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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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One year at Xero

Just last week the WorkflowMax team had our one year anniversary as part of Xero. Woohoo!! It’s been an exciting, exhilarating and challenging year.
Some of the key highlights for us include:
  • Doubling our subscription base to 3000 customers, which is ahead of our internal targets.
  • 680 accounting practices globally now running their day to day operations on WFM Practice Manager
  • NZ accounting firms can now use WorkflowMax Practice Manager to electronically file tax returns with the IRD and manage their clients tax payments. Australian tax features are on the way.
  • The wider product/enablement/sales/support/marketing team has grown from 6 to 19
  • Kicked off the new user interface and document management integration projects which will be visible in the application in the coming year.
People still ask me how I found the transition and the process of integrating with the wider Xero team. I always tell them we went from working in a small startup to working in a much, much larger startup. The mentality is so similar, the energy, the commitment, the attitude to go the extra mile, the startup passion and excitement is evident in every conversation. It bubbles right through Xero and is infectious.
Chris Spence and I started WorkflowMax in 2007 with a small outlay of capital - just enough money to buy our first server. We built the company on sweat equity. A lot of late nights, early mornings, and weekends. We took a lot of financial risks, and made sacrifices, as did our families. It wasn't easy. We were pretty much your typical startup, your typical small business, with work-life balance heavily tilted in favour of work. I’m guessing that all small businessmen and women reading this will know exactly what I’m talking about.
As WorkflowMax developed, and our take-to-market channels were established, our customer base grew and we were able to bring on a small team around us.
As we expanded we read a bunch of blogs/books from the guys at 37 signals, whose philosophy resonated with us. Don't take on investment, grow organically, own a small slice of a large market, it all made sense and fit well with our work hard, spendthrift approach. Perhaps naively, we never envisioned selling the company as an exit strategy. We always expected to continue to grow organically, to continue to build a fantastic product and develop a strong monthly recurring revenue model while working in the business. Boring? Maybe.
We occasionally discussed taking on investment to accelerate growth, and the conclusion we reached was "what would we spend the money on?". We were profitable, the plan was working and we were pretty comfortable with the trajectory of our growth. To be fair as a small business owner you don’t know what you don’t know.
When Rod approached us with the initial acquisition suggestion, it wasn’t something we had ever seriously considered. As a team our mission had always been to build the best cloud based job management and practice management solutions available. We felt we were getting there, albeit slowly. However, deep down we knew that in order to realise our ambition and deliver true value to our client base quickly, to make the impact we envisioned, we needed a bigger team and more resource. With this in mind the decision to sell WorkflowMax to Xero was simple in the end.
The acquisition and becoming part of the Xero team completely opened our eyes as to what is actually required to truly compete on a global stage. To be a genuine player, a genuine threat to the incumbents, you need a team of exceptionally clever, talented people across all facets of the business - operations, development, customer care, sales, marketing - every department. Without a huge amount of investment in people, hardware and processes it would not be possible to deliver to the extent that Xero has in such a short space of time.
So yes, the mentality to work hard, to invent, to push the boundaries is the same here at Xero as it is in every startup. But the ability to truly execute on our ambition is a reality. With Xero having $85 million in the bank there is a huge amount of innovation to come and it is just amazing to be part of the journey that is reshaping an entire industry.