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#XeroSpeed: delivering beautiful new experiences at pace & scale

This week has been our biggest ever release week here at Xero. We’ve released updates across our entire portfolio of products, delivering new capabilities to both small businesses and their advisors.

I’m Angus Norton, Chief Product Officer at Xero. I recently joined the company after 18 years at Microsoft, 16 of which were spent in their US headquarters. I held a number of roles across various product groups. From the Enterprise Server businesses and Bing Search, through to Developer tools and gaming. Most recently I was General Manager and Vice President of Microsoft’s Office Division. There I ran the Office 365 business and helped transition millions of Office customers to the cloud.

Xero was born in the cloud. I had been following Xero’s journey from afar for many years. Now I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to move back to my homeland of New Zealand and roll my sleeves up and join the journey myself! I joined Xero excited about the impact it has had on small businesses, and the potential for the company in the future. This week’s releases have shown the value we can provide our customers, and the pace at which we’re working. My team has worked incredibly hard to get these products into your hands. We really hope you enjoy the results of their hard work.

Our wave of innovation this week

For those of you who haven’t been able to keep up with our announcements this week, we’ve released the following:

  • Inventory – Providing simple inventory that makes it easy for all kinds of small businesses to track the quantity and value of their stock.
  • Practice Reports – Designed for our advisors, these beautiful reports reduce the time it takes for compliance and management reporting. They also allow standardised reports that can be customised quickly and easily. It’s initially available in New Zealand, but rolling out to other regions over time.
  • Online Quotes – Helping small businesses accelerate their cashflow. With Online Quotes, a small business can send a customer a quote and, in real-time, that customer can review, approve/deny and ask questions. Ultimately leading to more work.
  • Side by Side Files Side by Side Files makes it easy to enter the details of bills, expenses and transactions. Documents are uploaded to Xero and users can view the files on-screen alongside the record they want to create.
  • Workpapers – Workpapers is our compliance and workflow solution for advisors. It has received a significant update, with a refreshed user interface, new query portal and single sign-on with Xero.
  • Practice Manager and Tax – As of April 1, all of our NZ partners using Practice Manager and Tax will have the 2015 tax forms ready for use. We also made some big improvements to the tax preparation workflow based on customer feedback.

Delivery at #XeroSpeed

We’re delivering innovation at #XeroSpeed – but we’re not stopping there. This is only the beginning. In building Xero, we’ve invested in the development and design of our product. But – just as important – we’ve invested in an incredibly diverse team of men and women from all over the world. And we’ve continued to ensure our underlying infrastructure is tuned to deliver a reliable, agile and beautiful experience just for you

Our ‘born in the cloud’ agility combined with these investments have put us in a position to relentlessly focus on you, our customers. It’s this relentless focus that has enabled us to deliver what we believe no other software company has done. We’re delivering innovations at an extreme pace and scale. No other software company producing software for small businesses, let alone the many enterprise software companies, even comes close.

Last year we delivered more than 400 updates across all of our small business and advisor products. If you are curious about this history of innovation and feature delivery, you can check out our Feature Timeline.

How have we done this?  All of this is enabled by the fundamental proposition that Xero offers. Xero is designed for the cloud. We’ve been able to design and develop our offerings to take full advantage of this model, not encumbered by an older software architecture.

Beyond that, though, we have worked hard to build scale into our product management, design and development capabilities, which has helped us evolve and grow without losing our feisty “anything is possible” startup culture. Some important aspects of this approach, include:

  • Clear vision and strategy  We’re focused on building software that helps small businesses be successful. We have a consistent, clear and aligned vision, across all our offerings, that helps us prioritise what we work on.
  • Geographically distributed teams  We’ve have an “Act local, think global” culture within our development teams. We believe in investing locally where we need to, in order to ensure we are delivering innovation that is truly global, but locally relevant. A great example of this is our San Francisco-based U.S. payroll team, and our Canberra-based Australian tax and payroll teams. All up, our development teams have tripled in size over the last two years.
  • Agile development – Our development teams operate as self-managing “pods.” These pods are small teams that are comprised of members with complementary skills and specialisations. These teams own all aspects of a piece of work from design to development. They each deliver their key part of our products, and with multiple pods working at the same time we can easily scale.
  • Team communications  Communication is critical for any company, particularly when the teams are distributed across the globe. We’ve invested in tools, processes and people that help our teams communicate. This helps the wider organisation understand priorities and the broader roadmap, while also managing those tasks that need to be done every hour, every day.

All of this couldn’t be done without a supportive company culture. At Xero, one of our values is #Ownership. Each and every one of us feels a distinct level of ownership and pride in the growth of all our customers’ businesses too! We know that our role is to deliver seamless, invisible accounting that gives you the time to do what you do best, run your business. We also value all the feedback we get from each and everyone of you, so bring it on!

