Xero, the cloud accounting software company which hails from New Zealand but has been adopted as an Aussie tech company – especially after its ASX IPO a couple of years ago – looks like a pretty cool place to work.
Xero MD Chris Ridd told Business Insider in three years its Australian operations have grown from seven people in a little office in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond to over 150 employees.
“It’s all about having fun and working hard. Everyone’s passionate and comes in with a purpose of what we’re doing and that’s been a big factor in our success,” he said.
While it’s no longer considered a startup, the company is trying to keep its culture true to its roots. Ridd said becoming a global corporate but staying nimble requires strong values including being human and transparent.
“You can see when corporate stuff starts to creep in,” he said, adding when that happens the company slows down with “unnecessary rules, when people are trying to protect turf and worrying about their own careers and managing up.”
“You’ve got to create a culture where people want to help each other, they’re happy to share information. When they see behaviours that are against your company values that they challenge each other – they don’t wait for management to step in,” he said.
“It’s all those subtle moments of truth along the way that make up a culture.”
Two of the biggest physical challenges the company has faced is employing the right people and housing all its new staff.
“The challenge for any business in hyper growth is in the early days you can have your national meetings in a cafe – seven staff. As things grow you’ve got to really watch who you bring into the company,” Ridd said.
Ridd said he gets involved, in some form, in every interview.
“I like to do the last gate keeping interview. It’s not that I’m a control freak, but I do want to stay connected for two reasons: I want the people to know that I care – I don’t care if it’s a customer support role or a senior leadership role – I want to meet everyone who is coming into the business because I think it sends a message of ‘hey I want to know about you’,” he said.
Ridd explained he’s on the look out for culture fit, as well as what drives the candidate and what they know about the company.
“I’ve said no probably three times in the last year,” Ridd said, adding it was over about 60 interviews and it always came down to culture fit and the person’s ability to cope with change.
There was an in joke at Xero for a while that because of Ridd’s musical background – he plays in a band – that you would get a job at Xero if you’re a musician.
For the last two years at Xero’s annual conference, the entertainment has been the company’s in-house band, made up of staff, accountants and bookkeepers.
“We don’t hire an external band,” he said, adding he gets involved playing guitar, harmonica and singing.
“We have jams in the office,” he said, adding “We’ll have a jam session probably every couple of months on a Friday…It’s good fun.”
Here’s a video of the band at last year’s event.
Too much information
Communication in any company is crucial for growth and employee engagement. Ridd said at Xero it’s all about transparency.
“I’d rather tell them more than less. And I think sometimes that gets you into trouble but at least people know then that we’re being completely open and honest,” he said.
In May Xero hired 23 new staff and about another 15 people in June. The company is now building its product development team in Australia, with 15 developers in Canberra and another 30 in Melbourne.
“All of our development was done out of Wellington, and Wellington is about the size of Geelong,” Ridd said.
“The theory at the time was we’re not going to be able to scale our development capability to the level that we need to with the limited resources and talent pool that’s available in that market.
“I fully expect over the next couple of years that team will be up to around 80 to 100 [developers] in Melbourne.”
But it’s not just developers the company looks for.
“We hire a whole mix of people – sales, marketing, customer care, you name it. But one of the faster growing areas is development,” he said.
“My difficulty early on was finding tax geeks…They don’t grow on trees.”
But one of the hardest positions Xero struggles to fill is front-end designers – an important role considering part of the company’s product strategy “beautiful design”. Xero has simplified accounting and made it almost fun, where the experience, for example, of doing a bank reconciliation is akin to playing a game of Tetris, pulling in bank feeds to match up transactions simply.
“We never got into accounting to build an accounting product. It was understanding the workflow of small business,” Ridd said.
Xero is currently in the process of expanding its office in Hawthorne. Signing a lease for over 800 square metres in a new building which the company is looking to house between 250 to 300 people over the next few years.
The fit out is currently in the planning stages and company management has been scoping out the Atlassian and Google offices in Sydney this week to get some ideas.
The existing offices have a pool table, big open seating plan and industrial kitchen. It’s understood the new space will include similar industrial design elements.
Australia, with about 1.8 million small businesses, is Xero’s fastest growing market. Ridd said the Uk is also showing strong growth year-on-year and the US, with about 27 million small businesses, is a big market the company is still trying to crack.
“The worst thing we can do right now is go after a whole lot of opportunities and spread ourselves to thin,” he said.
“We’re likely to go into markets that are English speaking so Canada, South Africa, Ireland.”