Scott Cook – Crescenta Valley’s Own Bill Gates
If you use Quicken for your home finances or TurboTax for your income taxes, you use one of Scott Cook’s products. Scott Cook founded Intuit, which produced Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax. Scott Cook is one of the richest men in America, with a net worth of almost $2 billion. And Scott Cook is a 1970 graduate of CV High School.
In 1969, Scott was a junior at CV High and, like most of his peers, was clueless about his future. He was good with math, and was intrigued with computers. Browsing the shelves of the Glendale Public Library, he came across a book about computing, specifically the IBM 1620. It described the basics of the 1620, and how to program it. Developed in the ’50s, the 1620 was about the size of a desk, with no keyboard or monitor. The programming input was via cards with holes punched in them, which were fed into a card reader, which in turn gave commands to the computer.
Despite what we today would think of as a rather daunting way to interact with a computer, something clicked with Scott and he decided to explore programming. Fortuitously, the Glendale Unified School District owned an IBM 1620 with a card reader and, even luckier for Scott, his girlfriend’s mom was a keypunch operator. Using his library book as a guide, he wrote out some basic programming with pencil and paper, handed them off to his girlfriend’s mom, and she in turn gave him back a stack of IBM punch cards. Borrowing time on the district’s computer, he’d feed the cards into the reader, and get an error message. Back he’d go to his original pencil and paper, where he’d try to find his mistake, and repeat the process again. This went on and on until he finally created his first successful program, a simple card game.
Scott graduated in 1970 and left computers behind, concentrating instead on economics at USC, and then business at Harvard. He started his career at Proctor and Gamble, where he began to learn real-world lessons about marketing to consumers, and listening to their wants and needs. And for Scott Cook listening was the key to his success.
Fast-forward to the early ’80s. Scott’s wife was complaining about paying bills and their seemingly unmanageable finances – and Scott was listening. Harking back to his CV High School experiences with computing, and realizing that computers were now showing up in many homes, he realized that the answer to his wife’s complaints lay in the development of accounting software for the average consumer. He left Proctor and Gamble and in 1983 went to Stanford University to find a programmer to help him build a home bill paying and bank reconciliation program.
Computer science student Tom Proulx fit the bill. Together they founded Intuit, and produced their first version of Quicken. By using Scott’s experience in listening to customers, they revolutionized the world of usability testing. They handed program discs and instruction books to non-computer users and watched them install and operate Quicken. Based on any difficulties they observed, they then adjusted their software to make it easier to use. With this philosophy they soon captured almost the entire market share of accounting software, and even drove the sales of more home computers.
Scott stepped down as head of Intuit in 1998, but still sits on its board of directors, as well as the boards of such giants as eBay. Today he’s considered a guru of entrepreneurship, and is in demand worldwide as a speaker. He’s still married to the same woman who inspired Quicken, and they and their three kids live in Woodside near Silicone Valley.
There’s no way of knowing what influence the Crescenta Valley had on Scott Cook’s amazing career, but the billionaire does think highly enough of our valley to have attended his CVHS class’s 40th reunion in 2010. This quiet genius who built a fortune from his ability to listen is a product of our quiet valley.
Who knows what genius is currently growing up here in the Crescenta Valley?