From XU Magazine, 
Issue 32

Anna Curzon Chief Product Officer, Xero

XU caught up with Anna Curzon, Chief Product Officer of Xero at Xerocon London 2022...

This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
You can find the original post here:

XU: One of the things I wanted to touch on first of all was that it’s been over a decade now for the Xero Cloud accounting journey. Over that decade what do you feel are some of the most significant announcements that you’ve had to make, or that have been made as part of this Xero journey?

AC: Yeah, it’s a really good question because there are big things and insanely little things that we’ve announced over that decade. But funnily enough, bank rec was major back in the day. I think Find and Recode was also major. Xero Go has been one of our key announcements at Xerocon London. Being a brand new product, really in the last decade, because it’s tapping into a market that’s been underserved, in terms of even an entry point into cloud accounting. I would have to say that that’s one of our key things as well.

I think too, it’s really interesting that, as we move into different regions, there are core things that we need to do. We’ve got to make sure that we offer tax, compliance, payroll and of course offer practice tools as well. I think there are some things that are ubiquitous and super exciting. And there are some things that are unique to every region and might not seem really flash, but they’re still really important. You know, you’ve got to have a good tax solution, for example. But we will not only try to solve the pain point but always try and make our solution a little bit more beautiful and simple than others.

XU: So touching on Xero Go to begin with, because that’s obviously the big news of the event in terms of Xerocon London. One of the things I want to touch on before we go into Xero Go itself - and this is to really give people an understanding of behind the scenes of what it looks like, because it’s quite easy for people to kick and scream and say, we really need a solution for this or that, and the other and you can say, we’re working on it - what does that actually look like from the idea to implementation and getting it out of the door to be able to announce it at Xerocon? What does that look like in terms of timescale and process to give people an idea of what that actually looks like behind the scenes?

AC: When we looked at the opportunity for our customers, the opportunity was ubiquitous across all of our regions and that’s really those smaller sole traders, freelancers and the rising gig economy that was underserved significantly. And so when we stood back and looked at the problem to solve — we saw that, over the last few decades, the sole trader market is, it had a blip through COVID, which is natural - but the trend shows it’s going from strength to strength.

It’s been really hard for our accountants and bookkeepers to service that market. And then you’ve got the double whammy of MTD happening in this market. So we started off with identifying a problem to solve with some key changes. We wanted to make sure we could help our accountants and bookkeepers serve the very smallest, small business clients. The sole trader through to the really larger, bigger employing businesses. We needed a solution for that. We scanned our regions. And we said actually, because of the growth in this space in the UK, and also because of the fact that you’ve got this regulatory deadline coming, that the UK was the best option. And from an adoption perspective, there’s a real buzz here around FinTech and just adoption of digitization.
So it starts off with being really clear about the problem to solve for your customers.  And then it moves into, what does that actually look like in reality? So you start discovery, you start going out and talking to your customers and you start prototyping. And from that point on it moves into a cycle of testing, learning and refining until you get to a point where we can’t progress it further without actually getting  it into the hands of customers. And we know we’ll get a load of feedback, which is what we want from this point on as well. Very exciting!

XU: So with Xero Go, I think one of things that you mentioned was actually you’re the first large vendor to be listed with HMRC for an MTD personal tax Which is a great achievement, and within that obviously you’re working quite closely with HMRC because you’ve got the additional VAT integration, which we’ll come onto as well. How have you found that? Did they have big parts to play as you were building Xero Go and that relationship with HMRC?

AC: I’ve got a fantastic product leader that really supports the team from a compliance perspective, working with HMRC, Stuart Miller. And he’s helped the team build a very good relationship with HMRC where we endeavour to build things collaboratively. We want to make sure that we’re in a leadership position and it’s really about making sure that we’re out ahead of the problem, that we really understand what HMRC is trying to achieve. So our partners feel like,  ‘if I’m with Xero,  they’ve got it sorted. I know they’ll be having those discussions. And I know they’ve got my back.’  A really good example of this is that we are the first major vendor out of the gates with our solution. It’s super important that we continue to build and lead with that relationship with HMRC because we know that there’s more to come too. Our new UK managing director  Alex von Schirmeister spends quite a bit of time with them making sure that he’s representing the interests of the small business community.

XU: One of the things that came out recently was that old reporting is setting off into the sunset, which had interesting responses on social media. And I think it’s like anything when it goes, people don’t like the change, even though there’s something great in its place already and coming along. In terms of maintaining that old type of tech, which takes a lot of investment of money and time and resource to do that, can you quantify what that looks like to give people an understanding again that for Xero it doesn’t make sense to commercially support that as well as we’re going to give you better stuff?

AC: To maintain a product, I always talk about feeding the metabolism. It’s not a project you deliver and then it’s done. So even though we’ve got the old versions of reports, if we were going to continue to offer those, you need a product team to maintain the code and update them so they aren’t outdated. Now that’s a product manager, it’s engineers, because they’ve got to make sure that they’re continuously fixing any bugs. That security is at the highest level. There will be changes that are made through regulations or requirements that we’d need to start to tweak. And from a staffing perspective, ‘you go, gosh, would you rather have people working on maintaining old tech when they’re saying ‘wow, I’d love to be working on providing new customer value’ versus supporting something that is becoming inferior. And customers ultimately win, because we can accelerate the value if we are investing that in new functionality versus just keeping the lights on. You  just do the math and it just doesn’t add up essentially.

But I do want to reiterate, that it doesn’t mean it’s easy for our partners. It’s change and at the moment there’s so much coming at them.

