Scott Cook: Savor the Surprises | Summary and Q&A

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November 6, 2015
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Stanford eCorner
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Scott Cook: Savor the Surprises

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Summary

This video discusses the importance of not ignoring surprises and instead taking the time to understand and savor them. The speaker shares a personal experience where they discovered that a significant portion of users were using their home accounting product in an office setting. This led them to realize that the accounting software industry had not solved the problem of making their products usable and understandable for non-accountants. The speaker emphasizes the need for companies to study their users and challenge their own beliefs.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did the speaker discover that people were using their home accounting product in an office setting?

The speaker found out by conducting a survey to gather information about the users of their product. One of the questions on the survey asked where the users used the product, and surprisingly, half of the respondents said they used it in an office. Initially, they brushed off this information as people simply taking their bills to the office due to not having a computer at home.

Q: Why did the speaker ignore the fact that people were using their home product in an office setting?

The speaker admits that they initially ignored this information because it didn't make sense to them. They had built a home product, so the idea of people using it at the office seemed odd. Despite subsequent follow-up surveys consistently showing the same result, they continued to dismiss it.

Q: What prompted the speaker to further investigate why people were using their home product in an office setting?

After several years, the speaker became bothered by the persistent response from users regarding where they used the product. They felt the need to understand why people were answering the question incorrectly. This curiosity led them to contact the users and observe what they were doing.

Q: What did the speaker discover when they contacted the users and observed their behavior?

The users who were using the home accounting product in an office setting weren't doing homework as initially assumed. Instead, they were performing bookkeeping for small businesses. This revelation puzzled the speaker, and they wanted to understand why these users were opting for a home product instead of the available accounting software specifically designed for businesses.

Q: What did the speaker learn about the users of accounting software for small businesses?

The majority of users of accounting software for small businesses are non-accountants. In small companies, there often isn't a dedicated CPA or accountant, and the bookkeeping tasks are usually handled by clerks, office managers, or even the owner's spouse. These individuals often lack a deep understanding of formal accounting and struggle with the complexity of traditional accounting software.

Q: Why did the users prefer the home accounting product over the available accounting software for small businesses?

The users preferred the home accounting product because it was designed to be more understandable and user-friendly for non-accountants. The speaker's product, which resembled a checkbook and simplified the record-keeping process, resonated with these users. The existing accounting software for small businesses had not adequately addressed the challenge of making their products accessible to non-accountants.

Q: What did the speaker realize about the accounting software industry through this experience?

The speaker concluded that the accounting software industry had not truly understood its users. They had failed to recognize the need to make their products usable and understandable for non-accountants, despite the fact that the majority of their users were non-accountants. The speaker notes that companies in the industry had not taken the time to study their users and had not challenged their own beliefs.

Q: What was the prevailing belief in the accounting software industry at the time?

The prevailing belief in the accounting software industry, supported by experts and accountants, was that the only way to keep books in a business was through double entry accounting, a formal accounting method. This belief was also held by the speaker and their team. However, the surprising evidence from their users challenged this belief and revealed a different truth.

Takeaways

The main takeaways from this video are the importance of not ignoring surprises, savoring them, and taking the time to understand them. It emphasizes the need for companies to study their users and challenge their own beliefs. In the case discussed, the accounting software industry had failed to recognize and address the significant user segment of non-accountants. Understanding users' needs and making products usable and understandable to them can lead to valuable insights and opportunities for innovation.

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