David caught up at the Scaling New Heights conference in Salt Lake City with Rich Preece, Senior VP and US Country GM for Intuit QuickBooks. Rich talks about the genesis of QuickBooks Live (which at the time of this interview was only two weeks old), how ProAdvisors will be impacted by the new program, the importance of TurboTax Live in the decision to launch QB Live, who will "own" the client, plans for growth, how customer demand is driving industry transformation, the initial negative reaction in the accounting community, benefits for accountants joining the program, and how Intuit plans to communicate about the program moving forward, and more.
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David Leary: Welcome to The [00:01:00] Cloud Accounting Podcast. I'm your host, David Leary.
Rich Preece: Hi, I'm Rich Preece, from Intuit.
David Leary: Rich, you're finally hear on a podcast. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You might be the first Intuit person, besides me, when I used to work at Intuit, that's been on the podcast.
Rich Preece: Well, I am thrilled to be here. Hope to get invited back, so you'll be the judge of that, David.
David Leary: Got it. For those of you who don't know who you are already, any of our listeners - maybe we just gained new ones this week, or maybe gain some next week - who are you?
Rich Preece: Yeah, so a 17-year veteran at Intuit. There's a number of things I've done, but currently [00:01:30] I lead the US business for QuickBooks. Prior to that, I've led our international business. I've led our accountant segment. I've definitely had a number of roles here at Intuit.
David Leary: I think the big reason you're here is QuickBooks Live, and I think it's arguably one of the biggest things to hit our industry in 10 years, possibly. It's really recent. You just started testing this publicly in February. Can you roll back what the last four months have been like, because it's been fast?
Rich Preece: Yeah, it has been fast. We agree with you. We think this is going to be significant, and we think this both helps [00:02:00] small businesses and the accounting profession, as well. Just to answer your question specifically, about six months ago, we started to do some testing on our website, and there was a couple of things we were trying to test. First of all, just the general appetite for essentially a sort of bookkeeping service, where we're connecting QuickBooks customers to accounting professionals/bookkeepers, who will help them with simple set-up of QuickBooks and then simple ongoing bookkeeping. The way that we tested that was [00:02:30] we tested a number of different price points on the website. We tested $200, $400, $600. What we were looking to do is to see what the appetite and interest was for the concept, generally speaking, and then the price points. That was the first thing.
Now, once we had learned those lessons, we very quickly actually brought in nine ProAdvisors. We put them in our office in Boise, in Idaho, where we have our TSheets business, and then, we actually let 200 [00:03:00] folks sign up - these were QuickBooks customers - sign up for QuickBooks Live, commit to paying that price point. Then, what we needed to learn was obviously what kind of questions do they have? Obviously, basic bookkeeping means one thing to one person and another to a different person. Through those nine ProAdvisors, we learned the questions. We learned how much time does it take to answer the questions. We were really just trying to fine-tune the service before we put it out there for all of our QuickBooks customers, which we did just a couple of weeks ago.
David Leary: It's [00:03:30] funny when you say, "We did a quick test ..." or, "Quickly did this ..." I was at Intuit for a long time-
Rich Preece: You were!
David Leary: -and 'quick' would be like three years.
Rich Preece: Yeah, yeah.
David Leary: It's amazing, within weeks of doing the test, you're like, "We ramped up with nine people." It's just- it's amazing the pace and the quickness that is being rolled out.
Rich Preece: Yeah, well, obviously, this is something where we think it's transformational, as well. We think it actually can hugely help small businesses. The premise that we had was ... Inside of our ecosystem, a stat that we share a lot is 58 percent [00:04:00] of all of our QuickBooks customers are connected to an accounting professional. That, of course, means that 42 percent are not. The premise of this is how can we get those 42 percent the help that they need? Because many small businesses need help. We went on that journey, and we realized we have to move quickly for a couple of reasons. One is the technology is already there. Two is that, as we know, half of all small businesses go out of business every five years.
This is important for us to do more to connect [00:04:30] accounting professionals with small businesses, because we know, actually, that both are more successful when we can do that. We just realized we don't have years. We have to do this thing in months. For full disclosure, David, we're still learning as we go here. We've gone live, as I mentioned, just about two weeks ago, and we're very confident in what we have. We started with a single price point, which is $400. We obviously are still learning. We will likely break out additional products, as well, and we're doing that with the accounting community. We're sort of learning as we go, so we'll continue to test [00:05:00] and deploy.
