Intuit Inc. has that magic combination that's scarcer than one would think in Silicon Valley: It's cool and it makes money.
Approaching the end of its third decade in business, the firm recently added Mint.com and PayCycle to its stable of workhorses: Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax. Now, it's focusing on versions of those products for Web platforms and mobile devices. To that end, roughly one in five of the dollars that Intuit spends goes to R&D and it is still on the hunt for more engineers.
FINS recently sat down with Michael McNeal, vice president of talent strategy and acquisition at the firm, to talk about koi ponds, cloud computing and why a Twitter campaign might be more fruitful than mailing a resume.
Kyle Stock: Can you give me a breakdown of your workforce, in terms of who does what?
Michael McNeal: There's about 7,700 employees. You've got to be careful in high-tech when you say engineers, because that definition can be applied a number of ways. But there's about 2,000 engineers. There's probably another 1,000 that would fall into a category of IT and test and those other areas. A good bulk of our population is technologists. The interesting part is that we don't have a huge sales force, having consumer-focused products like Quickbooks and TurboTax. The range in numbers is like 30 or 40 to 100 or so, based on the different [business units]. The rest of it would be administration, your marketing folks, your finance folks, or what we would call operational folks.
KS: Of those capabilities, where have you seen pockets of growth in the past year?
MM: The growth for us is really in switching from desktop products to what we call SAS or connected products. And that's kind of a big jump, we're going to engineer, sell and service a whole new set of capabilities. It's a very different mindset.
If I were a candidate, understanding cloud environments and understanding computing that is Web-based would be really important.
KS: How about your assets abroad?
MM: In Canada, that's a tax business for us. There's a few hundred people up in there and we've had that awhile.
In India, it was predominantly an engineering center. It was just in the last year that we started to sell products and test products there. We're not the kind of company that says 'Ta-Da! Here's something new.'
KS: What's the scale of hiring in India?
MM: We're over 300 employees now in that region. We hired 166 in fiscal year '09 and 192 in fiscal year 2010.
KS: How about the U.K.?
MM: I would say we're being optimistic but not overly aggressive. We're going in and using the resources that are there. That was initially part of an acquisition for us. It's more figuring out what kind of markets we can play in there and who are the competitors.
KS: So most of your staff is in California?
MM: Calabasas, Woodland Hills, San Diego, Mountain View and there's even San Francisco and Menlo Park. There are roughly 1,800 employees in the Mountain View area, 400 or so in the LA area and then 800 down in San Diego.
KS: That seems kind of fractured.
MM: We have about six different businesses and most of those businesses run pretty autonomously. For instance, most of the TurboTax business is down in San diego. Intuit is one of those great places that realizes talent is very good where it is. We don't think that everyone has to be in the same place to work well together.
Mountain View is a lot of the general administration. We consider that our headquarters, but we also consider headquarters a very loose term.
KS: What percent of your staff telecommutes?
MM: Our definition is 'unassigned,' meaning they come into the office, but they don't necessarily have a desk. The last numbers I saw where in the 26-27% range. Intuit is very supportive of people being able to do what they do where they do it.
KS: Because of the tax business, you have done a lot of seasonal hiring.
MM: It's actually getting to be less and less. Seven years ago we'd say our Q1 and Q2 were dramatically bigger as we ramped up for what we called 'the season.' What's interesting is that we try to hire earlier now and hang onto people longer. A lot of people will purchase products at the beginning of the year, because they're looking to start businesses in the beginnning of the year. As we moved more products to the Web, a lot of our business is starting to spread across a more traditional sales cycle.
KS: How many workers did you inherit in the Mint acquisition?
MM: Approximately 30.
KS: Are they autonomous or folded into the rest of the company?
MM: We integrated it in, because we had Quicken online. There still is a Quicken desktop product, so that entire business was put under Aaron Patzer, the founder and CEO of Mint.
KS: How about PayCycle?
