As a Product Training Manager at Xero, and an accountant/lawyer/manager type with no previous personal entrepreneurial experience, I decided to push myself by attending the Xero sponsored Auckland Startup Weekend event last weekend.
Startup Weekend is all about learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. It has been undertaken in over 200 cities around the world. The weekend starts with any attendee welcome to pitch their startup idea. Teams then form organically around the most popular ideas. What follows is a 54 hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation.
The weekend culminates with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders, with another opportunity for critical feedback. I found it to be a fantastic experience and if you have even just an inkling of entrepreneurial spirit in you, then read on.
Our idea and team
Not having an idea prior to the event didn’t deter me from giving an initial pitch, as one popped into my head very soon after soaking up the entrepreneurial buzz on arrival. I didn’t expect my ‘throwaway’ idea to get traction, but for whatever reason it became one of the 12 ideas (from 35 pitched) which people clustered around to form teams. And then the fun and madness started…
Luckily for me, our team was a diverse bunch, including a developer, as well as business and design minded people. So when the team’s enthusiasm (including my own) for my initial idea quickly faltered, we were able and willing to shift to something new. Our idea changed massively and frequently. So, it wasn’t until Saturday evening that we drew a line under what we all agreed was something we could take forward, which turned out to look nothing like the original idea:
“A self installation wireless sensor-based system for elderly/vulnerable people living alone, which monitored and interpreted unusual activity and then relayed suspected medical trends/emergencies back to a mobile application (held by friends, family, other relevant/concerned parties etc).”
Being an unproven entrepreneur, as with most/all of the attendees I suspect, I had a lot to learn going into the weekend. While some things like identifying your target market/s and size, creating a business model etc came more naturally for me – other things felt far more foreign.
What did I learn?
I learnt that while it is easy to obsess over how great a solution/idea looks/feels (i.e. the sexy part), the real grunt work and focus first needs to be on identifying whether there is even a real underlying problem. No existing problem – then your solution would be lost on people, regardless of how many bells and whistles you wrapped around it.
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I have the privilege of talking with loads of people around New Zealand and overseas around what makes a great accountant. Quite simply when you find one they’ll revolutionize the performance of your business and give you a massive leg up against your competition.
Back when I was CFO of Nike Australia I remember my CEO saying something that fundamentally shifted my perception of what the accountant is there to do. “Greg your job is not just about managing the numbers, it’s about helping me manage the entire performance of the company.” Game shifter!
So given I get asked the question about the great accountant constantly, here’s my cheat sheet of what to look for:
LinkedIn has been the winner in the business social network for many years. But over the last few years it’s gone from an asset to a major pain. I have to spend more and more time every few days dealing with LinkedIn messages and requests to connect.
LinkedIn is still the first place I go to see who people are, and because of its dominance most professionals seek to maintain a profile there.
I know that ‘if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product being sold’, but if I am the product being mined I think LinkedIn could create more value for its shareholders by looking after its users as well. To be blunt, its network management tools suck.
Rather that dwell on the problems, here is a list of improvements I’d love LinkedIn to make. In order that the right people see this list I’m going to mention Deep Nishar, Senior Vice President, Products and User Experience at LinkedIn. Hopefully this will pop up in his Google alerts and maybe he’ll even respond. Hi Deep *waves*.
Establish a new circle of ‘People I don’t know, but should meet some day’
I get a lot of people wanting to connect to me. If I connect then people assume I do actually know them and the referral network is broken. There should be a circle of people I actually know, and a circle of people I should know but haven’t actually met yet.
If I can protect the circle of people I actually know then my referral is much more powerful.
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In his keynote at Xerocon Sydney, our Australian Managing Director Chris Ridd announced we’re expanding our partner program in Australia to include financial planners and advisors, and that a Senior Account Manager (me) had been appointed to work with advisors full time.
This new complementary channel – built around using Xero Cashbook for budgeting and money management – has really started to take off and since August more than 250 professional advice firms have applied to become Xero partners. Check out this video of Steve Crawford of Experience Wealth – 100% of their clients use Xero and he talks about the advantages of becoming a financial planning partner.
More than 1500 accountants, bookkeepers and advisors Australia wide attended the financial advisor session of the October Partner Roadshow. Attendees had an opportunity to find out more about our Partner Program; hear success stories from advisors themselves; meet a few relevant Add-on partners; and see Cashbook in action – with a little help from my “typical”, newly married Gen Y couple William and Kate Windsor.
Allowing business to work smarter and faster has been a key goal of Xero from the very start. An exciting and valuable part of this has been the Xero API launched in 2008, which lets other applications (Add-ons) connect to our platform. This new way of procuring and plugging together software means that integration is done vendor-to-vendor, eliminating integration headaches for the customer. This opens up huge opportunities for efficiencies in how businesses work and how they manage their core business and IT functions.