So what’s next? Over the next few months we’re running Xerocon, our premiere event for our partners, in New Zealand, the United States and Australia. Iif you haven’t already signed up, then you might want to consider it.

On the product front, there’s an incredibly exciting period ahead. You can expect to see us complete delivery of our payroll offering across every state in America. You can also expect more momentum towards our ‘Xero Everywhere’ vision of delivering business insights, collaboration and connectivity, no matter where you are and on any device.

We will continue to push the envelope of what’s expected from core accounting software solutions. And unlike our competitors, we are delivering on our customers’ needs at a pace that only a ‘born in the cloud’ SaaS company like Xero can.

Thanks to everyone for their feedback this week. We’ve collected some of your comments below.

Continue reading ›

 

Get in quick to enter Xero’s accounting, economics or finance scholarship

Calling all accounting, economics and finance majors in the US! Xero is offering a $5,000 scholarship to anyone studying one or more of these subjects. There’s less than a week left to enter, so get your application in soon!

Enter in the next week to be eligible for Xero's accounting, economics or finance scholarship

Who is eligible for Xero’s accounting, economics or finance scholarship?

If you’re a legal US resident and currently enrolled full-time at an accredited US university or business school, we’d love to hear from you.

You need to be majoring in accounting, economics or finance, but it doesn’t matter what stage of study you’re at. High school students are encouraged to apply too – as long as you’ve been accepted into college.

You will also need to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher cumulative from your university, business school or high school (respective of what stage of study you are at).

How to apply

Email the following to submissions@xero.com by March 31, 2015:

  1. Your academic transcript and GPA.
  2. Proof that you’re enrolled full-time in an accredited university or business school in the US.
  3. A recommendation letter from a relevant referee. Get them to persuade us that you are the most deserving recipient.
  4. A 500–700 word essay on one of the following topics:
  • How is cloud technology changing the world of accounting, finance and/or economics? What impact do you see this having on your career?
  • What changes do you predict the accounting industry will face in the next decade? How do you (1) intend to react to these changes and (2) contribute to the industry?
  • What compels you to study accounting, economics and/or finance? What role does technology play in your chosen industry and how will you use it in your career?

Check out our last winning scholarship entry

Last year we awarded a $5,000 accounting, economics and finance scholarship to Alisha McGoldrick of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Check out her wonderful essay, ‘The troubled mind of a tax accountant’, to get an idea of what we’re looking for in a winning entry.

Get all the details

For more information, head to the page below:

Win an accounting, economics or finance scholarship for 2015

 

 

Summer of Tech – insights from an intern

As part of the Summer of Tech programme, Xero has taken on 13 interns across the Auckland and Wellington offices. We profiled Auckland intern Grace Benedek Rooney in January, and today we talk to Joseph Whyle about his summer.

What are you studying?

I have just completed a Bachelor of Information Technology (IT) at Whitireia in Porirua. Now I’m working at Xero as an intern as part of the Summer of Tech programme. I’m with the Internal IT team based in Wellington.

What attracted you to Summer of Tech?

My involvement with Summer of Tech programme started in early 2013, when I first found out about it. I jumped at the thought of being able to get industry experience and get paid for it. I managed to land an internship with a government department and learnt loads. I went through the process of Summer of Tech for a second time, and ended up with an internship at Xero in the Internal IT team.

Joseph Whyle – Summer of Tech intern
What are you working on during your internship at Xero?

Since November, I have had an inside look at how the Internal IT team looks after all of the Xero employees. It keeps Xero seamlessly working. The team that I work with truly goes the extra mile to accommodate and make sure that everyone is able to accomplish their day-to-day work. They also really are the best team, full of laughter, fun and are all round are just legends. This has pushed me to make sure that I deliver the best service I can no matter what the situation is and what is thrown at me. It’s been fantastic being part of a team that not only supports Wellington, but all the offices in NZ and overseas and any remote people we have.

What do you love most about Xero?

The thing that really attracted me to working at Xero was how it is a very collaborative environment and everyone understands the work hard, play hard saying. This is reflected in the culture and people that work here. Lastly, would be that everyone is really happy to answer my questions and teach me things that I don’t understand. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to be part of a company that champions innovation and is always looking ahead to achieve the vision and mission of Xero.

What are your career ambitions?

This really is the start of my career within the IT industry. It’s exciting to think about what opportunities there are within Xero, and knowing that I could develop my skills and knowledge. This will allow me to apply this in my work and be able to make a difference in my part of the company.

What does a typical day look like in Internal IT?

