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Beautiful Business

There’s nothing like a cold warehouse in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast to get the juices flowing. Enterconf is kind of a “Glastonbury for geeks” and a great place to be if you want to meet a ton of smart people.

During a keynote and panel, I had they chance to speak to how software is eating the world; why beauty can’t be skin deep; and how any business can triumph over large market incumbents.

Software isn’t just eating the world because it’s looking better and, therefore, is simpler and easier to use. Beautiful businesses aren’t just great at design. They are reinventing their categories by probing and questioning the logic that others have accepted for decades. As they do that, these early movers quickly create immense value for customers. Xero customers, for instance, have a higher chance of business success and collect cash faster than those not using Xero.

In this process of reimagining, businesses look to address moments of doubt, desire and dissatisfaction as experienced by customers. Think about how Uber solved the moment of dissatisfaction regarding the location of your taxi. How Air New Zealand enables you to order a coffee from the barista in the lounge as soon as you enter the airport. Or how Xero made it simple and easy to see your cash flow, removing doubt.

Beautiful Businesses approach going to market – and the ongoing process of innovation – very differently. Their business operating system replicates the new models of software development and delivery driving constant innovation, low-cost distribution, mobile-first delivery, and incremental improvement.

How they go-to-market is different as well. They grok the five Ps of digital and marketing transformation: – Participation, Proximity, Prediction, Play, and Purpose.

  1. Participation: They engage customers not just in the product but in a conversation. This ongoing dialog through content, events, and social media builds a passionate tribe of evangelists that spread the word and fan the flames.
  2. Proximity: They understand that mobile isn’t just a place where applications are delivered – mobile has also changed the way we work. We time-shift tasks, frequently pausing one activity to complete quickly another. All the evidence of how ineffective this is aside, it is what we do. Banking, for instance, has gone from something we dedicated time to, to being something we do while doing something else.
  3. Predict: Data-driven businesses have shifted their marketing focus from attention to intention. They are passionate about the product reorientating around what data suggests a customer needs. They could be education or insights. It could be notifications on the iWatch. In the future many of the constructs, we have lived with for the last 25 years and longer vanished. For instance, we don’t need forms for a loan where data flows freely. A customer using Xero simply connects their account to a financial institution or new breed lender and with a few clicks and in a matter of minutes is approved for a loan.
  4. Play: Metaphors from gaming are finding their way into all business software. Great software delivers moments of magic that play on experiences we have elsewhere. When reconciling transactions in Xero, you playfully pull together two transactions, and they merge. In the old software model, you might have hit check-boxes and then a submit button. In the new world.
  5. Purpose: The data is clear, purpose-driven companies outperform against companies without a purpose by 15:1. They are clear on why they exist and what they exist to do. For Xero, we aim to enable tens of millions of small businesses to thrive through beautiful software.  Small businesses are the engine room of the economy – when we achieve our purpose (and our customers achieve theirs) we create jobs and wealth. One of the great things about purpose-driven businesses is that they benefit not just the customer they serve, but their immediate communities and society as a whole.

As they pursue building beautiful businesses they challenge the underlying principles that incumbent providers have stratified and locked-in through software. Think what Salesforce did to traditional CRM software. Or, what Xero has done to accounting. 

Beautiful starts with software that redefines and reinvents processes. It doesn’t look to replicate processes elsewhere; it looks to reimagine them.

Beautiful business doesn’t just look good.

It reimagines what beautiful is.

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