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CCI in conversation with Mr. Nikhil Arora

(Vice President and Managing Director of Intuit India)



Nikhil Arora
(Vice President and Managing Director)
Intuit India

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Today, we are here with a very dynamic and young industry stalwart- Mr. Nikhil Arora- Vice President and Managing Director of Intuit India.

Nikhil is responsible for charting Intuit’s strategy in India as a company that builds its business with ‘In India, for India’ philosophy. An MBA by qualification, Nikhil has over 18 years of global experience in corporate strategy, international operations, marketing and finance in countries like India, Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and USA.

Hello, Nikhil, I welcome you on CAclubindia.com. It’s pleasure to have you here!

Thank you for welcoming me and it’s great to speak to you and the members of CCI.

Thanks! My first question to you is "Can you elaborate on Intuit's "In India for India" philosophy?

Before talking about Intuit’s strategy in India, let me just paint the picture of what the mission of Intuit is globally, which was started by our founder Scott Cook. You know, the story goes that- he used to observe his wife, actually balancing cheque books on the table. There were a lot of challenges he used to have; why does it take so much time for his wife to balance cheque books. That’s how his whole journey of finding financial solutions to customers started and the mission he set for the company was to change customer’s financial life so profoundly that they can’t imagine to go back to the old way. So, his journey started by observing his wife, which was starting back and then a kind of experimenting the way into finding products. So, Intuit’s mission globally stays the same which is changing customer’s financial life so profoundly that you can’t imagine going back to the old way. In India, we started in 2005 and our vision here is to serve one and four small businesses by 2020 and essentially our strategy is kind of focussed on 3 pillars- one is to be operating system behind small business success, invest in Indian employees and really leverage the talent and also learn from the best of class in India.

So what is the idea behind "In India for India" can you elaborate a bit?

Yes certainly. So, we started in India in 2005 and we started a development centre and as you know many Silicon Valley companies started development centres here because there is a huge in-depth of talent. As, we started experiencing the India’s eco-system, we recognized that there is a lot of opportunity in India as you know the small business space is really huge- 48 million small businesses, number of CAs- 125000. So the company’s immediate decision was that this is a key strategic market and in a key strategic market, we also have to recognize that we have to be- kind of like be more local than the locals which meant how do we create products for the country, how do we customize the products for the country. Hence, ‘In India, for India’ is really focused back on serving and in being the eco-system behind small business success and really leveraging the employees and leveraging the best in class in India.

Following the same discussion! How has India been different for Intuit compared to other developed markets?

As you know, India is almost a continent in itself and when we rank India against other countries in terms of where we are today. Today, we have offices in Australia, Canada, U.K, Singapore and India. India is in a kind of different stage of cloud adoption. If you think through other developed markets, the cloud or the broadband kind of connectivity is pretty high. India is still in a kind of the early days. So, India- there is a kind of new India which is really a tier 1 city, or a tier 2 city which is really shifting very fast & has on the go-way of doing business, the mobile way of doing business and there is the old India which is kind of catching up there. I think we compare it to developed markets; perhaps there is more uniformity, there is more consistency. I think in India, you find more uniqueness, more distinct attributes of different geographies, so we have to locate our strategy of execution very differently.

Right! So, as you said that in India, there are a lot of distinctions, so how adaptive are Indian consumers to the web based accounting software since successful desktop based accounting application software is already prevalent and popular in the Indian market?

Ya, it’s a good question. If you see the evolution of where web adoption technology is going, I think India is pretty far along in terms of customers. Actually, looking on the web for information, if you look at e-commerce as an example, there is a lot of discovery process which is already happening in the web. If you just dial back, maybe, 8 or 10 years back, we would all go the manual way. Right now, the first place we go is to search on the web, actually evaluate the product on the web. But, I think the last mile connectivity or the last mile fulfilment, the customers still expects some sort of- I would say human touch or some sort of touchpoint with the product provider. So, I think the curve is moving fast. Today, if we look at small business space, we heard about 10 million small businesses on so-called using computers or some sort of desktop I think; out of which we believe 20% are on cloud so that space is really about 2 million in small business and I think it’s growing very fast. If we look at the micro-economic trends- Are the number of devices which means laptops, I-pads, increasing? ‘Yes’, broadband connectivity increasing quite fast? ‘Yes’ and the proprietor option is increasing fast so the web based receptivity is increasing quite a bit. I think the challenge is really more around- how do we show them the benefits, how do we show them that they are secured and so on.

