Eye of the beholder: How Xero uses tech to make accounting beautiful (yes, beautiful)
When was the last time you described a financial solution as “beautiful?” Never? Fair enough, but cloud-accounting tech firm Xero sees it differently. In fact, #dobeautifulwork is a sort of mantra around the Denver office, which a year ago was just a small outpost. Today, it’s home to Xero’s U.S. headquarters — and two new leaders: Keri Gohman, president of the Americas, and Gregory Johnson, senior vice president of sales and partnerships.
The long-time colleagues, who hail from Capital One in D.C., recently shared with us how they’re helping Xero disrupt the American finance and accounting market — and what it means to do beautiful work.
XERO AT A GLANCE
WHAT THEY DO: Help small business owners and their advisors more easily manage their finances with a suite of accounting tools.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Denver Tech Center
WHO THEY DO IT FOR: Accountants, bookkeepers and small business owners.
WHAT’S BREWING: Authentic flat whites, made by the resident office barista. It’s the same type of espresso you’d find at Xero’s global HQ in New Zealand.
IDEAL CANDIDATE: People with “spit-flying” enthusiasm for small business, who pour passion and integrity into what they do.
WHAT TO BRING: Your whole self. “We don't have to try to fit in,” said Gohman.
THEIR VISION: A cloud-based machine learning platform that connects various business and accounting softwares and does all the data pulling and number crunching for you.
Having spent the last several years in D.C., what attracted you to Colorado?
Gohman: My husband and I came here and we fell in love with Colorado. We love the outdoors and we love to hike and bike. We wanted our kids to grow up having that experience as well. It was just so stunning. We thought it would be a great place to raise our family. We've settled in, and it's been exactly what we hoped.
Johnson: Personally, I've lived around the country in 10 states. I had not yet lived in Colorado, so Denver for me and my family became a really natural choice, for all the reasons that Keri had mentioned: great outdoors, growing population, affordability and the fact that it’s a wonderful place to raise children.
So, why Xero?
Johnson: I have spent the last 15 years working very closely with entrepreneurs and small business owners and building large ecosystems to serve them. So, what really led me to Xero was a passion that formed over many years of seeing the daily toil of small business owners — both the successes and the challenges. Xero is really focused on helping to solve a significant business problem, which is doing accounting — and doing it in a very simple way.
Gohman: I've dedicated my career to helping support consumers and business owners in making financial management drop-dead simple and incredibly intuitive. I've spent my time at companies that I shared that value with. I've been in all the sexiest industries — insurance, accounting, banking, investing — and I could not be more excited about this company's purpose and mission.
What was it like joining the team?
Gohman: It was an amazing experience joining the company. I really felt like I was coming home, and people literally emailed me and said, "Welcome home." It was an incredible outreach globally. It was just very embracing, and that's what it feels like starting here. I think that's the thing that has really grabbed me.
Having come from one of the top 10 banks in the country, what do you think makes Xero and its teams so unique?
Gohman: One of the things that really makes Xero unique is our mission to rewire the way that business owners work, and allow them to put together their ecosystem on their terms.
Johnson: We’re really serving two populations at the same time. One is the accountant, who is an ambassador in some ways for the small businesses using our platform. And the second is the small business owner, who didn’t pursue the business they're in to do accounting. And so the opportunity to keep both of those on the immediate horizon and be able to speak to and meet the needs of both of those populations at the same time — that duality, I think, is unique.
Gregory, talk to me a bit about this concept of beauty. It’s one of your company values, and #dobeautifulwork is sort of a mantra around the office. But “beautiful” isn’t a word you often hear associated with financial services or software.
Johnson: I think it communicates the essence of Xero, which is looking at things in a very different way and taking things that might be complex, and even a little arduous, and making them simple. Through that simplicity, by finding beauty in something that might've been more of a task or a chore, it becomes an exciting and interactive learning experience. And, certainly, the Xero technology is living up to that name.
Keri, how are you and the executive team encouraging people to innovate and do beautiful work here at Xero?
Gohman: I'd say that the thing we're most focused on is creating a great environment for great people to thrive. All of us are passionate about this.
A big innovation doesn't have to be creating a product no one in the world has ever seen. It can also be making a small change that helps our customers every single day, whether it's creating the ability to customize a check, or putting a button in the right place, or changing a process to make it easier for business owners to do their work or get started using the software.
That's where we have lots of little innovations happening. We're creating an environment where people understand their work, understand the mission of the company and then tweak and try new things, and they feel empowered to do that.
As president, what are you doing to support Xero’s growth in the U.S.?
Gohman: For us, it is about increasing awareness and education, and you can only do that on a really local level. We are spending a lot of time bringing together and investing in things like education, resources and partner support, and really getting out into local communities.
It's really critical that we establish local relationships, that we are there to partner side by side with those accounting firms that are changing the way they fundamentally do business, that we're there and engaged in local efforts around small businesses.
And how does your sales team help to further those goals?
Johnson: We never think of what we're doing as sales. I think of us much more as brand advocates, market ambassadors and resources to help small businesses through an accounting platform that works beautifully. We're merely opening up the opportunity for somebody to harness something that's extremely useful to their business.
As both a newcomer to the Xero team and a leader whose direction will shape the culture of the company, what do you most appreciate about Xero’s culture?
Gohman: What I've learned over my career is that I need to play on my own terms, that I need to do things my own way, and that I'm going to make my own rules for what my life looks like and for how I want to show up at work. That's been one of my favorite things about Xero.
I feel like Xero's a place where I can be myself. Everybody that works here is their own unique self, and they can bring that whole self to work. We don't have to try to fit in. We don't have to try to stack up. We are just really great people doing great work and accepting each other on their own terms.
Johnson: Right. I think that we're trying to emulate the culture of individualism. Everyone has a perspective. Everyone has a unique view and value to bring to the table. And so we're embracing a testing environment to always focus on the customer and how we can serve them differently. We try things, and let it be okay to fail fast, but then learn from it and roll that into future innovations.