Each day is different, typically I start by looking at any unassigned tickets (a ticket is a request from an employee). This allows me to start work on the tickets I can tackle straight away, and also plan if I need to head over to the other buildings. Often I will be looking after the new starters for the following week. I will be setting up their account, building their machines, and then finding out where they will be sitting. My job often involves interacting with people and solving any issues that they may have, which I really get a buzz out of. Our team works super closely. They make sure that if I’m at another building I can carry out the work I had planned, and also any other issues I can pick off while I am there.

Learn more about Summer of Tech.

 

What does the UK budget mean for small businesses?

Head of KPMG Small Business Accounting Bivek Sharma popped by our London office yesterday. We grabbed him and our UK managing director Gary Turner for a chat about the UK Budget 2015 and what it means for small businesses.

What does the UK Budget mean for small businesses? from Xero Limited on Vimeo.

 

Fifty Shades of Tax Write-Offs

What’s the weirdest thing you think someone might try to write-off in their taxes? Dogs? Cats? Donkeys? Adult, ahem, entertainment items? The list is long and distinguished, according to a survey we just conducted of small business owners and accountants.

Xero_tax_time_word_cloud

The results are part of our brand new Xero to Sixty Report, a look at the relationship between accountants and their small business clients. We found some tasty morsels like the attempted write-offs above, but we also identified really useful data suggesting a huge opportunity for small business owners and accountants to grow their relationships and therefore their businesses.

But it also shows the disconnect on both sides. For example, both parties share a common goal of wanting to track financial performance and increase profits. However, while 70 percent of accountants recommend that their clients see them at least once a month, only 45 percent of small business owners do so. What gives? Continue reading ›

 

Exercise for stress relief and problem solving

For Xero CEO Rod Drury, exercise is key to stress relief and problem solving

“It feels great to plan to achieve something. Do the work. And nail it.” – Rod Drury

The first thing most people do after they arrive home from a long-haul flight is rest. For Rod Drury, this wasn’t the case. Instead he jumped in the pool and smashed out a 1km swim. He then hopped on his cycle and conquered a forty minute hill-climb.

He’s not alone, studies have shown that exercise doesn’t just keep the heart healthy. It also depletes stress hormones and releases endorphins which help with stress relief. Endorphins are mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain that act as the body’s natural painkillers. The increase in endorphins in your body leads to feelings of euphoria and relaxation (aka the ‘runner’s high’). This helps combat the negative effects of stress.

I had a quick chat with Rod about fitness just after he arrived back in New Zealand from Xerocon UK. He mentioned an interesting concept that he has been aware of for most of his working life – the brain needs time for unconscious thought to function well and solve problems. Time where focus is not directly on the problem at hand. This unconscious thought often occurs while we are sleeping. Ever had one of those middle-of-the-night ‘eureka moments’? Exercise can provide a similar experience that helps to form ideas and solve problems.

Exercise is good for your brain

“I always have these massive ideas by the time I’ve finished exercising.” – Rod Drury

When dwelling on a few issues during the day, he will jump on his cycle for a hill-climb. By the time that he comes down the hill, the problem is usually solved. I have also experienced this during weight training sessions. While concentrating solely on my training, ideas and solutions just pop into my mind. Rod recommends busy people who deal with a lot of problems prioritise time in their day for exercise. The time spent focusing on exercise gives the brain a chance to develop thoughts and work through problems.

Rod’s progress is real evidence that consistency and commitment leads to results. When he first started swimming, he was only able to complete one or two lengths of the pool. Over time he’s built up to swimming 1km three or four times per week and is now looking for his next challenge. He has also clocked up over 440 hill-climbs on his cycle. Swimming and cycling keep him fit for his passion of stand up paddleboarding. He’s been surfing for years but this requires a much higher level of fitness. Stand up paddleboarding makes more sense as he gets older and travels more frequently.

We also discussed the significance of finding the right environment for exercise. In other words, finding an environment that minimises the dread of exercise. This dread of exercise plagues many of us and often leads to failure. Rod would much rather conquer a hill-climb outside on his cycle than sit on a spin bike inside. Even if it’s cold and wet, or the middle of winter, outdoors is the right environment for him. In contrast, I prefer weight training in the gym. We all have our own exercise-niche. Once we find it, exercise becomes something we look forward to; instead of dreading.

Towards the end of our chat, Rod stressed the importance of exercising and remaining active as we age. As we get older our bone density declines, our muscle strength deteriorates and a lack of exercise compounds this. Exercise helps us to stay healthy, energetic and independent. For older people, he suggests low impact activities which are easier on the joints. Remaining active and enjoying the outdoor lifestyle is something he’s worked hard on as he approaches his fifties.

