Accounting, Fintech, Future, Technology

QB Connect Sydney – The review no-one else will write

QB Connect Sydney – the review no-one else will write

OK, by now you’ve seen all the other posts, listened to all the podcasts – even if you weren’t at QB Connect Sydney, you have probably got a good feel for what transpired at the SCG on May 18.

Now it’s my turn. Time for the “Matt Paff altReview” treatment. You may have read my Xerocon 2016 review or my QBConnect US reviews (2015 and 2016). My approach is to avoid the excessive platitudes and focus on the constructive elements and call out the BS. So here goes:

QB Connect Australia v1.0

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the original, US edition of QB Connect for the past 2 (of 3) editions. From a general flavour perspective, they standout as being a bit more inclusive (of clients and the general public) than traditional accounting technology events – which tend to focus on the ABCs (Accountants, Bookkeepers & Consultants).

This “general small business” focus then sets the tone for the way the entire event is promoted and run. Very consumer oriented. Very celebrity focused. Very American…

The challenge for me attending the Sydney edition, was always going to be the comparison to the US. And the benchmarking of Sydney in terms of San Jose with 5,000+ attendees, Oprah, Shaq, Phelps etc is unfair…

The growing focus on Brand

The pre-event promotion: Celebs ✔ | General public invited ✔ | Blanketing advertising (at least in Sydney) ✔ | The retail model of endless discount codes ✔

MYOB revolutionised accounting tech marketing in the late 90s with big “back-of-bus” campaigns. It felt weird at the time, but it spoke to the consumerisation of the technology – a coming of age of the industry if you will. In recent times MYOB have used billboards and Xero, bus stop advertising. QB Connect was Intuit Australia’s foray into train stations. All this with both MYOB & Intuit both using TV advertising currently, the focus on brand as a point of differentiation (as opposed to product, price or channel) is becoming more obvious/important.

And this is exactly the point with QB Connect. It is a branding exercise. Recognising this, then frames everything that occurred.

The venue

I was sceptical about the SCG as a venue. Until the tram arrives, this part of Sydney remains a pain in the bum to get to. BUT my doubts were proven wrong, the location was great. It was iconicly Australian. The VIPs even got a oooh aah Glen McGrath pep talk. There was AFL training occurring during the day. It was different. It worked. And few complained of their effort to get there ✔.

Who was there – the new Collegial Industry

The event is probably best marked by the key people (dare I use the term “of influence”) synonymous with other players, who were there. Whether they received the VIP treatment, were presenting, had their expenses covered or paid their own way, mainstays and brand-loyalists from both the Xero and MYOB camps were there in their droves.

Its a sign of the times to see Xealots the likes of Steph Hinds, Paul Meissner and Heather Smith (Ms Xero for Dummies [and of course Learn MYOB in 7 Days] no less) all there and social mediaing (I know, a made up word)…

And from the MYOB camp Leanne Berry, Deb Anderson and Amanda Linton no less…

Only as recent as the last couple of years, the industry was very splinted. With the various brands and their channels very insular and non-inclusive. With few exceptions like the ever present and ever affable Clayton Oates able to traverse the various groups. Intuit seem to have championed the inclusive of all meme. First with the ecosystem, by offering Xealot add-on partners access to a larger client base AND the US and this has now bubbled over into the ABCs.

Trent “thought leader of the year” Mclaren has been the obvious example of the shift, befriending all on social media and in person, regardless of allegiances.

And we have seen the reaction from the competitors now coming to grips with the evermore collegial channels, with even Rod Drury tempering his normal pot-shots at Intuit with their last quarterly announcement:

All-in-all QB Connect was a “we have arrived” moment for Intuit in Australia. Their sheer size and budget and the embracing of all and sundry is changing the industry of ABCs, I believe for the better. And the general feedback was very positive, regardless of which camp people came from.

Outrageous Claim

Whilst I myself am one for making bold statements, sometimes based on a loose collection of facts, this slide and the claim that came with it was just plain outrageous:

Let me just fact check this:

  • They must have meant “cloud accounting technology provider”, because Intuit absolutely is not growing as fast a lot of other cloud technology companies in Australia in terms of quantum nor percentage – one cloud tech company I’m involved with www.vsure.com.au will grow over 100% in this current quarter!
  • When I queried Sasan Goodarzi & Nicolette Maury (world & Au heads respectively) that my metrics based on published results from the listed players (Xero and Intuit) contradicts this, it was further clarified with “… as a percentage”. So the fact Xero is winning more sites is offset by the fact it has an existing, larger client base… OK…
  • When I queried how they would have been able to get comparison with privately owned players like Rounded & Saasu, it was further clarified with “based on the published numbers of the listed players”… OK, so the graphic should really have said:

It reads quite a bit differently doesn’t it?! Statements that are wrong through omission are still #FakeNews

Sasan, Succession

In early 2016 Intuit announced the decision to swap the roles of the general managers for the Consumer Tax Group and the Small Business Group. The job swap would allow Dan Wernikoff (now EVP Consumer Tax) and Sasan Goodarzi to “walk a mile in the other’s shoes”.

