We had a bit of coverage in the paper this morning including this story on what we’re calling the Xero Network
As Ben noticed we’ve been surfacing a bit more of some functionality we’ve been wanting to do since we started Xero but we had to get most of the core accounting platform done first.
Firstly some background.
When we looked at the small business market, an observation that came through very early was that while it was massive, most of the global technology players do not sell technology solutions to small businesses.
That is because the Enterprise Sales model does not scale down to small businesses (as NetSuite is finding). Of the global tech solution giants only Microsoft appears to sell across the SMB market - primarily desktop productivity tools.
So flipping that around I believe small business has not yet had the full benefits of technology applied to them. Most tech smarts has been applied to Enterprises.
The SaaS model allows increases the viability to sell to, and support, the enormous but fragmented SMB marketplace and provides an opportunity to deliver enterprise level features to small business.
We also observed that small businesses do not do integration projects. As an example small businesses should probably have a basic CRM system but as supplier and customer data is already in their accounting system they are forced to do an integration exercise. Which of course they don’t.
So another benefit of SaaS is that we can do that integration work for them, so they don’t need to think about it. That is what we are doing with the Xero Network.
This is exciting because working with other software providers we are making things easier for small business customers - saving them time and money.
This model allows us in the SaaS industry to work together, sharing each others customers and working together to make our solutions more compelling.
Of course there is nothing new here. This is Business to Business (B2B) computing but applied so that we have host to host connectivity between our systems to that our customers don’t have to know about integration. B2B is a big part of SMB SaaS behind the scenes.
There are numerous models. All of them start to drive community effects. In our system we can do ‘Xero to Xero’ transactions, ‘Partner to Xero’ transactions and most excitingly ‘Partner to multi Xero’ transactions where a single system generates transactions on behalf of many individual users. Like in the real estate industry.
As mentioned we believe that SaaS providers should work together, so we’re including a list of partners inside our applications and will include them in our marketing programs. It will be the case that we have multiple partners doing the same things. We also know that our partners will work with multiple accounting systems so I think the best approach is be open and up front with all partners and let customers decide what combinations of solutions suit their needs.
To implement this we have developed a portal that allows our partners to get our documentation, code samples, manage their profile and most importantly test their interfaces with us. We are all busy so we wanted to make it so that we could engage pragmatically with our partners and they could be largely self sufficient (i.e. not have to wait for us).
As we are just passing around messages (which may be files or XML fragments) we can expand the services we offer through the interface quite quickly as partners think of more things we can do.
So I’m really excited about this. It’s a big step forward. I want to especially thank the team at iPayroll who we have been working closely with. They played a big role in helping us to refine our invoice message format.Funny
Noticed on Fake Steve ….
Shipping days are always a buzz at Xero. You can code away for as long as you like but it counts for nothing until we ship and go live.
The quote attributed to Steve Jobs ‘Real Artist Ship‘ has stuck with me for years.
Shipping is the final step in a number processes. Releases in a Software as a Service (SaaS) world are completely different from Enterprise Software.
At AfterMail, which was Enterprise Software - so installed on each customers site, we tried to upgrade the software no more than 3 monthly. That is because each client site needs to be upgraded. Shipping a new release creates all sorts of downstream work for customers and partners. Often we would do a number of releases before shipping the new version. The more customers you have the harder it becomes. You create more and more drag as you go along.
The consequences of a bad software release were huge as it often means that another version has to be shipped and will require repeating the upgrade process. This might mean a partner has to jump in the car for a few hours to get on site again. They don’t like that!
Sometimes we had to do mini-releases or patches.
It’s common for established software products, like the desktop incumbents that we are displacing, to only release new versions annually or even go 2 years or more between releases, such is the effort to upgrade.
One of the many big benefits of SaaS is that we only have a single version of the application in production. Every customer is on the same current version. So we can do lots of small releases with minimal impact to customers. At Xero we try to release every 2-3 weeks 1 or 2 major features and as many improvements as we can get in.
These bite sized chunks are easy for customers to digest as well.
It’s an evolutionary and responsive process. The cycle starts with the prioritization debate which I’ve mentioned before.
The development process starts with our BA’s and interaction designers building a specification for each new feature or improvement. We use Flash as a prototyping tool, starting with fairly low-fidelity screen walk-throughs which refine to more detailed working models.
These allow us to nail the design decisions before a line of code is written. These prototypes might take a few hours to a few weeks. During this process we talk to lots of customers and show the prototypes internally until we have agreement on what we want to do.
The design is handed over to development and the coding begins. Development time can be very fast. A big bit of work might take 2-3 people a month.
At any one time we have a number of features being built and tested on our internal servers.
2 weeks prior to a release we pull together the features that are ready into an integrated build where integration testing starts. We have functionality being built that may not ship for several release cycles.
Integration testing includes running a suite of automated tests.
Once the QA team is relatively happy, we then deploy to our secure live staging environment where we can test the migration scripts, complete regression testing and test the application for a couple of days.
Once QA have signed it off then we proceed to live deployment.
As we have evolved our processes and teaming models we have noticed that we can write code faster than we can test. In an application such as ours when we are dealing with peoples money it just has to be right. So we invest heavily in testing and try to give our testing team enough time to complete their testing work programs. They have the final call as to whether we can ship or not.
The actual process of deploying to production is fairly straight forward, and a dream compared to AfterMail.