David Leary: It's interesting, you talk about that 40 percent that still don't have a bookkeeper [cross talk] connected. Enrico from Botkeeper, today ... We're at Scaling New Heights Conference. I forgot to mention that for those of you that are listening. Enrico had everybody do an informal survey of how many people had to turn away a client in the last six months. I would say 65 percent of the room raised their hand, if not 80 percent of the room - turned clients away, and those people have no place to go. They're being sent away.
Rich Preece: It's funny, I was in the room; I saw the same thing, and I saw, to your point, it [00:05:30] was well over half of the room. Then he asked, "How many of you have turned away clients in the last week?" And it seemed as if 20-25 percent of the room held their hand up then, as well. I think this is the point. This is why we actually think a service like this is so important.
The fundamental point is that small business growth continues to be explosive. That speaker that you referenced showed some stats about just the escalation of small business growth. As we know, the number of accounting firms is relatively flat, so [00:06:00] there isn't really a competition problem here. Accountants can't service all those small businesses who are looking for help. Again, that's why we actually think having a platform, which is an on-demand platform ...
Just to be clear, for those folks that don't know what QuickBooks Live is, the very simple concept is that we have, obviously, a very substantial number of small businesses that come to us on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to sign up for QuickBooks Online. In each of those cases, many of those folks need a question answered, need [00:06:30] a little bit of help, but they're reluctant to go to our Find a ProAdvisor platform, because they actually say they are not ready for a help from a fully-fledged accounting professional/bookkeeper.
Now, interestingly, the help that they need is help getting started with QuickBooks. It's bank reconciliation. They start to describe basic bookkeeping, while at the same time saying they're not ready for an accountant. It's through that lens in our research that they actually said to us, "We want you, QuickBooks, to help us."
Then, very simply, that was where the concept was born of well, [00:07:00] why don't we build a platform where for those certified ProAdvisors and other accounting professionals, who actually are looking to connect with these small businesses who need help, they can, in on-demand fashion, participate on a platform. They can help with that simple set-up; they can help with that simple ongoing bookkeeping.
Then, we're doing more, obviously, to connect those small businesses with those accounting professionals. Then, just the last thing I'll say, because this is a question we get a lot, is it's important, through that lens, that you can understand why the [00:07:30] folks who participate will be presented as, "Hey, I'm Rich. I'm from QuickBooks. How can I help you today?" versus, "I'm Rich. I have my own CPA practice." because that small business, when they first signed up, actually said they're not ready for an accounting professional, which is why they're looking for QuickBooks to help, but we're going to connect them with the ProAdvisors who can help them.
David Leary: Yeah, unless they don't know what they want yet.
Rich Preece: That's correct. Exactly. We believe it will obviously expand, the number of small businesses out there who really are looking for that help from [00:08:00] those accounting professionals, because they will very quickly learn the value of that expert assistance.
David Leary: If get to more details about QuickBooks Live, Blake, and I totally both believe that the amazing success TurboTax Live has had the last- it's three years old now?
Rich Preece: It's two years. Yeah, this was our second year.
David Leary: Two years old. Arguably, I think, from the conference calls, TurboTax Live is the most popular version of TurboTax in 30 years almost ... TurboTax is almost 25-30 years old, right? Can you speak to the success of that, and how it's driving some of the decision-making with QuickBooks Live? [00:08:30]
Rich Preece: Yeah, absolutely. Just again, for those folks who may not be quite as familiar, just very briefly ... A couple of years, two years ago, we introduced, again, what we call TurboTax Live. Very specifically, we have almost 40 million people that use TurboTax every year. Obviously, a lot of folks in the US use TurboTax to do their taxes, but a number of them get to a part of the experience in TurboTax where they have sort of a moment of self-doubt. They have a question that they can't [00:09:00] answer, and then, their only alternative is to go to an accounting professional, or perhaps a tax store, which isn't something they wanted to do. This is folks who traditionally have simple returns. They wanted to do it themselves in TurboTax.
