

Oh those armchair marketing people.   Armchair Get their IDC data, (or maybe Gartner), delegate a few focus groups and then pontificate on the next great thing.    Hope you're not one of them.

As you may know I'm with a new startup company.    We did all the armchair stuff, came out with a hypothesis, talked to bunches of people and wrote code.  A lot of code.   Now we have something which is definitely not slideware. 

Am I happy?

No way.   So off we're going to a conference with our CTO  (always bring engineering into the field).   And we're hosting a dinner.   

Here's a common error people make.  They talk about what they have and see if people like it.  In our case we're going to discuss the topic in general and let the other folks talk about it.   See what we can learn.   20% us talking, 80% listening.   Because I know we'll get insight we never even considered.  Always happens.  Now of course we'll have a working system to play show and tell.  But that's after the dishes have been cleared.

Yes, I'ld like the kitchen sink too!

Writing product requirements documents is an art with a dabble of science.   Lately I've seen two extremes: If we had all these features we could sell....... and if we don't have actual market research we shouldn't spec it.   Innovation requires the need to break out from these trains of thought.  Let's face it, sales people cannot see beyond the current quarter, and analytical marketing people cannot see the truck until it hits them.

The first thing I do is examine the market research very closely.  Then I talk to people who are the thought leaders in the market area and others in the channel arena (which is where I found out about recycle laws in Germany and packaged everything in cornstarch plastic and cardboard).  And yes I talk to the sales group.

You also need to figure out what comes next.   Because this product should provide a foundation to lead to the next product and the next market segment.  Then I like to take a walk on theSink technical side to minimize the amount of absolutely pure invention needed to finish the product.

But I do throw in everything including the kitchen sink, if I think it will make the best product.  Knowing full well that the product definition will change.  But engineering always suprises me by what they can do.  If I can convey the big vision, many times you do get big results.   As long as you are willing to kill off features / functions which are not essential for success.