How I hacked Quicken and made off with over $600,000 - True confessions

in life •  3 years ago  (edited)

The year was 1990 and CompuServe was king of online communications.

At this time we had IBM Compatibles, MS-DOS 4.0, 9600 baud modems, dot matrix printers, 3.5" 1.44mb floppy drives and 20MB hard drives.


(Me, Mike Potter, CEO of Olympic Business Systems in 1989)

I started out as an Atari game designer in the 1980's and progressed to educational software and finally to business and industry specific programs. I had many hits back then and now with so many video stores I created The Video Store management program and was selling very well.

I just got back from installing an entire multi-user system in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 3,000 miles away from home.

In house we were using Intuit's Quicken for our book keeping and it was so frustrating doing payroll, having to calculate all the deductions and then enter them into Quicken.

As I sat in front of the computer frustrated doing payroll I thought to myself that I had to make this easier.

Time to hack Quicken

I've had it! It was time to do something drastic. I'm going to hack Quicken!

My first task was to hack the database. This required me to figure out how the information was stored in the data file.

Luckily they didn't use encryption but still I had to read the data. So I started by making a transaction and seeing what changed. Then I would make another transaction and see what else changed and so on until I cracked the code.

Ok, that wasn't too hard.

Hacking the Quicken program

Since MSDOS was a single-task operating system which means it could only run one program at a time this required the use of a technique known as a TSR or Terminate and Stay Resident program.

Fortunate for me I used TSR's in 2 of my most recent programs with great results. I was able to keep programs running in the background and bring them up with a key press while something else is running. Perfect just what I needed for this project.

On to the look and feel

I decided that this program should look and feel just like you were in Quicken and be able to bring it up with a simple button showing on the screen.

Putting it all together

With the database hacked and how people can access it right in Quicken it was time to write the payroll program itself.

How it worked is that people would start the payroll program, which then ran Quicken and a button for Payroll would appear on the paycheck screen.

When pressed it would bring up the Payroll screen like another window and allow you to make your calculations and with a press of another button automatically insert those calculations directly into the fields in Quicken and record the check.

It worked great but I actually worried that Intuit might take issue with the look and feel aspects so I decided to package it and market it ourselves and just maybe they wouldn't notice.

What to call it

Let's see this is a payroll program that works in Quicken. Hmmm, let's call it Quicken Payroll. No, no that uses the word Quicken and I can't do that. What about Payroll for Quicken. No that is too boring. Hmmm, what about QuickPay! Perfect!

A new company name is needed

I didn't feel that Olympic Business Systems really represented our company any longer since we were getting out of putting systems together for video stores.

This new work was visionary and instantly Envision Software Inc popped into my head. Again, perfect!

Then Intuit found out

Everything was all lined up. We had the packaging, manuals, labels, disks and distribution channels ready to go and at the time Egghead software was the largest retailer of computer software.

When we approached them they loved it and they must of snitched to Intuit.

I get a call

"Hello, is this Mike Potter the creators of QuickPay?" Yes that is me, "This is Sam Klepper of Intiut". Now sweat starts to build and I get a little nervous thinking they are going to sue me.

He continues, "We love what you did with QuickPay and want to see what you think about licensing it to us."

But I was just getting ready to release it.

"Can we meet? What about Friday at your office?" OK, that would be fine.

My dilemma

I knew I had a hit on my hand but what to do? Do I market this myself and deal with all the headaches of continuing to run a software company or do I license it to Intuit and just do the program?

I did feel like I was on thin ice on the look and feel aspects and also it is nice getting royalties as a freelance programmer which I did with all the games.

It's Payday Woohoo!

So when I met Sam I agreed to license it to them.

Sweet! First came the upfront money we agreed on and QuickPay was a hit just like I thought and royalties kept coming in for years providing over $600k of income!

With this money we buy a nice big house, nice cars and water toys. But 3 years later everything starting to own us and we felt the need to leave it all behind and move onto a sailboat in the Caribbean.

QuickPay information

Intuit QuickPay Packaging

Newsletter from Intuit announcing release back in 1991

I got to meet with Scott Cook many times as I worked on QuickPay 2, 3 and QuickInvoice for them.
This was a very nice card he sent one Christmas that I kept.

Conclusion

So that is my true confessions story how I hacked into Quicken and came away with over $600k. I hope you enjoyed reading it. This is the first time I actually put it on paper as a story like this. My gifting is not story writing and I would love to get tips and suggestions from the many great story tellers here on steemit.

