Problems worth solving: a conversation with Intuit’s Jorge Olavarrieta

  • Not every customer problem falls within your purview. When this is the case, partnerships with other companies can benefit all parties involved.

  • Prioritizing projects isn’t just about solving customer problems—it’s about solving their biggest one. Seeking customer feedback and observing customers to identify pain points is critical.

  • Focusing on the competition can cause teams to lose sight of their customers. 

Back when Jorge Olavarrieta was in college, product management wasn’t on his radar—or really anyone’s, for that matter.

Perhaps it was Jorge’s keen intuition, dumb luck, or a bit of both, that led him to develop the perfect set of skills for a long and fruitful career in product management. After finishing school, he landed at Lacerte Software, which was eventually acquired by Intuit. Now, more than two decades later, Jorge is Intuit’s VP of Product Management and Design.

“Who would have thought that I would be helping develop software for tax and accounting professionals, having to do ROI on investments and prioritization, and working with developers?” he remarks to Stuart. “My background in engineering, accounting, and ultimately my degree in finance all came neatly together into this role that I had never heard of before.”

Jorge’s tenure has given him the opportunity to learn from some of the industry’s most powerful leaders. From Bill Campbell to Scott Cook, Jorge has grown as each of Intuit’s leaders shaped the company into what it is today

These days, under the leadership of Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi, Jorge and the entire ProConnect division continue to focus on solving the biggest customer problems with a lens of leveraging the broad set of Intuit offerings, platform capabilities and partners to deliver benefit to their customers, and accelerate their mission to power prosperity around the world.

“We fundamentally believe that we can make people’s lives significantly better,” says Jorge. “And I think our data and some of the things that we track show that we’re making a difference.”

Jorge joins Stuart McLeod, CEO of Karbon and host of the Accounting Leaders Podcast, for a chat about the accounting industry, the mind of a product manager, and how to identify what’s next for your business. 

Finding the win-win-wins 

Much of Jorge’s current work centers around leveraging and contributing to the broad set of Intuit services and capabilities to deliver benefits to the tax and accounting profession.

From leveraging the wealth of data within Intuit’s ecosystem to automate non-value added tasks, to leveraging internal products and partner solutions to enable tax and accounting professionals to help their clients prosper and their firms succeed, Jorge and his team are not only solving the problems professionals encounter today, but also leaning further into making them even more effective advisors to their clients.  

Stuart and Jorge both know how much work that entails.

Platforms are hard work, but the destination is worthwhile.

Jorge Olavarrieta, Intuit

Jorge’s team approaches their work by identifying the biggest problems that their customers need to solve. These days, a lot of that work involves partnerships with other SaaS companies. 

“It’d be foolish for us to think that we can do it all on our own,” Jorge explains. 

Whether solving for the business owner or on the consumer side of things, he tackles challenges by asking three key questions:

  • What are the biggest problems our customers are facing?

  • Which are the problems we, or with the help of a partner, can solve well? 

  • Where can we deliver substantial benefits?

Jorge’s team knows they’ve found a perfect match when a partnership benefits all three parties involved: Intuit, the partner, and the customer. When this happens, they call it a “win-win-win.”

“A critical element of our entire ecosystem and platform strategy requires that we look for those partners,” Jorge explains. It’s not always about solving challenging problems alone. 

Recommended reading: Why innovation becomes more critical as your business matures 

Focus on customers, not competition 

Finding those win-win-wins requires a commitment to placing the customer at the center of the conversation. Like most professionals, Jorge keeps his eye on the competition, but other companies aren’t his main focus. 

“At the end of the day, we try to focus more on ourselves,” he explains. “We focus on the problems that our customers are having. And we focus on identifying if we can solve them better than anyone else.”

When it’s not a core competency, Jorge looks to bring in a partner.

By keeping his focus on Intuit’s customers, Jorge ensures that product development moves in the right direction and that Intuit remains true to its mission in helping both businesses and individuals succeed financially. 

In many ways, he believes that focusing on the competition can become a distraction. 

The more you focus on the competition, the less you’re focused on the customer.

Jorge Olavarrieta, Intuit

Prioritizing projects and products

In the world of product management and development, there’s always more work to be done. So while Jorge has no desire to “run an empire,” he could always use additional product managers and developers to support the many initiatives on his plate. 

As a result, prioritizing projects is essential. And for that, Jorge returns to—you guessed it—the customer. 

By identifying a customer’s most significant pain points and understanding their needs, Jorge can set appropriate priorities for his team of developers and project owners. 

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we're solving a big, important customer problem and that we can do that in a way that delivers significant benefits to the customer,” he says.

Stuart agrees: “If you’re solving the fourth or fifth most important problem, then you’re not going to sell very much.”

Making marketplaces easier to manage

One way Intuit is looking to improve small business customers’ lives has become increasingly important since the onset of COVID: making it easier for product-based companies to conduct their business online. 

Small businesses must join and become active in multiple online marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy in order to succeed, but managing sales across more than one marketplace is cumbersome. It’s been an especially challenging shift for brick-and-mortar shops that are new to online sales.

“It’s a major pain point for a lot of our customers, and we think we can make it easier for them to play in these spaces without having to manage multiple distribution centers,” says Jorge. 

By helping businesses more easily digitize their products, small business owners are freed from the minutiae of managing the technology component and can return to doing what they love.

Deciding when to say no 

Back in Jorge’s first job out of college with Lacerte, the company made a bold decision to pass on developing software for Microsoft 3.1x. 

Even though Lacerte’s more progressive customers pushed for the software, the company paused, waiting instead until Windows 95 came on the scene two years later. It proved to be a good decision and to Jorge, exemplifies the balancing act that can come with making customer-guided decisions

Coming back to these same questions is what’s have fueled Intuit’s success thus far: 

What are the opportunities? Is it a significant customer problem that needs to be solved? And how can we deliver substantial benefits to the customer?