Through that same learning, we said, "Well, boy, what if we had a platform where, at that moment in time, we could have built out a number of CPAs, and EAs on that platform, where they actually could be the help who are answering the questions?" Then [00:09:30] we would pay those CPAs, and EAs, and obviously, the folks who are using the service on TurboTax would pay us an incremental fee. In the first year, it was it was extremely successful. We haven't announced the numbers, but we have said it was extremely successful. In the second year, what we have said on our recent earnings call was that, actually, we had three times the number of customers in the second year use it. We've also shared that, just from a scale standpoint, it's one of the fastest growing businesses we've seen inside of Intuit.
That obviously gives an indication of, really, [00:10:00] the need that this has addressed. We are very bullish on this notion of, again, connecting our customers to expert help at the time that they need it, whether it's in TurboTax, or QuickBooks. We think that there is a future, where, in the past, our solutions have been do it- basically, you're doing it on your own. The alternative has been 'do it for me,' and this is a sort of hybrid 'do it with me' solution, which, again, has borne out over two years now in TurboTax, and we're just two weeks in, in QuickBooks [00:10:30] Live, but we think we'll see the same type of dynamics.
David Leary: I guess the paradigm is before, I could do my tax with TurboTax, or I wouldn't do them, and I would go to H&R Block, or I'd go to a tax shop to get those done.
Rich Preece: Yep.
David Leary: Now I can have a little confidence to do it myself, and then, I'm going to sit on my couch, and bring up TurboTax Live. I talk to Claudell, I get my help, and I'm done. I just get that peace of mind. I just don't have to get in my car. It's not really much different, I just don't have to drive. I get it instantaneously.
Rich Preece: Well, that's correct, and also, you're going to pay quite a lot less, as well. If you're going to a tax store and, on average, [00:11:00] perhaps paying $300, with TurboTax, you may be paying $60 for one of the paid offerings in TurboTax. It's about another $80 to add TurboTax Live ... Obviously, if you put that together, you're out the door for $140, but most importantly, you're filing your return with absolute confidence. You got the help that you needed from a qualified expert during that experience.
David Leary: [Many] times you just have one little thing you're not sure about; you just need a little question.
Rich Preece: Exactly, [00:11:30] exactly, and in TurboTax Live, that expert also reviews your return before it's filed, as well. That's the other benefit. The other thing I'd say, David, and I've sort of mentioned this - but only because it's the number-one question I get all the time - is again, I cannot over-iterate, these are existing either tax professionals, if it's TurboTax Live, or QuickBooks ProAdvisors, if it's QuickBooks Live, who are actually the folks on the other end helping the customers. This is not somebody new; this is simply us trying to connect the accounting industry's [00:12:00] professionals that we've always partnered with, with more small businesses, and in TurboTax's case, with more tax customers.
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David Leary: A few weeks back, I think I heard you on an interview, [00:13:00] and you're talking about how Intuit's going to own the relationship with the customer.
Rich Preece: Yes.
David Leary: Is that driven because that's what the customers want? Is that just a decision ...? Because that's a little different than the Find a ProAdvisor site, where you're playing matchmaker and then getting out of the relationship.
Rich Preece: Yeah, that's correct, and again, I'm glad you brought this up, because this is another sort of hot topic in a lot of questions we get. You actually mentioned it- you're absolutely right. It is specifically because, again, as we learned what these customers are looking for, they [00:13:30] were very, very clear with us, time and again, that they are not ready for an accounting professional. They went as far, many times, to say, "I wouldn't even know what questions to ask an accounting professional." These are often small businesses that are in their infancy, and they believe that one day they might need an accounting professional, but not today. When we said to them, "Well, then, who do you want help from?" They said, "I want help from you guys. I want help from QuickBooks. I came to you as a brand, so that's the help I'm looking for."
That is why we've been so clear with accountants, and we've tried to be [00:14:00] really concise when saying, for those folks who wish to participate as a bookkeeping or accounting professional on QuickBooks Live, it's important that, coming in, they realize this is an opportunity to gain revenue, because they will be positioning themselves as a QuickBooks bookkeeper. If they're looking to gain clients, as you mentioned, we have the Find a ProAdvisor platform, which is ... Last year alone, over a million small businesses went to that platform looking for an accounting professional, so that is a wonderful way to gain clients. QuickBooks [00:14:30] Live is a wonderful way to generate incremental revenue. But we don't want to confuse the two.
