How do you grow a successful developer community around a financial product? Intuit’s Quickbooks is a well-known small business accounting software that has 100s of accounting applications built on top of the platform, from tax planners to CRM and HR apps. We spoke to Intuit to better understand the mechanisms the company uses to make sure its developer ecosystem succeeds.
Originally a desktop accounting software, QuickBooks has moved to a Software-as-a-Service model with a clear vision of the core product features it can enable through its service model. But they also know that customers often need additional functionality, so they have created APIs to let third party providers build those features.
QuickBooks found that by offering a range of app integrations with their main product, customers spent less time moving data from one system to another and saved time, increased their satisfaction with the product, and ended up looking for more ways to use QuickBooks in their daily business systems.
In 2014, when QuickBooks API program was in its infancy, they offered up to 50 third-party apps, and began to see the impact this was having on their customer lifetime value. They decided to invest more heavily in their API program and now they have over 450 published apps (and over 1,200 in total, including private integrations) and thousands of developers building on the platform.
The network of app developers has provided a wide choice of high quality app integrations to small businesses using QuickBooks, solving important problems in its user base. This has helped QuickBooks strengthen relationships with its existing customer base and also grow the base.
The QuickBooks Online platform is now growing a two-sided “network effects“ platform by delivering benefits to both developers and small businesses.
We spoke to Ketan Kittur, Director of Product Management and Partner Integrations at Intuit to understand how Intuit ensures that its app developers are successful. “The two-sided value of our platform is critical. We want to be serious about measuring retention and quality, so that we can give our customers the best experience and outcomes for running their business. We also want to understand the value these integrations are bringing to our product,” Kittur says.
VisionMobile: How do you first identify which developers need to be targeted in a developer program?
Ketan Kittur: We look at what problems our small business customers are facing that are not part of our product roadmap. Our developer team then scans the developer community – local and abroad- for potential solutions to the problems. The identified developers may already have solutions or they may include developers who are interested in building applications to address these problems. Our outreach team then works closely with the developers and guides them through the integration process, so their app integrations are of high quality delivering value to the customers.
Through these discussions, we have found that there are two main things that matter for developers:
- They are also entrepreneurs. They are serious business people building their own products and customer base.
- They do not want to waste a lot of time. Their development effort needs to return value.
VM: How do you align building a developer program with overall business goals?
KK: Our goal is to help our small businesses be successful using QuickBooks. For problems that are not solved by QuickBooks, we need a thriving a developer community delivering high quality app integrations so we have a highly engaged user base of QuickBooks users. Hence, the goal of both our developer team and developers are aligned- solve critical problems for small businesses using the QuickBooks platform and grow our businesses. When your company has a global footprint like Intuit, we become an attractive platform for developers, allowing them to grow beyond their geographic reach and inspire them to solve for problems that may exist in certain parts of the world.
With a customer-centric focus on everything we deliver, quality becomes an extremely important consideration. We use specific metrics to measure the apps in our app store, examining the number of users/connections the app has, the average app rating, customer reviews as well as churn metrics. These metrics help us figure out which apps are doing well and how we can help developers become even more successful by solving issues with their integrations.
VM: How do you measure the success that developers are able to achieve by being part of your developer program?
KK: There are two key things we track to measure success:
- How we can make it a lucrative option for developers, and help them grow their business.
- How can we help developers build (quality) apps more quickly, efficiently
First, let’s talk about how we are helping our developers be successful on QuickBooks and grow their business. To do this, we offer developers a channel to our customers via our personalized Apps Store and through relevant in-product discovery. For example, if you are a small business owner and you’re in the expenses component of the software, all of the apps relevant for expense tables can be discovered through in-product discovery In doing so, we are enabling apps to be “found” based on need and necessity. As a result, we can help developers retain –and gain – their customers.
We strive hard to increase the number of relevant leads to developers from QuickBooks. We are working on implementing analytics that help us monitor this metric. Please note that while we can deliver leads to developers, the actual conversion depends on the specific developer application. While the reasons are beyond our control, it is important to understand how we can ensure that the leads become actual customers – this is how we can help our developers succeed.
Lately, we have been working with a handful of developers in efforts to share insights we are learning from customers and identify opportunities for developers. In doing this, we are educating developers about our customer pain points, while also sharing an analysis of where the gaps are, and how we are looking to better integrate their apps into our workflows so it becomes seamless.
Now let’s talk about how we can help developers build quality apps quickly and efficiently., For this, we look at it from the perspective of the overall developer experience – i.e. easy on-boarding of APIs with SDKs and documentation, API stability dashboards etc . If you go to our website we have details of how our APIs work, access to sample code, SDKs, etc. The website includes everything needed to build an app – and we also have a developer hub where to post questions.
Then our focus shifts to helping developers publish an app. Each developer will work closely with a member of our team to get through the entire process. We conduct an annual security review and a technical review to make sure that the app works the way it is supposed to. Our experts will give developers feedback and guidance. We also conduct a marketing review, which entails looking at the app store page description, the introductory video, and how the integration works. We use a portion of our marketing budget to help developers position their app to our customers so they can be successful.
There are several other programs and opportunities to help developers find new customers, market their apps and grow their business. For example, last year Intuit hosted the ‘App Showdown’ contest, where almost 100 developers competed over the course of several months for the chance to be selected as one of ten finalists. The winner received a $100,000 prize that can be used to get their business to the next level. Finalists were chosen based on several metrics including quality of integration to QuickBooks, innovation, market impact, and number of users on QuickBooks. These are all metrics we are already looking at to ensure the success of apps on our platform.
Building an API program is about a business accepting its new market positioning as a platform. Third party developers become a key asset in how well the platform can grow. Not only do they encourage new customers to your business, but they also create greater lifetime value for existing customers by giving them more reasons to use your products and engage with your business in multiple ways.
Network effects of a platform is a core strength of the platform model, but requires an investment and recognition that there is no longer a go-it-alone mindset required. Now it is a raise-all-ships mentality that supports network partners to grow their businesses successfully as well. A platform that recognises that API developers are businesses and sets in place metrics to help those partners grow is a platform that has a greater chance at long term success. Intuit are building that into their DNA by focusing on the metrics of platform network effects.
VisionMobile measures developer satisfaction twice per year, across the industry’s 20+ leading developer programs on 20+ program features and services. If you wish to know more about our Developer Program Benchmarking research drop us a line here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: Intuit is a customer of VisionMobile, but there was no financial motivation behind this article.