MM: There were approximately 200 employees there and again that was a very similar transition in the fact that we had an online payroll product. But both of those acquisitions were about brining in that skill-set of understanding the web and web-based products.
KS: And those are the kind of folks you are looking for in the U.S.?
MM: It would be really hard for us to break down the specifics of whether someone had SAS knowledge or not. We have a division focused on mobile technologies and then in each of the businesses they are focused on different products -- for example, applications for the iPhone. Directionally, that is the kind of technologists and engineers we look for, but also in all of our marketing people and everyone else.
KS: Where are you finding these folks?
MM: We're finding them all over. We have to be able to recruit from anywhere, for anywhere and for anything. I have recruiters in India that recruit for positions in the U.S. I have recruiters in the U.S. that recruit for positions in Singapore. If you're a candidate, your information is without boundary.
There's a site for engineers who think about cloud computing. ...and these are self-forming groups. We've learned that our recruiters actually become a valuable part to sites like that, rather than a dreaded recruiter if you will.
KS: But are you going to schools? Google? Other tech companies?
MM: We find success in the university environment, because there are a lot of folks there who have just grown up thinking the Internet and the web have been here forever. Talent, in general, is more about a person's passion and what they get excited about. Are there people at Google excited about search relevance? Yeah, the entire company. But there are also people there that say 'Wouldn't it be cool to be able to send a payment from my business to another business with my phone.' Those are the people we want. Do we hire from Google? Sure. But it's not like we say 'Which company is doing X? Let's go steal some of their people.'
We do also target universities that focus on certain technologies. The CalPolys and the MITs.
KS: Do you use social media to sort of filter candidates?
MM: I'm constantly talking to candidates about 'What is your external network?' What is your digital brand?'
'How good is Allison?' will get talked about digitally.
So yeah, a person that approaches us electronically and vertically and goes on LinkedIn and finds that they know a few hundred people that work here. Yeah, they have a better chance than someone who just mails me a resume.
KS: How's the labor market for tech workers at the moment?
MM: There's going to be more turnover and people that are open to more opportunities than before. With the downturn, companies changed strategic plans. Companies changed bonus plans. People were laid off and other people were left doing three or four different jobs. I can tell you our recruiters are having no problems getting returned calls. Intuit did a pretty good job getting through a very tough economy.
If you asked me that a year ago, I would have told you that people are hunkering down and staying put.
KS: Does Intuit do anything out of the ordinary when it comes to compensation?
MM: The comp people go out and say where we are in comparison to other people and I can check to see if I can share that stuff with you. I think the most important thing about a compensation strategy is that you understand what motivates and excites people and part of that's compensation. … We did surveys and money was in the top three; it was third, to be exact. 'What I get to work on' and 'who I get to work' with were one and two.
We still do a 401K match and most companies don't. We have a lot of benefits around eye care and stuff like that that a lot of companies have done away with.
KS: Let's talk about culture. Do you guys have the full-on Silicon Valley set-up with a lap-pool and ping-pong tables?
MM: We call it a koi pond and a fountain.
KS: You can swim in the koi pond though right?
We do have a lot of programs around fitness, subsidized food and all of those other things that add up to a total reward package. … The important thing about our culture is that it is one of constant teaching and learning. I've worked at some great companies that say they're customer-focused. But building your product from the customer in is very rewarding because you see some of the pain that you're relieving.
You get past the on-site Starbucks and dry-cleaning and all of the really cool things, and you get to see how you get to teach and learn and you get to see how you help the customer and that's pretty cool.
And anywhere between 10% and 20% of your time gets to be on innovation or what we call "white-space" time.
KS: What kind of hiring can we expect in the near future?
MM: We're going to keep looking for all of those Web-based [positions] that we discussed before. Not everyone in the world has cell phones, but a lot of people have mobile phones. The computer is going in your hand, so those capabilities are going to be very important to us.
Write to Kyle Stock