Thousands of small business owners descended on San Jose last month to attend the fifth annual QuickBooks Connect conference. While they showed up to learn about the latest additions and enhancements to the QuickBooks ecosystem, they also left with profound inspiration from many of the mainstage speakers who shared their entrepreneurial stories.

Speaker after speaker shared their tales of setbacks, failures and the tragedies they faced, plus how they managed to overcome them. 

“It’s not about when you’re going to fall down,” said incoming Intuit CEO Saran Goodarzi. “It’s about how you get up. Everybody shows up here with incredible dreams. Everyone has epic grit. And everybody does what it takes to persevere.”

Alex Rodriguez also addressed the QuickBooks Connect crowd with advice on how his failures shaped his successes. “I have a Ph.D. in failing,” Rodriguez told the crowd. “But I have a master’s in getting up. Look, I’m fifth all-time in the history of (baseball) in strikeouts. Only four people in the history of the world have struck out more than me.”

Having reached rock bottom stemming from his off-the-field issues, Rodriguez resurrected his baseball career, having one of his finest seasons at the age of 40. He has also built a highly successful investment business, A-Rod Corp, where he has more than 500 employees.

“It’s all about how we learn from our mistakes, pivot, and lean into them,” he said. “It’s about getting up and not being defined by our mistakes.”

Rodriguez was followed onstage by Amy Purdy, who brought the crowd to tears as she told the story of the disease that cost her the loss of both legs, body organs and hearing in her left ear. Laying in a coma for five days, Purdy was given only a 2 percent chance of survival.

Against these odds, Purdy not only recovered, but “worked harder than anyone else” to become a world-class snowboarder, earning two bronze medals and a silver over two Paralympic games. She medaled despite being the only competitor missing both legs below the knees.

She turned her life experiences into practical and inspiring advice for the QuickBooks Connect audience.

“In business and in life you must be flexible to change, because you never know what every day has in store for you,” she said. “The obstacles in our life can only do two things; 1) stop us in our tracks or, 2) force us to get creative.”

Her “creativity” includes an inspiring appearance on Dancing with the Stars (a stunning second-place performance) and a New York Times best-selling book.

“My biggest weakness, my legs, eventually became my biggest strength, because I focused on what I had,” she said. “If you focus on what you have, what you uniquely have, and you create a strong team around you and you pick yourself up and keep on going every single time you fall, then the possibilities of what you can achieve are endless.”

These stories of facing challenges, battling through them and ultimately succeeding were both moving and inspiring. Inspiration came to the attendees from every direction at QuickBooks Connect. Beyond the remarkable keynote speakers, attendees found inspiration from the many panels, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and meetups offered.

One of the attendees, Lili Tarchand, founder and CEO of LTD Global, was excited to put to use lessons learned from the event. She has attended QuickBooks Connect all five years and always walks away learning something new and insightful. She credits the event with having helped to land LTD Global on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing companies in America.

Tarchand brought her leadership team with her, so they could share the inspiration she’s enjoyed each and every year.

“The technical (QuickBooks-related) sessions are great, but we also come back with ideas on running our business,” she said. “I’m realizing we face the same problems and challenges as leaders. We’re all just struggling to continue growing. I definitely come home inspired (by the speakers) and with a list of ‘gotta do this and gotta do that.’ Exposing my team to the same lessons and speakers means we all return home inspired and ready for anything.”

And the Winners are:

Beyond the speakers and panelists, attendees were inspired by the amazing work being done by their contemporaries, developers and fellow attendees. Several of them were honored for their efforts as part of the programming:

Small Business App Showdown

G1VE was the winner of the 2018 $100,000 Small Business App Showdown, which rewards the best new apps published on the QuickBooks App Store. G1VE enables QuickBooks businesses to allocate a percentage of their monthly revenue-usually 1 percent-to their favorite nonprofits by integrating with QuickBooks Online to calculate each business’s donation amount based on its revenue. Regis Malloy, G1VE’s CEO and founder, believes there’s a strong trend for small businesses to be doing good and giving back to their communities.

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“We see a different dynamic growing: more businesses today want to make meaning as well as make money, and the rise of social enterprises reflects that,” he said. “And G1VE itself fits that description, so we created a company helping others do the same: customers support businesses who support nonprofits that support communities (comprised of customers). It’s a win-win-win.”

Small Business Hackathon

Earlier in November at Intuit’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, the Small Business Hackathon welcomed more than 200 entrepreneurs who competed for a $5,000 prize for building an app that helps solve problems for small businesses. This year’s Hackathon winner was, which won the top prize for developing an app that automates financial feeds directly into QuickBooks Online from home sharing platforms such as AirBnB, and HomeAway.

“With feedback from the judges the app has potential in the marketplace to solve real problems. It gives me confidence and encouragement to build upon the prototype/demo and validates the idea,” said engineer Ashley Schroder. “(I’ll use the prize) to invest it into the app and hire a developer to help build out the demo into a MVP that can be beta tested.”

Firm of the Future

The winner of Intuit’s Global Firm of the Future was Canada-based Cloud Bookkeeping Services. It will receive $30,000 in cash prizes as the firm that best embraces the future to help their small-business clients succeed and prosper.

What does “firm of the future” mean to Tanya Hilts CPB, Cloud Bookkeeping Services’ founder?

“I think it means that you have to be open, flexible, vigilant and an early adopter.” She said. “The future is coming very quickly and you have to be able to keep up.”

A significant percentage of the cash winnings are earmarked for rewarding her employees.

“I promised my team that we would take a cruise,” Hilts said. “I will issue bonuses and that will cover their cruise. They can bring their family but they’ll need to cover the difference. We all worked so hard and I couldn’t do it without them.”

And the rest of the money? 

“The rest will be reinvested back into the business - to allow it to grow and us to continue learning.”