Gary Turner, UK Managing Director at Xero Online Accounting spoke to a room full of budding entrepreneurs at Virgin Start Up’s ‘Screw It Just Do It’ monthly event in Bournemouth. The evening was jointly sponsored by Saffery Champness Accountants and Laceys Solicitors. Xero is an easy-to-use online accounting software package for small businesses and their advisors. Established in 2009 by just 3 people, it now boasts a staff of 250, over one million subscribers in more than 180 countries and revenues of £30million. Gary gave excellent insight into what he believed to have contributed towards making his business the huge success that it is. He later took time out to chat with Saffery Audit Manager Casidhe Baleri who quizzed him further on his business…
Casidhe: What are the biggest issues you are trying to address with Xero in terms of supporting Entrepreneurs and their businesses?
Gary: It’s hard enough making that leap of faith and starting a new business. Looking for funding and hiring people offer their own problems and challenges. Then there is the accounting and bookkeeping side of things, which is significant but something often overlooked. Xero is trying to demystify and remove the complexity around the necessary elements of accounting. Small businesses also often don’t know where to go for help and are unaware of the rich source of help and guidance an accounting firm can offer. So secondly, if Xero can connect accountancy firms and small businesses more effectively then this has to be a good thing and something we continue to address.
Casidhe: Artificial intelligence is something you briefly mentioned in your speech earlier and is something that is set to revolutionise accounting over the next 10 years, but how do you see Xero being a part of this?
Gary: I don’t think accountants will all be robots in 10 years. However, artificial intelligence (AI) does have some part in removing complexity when it comes to bookkeeping. There are certain aspects where a computer could do a better job than a human – and Xero will be building on this, but there is still a great deal that AI cannot achieve. AI cannot show empathy, understanding of a business and build trust that the right advisors can do – so whilst some low level functions could become automated, it will be about finding the right combination of great AI and accounting humanity and advice so that they co-exist.
Casidhe: We understand that you have been developing your presence in new international markets, such as Europe, Middle East and South Africa. Has this been as successful as you’d hoped?
Gary: Before we had ever set foot in South Africa we had thousands of customers – because you can in this industry and distance doesn’t matter. It is the beauty of modern business, digital business and cloud services as it doesn’t matter where you are. We will look to build business wherever there is a cluster.
Casidhe: Are there any big announcements or new projects you will be focussing on over the next 2 years?
Gary: We have some new projects already underway and have just introduced a new projects capability inside of Xero, targeting businesses in the services industry. We’ve completely rebuilt all of the expenses capabilities. In about a month we are adding construction industry support for UK businesses into our software. There is a lot going on now, but then there’s lots of things in the pipeline too – AI and machine learning and widgets popping up this year. Xero is constantly developing but 2018 should be a big year for new ideas.
Casidhe: As a business you entered into an Initial Public Offering (IPO) quite early on, so what’s was the reasoning for choosing this over other funding?
Gary: We could have gone down the venture capital route or something similar – but they take such a large stake of the business that you’d end up selling the business pretty quickly after you’ve built it. The decision was to raise funding which meant that we didn’t have to sell it after 3 years. Xero wanted to raise a lot of money but still retain control of the business and remain answerable to our customers and shareholders so that’s why it was right for us.
Casidhe: Would you recommend an IPO to similar companies?
Gary: If the opportunity is big enough and we thought we had a huge opportunity to go global and therefore we wanted to do it properly and be a big start up from the beginning then definitely, I would recommend it as a pathway.
Xero is an easy-to-use online accounting software for small businesses and their advisors. The company has over one million subscribers in more than 180 countries, with more than 250,000 of those in the UK. Xero seamlessly integrates with more than 600 apps. It was ranked No. 1 by Forbes as the World’s Most Innovative Growth Company for two years running and won Technology Provider of the Year for the British Small Business Awards. Xero has also won a number of other UK awards, including Practice Software of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards and Payroll Software of the Year at the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers LUCA Awards.
About Saffery Champness LLP
Saffery Champness LLP is the 12th largest firm of chartered accountants in the UK (by fee income), providing specialist advice to a wide range of professional practices, entrepreneurs, private clients individuals, and not-for-profit organisations.
For 160 years, the firm’s success has been founded upon providing clients with a genuinely partner-led service, and working with them to create bespoke solutions that help them to achieve their personal and business objectives.
Saffery Champness has almost 70 partners and nearly 600 staff in the UK, across nine offices, plus a presence in Guernsey, Geneva and Zurich, with 140 directors and staff based outside the UK.
Saffery Champness is also a member of the Nexia International network (Nexia). Nexia is a leading, global network of independent accounting and consulting firms, spanning over 120 countries.
Visit www.saffery.com for more information or see Twitter: @Safferys