Just 2 years ago I found out that someone actually wrote a book called Inside Intuit going into the details of how this all came about on their side and it was interesting to read what the employees thought that I had no clue about.

The Intuit developers who reviewed Potter's product ironically conceded that Potter had done an outstanding job of hacking the Quicken code to add payroll functions.

You can actually read the book in public domain here on google books. It is not in print any longer.

Tips on how you can "hack" into something and maybe come out like a bandit yourself

  • Find something popular.
  • Add value to it by making it better or easier to use.
  • Create a fan base around what you have done.
  • Find a way to market it or maybe the company would even license it from you.

Next time if this story is well received I will confess how I hacked eBay and made off with even more.

Picture sources: All gifs are from giphy.com, main thumbnail is pixabay and all others are mine.

I feel like I'm telling my story on steemit like a Star wars trilogy. ;) I first wrote the story of leaving this all behind and moving to paradise and the second story was part 2 and now this story in how we got there. I plan on writing about our year living on a sailboat and then off to the jungles of Puerto Rico for 4 years.

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Can you hack droids? I need something out of this one.

lol

I have lots of plans with respect to the :

  1. raising the share value of Steen by bring big investors
  2. moving hundreds of thousands from social media networks to Steemit

But the problem I still don't understand how it works and how money is made....

Can you help

Thanks

I'm not happy when people hack/reverse-engineer software. I first flagged this post because of that point.

But... I respect you as a fossil in the developers world (compared to myself being a dinosaur), you got a good deal with the company who's software you've 'hacked', and improved the world as we know it today.

Either way, you've walked a thin line in the grey zone. You seem aware of that. And thank you @pfunk for asking me to re-read everything.

  ·  3 years ago (edited)

Comment above was edited and I appreciate that he removed the flag but it does mess up the following replies ;)
What the heck? I'm not promoting a book. I'm giving a reference to a book that is on google books. The book is being offered in hardback on Amazon for $.01 as used because it isn't in print. It is in the public domain.

  ·  3 years ago (edited)

i really feel like youre misinterpreting what happened here. i dont mean to be a dick or offend, but i remember reading in one of your posts that english is not your primary language... Is it possible youre misunderstanding what OP claims to have done?

Because this comment seems to be a gross overreaction to the situation actually described.

  ·  3 years ago (edited)

Really? Wow! This is called reverse engineering something. It is a local database file and not stored on any server. Plus my intent was to solve a problem and not make money. It just turned out that I made good money for my innovation.

The suing part I was worried about was the look and feel which companies go overboard on and is not illegal but can cause issues. So I had a concern. It wasn't because I was able to read the data file.

today, you could probably be civilly liable for violating the software license, because its standard language to prohibit reverse engineering of any kind.

in 1980 who the hell knows, im not even sure "reverse engineer" was a phrase then.

I don't think he's reverse engineering Quicken's software in the worst sense. He's engineering NEW software in order for it to be COMPATIBLE with the current software that no one wants to part with. He needs to KNOW the code in order to do that. I'm no patent attorney, and it is ten shades of gray, don't get me wrong, but I think it's totally kosher. Someone's gotta do it. Mike's the guy to do it. Bam. Up vote.

Thanks. Very well said. I like your daughters story too and I upvoted and followed.

Great post mike! Cant wait to hear what you did with eBay :)

Thank you. Yes I look forward to telling all.

Same here! I wanna hear that story.
P.S. your story writing is totally fine.

Very nice post. This goes to show just by trying something, you can get huge results. This goes to show a little time and coding can be an asset. It's amazing that it all started by taking a look at some files and trying out some code.

  ·  3 years ago (edited)

Yes, and adding value to anything. Actually that is what we are all doing here with steemit. So many people are adding value and being rewarded for it. I love it :)

Plus if you have a internet connection you can do this. You could live in the poorest parts of the world and take a great picture or tell a story and earn more than most in the country. For example the average income for someone in Cambodia is $1,000 per year and here they can make that with a few good posts. Incredible. I was chatting with a new friend from South Africa the other day and he said that it is true that being poor is a choice.

Yes, blockchain tech can do that. That is true that being poor is a choice. In some case there are people high up causing the poverty saying how they can earn money and how much.

Oh absolutely. I think North Korea is a good example and many more actually. I guess he was referring to being in a somewhat free country.

It's true. And guess what...getting PAID for it.

