Career Path: From the depths to the heights | Crain's San Francisco

Career Path: From the depths to the heights

Eric Dunn joined Intuit in 1986 when it was a four-person startup operating out of a basement in Palo Alto.

He started as both the CFO and C-code programmer before rising through the ranks and enjoying success in the financial-technology business. Dunn took a decade off from Intuit to dabble in investing before returning and heading up a company spin-off.

Now the CEO of Quicken Inc., Dunn recently spoke with Crain about the growth he has experienced throughout his career. 

Q: Tell me about your early days at Intuit.

A: We launched Quickbook in 1992, and that has obviously gone on to be a huge success for Intuit. And then, only six months after the IPO, Intuit acquired Chipsoft, which turned into the TurboTax business. After the IPO, my jobs turned more to general management in the mid-1990s, which was a stimulating time in a couple of respects. Microsoft had entered the personal-finance category with a [now-defunct] product called Money. Competing with Microsoft in the 1990s was probably like competing with Amazon today. [It was] a tough, smart, wily, capable, well-resourced competitor, so that was exciting. And at the same time, the world of fin-tech was starting to grow up a bit, thanks to connectivity.

I went on from being general manager to being Intuit’s first CTO. And then I ran an internal startup that had the objective of extending Intuit’s personal finance capability in the late 1990s. That was the first phase of my Intuit career, which lasted about 14 years. So I was extremely fortunate for having stumbled in 1986 upon a tiny company that had the market opportunity, the team and the product direction to take it a long, long way.

Q: What happened next for you?

A: After Intuit I was in the investing business for three years as an angel investor and for another seven years as a partner in a venture-capital firm. I invested in the software category — such as in one of the first web payroll companies, PayCycle, which Intuit acquired in 2009. And that’s kind of what put Intuit back on my mind after the investing career. [The company] had had a change in leadership and brought a renewed focus on innovation that made it seem appealing to me. So I rejoined Intuit in 2010.

Then in 2015, I heard that it was spinning out the businesses it had decided didn’t fit strategically, Quicken among them. And because of my long association with Quicken — and a certain fondness for the product — I raised my hand and went to Intuit’s CEO and said, “When you spin this out, I’d like to be considered to run it.” So that’s exactly what happened. And things are going really well.

Q: How did you adapt to evolving technology throughout your career?

A: Quicken is a durable concept that has survived many, many evolutions of technology. Before CD-ROMs in the ‘90s, there were floppy disks in the ‘80s, so it’s been a long road. I think the initial challenge we had was just explaining to people the concept that they could use a personal computer to save time with their finances. It’s so long ago that most people don’t remember anymore, but financial work for households in the ‘80s was all paperwork. It was paper statements, paper bills, reconciling a paper checkbook, maybe using a calculator. But there were no electronic tools available for the vast majority of consumers.

So the first job was simply educating people that their financial lives could work more smoothly and they could save time by using technology. The second task was to adapt to a connected world. Rather than Quicken being the only part of the digital financial picture, we had to fit [the product] into a web of other players that were moving quickly. The third is redefining what Quicken does: being a nexus bringing together connected information from thoroughly wired financial institutions that are already serving up data — but not all in one place.

Q: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?

A: I would have held onto all my stock at Intuit until the present day, but I have nothing to complain about. I think the related point is, when you’re inside a company, you see what’s bad. But every company has something that isn’t right. I think I was sort of gun-shy because I’d see at our company eight things that were right and two things that were wrong. And I’d obsess more about the two things that were wrong. But a company that gets eight things right out of ten is actually going to be very successful. So I’d encourage my younger self and other [new] entrepreneurs to have a little more optimism and confidence in themselves.

Follow Quicken on Twitter at @Quicken.

Photo courtesy of Eric Dunn

November 21, 2017 - 3:58pm