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IGG Software, iBank and its climb from one-man shop to Intuit competitor

You probably haven't heard of IGG Software, but you will. It's the company behind the popular Mac and iOS financial software iBank and it's about to send a knock out blow to finance giant Intuit. So how did iBank climb from a single-man operation to its position as one of the top financial apps for the Mac? Let's dig into some company history to find out.

IGG Software started eight-years ago as a single-man operation in Southern California. Ian Gillespie was a graduate student working in plant biology when he wrote his first Mac application to keep track of his field work. When he couldn't find suitable software to help him manage his budget, Gillespie decided to write his own solution.

That was in the mid-2000s when Quicken was a household name. Intuit, though, was about to make several costly mistakes which would cause it to fall from grace among Mac users. Quicken 2007 was the gold standard when it was introduced, but Intuit was slow to update the app. The software title never moved beyond its PowerPC code and Intuit instead focused on Quicken Essentials for Mac, a lackluster title that didn't have all the features of Quicken 2007.

The nail in the coffin of Quicken was the announcement of Mac OS X Lion. Lion didn't support older PowerPC apps like Quicken 2007, and, suddenly, Intuit's flagship software was obsolete. The company initially shrugged this off, but changed its mind late last year when it said it would would make Quicken 2007 compatible with Lion.

On the mobile side, Intuit failed to develop an iOS app for either Quicken 2007 or Quicken Essentials. It's not that Intuit doesn't care about the iOS App Store; it has a variety of apps for other products like TurboTax and Quickbooks. For some reason, official Quicken companion apps are noticeably absent.

While Intuit was stumbling, IGG Software was plugging away at iBank. iBank continued to grow in popularity as an alternative to Quicken. The software was in the Mac App Store from the start and climbed to the top of the App Store's Finance category. IGG also released an iPhone app that can be used as a stand-alone money manager or synced with the desktop app.

The company is now working on an iPad version, likely called iBank Access, that'll hit the App Store soon. Unbeknownst to many, IGG quietly grabbed two ex-Intuit engineers who are now working on that project. The company also recently announced Direct Access, a paid service that'll automatically download new transactions when you launch the iBank Access app.

We spent some time talking to IGG's chief architect James Gillespie, who joined his brother Ian's company in 2008. Gillespie now oversees iBank and other software projects within the company. Here is what he had to say about iBank Access, the Mac App Store and more.

TUAW: What was the turning point when you realized you could seriously compete with Intuit's Quicken 2007?

Gillespie: Ever since I joined IGG in 2008 it has been about writing the best Mac apps. We are competing with Quicken since we are all in the personal financial space but that has not been a driving force. We just want to do the best features for our customers and that focus has led to our current position in the market, which I think is great.

TUAW: Any sales figures or download numbers you care to share with us?

Gillespie: We are very happy with our downloads and sales numbers. They have been increasing every year since our first product shipped. But we don't share actual numbers.

TUAW: What about the Mac App Store, has it been a boon for your business?

Gillespie: As soon as it was announced we said we had to be there. That was just what we thought a Mac app should do. At the time we were selling boxed copies in the Apple Stores, at Amazon, in Office Depot and other retailers as well as our online store. We want to be where people are thinking about getting Mac software so this was just a natural extension.

We had no idea what to expect from the Mac App Store when it first went live. Would it add to sales, or just cannibalize sales from other channels? We had a lot of ideas about what might happen but no idea what would happen. So far it has been a great ride, it has turned into our second largest channel, just ahead of our boxed channel, and behind our own online store. In fact we saw sales through our own site grow rapidly throughout year, so the Mac App Store didn't seem to take business away at all. We have also been fairly happy with the speed of Apple's approval process when we are getting updates out to our customers.

TUAW: You have a Mac OS X app, an iPhone app, and soon an iPad app. What's next for iBank? What's next for IGG? Do you plan to expand beyond iBank, iBiz and iPaste with any other finance or non-finance titles?

