Nikhil Arora is the Managing Director of Intuit India and is responsible for Intuit’s India business strategy and growth. With over 18 years of experience working across Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, United States and India, Nikhil comes with a deep understanding of both emerging & mature markets.
We caught up with Nikhil over lunch to understand his plans for Intuit’s growth in India and were impressed with the mindset that makes him a leader.
Journey so far
The journey has been very eventful and challenging because when I took up the job we were trying to figure out our India strategy as we were starting from scratch. Not wanting to take a cookie cutter approach, we spent a lot of time understanding the specific challenges that Indian SMEs face. We even started a program called “Follow Me Home”, where we spend hours with many SME entrepreneurs to understand their needs better. We identified that most problems for small businesses are around awareness, accessibility and affordability. Also, small businesses struggle for time and money. After understanding their work-flow, we came up with our prototype product for India.
Our product is priced at INR 5000 per annum in India, making it affordable for most small businesses here and we have already crossed 50,000 trial users. If you look at India, talent scarcity is a big challenge for small businesses, so we have the best training and on-boarding process to train the workforce to use the product. Our customers love how closely we interact with them and have really appreciated the multi-user and anytime-anywhere access of the product, as it helps them make timely decisions.
Our mission is to change the financial lives of our customers. We want to serve 1 in every 4 small businesses in India in the next decade. We are confident of our understanding of the market needs and our product’s strength and are betting big on India considering there are over 26 million SMEs.
250,000 square-foot office and a startup culture
We have recently opened a new facility in Bangalore with about 800 people working out of this office, but we retain our startup culture. We have 10% unstructured time, during which employees can work on their own ideas whether or not they are related to Intuit. Anyone can go to their manager to ask for more time or resources for their projects. We also have something called Lean Experimentation – a concept of ‘two pizza’ teams, wherein a team size cannot extend beyond the number of people who can be fed on two pizzas. So having these kind of constraints help us maintain the startup culture and innovation.
We have an idea-sharing tool for employees, called Brainstorm. Out of 1000 ideas that were submitted, over 300 were taken into our product launches. The innovation is not just limited to technology; we also encourage our sales force to be innovative in terms of how to sell to SMEs.
Mantras for management success
First – do the employees have trust in the management? Second – do they feel proud about working with you? Pride leads to passion, and that brings in a different quality of work. Third – the camaraderie and bonding between people and how they work together.
Once you have the best players on the team, are they organized for success? Do you give them the right tools and right infrastructure for success? Intuit is grounded in the ‘true north’ philosophy which is employees first, followed by customers and then stakeholders.
Most of the time, companies rely on secondary research when it comes to customers. The issue with this is that you either read too much or you hear someone else’s views. I like to stay as close to the customers as possible. That is why we have programs like Follow Me Home etc, where we spend most of our time with our customers. This gives us a first-hand view of what is working and what is not. Being close to your customers is critical to success.
And finally, fall in love with a problem and not your own solution; this is something I remind myself time and again.
Personal motivation at Intuit
We can change the game and help a lot of small and medium businesses succeed. We have a solution that can improve the lives of small businesses profoundly. Connecting back to a cause greater than business is important to me. Everybody needs to feel good about themselves and that happens when you are helping the society. Being a part of this team and this cause really motivates me.
Second is the challenge of India. It is like snakes and ladders. If you like the challenge and the roller-coaster ride, then India is the place to be. All the constraints in India give you an opportunity to innovate.
Third is how Intuit is so grounded in how we treat and value our employees. I love that about Intuit.
“How do you constantly re-organize yourself as you grow?” is a question that comes back to you again and again. This needs a mindset change as a leader and a mindset change as a team. This is a challenge that will always need addressing and you have no way out of this. The next challenge is how do you stay connected with customers as you grow. We do a good job at Intuit, but how can we do this better? Sometimes we find the most tech savvy customers in some of the slum areas, but you never find out unless you are out there! Sometimes to go faster, you need to go slower.
Hire smarter people than yourself. Each individual brings in his/her own unique skillsets. It is important to put the right people in the right role. Organizing people for success is critical.
As leaders at Intuit we encourage failures and we talk about failures openly. We do something called “Journey Lines” wherein we talk about our failures and successes openly. So people know that leadership is vulnerable and human as well. That creates a culture where people are not afraid to fail.
For me it is important to mirror your customer. If you create an isolated heaven for yourself within the company as a leader, you will fail for sure. I cannot emphasize the importance of being close to the customer,.
We have worked with the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) and came up with a whitepaper on our observations on small businesses in India. We also worked with the National Institute For Entrepreneurship & Small Business Development (NIESBUD) to create a financial management module for small and medium businesses. This is now being doled out across various offices of NIESBUD in the country. We have trained the teachers of NIESBUD as well and put together a bunch of resources on our India website, that small businesses can make use.
Fascination for running
I got into running only after coming to India. Previously, I was a treadmill runner. Running has been more about mental strength rather than physical strength. I did my first Ultra Marathon recently. Sometimes you are on your own while you are running and that gives you time to think and reflect. It helps you push your own limits. It is the easiest sport; all you need is a pair of shoes to get started. I wake up at 4.00 am and go for a run everyday. Early morning is the best time to run as there is no traffic and less pollution.
Watch out this space for more stories from Intuit India!