Right! Following the same thought, there is a subtle shift in brand India across globe. Also, we can see the new anthesis of start-ups and entrepreneurs. So, How Cloud based accounting is further helping to fuel the Start-up Boom in India?

If you think of a journey of a start-up, I mean, they are working in a condition of extreme uncertainty both from the product and the market perspective. They have a great idea, they want to figure out the way to test but they also want to run and understand the dynamics of that business. So, that’s where cloud benefit is coming. If you draw the analogy of a cloud to a desktop, what cloud provides to a start-up is a very kind of economical way to get started. In the past, if you wanted to setup a kind of infrastructure, technology, it would cost a lot of upfront investment. With cloud, you can kind of- pay as you go as it’s a pretty affordable proposition. Second is, most of the entrepreneurs small businesses are actually on the go today. They are going from one city(say) from Pune to Nagpur to Delhi, so they want access to information on the go - so what cloud provides is just kind of anytime, anywhere access, And Third, I think, is collaboration- the collaboration between their stakeholders and accountants for example. Accountants are the most trusted advisors. So they can actually collaborate in real time with their accountants on any decision they need to make while they are on the go so from connectivity to collaboration to kind of really affordability, I think cloud is really in a way which is helping them in a very big way.

As cloud based accounting is new to Indian users. How Intuit is planning to train accountants in this area?

I think there are two sets of customers - one are a kind of new to the world, new to the franchise. These customers are actually born in the cloud. Those kind of customers are perhaps more easier to get started because they are born, they understand the platform- it’s more about the value proposition of what our product can do and benefit their business. The other set of customers who are on some sort of legacy platform or an old platform, there we need to do a lot of work to just help them understand the benefits, help them understand the value propositions, help them understand the ease of use and so on and what Intuit does. Both for the customers who are migrating and the customers who are born in cloud is through ‘a go to market strategy’ and ‘a go to market strategy’ is kind of pretty straight forward where we let people try our products for 30 days. They discover us on web or through other modes and they try for 30 days and within those 30 days, we actually do something called “Assisted on boarding” which is where how do we get them started. I will give you an example. We do something called- “Follow me home” which is where we actually go to a customer and spend 5 to 6 hours, observing the tasks they are performing, understanding the pain points and then really coming back and saying how do we incorporate this in a training. And in this “Assisted on boarding”, I had visited one customer sometime back who provides cars on rent. So, when he opens up our product and says, ok, how do I relate my business to your product. This is where “Assisted on boarding” comes in where somebody from our team either through online means or in person sets them up, customizes the way they do the business and helps them understand the benefits. So, those 3-4 hours of training really addresses a lot of questions concerned around, products, securities around, data and we see a huge amount of improvement in their usability so training but more customized training really makes a big difference and we do that in the first 30 days of the trial period.

What is Intuit's strategy to leverage the unprecedented growth in Indian Mobile Market?

If you look at the macro economic trends which are pretty obvious, you know, the mobile growth has gone from really 100 millions to almost touching close to 800 or 900 million users and specially if you look at the smartphones that is also nearing to 80-90 million. We have today for our flagship product ‘Quickbooks’ online – a mobile companion app through which we are finding about that (60 to 70)% customers are actually using it to check business status- they may be looking at P&L, status of an invoice or some sort of report to give them visibility while they are travelling. We are also seeing about 1 out of 3 in of those who have mobile app actually use that to create an invoice which is even a step further; they are actually conducting business not only just checking business helps. So, our hypothesis is that mobile will be a kind of big component of how a customer does business. I think customers today look at it actually ignostically; they expect from mobile to laptop to Ipad; everything should be seamless and I think that’s where we have to provide them the experience because they are jumping from device to device- depending on the place they are in. And I think the mobile component in the scheme of things for us will be big source of growth.