Gillespie: We don't like to announce anything until we are completely confident of the timing and functionality. Right now we have way more ideas than people to execute them. In general I can say that we plan on building out iBank and iBiz on Mac and iOS so that each has the correct feature set for the device it is on. We also have a lot of new features that we would like to add to each product. There is one in particular that we are really excited to be working on, but we are not ready to announce anything. Right now we don't have any brand new titles on our road map, but we do have some exciting ideas for where to take our existing product lines.

TUAW: Could you comment on your development team and how you assembled it? I hear you have fresh, new talent that has come over from Intuit. Why would they leave a position with a large, stable company to join a start-up?

Gillespie: We have been building up an incredibly strong development team. We believe in hiring the right people for the right job, not just filling a seat with someone. So everyone here at IGG is great at what they do. Over the last year we have hired new two developers who used to work for Intuit. These guys were two core members of a small team that developed TurboTax for the iPad and lead Mac development for the personal tax group for 14 years.

I am not sure I would call IGG a start-up - we have been around for eight years, though certainly it is a much smaller company than Intuit. I think that the reason they decided to join IGG is that they are really passionate about making the best Mac and iOS apps. They are enthusiastic about working in a company whose focus is squarely on Mac and iOS products. Part of that is making really complex tasks, like personal finance, easy to understand. We are very excited they chose to join our team.

TUAW: iBank Access is similar to Mint. How do you plan to differentiate your service? Why would someone choose iBank over Mint?

Gillespie: They are similar but in some ways very different. The comparison is being made because both update account data automatically from thousands of financial institutions. But Mint is first and foremost a website, so all of their customers' financial data lives in the cloud. They do have a native app for iOS that provides a nice front end to their site, but my understanding is that Mint generates revenue by recommending financial products to its customers. So really Mint offers some free tools in exchange for all of its customers financial information and the opportunity to market to them.

We just don't feel right about that business model. We feel that our customers financial information is between them and their bank. With iBank Access, we don't store it, we don't see it, we don't want any part of it. All we want to do is make a high-quality product that provides value to people and have people pay a bit for that value. Because of that we have made iBank Access a very full-featured app. You will be able to track your entire investment history - not just your current holdings. It will have advanced budgeting tools that are incredibly easy to set up and tell at a glance how you are doing and how you have done in the past. You can split transactions and still have them match with what your bank has reported to the app. We have interactive charts and graphs so that all of your data is just a tap away and yet still easy to understand.

So in most ways iBank Access is more like our desktop product, iBank for Mac, than it is like Mint. With that in mind, we had to figure out how to split the difference between serving users who want to use it strictly as an iPad app, and existing iBank for Mac customers who want an add-on. For the latter's sake, we'll be keeping the app price low and enabling sync between iBank Access and the desktop version. If they don't need the Direct Access updating on the iPad, it won't matter and won't cost them any extra.

TUAW: Where do you see iBank in 2-years from now? 5-years from now?

Gillespie: This is a tough question to answer. I know the features I would like to see iBank and iBiz have in five years. But I can't really talk about them yet. I think in some ways we want to be what we are today, delivering the best product we can for the Mac and iOS.

TUAW: Will iBank Mobile be ported to Android? or Windows Phone?

Gillespie: We don't have any plans to, we don't have many customers asking for it, and we have a lot on our plate already. Our focus is still 100% on the Mac and iOS.

TUAW: There's lots of pressure for companies to seek out investors. Are you VC-funded or self-funded?

Gillespie: We are self funded and we have turned down offers for investment. We are not in this to make a quick buck and then sell to some larger company or go public and then get out. We are in this for the long haul because this is what we like to do.

TUAW: What do you think of the future mobile commerce? What role will IGG or iBank play, if any?

Gillespie: I think that mobile commerce will be huge. I love using my Starbucks app to pay for coffee. I think mobile credit card processing with Square, Inc. is really interesting. I don't see iBank competing with the transaction processing side. We are more involved with traditional personal finance management: the decision to make a purchase, or how to plan your cash flow.

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