I am deeply respectful of that. And that’s why we’ve given people a year. I think a lot of other technology companies would just go, right, we’re putting a line through that and we’re moving on. But we know systems and processes are hard to change in any business and that’s what we’re asking them to do. 

XU: One of the things that I know Xero’s touched on in the past in terms of actually utilizing the data and some of the insights and the reporting that you do is around benchmarking. And there’s some reports that have come out recently around the cash flow side of things, but is benchmarking something that’s on the radar for Xero in the future in terms of what that might look like in terms of bringing that into the Xero reporting suite?

AC: Benchmarking is something that we’ve looked at a number of times actually. And it’s on a backlog of opportunities that we could pull forward and look at in terms of our reporting and insights team. To do benchmarking well, you really need to build the right data sets. And so we are lucky at Xero, to have some of the very best data strategists, data scientists in the business within Xero tech. And really at the moment, what we want to do is make sure that we continue to refine Analytics Plus. We know that there’s still a lot more we can do and a long way to go with that. And I think then over time we can look at new use cases so we can say, ‘Hey, your cash flow’s here, but businesses like yours are sitting here.’

We want to deliver the most amount of value and pull that forward in the fastest possible time. So there’s a whole heap of demand at the moment for us carrying on the Analytics Plus cash flow work. And over time, you might actually see benchmarking as part of proposition efforts within that category. 

XU: So what’s the best way for Xero end users and partners to actually liaise and interact with Xero, in saying, well, these are my thoughts and suggestions?

AC: Xero Product Ideas which is part of Xero Central, our customer and partner hub for education and support. It’s so cool. We recently upgraded our technology platform for the way people can vote and share ideas for product features. t The new Xero Product Ideas is the result and provides a sophisticated voting system and ways to contribute ideas and get involved in discussions that our product teams regularly review..

These ideas directly contribute to our discovery and planning cycle now. So the product leadership have quick access to new things that are emerging. Of course we can’t just magically action everything. Some ideas are great but are more complicated than they look. They may be a longer burn to deliver, and other things may pop up suddenly because of environmental issues and we are able to action quickly. But yeah, we’ve got that into a cycle now as part of our design and discovery process, which is super cool.

And that’s what I talk about when we talk about building the DNA of Xero together. They’re not just words in a presentation, we really do need the help of our partners and their clients for us to figure out where the value resides here and where we should be focusing our efforts. Now what’s not always obvious though, is why we choose to do some things over others. And it might be because sequentially, we need to do things from a technology perspective. It might be that we need to upgrade a particular area before we can move on to something else. There are always good reasons, but understand it may not be immediately obvious and therefore frustrating when you don’t see something being actioned. 

XU: We’ve had some big announcements in terms of new releases at Xerocon in terms of Xero Go, we’ve also had some advancements of current tech that was already out there. So what are you most looking forward to over the next 12 to 18 months? The stuff you can talk about, in terms of what you’re working on and things that are happening within Xero in terms of your view of it and what’s really exciting.

AC: There’s a number of things that really excite me about the next 12 to 18 months. Really seeing the market reaction to Xero Go and seeing the pictures of queues out the door, trying to get into the Xero Go breakout to learn more about it was amazing.

There’s a lot of energy and a lot of excitement when I think about being able to service that market. So we need the feedback because we’ll get better with the feedback. In fact, our product manager was saying ‘I’m a little bit worried as a product person because I haven’t actually heard any clangers yet in terms of, well, why aren’t you doing this or that? Or how come we can’t have the…’ So I said, ‘oh, I’m sure it’ll come when people start using it.’
For me Xero Go is really exciting because it really opens up and makes accessible the entry point to cloud accounting, to this underserved market for so long. And from a purpose perspective, that’s really important, helping the lives of small businesses to be better.

I’m also really excited about us going from strength to strength with Xero Payroll and Planday (time, attendance and scheduling) as we develop our employee management proposition. The market dynamics in every region, but especially in the UK at the moment are really interesting. There is a lot of change economically and politically and small businesses are grappling with significant issues off the back of COVID-19, with inflation and rising costs and securing staff. And such a big part of that small business economy in the UK are small businesses that employ others; 60% of the private sector is employed by small businesses.

So if you go back to our purpose we have to make things easier for the owners, because at the moment they’re struggling with mental health, they’re struggling to find people with the variable nature of the workforce. So I think Planday is a product whose time is now. That, combined with Xero Payroll, it’s going to be fundamental I think for us to really help this economy here in the UK, which is a great thing to be able to do collectively.
So I’m really looking forward to those things, but also to others. I think with machine learning, machines actually improve in time as they learn more. So with things like Analytics Plus, the predictions, and as we add more data, things are only going to get better and better and smarter. So really excited to see how that progresses. And then as Mark talked about the work we’re doing with transforming behind the scenes, the tech upgrades to the platform will be a game changer. As you can see with reporting, that’s been upgraded, and that’s out of the gates largely and now we are moving fast, being able to innovate regularly. A partner said to me the other day, ‘gosh, Anna, we’re finding now that you’ll deliver a new feature or a new report and I’ll think, man, I really needed that, but I didn’t know I needed it until you delivered it’. And that’s what we want to see and hear. And so I would say to the XU community, think about what’s happening with reporting and how fast we are iterating and innovating now. Think about when we can then do in every part of Xero and just how much more value we can get in the hands of our communities.

Why leave it there?

Straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter for updates as they happen
We hate spam too. We NEVER sell our mailing list.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.