Friday, September 14, 2018

Lessons Learned: Hugh Molotsi

Innovation within large corporations has more in common with startups than you’d think, but also comes with its own set of challenges. In The Intrapraneur’s Journey, Hugh Molotsi and Jeff Zias share their experiences at Intuit and lay out the guidelines for fostering innovation projects and also an innovative culture within enterprise companies. Here, Hugh Molotsi takes us from skunkworks to large-scale success.

I’ve been very blessed to have had a 22-year career at Intuit where I held various product roles from software developer on QuickBooks for DOS to offering leader on QuickBooks Connected Services. When I left Intuit in 2015, I was VP of Innovation and led Intuit Labs, Intuit’s internal incubator.

One of the highlights of my time at Intuit was being part of a skunkworks team in 1999 that developed Intuit’s first payment service, the QuickBooks Merchant Account Service. After months of advocating for the idea of allowing QuickBooks users to process credit card payments from their customers inside the product, we were finally given the green light to proceed but only had 12 weeks to make it happen.

We were severely under-resourced (initially the team was just a Product Manager, Scott Baird and me) and had to overcome significant organizational pushback from people who thought the whole idea was terrible and that what we were doing was dangerous. Somehow, with hard work and the help of a few key colleagues, we were able to deliver a functioning service to customers on time. Through the great work of many other Intuit employees, Intuit Payments would eventually become a roughly $1B business for Intuit and a key enabling feature for over half of Intuit’s small business revenue. I was generously rewarded the Intuit Founders Award in 2011 for helping get it started.

On reflection, I’ve half-jokingly said that the only reason our skunkworks service saw the light of day was because our group wasn’t well managed at the time. Perhaps if the big-wigs had realized the significance of what we were developing, they would have demanded more detailed plans or assigned the project to a much more senior leader. Flying just enough below the radar and plain luck seemed to be as important to our success as anything else.

Many years later, a group of Intuit employees were asked to develop a program that would give employees autonomous time as a way of increasing employee engagement. For personal inspiration, I thought back to my time on the Merchant Account Service. Imagine if we could create an environment were breakthrough innovations didn’t require luck or flying below the radar? What if the company was supportive of skunkworks projects, ensuring that small passionate teams of employees didn’t have to expend so much energy fighting against organizational pushback?

With this in mind, we started Intuit’s Unstructured Time program in 2005, where employees could spend 10% working on their own projects. The genesis of Unstructured Time was how I met my co-author Jeff Zias, who proved to be an instrumental thought leader and the key driver to getting employees excited about the new program. Jeff and I would go on to spend a decade working together helping cultivate Intuit’s innovation programs.

Unstructured Time has been an unqualified success for Intuit, yielding new offerings like mobile tax and small business applications, the move from desktop software to online “cloud” products, and numerous product improvements and internal process improvements.

Along the way, we had the privilege of spending time with innovation leaders at companies like Google, Atlassian, and LinkedIn who generously shared what has worked for them and what mistakes to avoid.

Jeff and I have shared all of these lessons in our new book The Intrapreneur’s Journey. We’ve seen the rewards of developing a culture of innovation where employees are empowered to work on their own ideas. The road to creating such a culture is riddled with challenges and pitfalls, and our book will help you avoid these pitfalls while creating an environment that empowers your employees. And empowered, energized employees innovate greatly improved experiences for your customers, ultimately driving growth.

The Intrapraneur’s Journey is available to order for a limited time (only until September 22, 2018) on Kickstarter.

You can also follow the authors on Twitter: @hughmolotsi and @jeffzias

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