Eric Dunn is the CEO of Quicken, makers of the best-selling personal finance software in the US. Under his leadership, the company successfully spun off from Intuit, its original owner, and modernized its product suite — leading to significant growth. It also attracted a major investment from Aquiline Capital Partners in 2021. Today, Quicken provides more than 2 million active users the tools to lead healthier financial lives.
Prior to serving as Quicken’s CEO, Eric spent more than 20 years at Intuit where he was employee number four. As the CFO, he took the company into its IPO in 1993. During his career, Eric has also pursued technology investing as an angel investor and Partner at Cardinal Ventures.
In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Eric Dunn, the CEO of Quicken, about his experience working at Intuit and transitioning to become the CEO of Quicken. Eric also talks about competing against Microsoft’s personal finance product, how he differentiates Quicken from Intuit, and his strategy for handling customer complaints.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- What attracted Eric Dunn to join Intuit — and how he became the CFO
- Eric talks about competing against Microsoft’s personal finance product
- Eric’s experience taking Intuit public and how the company’s culture changed after that
- How Eric ensures continuity of Quicken’s products and how he differentiates it from Intuit
- Eric’s strategy for managing customer support
- How venture capital funding drove Quicken’s success — and how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the company
- Eric talks about his biggest pain points, future growth plans, and the people he acknowledges for their support
- Where to learn more about Quicken
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
- Simplifi by Quicken
- Eric Dunn on LinkedIn
- Brad Smith on LinkedIn
- Mike Spence on LinkedIn
- Scott Cook
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Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.
John Corcoran 0:40
All right, welcome, everyone. John Corcoran here. I am the host of this show. And you know, if you are new to the show, you haven’t heard it before, go check out some of our past episodes. In the archives, we’ve got interviews with smart CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of all kinds of companies ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, OpenTable, Ace Software, and many more. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest here today is Eric Dunn. He’s the CEO of Quicken, makers of the best selling personal finance software in the US and under his leadership, the company has successfully spun off from Intuit, its original owner, and modernized its product suite leading to significant growth and attracted a majority investment by Aquiline Capital Partners last year. Today the company provides more than 2 million active users the tool to lead healthier financial lies. Prior to serving as Quicken CEO, he spent more than 20 years into it where he was employee number four, and was CFO who took it into its IPO in 1993. We’re going to ask all about that. During his career, Eric has also pursued technology investing as an angel investor and as a partner at Cardinal VC.
And of course, this episode is brought to you by my company Rise25, where we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships through done for you podcasts and content marketing. You can go learn more at rise25media.com. All right, Eric, it’s such a pleasure to have you here today. And I want to hear about this because, you know, Quicken is a leader in the FinTech space, before that term, FinTech was even really much of a term. And you were attracted in the mid 80s, to go join, or Silicon Valley had a bit of a history at that point. It was round apples round, there are other companies around doesn’t have the history that it did today, what attracted you, especially because you you already had your degree from Harvard, you’d already developed a career working in Bain, but what what attracted you to throw it all away and risk it become employee number four for this little startup in a basement in Palo Alto, California?
Eric Dunn 2:42
So, cool question. And, you know, there definitely was, you know, a risk element to joining a small startup in 1986. I think when I did my own spreadsheet or paper document, you know, estimating that looking at the pros and cons, I figured there’s a 1/3 chance the company would go bankrupt within a year. So they were they were quite small. And the prospects were uncertain. But at the same time, I, you know, I was a tech software guy, and I thought this personal computer stuff is really powerful. They’re just part of our life. And it’s normal now. But at that time, it was, you know, it was revolutionary technology, where an individual for a relatively small amount of money could have the computing power that, at that time, only businesses had access to, and, you know, convenient and flexible and, you know, and very, very rapidly evolving. So I think part of me saw this, you know, this was the right escalator to get on to the, you know, the, the personal computer industry was in its infancy. But it was pretty clear, it had, you know, had a long run ahead of it. And so I wanted to be involved in it. And having met the founders of Intuit, Scott Cook, and Tom Cruise, I thought they’re really cool, guys. And I wasn’t certain the product category, you know, it was, you know, it was gonna be giant, but it was the right industry and the right people, and it was just, it was the right time in my career. And my, my wife had graduated from law school and wasn’t dependent on my income, and I gotta take a risk and, you know, lean and try this out. And so that was the set of factors that influenced my decision.
