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Top 12 takeaways for developers at Scaling New Heights 2014

WOW! What an incredible event. Scaling New Heights 2014 (SNH14) was again life changing for so many attendees, me included. My mind hasn’t stopped racing since, and via some post show conversations, the same is true for many others that attended the event. These pictures from Grant Wickes almost capture the energy of the event.

I’ve attempted to capture the top developer takeaways from the conference. For those of you that were at SNH14 please add your takeaways in the comments below. For those of you that didn’t attend, feel free to chime in too.

In no particular order, here are the ones I think developers need to be the most aware of.

Top 12 takeaways for developers at Scaling New Heights 2014

1) It isn’t 1300 accountants attending, its 350k+ small businesses. Scaling New Heights (SNH) attendees are the most influential of the 100k QuickBooks ProAdvisors. Many of them have large practices (100+ clients), and are looked upon as leaders in their own local communities when it comes to their QuickBooks expertise. Many even run Meetup.com QuickBooks groups for other accountants, or provide QuickBooks training to Small Business Owners. I could argue that their sphere of influence reaches 500k small businesses.

2) You didn’t close any sales, and are OK with it. The sales cycle to the accounting community is about 15 months. For example, If you engaged any accountants for the very first time this week, they may put one of their clients on your app this summer/fall as a test. Then from December to April they are heads down working almost forgetting about the client they put on your app. (NOTE: Do not try to talk to them or sell them anything at this time.) Then they go on vacation post 4/16, and before you know it, it is the start of the summer accounting show season.

Fast forward to Scaling New Heights 2015 (SNH15), they see you again, and remember they put a client on your app, they go home and check in with the client. If you are lucky, the client has rave reviews about your app, and it’s QuickBooks integration. Now, in the summer of 2015, they start making plans on rolling your app out to the rest of their clients. So sometime in the fall of 2015, they put many of their clients on your app. Now you finally get to see the ripple effect of your sales efforts.

3) Accountants know more about your app and QuickBooks than you do. If you aren’t already closely working with a few ProAdvisors, you need to be. The better your product solves small businesses problems and integrates with QuickBooks, the more successful your app will be. ProAdvisors can help you in this area. There isn’t much more I can say on this topic, but I do have a few accountants lined up to make future blog posts on topics like: How they view your app card, Why they choose your app, What makes a good QuickBooks integration, Why they sometimes give an app a 2nd chance, and Why a demo is not enough.

4) Accountants like to have fun (even party a bit). Accountants are some of the hardest working people you will ever meet. Many of them hardly take vacations, get away from the office and/or their families. So when they attend events like SNH, they are there for not only certification and training, but they go to connect to some of their best friends in the accounting world. These are the folks that really understand them, and they feel comfortable letting their hair down a bit with them. As a developer you need to understand this, and work to encourage them to relax and enjoy themselves. The last thing they need is for you to be shoving a hard sell down their throats. Just be their friend, and make the event fun for them. Dare i suggest even throwing a party for them?

5) You need to ensure you are speaking the correct language. I can summarize this with one story. InvoiceZoom.com (a new developer to the QuickBooks scene) and I were chatting a bit about them integrating with QuickBooks Online, and getting onto Apps.com. Just one huge problem, their app is for A/P. To illustrate my point, I had three ProAdvisors come over to the table we were sitting at, and I asked them “Does invoice mean A/R or A/P”, all three said “A/R”. Long story short, within the next 24 hours the developer purchased the domain BillZoom.com and is re-branding their entire app. The best part is that they now own two awesome domains.

6) You need to play the game. I am surprised at how many developers just build an app, toss it onto Apps.com, then just hope for success. This is not possible. You need to play the game. You need to be in it to win it. You need to earn each customer one at a time. You need to attend events like SNH, QuickBooks Connect, and the Sleeter Conference. You need to devote time to winning the hearts and minds of the accounting community. You need to provide incredible customer service (it is Software as a SERVICE remember). You need to get your customers to LOVE you and leave you great reviews. You need to get your brand out there, if people don’t know you exist, they won’t find you. You need to make sure you have an identity (What do you stand for?). I have seen a few apps play this game at a high level, and they are now winning, in a game that they weren’t even in a short 15 months ago.

