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  • Loved

Love Beautiful

What’s the word customers most use to describe your brand?

Don’t do any fancy research or hire any consultants. Just go listen. Listen with an ear to the words they use in the first sentence. Then keep score.

Over the past few months, I’ve chatted to hundreds of Xero customers and partners all over the World. “Like” didn’t make the top ten list. None of them didn’t like Xero. But the vast majority LOVE Xero.


That’s the word that was used most frequently in the first sentence. It would go something like this; “I just love Xero – its made me sane again”; or, “I love doing invoices right after a job”; or, “I love it – its just beautiful”.

Now, I know that’s all a bit rich coming from Xero’s CMO. So, here’s the next step in understanding what your customers are saying. Correlate the statement to independent research and behavioral data. A friend forwarded me a piece of research from Ross Cameron, a well-recognised researcher whose latest newsletter contained this gem:

“In our most recent wave of panel interviews we asked business owners to discuss the brands that they admire. Two brands stood out – Xero and Apple. Indeed, quite a few pointed out ‘Xero is the Apple of accounting software!’ The comments on Xero were most striking as the positive commentary bordered on the evangelical …”

Ross reported customers saying (competitor names redacted) things like:

“Xero is clean, competitor y is messy. It’s like Mac and PC – PC is competitor y; Mac is Xero. Just everything they do as a brand I like it, it’s clean, simple, easy to use, that’s what you want. So I’m really happy with Xero, it’s simple to use and I wouldn’t go back. Like on my apps – so I log into my app with a 4 digit pin – I can get in there and do all my bank recs in the morning when I’m sitting in traffic. Just simple things like that, I can check it at night, it’s always live and it’s changed my perspective on the way that apps should be designed.” (Retail, 5 FTEs)


“Xero are competitor y, but done right … Their improvement path is better, they’ve doing everything really well, they’ve got smarter people working on it, overseas developers, everything … Xero are doing what competitor y couldn’t – improving it and doing it all web-based and better interfaces and easier for people to use. I can use Xero really quickly, it’s like using my iPhone – there’s 2 year olds that can use an iPhone. And Xero is just simple, it’s much simpler accounting software to use … Xero will become the most used accounting software in the world. It might take 5, 10, 15 years, but it will become the number one in the world.” (Software/intranet Development, 95 FTEs)

People who love you tend to be evangelical. There is plenty more data to support what we are hearing – for instance, for the first time more people search Xero in Australia than the well-established competitor.

So, how do you build love?

Simply put, build something that people can fall in love with, then never stop building. Over the past year, Xero has released an average of one to two updates per day and just this week added major new features like inventory, quotes and more.

It is as much about the “how” Xero does it as the “what” Xero does. Competitors have done inventory, for instance, for awhile. But they haven’t done it beautifully. Do it beautifully and people fall in love. Beautiful, we’ve learnt has many dimensions – here are just a few:

First, you can’t fake beautiful. We’ve invested millions of hours in getting the total experience right. And we continue to everyday. We have more people in product development and design than any other function. This creates a fortress to defend and compete from. It’s not just about looking beautiful; it has to work beautifully in every respect. So when we create a feature like side-by-side files that enables users to compare and reconcile to documents easily, that doesn’t just look beautiful, it boosts productivity by working beautifully as well.

Second, beautiful goes beyond the product. It’s about how you treat customers. When we launched invoicing, quotes and more the price stayed the same. Beautiful isn’t a tax – it’s about creating ever increasing value for customers. Sure, every few years you need to adapt pricing to the economic realities around you – but when you are continuously innovating, that shouldn’t impose on the customer’s wallet. It also is reflected in how you support customers. ‘Xero Wait’ support enables a customer to get access to local support personnel on their schedule rather than being routed through a web of offshore call centres.

Third, beautiful is about simplifying every task. While traditional accounting products added complexity and cost for the user, Xero eliminated them. Want to connect to your accountant or bookkeeper – easy. Want to connect to your industry-specific software – easy. Want to move data – easy. Want to see your cash flow – super easy. To build beautiful you need to understand the process not just as the customer experiences it now, but how they should in the future.

So, if you want to build love for your brand – love beautiful.

  • Connect

Love these Principles

Well worth the longer read… but some principles every marketing team should embrace.

  • Cross-functional teams — collaboration among different disciplines fosters creativity
  • Small, dedicated, co-located teams — optimize for team communication and bonding
  • Progress = outcomes, not output — measure all work by its impact on real customers
  • Problem-focused teams — the team is focused on a business problem, not a set of tasks
  • Removing waste — ruthlessly jettison processes that don’t help move outcomes forward
  • Small batch size — work in small increments where possible to test ideas in the world
  • Continuous discovery — understanding prospects and customers is an ongoing journey
  • GOOB (“get out of the building”) — go talk to real customers in their environment
  • Shared understanding — teams aren’t just a sequence of siloed contributions
  • Anti-pattern: rockstars, gurus, ninjas — team cohesion is better than stars
  • Externalizing your work — get ideas out of heads and into tangible forms
  • Making over analysis — just debating ideas is a waste, go try them out
  • Learning over growth — learn what works before you rush into scaling it up
  • Permission to fail — breed a culture of experimentation, which breeds creativity
  • Getting out of the deliverables business — focus on customers, not documentation
  • Loved

Eat or Be Eaten

Over the past couple of decades, The Chasm model has been the centrepiece of nearly every conversation I’ve had about launching new technology. 

