In delivering cloud-based applications like ours, there are two main ways to reach your customers – the web, and app stores. Digital app stores are a relatively new phenomenon that have only really achieved scale with mobile. For iOS and Android handsets, we’re heading in a native direction where we’re planning to create apps for app store distribution that compete with anything else in the store.
However, we still believe in the web as the application delivery channel that matters in the long term, which is why we’re evolving Xero to perform better on touchscreen devices of all dimensions and sizes. The core Xero application is a web application. Provided you’re using something fairly modern, it shouldn’t be too fussy about the device or browser through which you view it.
In the early days of web development – sites were optimised for a 640 pixel page width. In the late 1990s, this crept up to 800 pixels, and later still to 1024 pixels. Site width crept up – and now with a huge proliferation of smart devices of all sorts and dimensions, a lot of designers are finding it a challenge to slim back down.
We sometimes get a bit of stick for a perceived bias toward iOS on smartphones. Are we ignoring the largest smartphone market? There’s so many more Android devices out there, right?
If we focussed on sales figures – it’d be a no-brainer. Android is clearly the platform of choice for buyers of smartphones. Only Android, iOS and Windows Phone really have any maturity as smartphone platforms. iOS sells a handful of models and Windows Phone hasn’t yet captured much of the market. All the diversity and variety in hardware is on the Android platform. If it weren’t for Android, all those telco handset stores would only have half a dozen models on display.
But the reality is that our data tells us our users, the people that buy and are considering buying subscriptions to our software, are predominantly using iOS devices. Visitors to our marketing site are prospective customers who are researching Xero and also existing users who want to login to and use Xero, and they are the sorts of people to read content, to watch video, to read our blog, and so on. The story this tells is that plenty of people might buy Android phones, but a smaller proportion of those people use those phones to browse our site or use our applications.
Yesterday we outlined a change of direction for Xero Touch. Today, I’d like to introduce our newest iOS developer, Layton Duncan.
Layton joining Xero is a bit of a coup for us. He’s well known amongst the iOS development community as the founding director of Polar Bear Farm, widely regarded as the first iOS development company in the world. He’s worked on a large number of iOS projects both for external parties and for himself, including Face Match, Forms, Air Forms, Tweet Push and more.
As mentioned yesterday, we’re still actively looking for an Android developer to help us deliver some great Android apps.
Meet Layton Duncan
Having founded Polar Bear Farm shortly after the release of the iPhone in 2007, mobile computing has been my passion since. I started building native iPhone apps before there was any App Store, before any developer tools from Apple, even before the promise of tools to develop native apps from Apple.
The launch of the iPhone was something I saw was as potentially game changing as the introduction of the mouse and GUI with the original Macintosh, and I wanted to build apps for it. Almost six years later, it’s hard to imagine daily life without a smart phone. They’ve quickly become pervasive and ingrained into many people’s daily lives. Having the internet in your pocket virtually everywhere you go is incredibly powerful.
So when Rod approached me to come on board to help Xero build the native mobile presence on iOS, it was immediately interesting. As a long time customer of Xero with my businesses, I’d always admired the company, the product, and the huge value it provided me in running my businesses. I remember the first time reconciling bank statements in Xero with bank feeds and rules; it made a once-tedious task, effortless – an experience which pervades all parts of the product.
Close watchers of our careers webpage may have noticed our advertisements for a Senior iOS Developer and a Senior Android Developer. What does this mean for mobile at Xero?
Very early on we chose to build Xero Touch using HTML5 technologies. That choice showed that we care about the future of the open web and its continued success as an application delivery platform and we firmly believe that HTML5 is the future of development across any and all platforms. We do not regret this choice – but we’ve found that building a complicated mobile application in HTML5 has been hard. Even with frameworks as amazing as Sencha Touch, we’ve found the ability to iterate as fast as we would like has become harder as our application has become more complex.
The choice to go with HTML5 was very much a choice based on us – how do we use the skills we already have to build a mobile application? Unfortunately as the application grew we needed to hire to fill out the team, and we were never able to hire fast enough to fill those roles. Ironically those skills were equally as critical for the “desktop” version of Xero – we were cannibalizing our own team and slowing everything down.
Xero prides itself on not compromising on customer experience, and when it comes down to it, the question isn’t “How can we use our existing skills to build a mobile application?” but “What is going to enable us to deliver the best customer experience on the mobile devices that our customers use?”
One of my favourite short stories is ‘Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote’, by the great Argentine Jorge Luis Borges. In this story a poet attempts to recreate Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote by assuming totally the persona of Cervantes. He realises however that it is an infinitely richer creative experience to instead arrive at a classic deriving only from his own experience.
The same is true of start-up software companies, that the most successful and meaningful are those that strike out in a new direction, deriving from their experience to revolutionise an industry, rather than attempting to emulate bygone greats. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, you don’t arrive at success by wearing turtle neck sweaters and blue jeans.
So last July when I saw that Xero were to participate in the excellent Summer of Tech internship programme that my alma mater Victoria University was a member of, I decided to wage a campaign for employment so that I could gain some experience within a successful local startup. My efforts were fortunately successful, and Xero gave me the opportunity to complement my studies in software engineering with three months worth of industry experience.