David Leary: Do you envision one day where there's a transition, where somebody maybe outgrows QuickBooks Live and needs to transition over?
Rich Preece: Yeah, I think that's entirely possible. Actually, just as a quick proof point of that, in the two weeks we have been live with QuickBooks Live, when somebody comes to us and what they're really looking for is something more than basic bookkeeping, we actually very deliberately say, "This service isn't built [00:15:00] for you," [cross talk] and we send them to the Find a ProAdvisor platform, so we're already doing that on a daily basis. To your point, in the future, I suspect people will start with basic bookkeeping and outgrow the service, and that's absolutely fine, too. In the interim, we are specifically putting more people into the Find a ProAdvisor platform because of this.
David Leary: I think in the May blog post ... Ramping up with staff, because right now, you said first, it was nine people in Boise.
Rich Preece: Correct.
David Leary: Now you plan on using existing TurboTax Live people to staff QuickBooks Live. I [00:15:30] think the blog post that ... You're going to scale up to 500 bookkeepers in the next nine months or so?
Rich Preece: Well, that's obviously very much of an estimate at this point. What I can tell you ... Because, clearly, when you first launch something, you don't quite know what the demand is on one side and the supply on the other. The interesting thing about a two-sided network is you have to get both right at the same time. What we have said is - it's slightly different than your positioning on this - but what we said is that we started out with about 2,000 ... Well, I [00:16:00] say we started out ... In the second year, about 2,000 TurboTax folks working on TurboTax Live. These are CPAs. These are EAs. We actually asked those folks, "Which of you are multi-service? Which provide bookkeeping, as well, and who would be interested in participating in QuickBooks Live?" Now, of the group who A) qualified and B) were interested, there was about 500-
David Leary: Okay, so you have a pool of 500-
Rich Preece: That's correct.
David Leary: -that are waiting and ready to [00:16:30] match the demand as it comes in [cross talk].
Rich Preece: That is correct. Obviously, as we go through that pool ... Of course, some of them, I'm sure, will drop out, because the vast majority also have their own practice, so they're doing this kind of incremental to their own practice. As we work our way through those folks ... Just to be clear, of course, they've gone through the background training; they've gone through the certification ... By the way, these have to be certified ProAdvisors-
David Leary: And they get the kit [cross talk]
Rich Preece: We send them a laptop. Yeah, absolutely ... We send them a laptop. We send them a headset. We send them a screen that sits behind them, because this is video [00:17:00] conferencing. Obviously, it makes sense to start with that group. The point we were making in the blog is there's up to 500 in that group, and we were just trying to sort of answer the question we were getting from many ProAdvisors, which is, "Why haven't you contacted me yet?" We were just trying to say, "Hey, sit steady. We promise we will," and we will do so just after we've gone through this first group, which are the TurboTax Live pros.
David Leary: Got it, so they're just queued up and waiting for those clients. I think the way we read it in the blog post, and maybe it just didn't come out right in text, was like you guys have planned at 500, which [00:17:30] means you're planning on having 10,000 QBO Live customers, which all the sudden puts you at the [16th] biggest accounting firm/bookkeeping firm.
Rich Preece: Yeah, yeah.
David Leary: It's like the numbers add up really, really fast. Do you think, in general ... There was recent news, H&R Block just acquired Wave.
Rich Preece: Yep.
David Leary: That just happened last week. There's lots of accounting firms with engineers that were getting VC startup money. Is Intuit driving this train, or boat - whatever you want to call it - or is Intuit just riding a wave that's going to happen naturally?
Rich Preece: Yeah-
David Leary: This is coming no matter what.
Rich Preece: Yep, yep, you [00:18:00] know, what I would say ... It's actually customer demand and optionality that's driving the train. I genuinely believe that. The success of TurboTax Live obviously speaks to this is something that people want. I think, increasingly, people are willing to interface with an expert in a sort of virtual way. By virtual, I include video conferencing in that. I just mean they're not getting in their car; they're not necessarily driving. I also think, on the other side of the platform, accounting professionals are doing the same thing that the medical professionals have done for the last three or four years, which [00:18:30] is they are willing to offer their services in a different way, which is convenient to their customers or their clients.