While its merits are many, lately I’ve been wondering how applicable it is in business-to-business markets. Sure there are early adopters. Perhaps even an early majority. Its the late majority that seems to be in trouble. 

Having sat around harvesting revenue from their customer base the late majority one-day wake-up to face a revenue precipice. In short, the early adopters and majority reach a tipping point and start acquiring their customer base en-masse. Powered by the economics of the cloud (not just technology but also business) these new players scale at speed – achieving continuous growth rates in the high double and even triple digits.

We see a couple of shifts driving the acceleration of the new players. For instance, Cloud technology and business models on the supply side, and then mobile on the demand side. Entrepreneurs emerge from both sides presenting the late majority with an impossible force to counter – and their brand advantage and customer relationships are quickly weakened.

The message is clear. Rather than wait for the late majority, fuel the high-growth early adopters and watch them grow. Who would you rather be backing – or be – the eater or the eaten.


  • Loved

Small Business Must Smash Bureaucracy Before It Takes Hold

One of the many great things about working in a innovative, high-growth company is the lack of bureaucracy.

I’m not talking about the paperwork and paper pushing kind. I’m talking about what Gary Hamel rightly defines as:

“Strategy gets set at the top. Power trickles down. Big leaders appoint little leaders. Individuals compete for promotion. Compensation correlates with rank. Tasks are assigned. Managers assess performance. Rules tightly circumscribe discretion.

Bureaucracy “constitutes the operating system for virtually every large-scale organisation on the planet. It is the unchallenged tenets of bureaucracy that disable our organisations.”

It frankly doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean we don’t have processes and some of the checks and balances a good company should have. What it does mean is that deep in the culture is the capacity for making, creating and doing.

Its a deeper cultural and attitudinal bent that enables a company like Xero, Vend or Simple compete successfully with large incumbents. It is nearly impossible to replicate and highly perishable. I’ve seen it ferment in large organisations only to be quashed by incoming leaders, not by direct mandate but through subtle cultural cues.

The cultural contrasts between a company where bureaucracy is minimal and one where it is maximised are clear if you have every lived and worked in both. Little things stand out. The first values individualism and the quality of work. The second values conformity and standardisation of work. The first values ideas and impact. The second values marginal and non disruptive improvement.

Companies that are creating immense value and game-changing new platforms are those who have effectively sidelined bureaucracy in favour of a new way of working.

So, how will you smash bureaucracy in 2015 and turn it to a competitive advantage?


- Why Bureaucracy Must Die – Forbes

- Bureaucracy Must Die – Gary Hamel, HBR

- The Core Incompetencies of the Corporation – Gary Hamel, HBR

- The Drucker Forum Reading List – HBR

  • Inspired

Lids Down

One of the downsides of working in tech isn’t just that you are surrounded by seriously distracted people, but you become one over time. Nearly every tech company I’ve worked in bears one common management practice that needs to change – the constant presence of managers distracted by devices during crucial conversations.

I’ve struggled with the notion of banning laptops from meetings. They are such a powerful tool when used well – but they rarely are. The glow of the screen has roughly the distraction power of a tub of ice cream, or, as Clay Shirky says more ominously – second-hand smoke.

I’m now convinced that any meeting can improve if computers and any other digital distraction is removed. Print the agenda before going in. Produce minutes in the 10 minutes following – bash them out. And if time doesn’t allow, allow the first five minutes of any meeting for prep, and the last ten for reviewing the minutes. Meetings with Bezos start with everyone reading the papers for the meeting ahead.

Statistically you will do better. Take the impact of banning laptops from the classroom.

We found that participants who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to those who did not multitask, and participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to those who were not. The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.

Focus on the conversation not only increases, but how we are interacting. The presence of devices not only dulls our ability to process and contributing to the conversation – but also our ability to determine how we should best react to the conversation.

Improving the quality of decision making doesn’t require we completely banish the computer – but rather we put it to good use when and were we need it, and then recognise the conversation can’t happen with its glow present. Or at best, the quality of the conversation wont be what we want. Clay points to a brilliant analogy:

Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider is useful here. In Haidt’s telling, the mind is like an elephant (the emotions) with a rider (the intellect) on top. The rider can see and plan ahead, but the elephant is far more powerful. Sometimes the rider and the elephant work together (the ideal in classroom settings), but if they conflict, the elephant usually wins.

So, which conversation are you going to focus on in 2015 – the one in front of you but not present, or the one in front of you and present.

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