For me this was the succession duel. Let’s see who steps up and with experience across the business units, they will be better placed to succeed Brad Smith (Chairman & CEO).

On recent results, one might conclude that Sasan was handed the golden goose (and Dan perhaps the proverbial crap sandwich), with the small business group exceeding expectations and the consumer tax group disappointing. Conversely one might see Sasan as showing he is the clear winner and obvious heir apparent.

In my limited dealings with Sasan, I have been impressed by his humility, approachableness (I know I just invented another word, but it works right?), desire to win and business acumen.

By being at QB Connect Sydney, Sasan showed how serious Intuit is about Australia. Whilst this was (and rightly so) Nicolette’s show, Sasan’s presence and deeply personal keynote regaling the story of his family’s immigration to the US and life in and around family business was poignant and showcased a connected leader.

Intuit’s Strategy

Intuit appear very open about the automated future. their strategy is laid out on the following slide:

I’ve said this before, Intuit’s definition of Platform is more aligned with my own to that we’ve seen espoused by others including Xero. Single sign-on, consistent user interface, giving third party developers the ability to embed solutions visa vis Salesforce & NetSuite – ✔.

“Personalised experiences” is central to the Intuit strategy. What does that mean? With more than 2m QBo users worldwide, the data they now have access to leverage AI and ML is unrivalled. QB Bot is a concept that remains too abstract for most. A video was played of the future, where an entrepreneur sits in the back of her ride-share car (that had a driver, hinting to the nearness of this capability – ’cause who will need a driver 10 years from now?), talking to her mobile to effectively perform her accounting functions and even provide advisory services. Rove’s jokes about flirting with his accounting tech. in future, show where we are at, the concept seems so ridiculous its funny. But it is coming people… And soon.

The idea of “Indispensable Connections” has me confused. Where that means connecting clients to advisors (only 50% of Intuit’s customers are connecting with advisors presently), I get it and it is consistent with Xero and MYOB. BUT when the talk turns to “connecting customers to other customers”, I start to wonder who wins… QB Bot suggests I change supplier to XYZ. Theoretically its making the same suggestion to my competitors. The more we connect and automate, where does the competitive advantage lie? Does supply chain and business process homogenise? I just don’t see where the line of connections is drawn? I’m eager to watch how this plays out, from a technology and economics theory perspective. Will this connection concept, limit Intuit’s growth (people wanting to be different to their competitors)? Ultimately are we watching a tectonic shift? One in which the key differentiation for SMEs will become which “small business technology/operating system” one goes with…?

Content

Let me just get this of my chest first. It is a dead horse I have beaten many times before but… IMO a company who basically gives away its product (competing primarily on price) has no right to espouse “Value Pricing” to the world. Its a bad look. “Do as I say not as I do” is brand devaluing. Stop telling us you’re competing on innovation. You’re not. You are competing with your balance sheet. Its the long game, I get it, but it affects your brand and the ability for ecosystem partners to get a fair price for their offerings and educates the consumer not to value business technology or the associated services.

(Nothing personal Trent, love what you’re doing and the core message, it is just that it is incongruent with Intuit’s own pricing strategies).

There, I said it, now onto the other stuff… the celebrities connected. Whilst Michelle Bridges is no Oprah, she presented very well. Again, a deeply personal story with motivating undertones ✔. Rove was a great MC. Sure, he’s no business icon, interviewer extraordinaire like his US equivalent Bill Rancic, BUT he is very aussie and very funny ✔✔. Steve Baxter was his honest, entertainingly abrupt self ✔.

The panel, with the cop come reality TV stars come interior decorator Fraser sister, Uge the photographer/surfer and Melody the inventor from mPort was interesting. Don’t get me wrong, it was entertaining, I just don’t feel it connected or added small business value to the audience. It’s the same reason Sasan and Michelle Bridges did connect – I don’t think that the audience can empathise with their journeys (how many people go on The Block? How many can literally monetise the dream lifestyle like Uge has?…). Each is very unique, with almost extraordinary circumstances that led to their success. Perhaps I’m being overly critical, but benchmarking the similar US sessions, the delta was the audience’s ability to imagine the reality of the panels’ business successes and failures. Maybe that is just the difference of Bill Rancic?

The other multi-stream sessions I attended were great, even if most of the presenters were veterans of Australian industry events. Where I was expecting “same-old-same-old” I was pleasantly surprised the stories had evolved ✔.

Conclusion

By now I am realising I’m starting to break the length rule for a social media content. Thanks if you have read/skimmed this far!

In conclusion, all in all the event was a success. Herein I’ve just tried to point out the things others have not. Intuit are spending big to have a seat at the table down-under and it appears to be working. They are shifting from being the proverbial pimple on the backside of Xero, to taking on MYOB as the genuine number 2 in market, to become a genuine competitor to Xero. All they need now is fix their pricing strategy, continue to build out QBoA to offer ABCs genuine practice management and then just buy LodgeIt to have a tax offering. #WatchThisSpace

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