Personally, I actually think this is sort of demand-led and then, obviously, technology and AI sits underneath and makes it far easier than it has before. I think Intuit is obviously participating in this opportunity. To your point, I think many other competitors are. I, like you, found the Block, and the Wave acquisition interesting. They didn't say anything on the call. I listened [00:19:00] to the call directly connecting the two, but obviously, it will be interesting, over time, to see if those two things are connected to a sort of virtual-expert platform-
David Leary: It sounds like customers want one-stop shop ... They want both books, and tax, books, and tax. People kind of want that. The customers want that. I know accountants and bookkeepers will say, "I'm only gonna do bookkeeping," or, "I'm only gonna do tax." I think customers kind of want that, and TurboTax Live is the proof of that. QuickBooks Live ... Even the market reaction from H&R Block, and Wave [cross talk] that could be the same thing. Customers want that combined service.
Rich Preece: I think they want the combined service, and I think they want [00:19:30] convenience, and I think those two things together are really driving the industry. Then, the technology, as we mentioned, it sits underneath this. I really think now is the time when there will be a significant shift, to your earlier point. This is arguably transformational in the industry.
David Leary: I know you said some people initially reacted negatively. They weren't sure what QuickBooks Live is. There's been a lot of ... I guess the QBO certification tests are harder now. There's been price increases. People's [00:20:00] reactions, for the time I've seen in a long time, have been a little bit on the negative side to QuickBooks and things like that. How do you feel that's affecting things? Is it something you guys are listening to, the team's reacting to some of that negative ... There's negativity out there a little bit.
Rich Preece: First of all, I think that's fair, David. What you've been hearing, and I've been hearing some of the same things ... It basically falls into the bucket of people understand the concept of Live, and they're excited to participate. We actually have a significant list of people who [00:20:30] have already sent us their information, and said, "Hey, I'm not gonna wait for you; here's my information. Please add me to the list."
To your point, though, it's very different, and it comes on the back of some other changes - again, a recent price increase of the product, et cetera. So, I think there's real anxiety out there, as well, where there are bookkeepers who say, "Boy, is this gonna disrupt me? Is this gonna take my clients away?" We genuinely think it will not, and we genuinely think it will actually expand the opportunity for them to service more clients. I think the approach we're taking is we're trying to be patient, and we're [00:21:00] trying to communicate and then communicate again and then communicate again, because we recognize people have an emotional reaction to this. It's their business.
When you're a bookkeeper, you fear something changing your business. You fear losing clients. So, we're just trying to patiently explain, "We actually don't think that will happen. It's not why we're doing this. Again, these are the small businesses who weren't looking for an accounting professional or bookkeeper, and we're trying to connect them to you." Once people understand that concept, we [00:21:30] actually find that that sort of anxiety and negativity typically changes to a far more positive response.
David Leary: That makes sense. It's usually ... I look at a lot of the Facebook groups that are out there. You see these posts ... There's a whole group of bookkeepers and accountants that- they're just posting things like, "How do I get clients?" But they don't want to do any of the work. They don't want to market their firm ... I looked at QuickBooks Live. It was like, here's a place these people that just want to pop in and do some bookkeeping work and not actually run a bookkeeping firm, QuickBooks Live is the perfect fit for these people. There's a lot of people out there like that, I think; bookkeepers-
Rich Preece: Yeah, that's exactly [00:22:00] what it is. Essentially, you've got no marketing cost; you've got no travel time going back and forth to a client's; obviously, you've got no of the sort of difficulties of chasing down billing. This is literally [cross talk]
David Leary: -handle the billing.
Rich Preece: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. We charge the customer to that current point of $400, and then we pay the accounting professional by the hour on the platform. Just to be specific, we're deliberately not paying them for the number of clients that they help. We're not looking for them to sort of rush through helping clients, which would then, of [00:22:30] course, be a poor experience for the QuickBooks Online customer, which is why we pay for the- we're paying the bookkeeper or the accounting professional by the hour.