While my exercise-niche is different than Rod’s, we have both experienced the same benefits. Regular exercise helps us to relieve stress and solve problems. I suggest that you find your own exercise-niche, train for yourself and look forward to exercising!

In addition to being a developer at Xero, Jordan also runs jch254, a fitness and productivity website. A version of this post was originally published there.

 

 

 

Farming: Embracing change

As Xero’s Head of Rural Strategy, I recently wrote this piece for Young Country that I thought I’d share with you.

One of the great things about meeting and talking to farmers is understanding why they are passionate about farming and their drivers. Farms are very different in nature to your average city small business or listed corporate, but there are things in common which often get neglected in city business and farming entities.

First things first. Every business should have a clear strategy and a plan on how to execute that with the right team. Secondly, any good business should bring in support from outside and improve skills where key knowledge gaps exist. This can be from working closely with advisers, like accountants or consultants, to ensuring your ‘team’ is aligned. From my perspective, the key thing is the ability to embrace change, so that’s what I want to start off on.

I am not suggesting change for change’s sake. We know that many people in the industry have built a vast bank of experience throughout generations and that wisdom should always be respected and reviewed, but too often farms continue to run the same way for generations and miss key opportunities to grow or take advantage of the shifting industry. Just like business customers’ needs are constantly changing, we need to make sure we are evolving or changing our products and services to meet their needs.

General9-4027

When it comes to change what are the important steps to consider? Continue reading ›

 

Survey: Stormy Weather Brings Headwinds and Tailwinds to Small Businesses

Spring is around the corner, thankfully, and parts of the US that have been hit with harsh weather are seeing signs of an anticipated big thaw. But for small businesses, digging out of the financial impact of winter storms may not be quite as easy. Here at Xero, we wanted to understand just how small businesses in the Northeast fared, so we partnered with Dimensional Research to poll 200 small business owners in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, who had experienced extreme snow, sleet or rain this winter. And to get a complementary pulse on how consumer behavior regarding small businesses might be impacted, we worked with Harris Poll to survey over five hundred consumers in the Northeast region.

The results were, in some cases, startling:

  • 58 percent of small business owners said that their business was negatively impacted by the weather
  • Revenue was down for a whopping 31 percent of small businesses
  • Rural businesses were hit 10 percent harder than urban businesses
  • According to Harris Poll, 61 percent of people surveyed said they were less likely to rely on small businesses and service providers during extreme weather

Continue reading ›

 

Upcoming tech trends in 2015

Today’s guest author is small business and finance expert, and co-host of Sunrise, David Koch.

DAvid Koch gives his take on tech trends for 2015As a small business owner, I know how hard it is to keep a business running while wearing ten different hats at once. And that’s to say nothing of keeping up with tech trends and identifying the ones that could impact my business.

That’s why it’s not surprising to see a lot of small business owners who are resistant to trying new technology.

If you’re in this boat, don’t shy away from digital developments. Instead, treat them as a cue to consider how efficiently your business is run right now. I can guarantee one of the latest tech trends can be used in your business to help save you time, money, or both.

Working on the go

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a third of small businesses are now using the internet to work remotely. Coupled with cloud computing and cloud storage it’s easier than ever for businesses to work from home, on the road, or just about anywhere with an internet connection.

This flexibility can do many things for a business. It opens up a bigger pool of freelance talent and resources, lowers overheads and keeps staff engaged, productive and satisfied. Which can allow your business to operate more efficiently.

Online accounting

If your office is looking like a fire hazard, it could be time to consider moving online. Switching to online accounting will not only reduce the amount of paper you use but save you time, money and possibly your sanity. Continue reading ›

 

Android 2.6 released

Last week we released version 2.6 of the Android app. It’s been a staggeringly long time since I put out a blog post about Android – for the Files release for expense claims, way back in July. A lot has happened since then. This post wraps up the five major releases we’ve done over that time, and gives you an idea of what we’re working on now.

While we haven’t made a song and dance about Android for a while, we have released a steady stream of small but significant improvements. I wonder how many of them you noticed? Let the tour begin!

Files, files, files

We spent the first few months rounding out our Files support. The Xero Android app now supports attaching files to invoices (2.2), attaching from or uploading to your files inbox (2.3), support for many additional file types, and cancelling uploads (2.4). Working with files on Android is now a first-class experience and shows the kind of polish and attention to detail we want to give to every mobile feature we release.

The new 'attach file' button on the invoice screen  A PDF and an image stored in the Files inbox

Contact account number

This feature was completed alongside a Xero web release as part of mobile version 2.4. It permits searching for contacts by an account number you define. Contact account numbers display in grey alongside the name when you search through your contacts anywhere in the app.

Contacts search result showing new contact account number Continue reading ›