It is sometimes said that software is a craft industry, and in that sense one could think of an internship with Xero as an opportunity to apprentice under a master artisan. Except the master artisan is a team of many, all of whom tick together like an elaborate machine to produce the familiar Xero facade.
I distinctively remember my first job out of college, the start of my career, the start of my adult life. I had taken a sales representative position at an up-and-coming online payroll company known as PayCycle Inc. (US version).
In those days there was still a large contingency of people who viewed the Internet as a scary black hole where your lifes deepest secrets can be easily exposed. Needless to say, I was a little skeptical as to how in the world I was going to sell anything related to the internet, nevertheless a payroll product.
Turns out that when you have a pretty great product that really can help improve the lives of small businesses owners, it’s more convincing than selling. We were fortunate enough to convince quite a few people and with the success of that product, the landscape of what a payroll product is in the US, began to change.
A payroll market absolutely saturated by the large full service companies now had a chihuahua biting at its ankles. As technology began to bloom so did the DIY payroll solutions. Small business owners previously forced into a price arm wrestling match now had the might to win; they had other options. There was finally an answer to a niche market of small business owners looking to save money on payroll. The market now provided solutions that could fulfill all the payroll needs of a small business but at a quarter of the price. Creating a DIY product that is easy to setup, use, keeps the IRS at bay, and is inexpensive are all major challenges but many companies were still looking to cash in on the new movement.
Fast-forward to 2013 and I find myself embarking on a new adventure but with the same challenge, to alter the landscape of US payroll yet again. This time as a product marketing manager with a few more gray hairs and some great insight on what it takes to deliver a top-notch service. It becomes even more ironic knowing that Xero purchased Paycycle (Australia), a DIY payroll solution designed to fulfill the needs of Australian small businesses. Although the Australian Paycycle has no relation to US PayCycle, both have the same core value of the customer experience being a number one priority.
The backbone of a great payroll product is already there but so is the challenge of localizing it for the US. Xero’s core focus is to revolutionize small business and that is exactly what we intend to do by adding a US payroll feature. Provide an all in one accounting and payroll solution that instantly makes a small business more efficient and productive. Gone are the days of exporting and importing, logging into separate services and double entry. Xero is poised to deliver one solution that will revolutionize the way you run your small business.
Xero has already delivered a revolutionary, customer centric focused accounting and payroll product in Australia. Duplicating this established brand value in the US is no easy feat, especially given all the complexity that US payroll introduces. As we take the initial steps in building a Xero payroll product here in the US, we understand the necessary features required in order to be successful, but the number one thing we understand is that we need to stay focused on our customer and their experience.
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A huge thank you to the 800 attendees and over 25 exhibitors at Xerocon NZ 2013. It’s by far the biggest Xerocon to date globally and more than twice the size of last year’s event.
From the feedback personally and on social media, we are pumped that people were getting huge value and it’s being seen as essential attendance for accounting and bookkeeping partners, whether making the transition or well on the up-and-up, as well as add-on partners.
People loved Rod’s keynote and all the info revealed by the product managers, seemed to appreciate the hard-hitting critiques of the profession from Viv Brownrigg and Greg Sheehan, and found lots of useful material amongst topics such as marketing, training, and add-ons in the streams. The API and Add-on day prior was also a huge hit capped off by a fascinating panel discussion on business funding.
The Gala Dinner and Awards evening topped it all off. TV personality Jaquie Brown added to the glamour with flawless MCing and Auckland band Halo got the dance floor humming right from the get-go.
The Xero Partner Awards recognise our top partners in New Zealand. Congratulations to all the winners:
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We’re at the Add-on and API day for Xerocon NZ in Auckland today – the first time it has been sold out! You can follow our Twitter hashtag #xerocon. The incredible interest shown by our Add-on partners, developers and advisor partners and demonstrates how the ecosystem is taking off.
This morning we have been covering big picture stuff including the key things we are working on this year.
Tony Rule, API Product Manager at Xero took us through some of the achievements of the API team in 2012:
- 7 API feature releases
- Over 1,000 applications using the Xero API
- 1,000s of support tickets from developers and end users answered
- Improvements to documentation, wrapper libraries and new integration guides
The balancing act of features requested by existing developers, new developers that need additional functionality built in order to integrate and the continual development of new features in the main Xero application that the API needs to keep with, is Tony’s joyful task.
We’ve been big supporters of Webstock for many years and the team at Xero loves going to the conference each year. To celebrate this year we threw a party, because frankly we’ve got a nice new HQ with enough space to have a party. It was great fun hanging out with all kinds of designers and developers from the community, along with the Webstock team and a bunch of the invited speakers.
Sushi with Craig Mod
AffinityLive is an integrated platform for managing your client work. It brings all the various projects, issues, contracts, and clients you work with into one application:
- Handles planned projects as well as reactive client service in one place, meaning you have a single view of all of your client work and timesheets.
- Supports retainers and ongoing service contracts, including keeping track of usage, balances and then automatically handling renewals and invoices in Xero.
- Is a centralized client database that synchronizes between Google Apps, Office365, your smartphone and, Xero – update once, update everywhere.
- Automatically captures all client-related emails and attachments in a central, searchable system.
Who is it for?
AffinityLive is great for organisations that provide professional services to their clients. So, whether you’re a designer, a consultant, a lawyer or anyone else who charges for time, it is created for you.
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