John Corcoran 4:20
And of course, not every startup with three employees in a basement needs a CFO, so you have kind of a funny conversation with them, convincing them that you could eventually become the CFO, but you’d also help with coding, which sounds like a great entree
Eric Dunn 4:38
code because even while I was working at Bain, I had a moonlighted by writing a couple of pieces of Adam’s first a utility program and then an add on piece of software that so I you know, I think I got paid a paltry 17,500 shares of Intuit stock for the look it up today, you know, for the Quicken Transfer Utility even though Did I did moonlighting was it so they knew I could code? And, but I can, I’ve been to Harvard Business School, I can be a CFO of corporate and company, I thought that was actually probably more of a stretch for me than than doing the technical work. So I said, you know, the CFO jobs could grow over time that like coding job will, you know, will taper off and believe it or not, that’s how it works. So I was very successful, you know, with Tom, you know, developing many versions of personal finance software. And then, of course, successful as the CFO of a emerging public company in 1983, with Morgan Stanley,
John Corcoran 5:32
and I want to ask about that experience. But before we do, you know, the late 80s, early 90s, the big behemoth out, there was Microsoft. And in early 90s, he found out Microsoft was developing its own personal finance product to compete with you, that must have sent a shiver down your spine. What was that competition? Like?
Eric Dunn 5:52
You know, I would have thought it was it was terrifying. But I would say Microsoft was honorable, Mike Maples was kind of our business contact. And Microsoft had reached out to Intuit in 1990, about a licensing arrangement where we would have become Microsoft, Quicken, and they would have paid us a $7, a unit royalty on the Windows version. And we could keep doing Mac and Das. And I think they thought that was a really generous offer. We thought, you know, it was a slow extinction of our company. So we said no, and then we didn’t hear from them for a while. But we found out later is that Doug klunder, who was the original developer of Excel, I personally thought it was cool to build a finance, financial product. So he took on the project and started what became Microsoft money in the fall of 1991. But Mike Maples told Scott, he said, You know, we’ve been in these business discussions with you, I want to let you know that we’ve, we started an internal project to build our own product, which I thought was pretty honorable, because they could have, they could have snuck up on it. And so that, you know, we were already motivated to, to develop a Windows version of Quicken. But you can imagine the motivation was even more intense when we knew that Microsoft would be building and releasing a product by the end of the year. So we were in a frantic foot race with Microsoft in 1991. To ship and the at that time become next trade show was kind of a showcase for new software products. So we knew that Microsoft was going to be showing up Microsoft money one point out, and so the absolute deadline was we needed to have a product ready, October 14, you know, at 91, just show at our booth and Comdex and by gosh, if we didn’t have that, and then, you know, our customers approved, they voted with their with their, with their wallets, they bought our product 10 times as much as they bought the Microsoft product and you know, the company survived.
John Corcoran 7:50
Do you remember? Like a moment like getting your hands on Microsoft money? And like bringing it to the office? Was there any moment like that where you said, Oh, here is that? What was that? Like?
Eric Dunn 8:04
Somebody in our company somehow was a beta user. So he had a beta version of Microsoft money probably around August, July, or maybe maybe even July of 1991. And I think our first there are two reactions. One is they copied everything from our dos product, even the sound effects of the product, when you recorded a transaction had been cleverly imitated. So you know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but you don’t really want to be flattered in that way by by Microsoft. So that was that was one observation. The other was they had done a nice job. I mean, it was it was a it was it had fewer features. They they didn’t have the investment tracking, they didn’t have electronic billpay. But everything else, they’ve done a really nice job. So we were, we were worried.
John Corcoran 8:53
And of course at that time, one of the big kingmakers was Walt Mossberg writing for the journal, The Wall Street Journal, and you had a moment where you open up your wall street journal at home and he actually said that Quicken was the better product.
Eric Dunn 9:08
Right? I would say, that was the high point in my life up to that point, getting getting mugged because you point went out was the definitive consumer tech, you know, judge to say that we were better than Microsoft money. So yeah, we we knew we’d been winning in the marketplace because we’d been out selling my stuff. But you know, having someone as distinguishes, as Walt saying, our product is better. That really helped. And so Intuit went on to greatness and at a time when many other companies competing with Microsoft went on to oblivion. You know, Lotus ended up getting digested by IBM. I don’t know what happened. WordPerfect you know, kind of faded away. I don’t know what happened to software publishing. Many companies didn’t survive, and we did.
John Corcoran 9:58
They did. Yeah. You You’re taking the company public, your CFO, I imagined at that point in your career, you hadn’t taken any other companies public before?
Eric Dunn 10:07
No, no, I mean, I was a young, inexperienced CFO. And, and I have to thank the the board management team of Intuit for having the competence that, you know, in me to, not that not to replace me with somebody more experienced, but, but we, we’ve done a good job financially, I think under during the time I was CFO, we were, we were profitable, every single quarter. And, you know, we’ve grown very strongly, we had, you know, clean audits and no lawsuits, and, you know, no accounting adjustments, and so, we, we’ve done a nice job on the business side, as well as, you know, building great products. And so I think, you know, that track record over a period of time, and again, the the board, the management team, you know, competence as a company to be successful,
John Corcoran 10:58
reflecting on that period of time from, you know, being employee number four, with Intuit, and in 86, to going public, much bigger team. How did the culture change? How did the company change during that period of time?