We live at a time where technology innovation is accelerating. This optimistic idea, that things are shifting under our feet for the better, gets me juiced. It’s a big reason why I publish this podcast.
For many in the fintech industry, it gets them really motivated, too. Today’s guest is Bharath Kadaba, chief innovation officer at Intuit. Through a career that began in they heyday of IBM’s TJ Watson Labs through Yahoo to his tenure at Intuit, Bharath’s engineering background provides him a nuanced view into how technology is influencing changes in our behavior, as it helps us accomplish financial things we couldn’t have conceived of in the past.
At Intuit, he leads innovation at a firm that is working hard to make innovation a core part of its organization, not just something relegated to a specific team. We talk about how the Intuit culture permeates experimentation, and we explore the feedback loop for how new technologies get rolled out to the business units. We also geek out a bit on conversational interfaces and virtual reality.
If you work with innovative technologies or work to keep your company or clients on the frontline of the adoption curve, you’re going to want to listen to my interview with Bharath.
The following excerpts were edited for clarity.
From IBM’s TJ Watson Labs to Yahoo to Intuit
I had an opportunity when I joined TJ Watson in its heyday. The company was able to spend a lot of money on next-generation technologies and that was the passion that I picked up there. That passion has stayed with me throughout my career. We’re lucky enough to live at a time where technologies are accelerating and there’s excitement about that every day. I’ve been fortunate to have been part of that from the beginning for the past 35 years.
The ability to take all these experiences of working in places like TJ Watson and Yahoo and other startups gets me even more excited about the pace of technology change and how we can bring this passion and experience to our customers at Intuit.
Approaching innovation wearing an engineer’s hat
I believe that disruption happens when fundamental technology shifts happen. Grounded in technology my whole career, I think I can sense the trends early and figure out which trend is likely to be big. From a technologist’s perspective, you can also see where the big breakthroughs lay and where the bottlenecks are that we need to understand. Lastly, you can feel when the right timing is to bring these technologies to bear.
The learned skill for me is the customer focus. Intuit is a very customer-centric company. We use the phrase customer obsession quite frequently. I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of what we call, customer follow-me-homes, where we go to a customer’s office and observe what they do. I’ve done this around the world and have built a good understanding of the challenges our customers face from a financial perspective.
Bringing this customer empathy and marrying it with advanced technology, trying to see how we can offer breakthrough products that fundamentally change the lives of our customers in the future — that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning each day to come to work.
We are a 34 year old startup. We are one of eight software companies that got started in the early eighties that’s still around. We made the transition from DOS to Windows to the Web to mobile. Now, we’re in the world of AI, machine learning, and network ecosystems. If you think about that — my job is to continue the history of innovation in our company.
The innovation process at Intuit is called CDI/D4D — or, Customer Driven Innovation and Design For Delight. These are well understood frameworks taught inside the company, across the organization. We adopt new ideas as they emerge. As the Lean Startup book came out from Eric Ries, we encouraged this idea of rapid innovation along with our customers. We build something for our customers, with our customers.
As the technology leader of a team of 70, we are at the center, looking at external trends, listening to signals, and figuring out what rapid experiments we can run. For example, when Siri came out in 2011, I thought we had the starting point of conversational interfaces. It took awhile — until 2014 when Echo came out. Now, we’re in the thick of conversational interfaces. In 2016, we launched Quickbooks Assistant so customers can ask things like who owes me money? For SMBs, the big pain point is getting paid on time and we’re bringing these capabilities to Quickbooks so you can simply ask a question without logging in and navigating multiple screens.