Nov 23, 2020

Faces of Innovation: Interview with Saka Nuru

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By Drew Welton

Someone whose work can genuinely drive business growth…we wouldn't have gotten this far, this quickly, without you

CEO and Managing Partner, Bow & Arrow

We helped Idean make 30 talented hires in a short space of time in candidate-short markets. We still continue to support Idean globally, particularly in the UK and US.
Jasmine Cooke, Senior Consultant Makers

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This week, we are featuring Saka Nuru, Head of Product Marketing for Fintech Ecosystems and Payments at Intuit. Intuit is a mission-driven, global financial platform with a product suite that includes TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint. Intuit’s products and services help more than 50M people around the world put more money in their pockets, with less work and greater confidence. 

We have split this interview in two parts. Part two will be released next week.

First thing’s first - please can you give us an overview of your experience in Innovation?

Sure. After completing a Master of Engineering Degree at Berkeley, I joined Hilti – a global leader in providing technology-led products, systems and services – on their new global rotation program where I moved through multiple business functions and geographies. From being a direct field engineer to a product manager, strategist and financial analyst. This taught me a great deal about business…how a business works and operates…as well as building sound understanding of innovation, from the front end of idea generation to the upstream end of strategy and finance. 

From being a direct field engineer to a product manager, strategist and financial analyst. This taught me a great deal about business…how a business works and operates…as well as building sound understanding of innovation, from the front end of idea generation to the upstream end of strategy and finance.

After moving to the UK in 2016, growth was the central theme of my experience; from business development and bottom-line improvement, to client and account management. I also got the opportunity to stretch further into digital, which was great. I’m currently at Intuit where I head up product marketing for our ecosystems and payments.

To circle back to innovation, I’d say this has been a theme throughout my career. I’ve always been tasked with generating new thinking and new ways of working. This was apparent early on for me. At Berkeley there was an industry program geared up to give students exposure to problem-solving and innovation. I worked at Mercedes as part of that program where I helped them identify new opportunity spaces to take them from being just a car manufacturer into mobility solutions. This experience gave me sound grounding in innovation processes. It was these early experiences that gave me the thirst for exploration and innovation, which has stayed strong throughout my career.

Tell us more about product innovation, your role at Intuit and how you see innovation happening across the business?

My job is very customer focused. Intuit/Quickbooks is trying to be viewed as more than just an accounting sort of software silo. We are trying to be viewed as a holistic solution. In other words, we’re trying to be the answer to the question … “what is the current state of my business?”. This is a shift for us, and we’re focusing on the customer. So, in answering that question, we need to look and think outside of the box stretching beyond the accounting part. From understanding your employees and how they track their time, to your accounts and cashflow. There are so many opportunity spaces, but fundamentally it’s my role to understand three things: one, understanding the problems that our customers face; two, being savvy to what we are able to solve for and deliver now plus looking to the outside world for inspiration, insight and ideas; and three, managing new innovations through to implementation – from translating an insight into an idea, and an idea into a viable thing that matches with the business capability and strategy. 

There are so many opportunity spaces, but fundamentally it’s my role to understand three things: one, understanding the problems that our customers face; two, being savvy to what we are able to solve for and deliver now plus looking to the outside world for inspiration, insight and ideas; and three, managing new innovations through to implementation – from translating an insight into an idea, and an idea into a viable thing that matches with the business capability and strategy.

At Intuit, we keep most of our innovation in-house. Innovation is a mindset, not a department and we actively encourage and train everyone on this. We have some unique processes that we’ve built over the past 30 years; our secret sauce! We operate a ‘Design for Delight’ (D for D) process and we have built it so that we can iterate quickly. We bring prototypes to customers in rapid time, going from broad to narrow. This allows us to take the crazy and outlandish ideas to customers and get quickfire insight and feedback, and our D for D process allows us to iterate and co-create ideas in hours.

Added to this, we’re in a unique position in that we really understand our customers. Take Quickbooks for example – we know our customers businesses intimately, we’re the sort of central nervous system supporting their accounting and finances. We know what banks they’ve integrated with; we know when they’re likely to hit cashflow problems. We have this richness of data that allows us to innovate around the real problems, the problems that allow us to better serve our customers and grow our position in the market.

So, in my role, innovation is about solving a customer problem and bringing about change and new ways of delivering a better product, service or experience. 

You’ve had a diverse career – from working in large corporates, to disruptive, agile scale ups and consulting environments. A buyer and a supplier of innovation services. What do you see as the key differences?

When you’re in-house you are much more aware of the constraints you have to bring a new idea to market. These things are very real for you, you’re in charge of it. You have a great deal of internal insight, and data to pull from and, if the business has innovation built into their DNA, you are able to bring about change. 

Consultants typically have less exposure and are often separated from idea generation to execution. Understanding how a business works and whether a new idea is possible – through understanding the business structure, downstream capabilities and constraints – is harder to see from the outside. But what consultants bring to the table is wider thinking, outside in perspective plus examples of what others have tried and tested. This can be invaluable.

Whilst we typically keep most of our innovation at Intuit in-house, I have had some experiences of working with outside consultants. At Intuit, when we were entering the open banking space, we needed a wider view of the landscape so we partnered with 11:FS for that.

You have your mind opened to new possibilities and ideas from adjacent industries. A great consultant is the one that understands the challenges and limitations a client is facing.

You have your mind opened to new possibilities and ideas from adjacent industries. A great consultant is the one that understands the challenges and limitations a client is facing. I feel lucky to have experienced both sides of the coin; it has developed my thinking and ability to switch hats from buyer to supplier.

And finally, what do you see as the key trends right now? What is happening in fintech and what are your predictions?

For me, there are two standout things. One, there’s the creation of marketplaces. Businesses looking to offer peripheral services beyond the core service. And that’s interesting because that to me signals that there might be a ‘winner takes all’ kind of thing whereby one ecosystem develops the solution to multiple customer challenges. Building on what Amazon and Facebook have done. 

Number two, I'm also seeing a lot of encroachment on other services by new players. So, for instance, challenger banks are now looking at things like doing taxes for their customers. I’m seeing more and more people realising the business opportunity in these peripheral services, which seems to be where innovation and investment is going. 

We helped Idean make 30 talented hires in a short space of time in candidate-short markets. We still continue to support Idean globally, particularly in the UK and US.
Jasmine Cooke, Senior Consultant Makers

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