Every professional is now connected on LinkedIn or Twitter or any other professional websites like CAclubindia. What is your plan or what steps you are taking to go social?

I think from our philosophy, we really look at three pillars – online which is the platform wherein our product is really the pillar of it, and then mobile and social are really the big enablers to it. Mobile we just spoke about but social I think is really a great way to educate customers, then engage them and then actually service them. So, Intuit has done many interesting experiments in social and I would start with one which has sustained for the longest time. We have a kind of assembly blog which is really serving and helping entrepreneurs find different tools and resources of doing business so that is Product Agnostic. So, if you want to start-up and register your business, you will find how do I do marketing or sales, it provides many resources to them. Secondly, last year on CA day, we actually ran a day of social experiment where we had an app created on the phone where small businesses were actually able to talk about their accountants in a complimentary way, celebrate them, give a hi-fi to them and so on and that was a huge success. And third, we also had a kind of trainer-writer network where we had a few set of CAs from India who actually contribute by writing about issues, about challenges, about best practices so that’s really an active way. In addition to this, we also looking at experimenting more with social peer and how do we answer a question from a customer who is using a product but doesn’t want to call or doesn’t have time to email and post a question. So, social will be a kind of big enabler to serving customers. I think the challenge with social is so fast that we have to almost make sure that we are keeping up with thousands and thousands of customers as they are coming from there.

From Finance to Global Corporate strategy, operations & much more...how has been your journey?

It’s been very humbling, fulfilling. From experience perspective, I remember my first boss back in New York who spoke to me and said “Hey, what do you want to do” You just graduated!” I said, ”I don’t know what I want to do.” I started as an accountant. That was my first degree. I said I wanted to do and experience every function in a business so he said, “Hey, be prepared to stay lateral for a long time because if you wanted to go from one function to other, you aren’t going to get these promotions but you will get a very rich experience.” So, that’s why I got a venture from accounting to finance to marketing to sales and so on. It just gives you a holistic picture and appreciation of what others do and from business perspective, we believe in the true north philosophy where everything starts from employees, then their customers, then their shareholders, so it has helped me really understand that you need to focus on employees and you have much better appreciation if you go from one function to the other so it has always helped me. To grow and do a new business and I have changed industries almost 7 times, I really started with employees and understand the employee and then really go to the customers and so on.

What according to you is the golden formula that a career aspirant should follow ?

I think there are 3 things one should focus on- its trust, pride and comradery, you know it’s like sport analogy, you know, I am very active in sports and I feel like it’s all about sports and you want an all star team, not a single star team, you want your team to be really shining with many superstars in it and if you develop trust first of all, with the people you are working with and then if you have pride in what you are doing, then the comradery comes in and then everything falls in place. Ultimately as business, it’s the customers who will decide whether you succeed or not. But, you shouldn’t bag your success on that, you should bag your success as a team where you can trust each other, take pride in what you are doing and you have the comradery; so those 3 things I will recommend every team to think about.

That’s great! So, as you said that while not at work you enjoy sports, running, travelling and exploring new destinations. How do you relate fitness with your worklife? How important is it to balance work and recreational activities as a professional?

