From XU Magazine, 
Issue 27

Q&A with Matt Vickers, Xero, GM Product

XU: As we know, Xero has recently acquired Tickstar - but what do they actually do, and why did you choose them?

MV: Tickstar is an e-invoicing infrastructure business based in Sweden. Tickstar hosts access points and other e-invoicing infrastructure that allows businesses like Xero to connect to e-invoicing networks, and exchange documents with other organisations.

An easy way to think about how this works is through a postal analogy. An access point is like a block of mailboxes and an e-invoicing network is like the postal system. Tickstar hosts Xero’s  customer’s mailboxes, and we can send invoices through that mailbox. The mail is then routed through the postal system until it arrives in someone else’s mailbox. Similarly, someone else can send an invoice to our customers via their mailbox that is also connected to the postal system.

XU: Why does Xero see e-invoicing as such an important feature?

MV: E-invoicing will only strengthen the impact of cloud accounting on small businesses and accountants. Automating the task of invoicing and bill entry will reduce admin time, eliminate errors and the risk of invoice fraud. The rollout of e-invoicing will be integral to Xero’s mission of creating beautiful software and simplifying workflows for accountants around the world.

We also expect e-invoicing to be mandated in several regions in the years ahead and are building solutions that ensure our customers can comply with any future e-invoicing legislation.

XU: Why is e-invoicing better than traditional methods of billing?

MV: E-invoicing is by far the most efficient way to create, send and receive an invoice. In most cases today, accountants are manually entering the details of an invoice into accounting systems once they receive it. This can lead to significant errors, such as entering the wrong amount or bank account. It can also lead to cash flow issues for small businesses that spend valuable time chasing customers for payments.

E-invoicing sends invoices directly to an accounting system. The invoice arrives as a pre-populated bill, ready to be approved and paid. It removes the need for manual data entry, reducing the chance of error and saving time.

XU: How does Tickstar work alongside Xero?

MV: Tickstar and its team of 10 people will operate as a Xero subsidiary company located in Stockholm, Sweden. The Tickstar team will continue to manage and grow the business, with additional support provided by a range of Xero functions.

XU: SMEs have been some of the hardest-hit over the past year. How will e-invoicing help these smaller businesses in particular?

MV: Payment speed is one of the biggest pain points for small businesses, this has especially been the case over the past year. Traditional methods of billing take up significant amounts of time due to outdated manual processes and inputting invoices into numerous systems. In practice, our users will be able to send their invoice from Xero and arrive at their customer’s accounting system as a pre-populated bill.

XU: With the constant growth of global business and connections, how will e-invoicing assist in maintaining these international relationships?

MV: Cross-border invoicing tends to be very complex because it involves multiple tax jurisdictions and currencies, which means it has been historically the most difficult to fully digitise unless trading parties are using software from the same provider. However, we are beginning to see the emergence of global e-invoicing standards and networks, which has the potential to allow people trading internationally to completely automate those relationships, with both buyer and seller being able to utilise their existing software. Over time, this has the potential to vastly speed up international trade efficiency while allowing trading parties to continue to meet all their compliance obligations

XU: Is e-invoicing available to everyone?

MV: E-invoicing is currently available to Xero customers in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Eventually we will expand this to our Xero customers in the UK and Europe. Once e-invoicing authorities have been established in other markets, we will build a seamless experience in Xero that enables small businesses in those regions to realise the efficiencies of e-invoicing.

XU: How will Xero be adopting e-invoicing into their infrastructure? Will we see many changes?

MV: Tickstar will not be visible to our customers. It is the infrastructure that sits in the background and allows Xero to connect to e-invoicing networks around the world. Following the acquisition, we plan to expand Tickstar’s development team to scale the platform and develop additional product features for its government and business customers.

XU: Will Xero users have to make any changes to the way they work in order to use e-invoicing?

MV: In Xero, it’s as simple as clicking a toggle switch when invoicing a customer. We’ve also made sure there’s a strong audit trail in our e-invoicing solution, to keep track of where the e-invoice has been sent and when. Best of all, e-invoicing will be included free of charge for Xero customers on starter, standard and premium plans

XU: What does Xero expect the future of e-invoicing to look like?

MV: As a result of e-invoicing, many businesses will want to switch to cloud-based accounting platforms, as it’s much easier to manage e-invoicing in the cloud than using software installed on a server. While it’s still early days for the adoption of e-invoicing globally, we’re expecting to see significant changes to the way governments and businesses send and receive invoices in the months and years ahead. In the meantime, we’ll be working with the big end of town to make sure our small businesses customers and their advisors can use e-invoicing to enjoy faster payment times and better cash flow.

XU: What does being General Manager, Product consist of?

MV: Xero has a broad product strategy to continue to develop its platform well into the future. With thousands in the product and technology team at Xero, the general managers ensure the work in their portfolio is completed in line with the strategy.

I focus on Xero’s bills and e-invoicing experience and make sure the product we are offering is world class. I set the direction and the objectives, create measurement and reporting on the outcomes, and help my team organise to deliver on that to ensure value for our customers and our shareholders.

XU: You’ve worked at Xero for almost 12 years now, how has your experience been? Have you seen any major changes?

MV: Absolutely! When I started there were about 50 staff and a much smaller product. As a product leader, things moved fast from ideas to execution. It wasn’t unheard of for our founder, Rod, to drop by my desk and ask for something to be done based on a conversation he’d had with a customer and for it to be tested and shipped that afternoon.

The organization has grown a lot, and the product has become a lot more powerful, with a lot more customers relying on it, which means that there is a requirement to be a lot more coordinated when ideating and producing new software. We have a lot more horsepower and expertise now when it comes to technology, so the challenges now are primarily related to communication, coordination, and focus. And in a way, we are trying to get back to a place where we can quickly identify improvements and deliver them fast, but in a way that meets all the additional obligations we now have to our customers and our technology partners. A very different challenge, but I love it! 

XU: What were you doing before Xero, and what led you to joining their team?

MV: I was working at a design agency in Wellington which was doing a lot of great work and punching above its weight internationally. I enjoyed the deadline-based project work and the great products we were creating. However after a while I noticed a lot of my most talented colleagues at the agency were disappearing to go work at this mysterious accounting startup called Xero. When one of those former colleagues reached out to me in 2009 to see whether I’d be interested in joining too, I thought I’d take an interview to see what all the fuss was about. That decision turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

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