Great Post !, WOW, so your THAT guy !, lmao .... Some of us remember you and your contributions !!!! I haven't heard CompuServe mentioned for years ... Lol, $6 per hr + long distance for me, on IBM Ps2 model 25 upgraded to a 30 (Woot! 20 MB hard drive) with 1200 baud modem (right at $3500.00)
Those were the days !
Look forward to more of your post !

  ·  3 years ago (edited)

Oh thanks, yes I'm that guy ;) lol

I wasn't sure if I had a 9600 baud or less but ("you've got mail" is still in my head from AOL. Prodigy was my favorite though)

My first programs were recorded on paper tape from a mainframe in high school then on my Atari it was on a cassette tape and it would take 15 minutes to load my 8,000 byte program ;) Or at least it seamed that long. It was many years ago. That Atari computer with 8k of memory was $1040. Just like your IBM PS2 the computers were crazy expensive and now look today you can get a computer for $5. If you haven't seen my intro you might enjoy that too.

Yes I did just read your intro, wow, what a blast from the past down memory lane ! yep your THAT guy, lol, so cool /shakes hand ! btw I LOVED the "Invalid Command" omg, lmao ... the TRS 80 had a prog called Liza or Eliza ? AI prog .. so simple .. when asked it said "Eliza, what is your name" .., blew me AWAY !

In high school our shop teacher got a TSR-80 when it came out and I remember it well. That was an amazing computer back then. Also the big Commodore PET computer was really popular.

Yes Eliza was my first run in with AI ;)

do you know if it is true that Eliza is still alive and learning, seems i ran into that some years ago, good idea for a post, lol
I should have started coding back then, but i was so into BBS's and sharing progs, i was like, Why even try, I can get everything i need from other "'grammers", what a STUPID move on my part eh ?, /sad ...
I played with the idea a cpl yrs ago Home network w/ 6 PCs (Ever try to network w/ Vista ... then win7 came out, so I gave up on linux) ...w/ Ubuntu and Ruby on Rails .. wow ... Beauty !!! Guy told me I was a Rubyist, just didn't know it !, lol look forward to chatting w/ you when Mssging is implemented ...

lol, ya, those were the days .. I started selling TRS 80s when they were 1st introduced to the market.(Think I made the 1st sale actually, at Radio Shack in Marshall, Texas) (I believe it was a test market store) the same year John Lennon was shot ... so ya, we both been playing awhile !, Good luck and can't wait to hear more from you !

what's up with the comments? Does no reader read them? I mean the content(post) is great and has gotten 203 votes. As are the comments... seems as the voters are just voting just to vote and don't really read the post. when I say voters I mean mostly all. How do you vote for a post and not read the comments all comments are also great to read and continue the post in its own way, like an extension, I think we all need to take steemit more as a community to spread great content and not worry so much about money.... it will build the community we are building better! If you read the post and vote on the post at least read the comments... again its part of the article, blog, post it builds character. I posted this in another popular post, to spread the word.

Now I know you didn't stop at hacking Quicken. What other adventures have you been up to since I'm sure your mind never sleeps?

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Consider your post well-received. It's great advice, a cool story and a part of the "history of information technology and automation"

:D

Thanks and yes it is fun to go down memory lane and see all the cool advancements we have made.


great meme for a great story - thanks for stealing.. I mean sharing

It's from giphy.com which I gave the credits for at the bottom of the post. It is my new favorite site since I started posting on steemit. I love these! :)

Sorry I didn't mean any of this comment in a bad way

all around great post :)

Its content like these that chases users away.... If Im to understand correctly given the family photos and information provided , I , as the reader would draw the conclusion that you rally took someone's hard earned money and work. And on top of that you seem so golly jolly like its a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Now that we see your story whether truth or fiction aside from your old Atari Rise to Stardom... my question is Are you gonna Hack Steemit and if so will you advertise again on another Social Media... hmmmmmmm

Happy Happy Hacking... I guess small people like me can just sit and watch with no faint clue... As long as my elderly care client doesnt get hacked Im all good...

Mike, please DO hack Steemit. We'll all welcome any added positive changes to the place.

The kids these days are saying they can hack up a good meal or how to hack a drawing. It can mean "A clever solution to a tricky problem. To hack is to mod or change something in an extraordinary way".

The family photo was a public Christmas card with a message to me from the CEO of the company. They appreciated my work and what I did.

Oh yes I already "hacked" steemit in creating something for the community that I hope adds value and people can use. I love steemit and think it's the bomb. Oh that means good. ;) Or I think it used to. Kids these days changing all our words. Bad is good and all that :)

What was your hack? Care to share the add-on?