7) If you aren’t SaaS and have Open API, you may not be in this game much longer. Every Small Business is different, and their needs will be met differently. For some, having your app integrate with QuickBooks is the right solution, but for others having another app integrate with your app is the right solution. The apps that are working with other apps via their Open API are starting to rise above the rest of the pack.

Another way to paint this picture. Historically speaking, reporting/dashboard tools have been a mainstay with accountants. In the future not all the data of a small business will live in QuickBooks. If an accountant’s chosen dashboard/reporting tool can’t read data from your app, do you think that accountant is going to put their clients on your app? Probably not.

I would highly recommend taking a look at The Small Business Web Manifesto. I could easily see a future in which the accounting community only chooses apps at live up to said manifesto. The last thing an accountant wants to do to their client, is to get them into a situation in which they can’t work with the data as easily as possible.

8) It is possible to move your company from desktop to SaaS. One of your fellow developers has successfully done this. PaloAlto Software started in 1988 way before SaaS, and way before QuickBooks for that matter. Their latest product LivePlan, is one of the leading SaaS apps on Apps.com. In the near future, I will be having someone from their company do a guest blog about this journey.

9) QuickBooks Online will never have feature parity with QuickBooks Desktop. As an app developer, this is good news. You can fill the gaps. Using QuickBooks Online with a few apps that a business owner needs may actually be better than QuickBooks Desktop for running their business. Lets face it, the way people use QuickBooks is changing.

In the late 2000s an Small Business Owner would buy QuickBooks Desktop from a big box store, set it up for their business, then adjust their business processes around QuickBooks Desktop, possibly working in it 8 to 10 hours a day. So if I had a pet sitting business, I was forcing QuickBooks to be something it wasn’t, and QuickBooks was forcing me to adjust my business to it.

Now using QuickBooks Online with other small business SaaS apps, a small business owner is going to use a specialized industry solution app (e.g. PowerPetSitter) to run their business 8 hours a day, and maybe just pop into QuickBooks Online for an hour or so, to do the accounting things that don’t make sense for the app to do.

It will be the accountants job to match the correct apps with the correct client, it is no longer a one size fits all world.

10) Deep down, we all care about small business. For some of you, you’ve owned a small business in the past, your are currently a small business, or your parents owned a small business. Whatever the reason, we are in this space because we care about it. I did witness two incredible examples of this level of caring while at SNH, both by Apps.com developers.

The first one was ZenCash, they let every attendee get professionally taken head-shots in their booth. Each accountant will get an email with amazing photos that they can use on their business cards, website, and ProAdvisor profile. For many of the accountants, this was probably their first time getting anything like this done before.

The second one was Fundbox, they actually brought a real QuickBooks user’s product, to give away as booth swag. To be honest, it all most made me tear up, sometimes it is easy to get lost in the shuffle of our day jobs building software, it was nice to see the downstream impact on a small business owner’s life from the efforts made by all of us.

I tip my hat to both apps and their teams, it reminded me that what we do is important.

11) QuickBooks Online and Apps.com have some serious momentum. In previous SNH events it was sometimes difficult to chat with an accountant that had actual clients on QuickBooks Online (QBO), but now I think every accountant I spoke with has a few clients on QBO. I even spoke with a handful that have 100% of their clients on QBO. In regards to Apps.com we pushed 6 apps LIVE in the last 10 days leading up to SNH14, and now have 70 apps that connect to QuickBooks Online.

12) The team and I are extremely thankful for all of you. Hopefully, at least once, during the craziness of the expo floor, the IPP town hall, our developer reception, or at a party, someone from the IPP team gave you a big hug. I feel like I missed so many of you. So, for those of you I missed, I am sending you a virtual hug, and saying thanks for being apart of #TeamIntuitApps.

Hope to see all of you at QuickBooks Connect in October and #UnicornLibations for all!
-david

 June 21, 2014 | David Leary