So, from fitness perspective, I think now-a-days, life style is quite on the go, anytime, anywhere, almost your life is like a cloud, you are on all the time so what fitness does is it just helps you- first of all physically it keeps you fit, makes you more active and more energized; Second is mentally, it has just more mental implication because then you are just feeling more good about yourself. It gives you more toughness because you go through ups and downs in business and if you are mentally more fit, you end up in handling situations better. And, third is what I call like psychological clash or emotional thing because ultimately you are fighting battles whether sometimes in a team environment, sometimes within external environment and it can really help you understand the dynamics of how to operate within a kind of team setup so from that perspective, fitness is very closely related to the analogy of business. From a balance perspective, I think it’s a very challenging question because I don’t think there is a perfect formula for balance of life especially now-a-days, if people tell you they would probably know better that I do. I think what’s important is to make sure you decide which lever to increase when because there would always be times when stuffs happening in work and it will compromise some personal time and other times- you have some personal life and you would want to balance so ultimately it’s on a holistic basis if you make the right calls- for e.g: “Ok, today stop, it’s Sunday, I am not gonna look at my emails. I am going to spend my time out in the field with my kids, family or friends, so I think that’s the only way we gonna handle it. But, it’s important to keep that balance perspective otherwise you can get so caught up in one world and start bagging your success or failure to that world that you lose perspective. So, I will recommend -we can choose different moments, different days where you want to increase or decrease that lever.

Nikhil, when I entered and met you, you asked me how is business so I would ask you how is life- you are a family person, you have two children, so how’s life?

Life is wonderful and as one famous person has said ‘Life is all about ability to learn, un-learn and re-learn. So, that’s the philosophy I tend to follow. From my family perspective, life is very fun. I have got two kids- a daughter and a son, I have got a lovely dog and of course my wife, so it’s always fun, especially moving back to India. There are so many things for them to do because you have got a lot of family, friends and kind of places to go. So, they are keeping me more than happily busy so life is good on that front. I terms of, how would I answer the question you asked me is a kind of like ‘you said business is good, life is good’ so I feel like the measure is that at the end of the day do you feel satisfied and have you impacted people’s life right. So, ultimately, we all take back, we all go back home and we feel good about having changed in life in some form in a structure in a small way so that’s where ultimately I go back and I measure to say that ok, I have made even 1% impact. As a family, we do quite a bit of charitable work. We work with orphanage where I take my daughter and wife and some of our employees where we actually, you know, volunteer time, we come back and put life in perspective. You know, this morning, I was just running when I saw some quote that say ‘Hey people are complaining, sometime you complain, you don’t have the good shoes; but then you look at somebody who doesn’t have a leg’, you put everything in perspective. So, it’s all about relativity and I think having that employee or customer or your own family, are you making a difference in their life. If you are, then life’s good. That’s where I feel like I will measure otherwise as you know that life is on the go and it’s fun and from any stage of business there would be no better stage than this one today because you have mobile, you got online, you got social, you have got everything going so it’s a great stage to be here.

Wonderful, so finally would you like to give any message to our viewers and members?

First of all, I would really compliment you on building this great platform. I think it’s a kind of first innings on its own where you are actually engaging the whole community- it’s not just the accountants, you have got students who are studying accounting, you have book-keepers, you have got kind of a whole, I would say 3 sided network going so it’s great. I wanted to really say that we believe accountants or perspective accountants or people who serve accountants; they are going to be great partners in the success of small businesses. Small businesses in India is really going to have a great impact on the growth of the country and we had done a survey globally where it was found that about only 10% of small businesses use accountants as strategic advisors, about 75% of small businesses use them to do compliance or taxes but on the other hand, almost most of the small businesses felt like that they could double their value or double their business benefits if they started appointing accountants as strategic advisors. So, there is a huge opportunity for the accountants from a small business perspective to make an impact and we look at accountants as one of the biggest partners in our journey because ultimately we are trying to help small businesses to be successful; accountants are trying to help small businesses become successful and I think in this journey together there is a great opportunity and we really hope to leverage with players like yourself who are actually talking to them in a social way, in a kind of a new India way, so kudos to you and we look forward to engaging with you guys more.

I once again thank you Nikhil for this wonderful and a very candid conversation and I thank you all viewers for watching us. I, Praveen Sharma, signing off!!

Comments on this Interview

Shubham Kothari, 26 March 2015

Thank You .

Aruhi, 10 March 2015

Excellent! Very informative. Thanks..