It is my steemwho.com website that people are using to allow others to find others they might enjoy following.

Great story, never thought about trying to add on to whats already out there just like you did, me and a friend created something and sent it in to a company to get it looked at for potential, but never heard back, then few yeas later seen a similar product , I put that story in a write up later.
Its great to hear about and see how minds think during the great home computer boom of time, thank you for sharing.. :)

Yes and that is what people are doing with steemit. Just look at all the tools people are making to enhance steemit and adding value to it.

Also creating something that enhancing another company's product it is best to do it and have it done or else what happened to you happens all the time. There is no way to prove that you had the idea first. They could just say they were working on it for a long time before you. I did a post on this saying "Entrepreneurs don't ask permission". A leader doesn't ask someone else if they can do something. Just to be clear though I'm not talking about doing anything illegal. I'm talking about adding value to a product, a service or creating something new.

this is very interesting. thanks for sharing looking forward to your ebay hack story lol

Pretty neat story! I bet you were really nervous when you got that call from Sam - can't wait to hear the eBay story.

Thanks, oh yes very nervous. At the time Intuit was only a 40 person company and a funny story with Sam is that at the launch party I was all broken out and they asked if I was ok and I said it must be nerves. It turned out I had chicken pox and the company had to put out an all points bulletin for those that were in contact with me. About 3 weeks later I get a call from Sam and he says he came down with chicken pox and I was so embarrassed and sorry. I've even had chicken pox before so that was really strange.

your cool man. hehe i want to learn how to hack too lol. joking.

Oh but you can. People "hack" everything these days. People can now hack a great meal. Just do a search for "how to hack". Funny. I was originally going to use the term "reverse engineered" but it just didn't have the same kick. But then I noticed that in the Inside Intuit book they used the word hack in describing what I did so I went with it.

I'm looking forward to your next post.

Thank you. Now my next post might be highlighting the cool tool I wrote for the steemit community. I just released it on Tuesday but not many people know about it yet.

Great post and information!

Thanks. :)

That's so cool mike! Good story!...So was encryption not something that was practiced a lot back then or...you would think they would have all there information encrypted?..anyways thanks for sharing that was a good read!:)

  ·  3 years ago (edited)

Thanks. We are talking 25 years ago :) No it wasn't needed. This was before people started getting into people's computers via online.

But 3 years later everything starting to own us and we felt the need to leave it all behind

Funny how that happens. It's great that you realised it made the change. Many people don't have the self awareness or courage to do that. Great story Mike. Thanks for sharing it.

Thank you for your comment. Yes that is a very important part of the story. I'll be expanding on that in later posts.

Well done, sir. This story will stick with me; thanks for sharing. We should never be afraid to try.

Awesome!! That's the spirit! :)

This is a brilliant story. I really enjoyed it. I think the idea of adding onto something that already exists is thought of as a very contemporary idea but this just shows that you were doing it back in the day.

This is also a potential model for people with your kind of skills to add to the functionality of Steemit and we already have a small ecosystem of this kind of work flourishing.

Next time you want to hack something please let me in on the action lol! I will now need to go back and read your other posts!

Thanks for sharing.

Thanks. Oh yes and you can see all the "hacks" that add value to steemit here ;) http://steemtools.com

For those old folks ;) (I'm 55) the kids these days are saying they can hack up a good meal or how to hack a drawing. It can mean "A clever solution to a tricky problem. To hack is to mod or change something in an extraordinary way".

Envision... You don't happen to be based out of the Denver area do you?

No that isn't me.

I am new to a lot of these ideas regarding the tech industry, and I am blessed to have read your story. It's an appealing way to reach back into an era like the 90s through the work that you have done, and how you revolutionized a portion of tech, if not more. I started following you in the hopes that I get to learn more from you. It's also really exciting to hear stories from a pioneer like yourself. I am part of the founding team at Everipedia so for me, learning about how to solve problems in tech is an interest of mine. Congratulations on the work that you have done and contributed. I see it as a big accomplishment. And once again, thank you for sharing.

Wow! Thank you so much for your comment. Oh, that is a great site of yours. Good job.

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i have heard more of these stories in recent times lol...as a matter of fact heard some tech geeks on https://venomthreads.com are the best when it terms gaining, revoking and recovering access into a database and with a certification to show for it. i also have the believe too that it's only people with profound tech knowledge that can pull off stuffs like database hacks...