To your point, it is literally an on-demand service. The vast majority of those accounting professionals and bookkeepers who are participating today, particularly on the TurboTax side, as we mentioned, have their own firm, and they're doing this incrementally to that firm, where they have extra capacity ... I should also add that 95 percent of the accountants participating on [00:23:00] TurboTax Live in the first year signed up for the second year. Obviously, that's an indication that it's working for them. It truly is that truly flexible on-demand opportunity to make more money without any of the marketing, or billing, or other components of the traditional client relationship.
David Leary: Essentially, other than your time, you have no expense.
Rich Preece: Correct. Yeah, there's really ... I mean there's none that I can think [cross talk] at all.
David Leary: -an internet connection maybe, and that's it.
Rich Preece: That is literally ... As we mentioned earlier, we literally ship you a laptop. We ship you a headset. We ship you the [00:23:30] screen that sits behind you, because, again, you are on video. The client can see you. You can't see the client, because one of the interesting things we learned when we were testing this is oftentimes [cross talk] Yeah, oftentimes that client is sat at home- now, whether they feel as if their home is messy, whether they've sat there in their pajamas, they want to see the person they're working with, because it actually makes them feel as if it's a real human being; it's somebody that they visualize, but they don't want that person seeing them for the [00:24:00] reasons I mentioned.
David Leary: Is that just off by default, or can a small business owner opt in to have their own video on?
Rich Preece: It's actually a great question. It's off by default, but something we can obviously consider in the future. That's an interesting idea. Should we learn that there are some people that do want that [two-way] video-
David Leary: Yeah, there are human dynamics in this; face-to-face.
Rich Preece: Yeah, exactly, but so far in our learning journey, the vast majority have said, "I want to see them, but I don't want them to see me," so that's why we built it that way.
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David Leary: I must say, the communications on QuickBooks Live has gotten so much better since February. Blake and I joke about this. We don't have to do any research; you guys just put out a nice blog post every month now [cross talk]
Rich Preece: Well, thank you-
David Leary: -just get to read it that way. How do you find the blog post? Where's it at? How [00:25:30] do people get to that - other than the show notes for the podcast - is it just QuickBooks ...?
Rich Preece: It's FirmoftheFuture.com. For anybody looking at either A) to ... First of all, thank you for the compliment. We appreciate it. It's our communications team, it isn't me, so I give all credit there. Yep, FirmoftheFuture.com. We have a blog there, where we're regularly updating the latest information on QuickBooks Live. Also, there's a link there, where you can sign up.
Again, for anyone listening to this that says, "Hey, I'd be interested in participating and being one of those [00:26:00] bookkeepers or accountants," you do have to be a certified ProAdvisor. Again, we are trying here to work with the folks that have always worked so closely with us and help us. You can go to FirmoftheFuture.com. You click on the link to sign up. It's super-simple. Then once we have your information, we will reach out to you in the coming months, as we're looking to bring on that next wave of accountants and bookkeepers onto the platform.
David Leary: Then, before I let you go, is there any nugget or something about QuickBooks Live that we don't know that you could just drop as a bonus just for The Cloud Accounting Podcast listeners?
Rich Preece: You know, it's funny, I [00:26:30] would love to ... It's actually ironic, to your previous point, when we first put this out there, we probably under-communicated, and that was partly what drove some of the anxiety. What we've been doing in the last two or three months is trying to over-communicate. So, I'm actually proud to say there is no nugget-
David Leary: There's nothing left.
Rich Preece: There's no nugget, because we're trying to get in front of all comms-
David Leary: That'll work.
Rich Preece: -but if there ever is, I'll be happy to come back on the show and then talk to you about it, David.
David Leary: Perfect. So, if people want to get ahold of you, RI=ich, what's the best way?
Rich Preece: Well, if they want to get hold of me, they can actually email me anytime at: rich_preece@Intuit.com. Again, the [00:27:00] team and I would love to hear feedback. We would love to hear comments. We're building this ... We're learning as we go, so, yeah, I would love any feedback.
David Leary: Great. Perfect. Thanks for coming on The Cloud Accounting Podcast, Rich. I'm David Leary. You can follow me on Twitter: @DavidLeary, and that's a wrap.
Rich Preece: Awesome. Thank you, David.
David Leary: Thanks, Rich. Bye-bye everybody.