QuickBooks Creator Bets on the Net

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Ridgely Evers didn’t just write the book on QuickBooks—he wrote the software. Now the man, who in 1991 created a software that today boasts 3.7 million customers, is using his technology prowess to attract small business owners with a new Web-based product called NetBooks, meant to replace the bookkeeping function of QuickBooks while adding tools to track sales, inventory and production as well as manage customers, vendors and overall business processes.

As of January, the company had secured roughly $9 million in venture capital, employed about 50 people and attracted board members including the cofounder of Intuit, Tom Proulx, and the former leader of Intuit’s Quicken business unit and TurboTax, Mark Goines.

Evers, 56, has founded three businesses since leaving Intuit in 1994, and continues working as co-owner of a California olive oil and wine company with his second wife, a gourmet chef. He discussed lessons learned from his time at Intuit and his plans for the future of NetBooks:

Partner Insights

Talk about your experience creating QuickBooks and some of the challenges.

The purpose of building QuickBooks came out of Quicken, because Quicken had started to take off and a lot of people were using it to run their small business, but it was meant as a personal finance tool. We had 25 different products but they were hard to use because we were writing them for accountants, not for real people. Real people keep books with a pencil, not a pen. You have to be able to change things. Silicon Valley has a track record for solving problems customers don’t have. What drove me to Intuit was (cofounder) Scott Cook brought that consumer mindset of solving real problems to business technology.

What did you learn?

You need to understand the psychology of the market—what matters to them, not just the demographic. Small business is one of the most misunderstood because people are really talking about small enterprise. Our target is a product-based business with two or more people, self-financed and U.S.-based.

Why did you create NetBooks?

I built NetBooks for me (as the owner of DaVero Sonoma olive oil company). I knew firsthand what the pain was. People forget to send invoices because the sticky note gets lost. I’ve called one of my largest customers and said, ‘You owe me a ton of money. When are you going to pay me?’ He said, ‘When you send me an invoice.’

There’s a move toward business management software. SAP and NetSuite have done that (for larger businesses). For our target market, it couldn’t be done until bandwidth was ubiquitous. Now, I can deliver enterprise-level architecture from the cloud (with a Web-based offering). The big idea is if data is in two places, one of them is wrong. We help owners get away from chaos and data living in the mind of an individual to a data repository.

What made you start DaVero?

My then-wife was going for her doctorate in Northern Italian Revolutionary Art so we had to spend a lot of time in Italy. I got a hankering to do something agricultural.

I already had the farm. I bought it when I got out of business school (in 1982). A lot of my friends were losing their shirts selling grapes. California was producing more wine than they could sell. I noticed wherever there were vineyards there were olive trees in Italy, so I decided to produce olive oil because I always loved to cook. I found a climate similar to Dry Creek (Calif.) and in 1990 was the first person in the 20th century to import olive trimmings to the U.S. from Italy. We founded the California Olive Oil Council with three other people. Then, we started producing wine.

Given your passion for olive oil and wine, why would you go back to software?

I’ve got one foot in ice water and one foot in boiling water, and it’s a pretty good thing. I’m not a computer scientist. Originally I was a poly-sci major and transferred to Stanford and they offered an international relations major tied to arms control. I had to study economics, history and the physics of nuclear weapons. I did defense research. Then I worked for a real estate syndication. My first business was selling aquarium coffee tables for AMEX magazines. My first job was selling encyclopedias door to door at age 18 in a thoroughly Darwinian world. I’m a hybrid of a lot of things, but I’m a marketing guy at heart.

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