Last week Chris Ridd, Managing Director of Xero Australia joined Jackson Hewett, Editor of Business Spectator on a webcast where they discussed what apps can work for you and took questions on how to use them effectively.
Find out the top business apps and categories that Chris rated as the most compelling for small business. He also talks about views about how Add-on partners are not just changing the software landscape in Australia, but taking the world stage as Xero’s business goes global.
There are over 300 applications that can be integrated with Xero through Add-ons. There are over 21,000 Add-on installs – with 15% of all Australian orgs using at least one Xero add-on.
All good things must come to an end and today marks our last live US Roadshow event here in beautiful Honolulu, Hawaii. For the past 30 days, Xeros have traveled across the US to hold Roadshow events at 20 cities – from Seattle to San Diego, Baltimore to Boston, and Dallas to Denver. From the Xero Roadshow team, we wanted to say “thanks” to each and every one of you who came to see us.
We think of industry awards as a bit of fun showbiz recognition for the team, and it’s always a good coping strategy to not take them too seriously because you’ll only get depressed when you don’t win.
So, in that level headed spirit we’re super-crazy chuffed that Xero won the Best Client Software category in the British Accountancy Awards at the Tower of London last night, the biggest awards in the UK accounting industry’s calendar.
It was particularly gratifying to read the comment from the judging panel that “Xero is a poster child for the new breed of online accounting systems.”
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Curtis Mclean, who have about 40 staff in Wellington, are a leader in moving to the cloud and helping customers make the transition. Being based in Wellington where our HQ is we’ve had a very close relationship. They are at the forefront of the shift – from compliance and business advisory services to helping clients with technology – and exploiting the huge ecosystem of software that can help them. They surprised us in a very happy way in August with their decision to send their entire team to the next Xerocon!
Now they’ve merged with Deloitte Private, which of course is part of the big global Deloitte brand and which have a very similar approach to Curtis McLean. The Deloitte relationship with Xero really took off back in late 2010/early 2011 when two partners came on board with Xero-active practices.
Thomas Pippos, Deloitte NZ CEO, says Xero played a material part in the decision to merge. “Our common view about Xero, and the benefits to clients from using Xero, and technology and the cloud more generally, meant that Deloitte and Curtis McLean already shared a common language, which played a part in the realization that our clients would be better served if the two firms merged.”
A new expectation is being established by today’s employees that their workplace will enable them to work away from the office, particularly from home. In Australia, 51% of employees now use the Internet to work away from the office, according to Australian Government research. So if your business isn’t equipped for telework, you are already falling behind. But keeping up with your competition is not the only reason to do it.
Research has shown that telework achieves lasting productivity gains when well-matched to the teleworker, their role and their manager. Several key decisions need to be made to achieve this, however the reward is worth the effort. In a recent Stanford study [pdf] on work from home, the productivity of workers who chose to telework increased by 22%. In another more recent study, the Trans-Tasman Telework Survey Report, 71% of employees said teleworking has a favourable influence on their attitude towards the job.
Telework can save employers money
There are costs to be saved as well. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that home-based work that is part-time could save employers over $10,000 per employee per year. This is the result of increased productivity, reduced facility costs, lowered absenteeism, and reduced turnover. Increasingly many businesses are turning to work from home to reduce office costs such as leasing, utilities and parking costs. Meanwhile, employee turnover costs are higher than many organisations realise.
Last year we profiled Zac Zavos of Conversant Media, Using Xero and other cloud products like Skype and Gmail, Zac is able to work with staff in Sydney, writers around the world and his brother and co-founder in Austin, Texas, while Zac works from Newcastle. So worth having a look again at how teleworking and working in the cloud has changed Zac’s life:
Not only are the business rewards great but a business that enables telework is achieving both social and environmental good. When telework is managed well, it can considerably reduce employees’ stress. Employees value flexibility highly because it enables them to balance competing work and life demands and for employees who belong to a disadvantaged group, flexibility is even more important. Employees inspired with this opportunity are often inclined to contribute above and beyond. In addition, many employees appreciate not having to make the daily commute, and while they work from home their cars sit in the garage.
The Australian government is introducing a new SuperStream data and e-commerce standard which is due to begin in stages from July next year. SuperStream is a package of reforms designed to improve the superannuation system.
The most important changes include:
- a requirement for employers to use an online solution when making super payments
- a requirement for super funds to receive contributions via an online solution
- a minimum set of standards for data remitted
- it allows the use of TFN’s as a primary identifier to locate members accounts.
A few of the SuperStream benefits are:
- faster allocation of contributions to members accounts
- a reduced number of contributions being returned to employers due to insufficient member details
- improved efficiency
- a reduced number of lost accounts.
What does SuperStream mean for your business?
As of 1 July 2014, data standards becomes mandatory for all employers making contributions with 20 or more employees. As of 1 July 2015, data standards becomes mandatory for all employers making contributions with up to 20 employees