- We generate the database change scripts
- We publish a release build of the Xero applications
- We upload those files to our release server
- If there are database changes we use ASP.Net app_offline feature. We try to release at 6am to ensure minimal disruption to our customers.
- We xcopy deploy the applications to the application servers and run the sqlserver change scripts. The process might be a fast as 5 minutes.
- We then bring the new version online and run through a bunch of standard regression tests just in case something strange happens.
- We then put up a blog and tell the world, like we did this morning.
As we are shipping every couple of weeks, as soon as we ship our testing team flips straight into the integration testing of the next release.
Releasing software is the end result of a big, but quick, set of processes. It’s a real buzz to see features that we’ve made be used and commented on by customers
So hopefully you can see why we get excited on Shipping Day.Working in Train Stations
I love this …
Our Hamish becoming the voice of small business in the UK.Wireless Wednesday demo sessions
First up was Scott from www.sharesight.co.nz. This has been under development for the past year and is looking very slick.
They have data feeds of NZ and Australian stocks, dividend history, historical share prices for the past 10 years - all working like you would expect it to.
I’ve been looking for a Web 2.0 style portfolio manager and this looks like it will hit the spot.
They are in final testing stages so accounts are currently free. Go and have a play.
Next up was Bruce with his Enterprise Life Cycle product, www.e-lm.com. This is a heavy duty and very functional Enterprise SaaS offering. Needs a bit of work to make it pretty but starting to win customers around the world.
FrondeAnywhere showed off their mobile banking two factor authentication solution. I hope that some NZ banks pick it up soon as it is so much more convenient that carrying around a bag full of key generators.
Clare from BookHabit showed her project. It was very interesting to hear about their business model and how the industry has greeted their worthy effort in reducing the barriers to publishing.
Pricing goes from $2.50 to $5.00 as the book gets more popular. It is free to upload your book for sale.
Webstruxure showed off an early version of an information management tool.
Neal from Telecom finished off with a great discussion on the Telecom GSM network rollout. It is a huge project. Few interesting things were.
- The spectrum Telecom is using is becoming more common around the world as challenger Telco’s come into the market and can’t get 900/1800 spectrum.
- The 3G iPhone should work on the spectrum they are going for.
- They already have a CDMA BlackBerry. I thought they were GSM ones.
- The new towers will have fibre to them so upstream data bottlenecks shouldn’t exist. Maybe will see non-frightening mobile data pricing finally.
No doubt the Telecom data guys get the Internet. Great to see these comments on Monday which indicate Telecom sees a more open mobile data view of the world as a differentiator from the global Vodafone model.
Blu-ray in New Zealand
Telecom believed in providing mobile customers with an “open portal” so they could roam the Web at will, rather than providing them with access to a limited range of services through a “walled garden”, he says.
Rob from Fatso got in touch and gave me a bit of run down on Blu-ray in NZ.
There are 3 region codes, compared to 6 DVD codes. We are region B grouped with Australia and Europe. I guess that is a good thing.
Rental companies have been sitting on the fence with regard to Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. They are naturally easing out of HD-DVD.
Fatso has around 43 titles. Demand is still low. In our region there are around 160 titles available. Universal still has nothing.
- Roadshow – approx 50 BR titles
- Universal – no BR as yet
- Sony – 78 titles
- Warner – 35 titles
Amazon lists 837 results for Blu-ray which must be Region A.
So I urge you to go out and get a Blu-ray player so we can get a bit more choice on our fair shores.Ponoko makes Wired
The Jeffrey Wegesin furniture maker is our UI wiz at Xero. Cool!
Nice one Ponoko.Android phones
As widely reported it looks like Android phones could be out later this year.
I hadn’t paid a lot of attention until I saw this photo. It’s looks like a HTC prototype but interesting it looks like standard Windows Mobile hardware.
So this is very significant as the manufacturers don’t have hardware to redevelop or even customize. All they need to do is develop the software layer that links Android to their already developed Windows Mobile hardware.
In fact it’s all upside from the manufacturers as there is little risk. Consumers can choose what they want.
So this open sourcing of the Phone OS is a very aggressive move to marginalize Microsoft on the phone. By having advertising baked into their Open Source Phone OS Google can give it away.
Is it just me or has Gmail just changed? Seems to be more ajaxy, pop up stuff going on with contacts etc.
What else does it do?Scripts in OSX?
Does anyone know much about scripts in OSX? I’ve seen a scripts icon in most of my apps but never really looked at it.
I’ve been using Mars Edit and was a bit surprised there is not a WYSISYG editor. Rather you use Markup to insert html codes and check in preview (let me know if I’m missing something).
In the Markup codes there are no list tags to I googled and found a list script and installed it. Low and behold I now have a scrip that adds list tags in Mars Edit.
So I think scripts are a standard way to extend any OSX program. Is that right?
What other scripts do you recommend?Computer reality
Enjoying a long weekend in the provinces. We have a place we head away to for most breaks and so have got to know the locals over the past few years.
They’ve worked out I do something with computers so I’ve reluctantly become the local computer fix it guy.
It’s eye opening dealing with real people who try to use computers to help them do their work. We’ve found this a lot with Xero as well.
A couple of good examples today.
Firstly a local service operator who sends out invoices every month. He had an old computer which was running Microsoft Works 2000 (wks files). His invoices data is in wks spreadsheets and he spends 1.5 days each month doing invoices by hand.
He’d brought a new laptop ($1400) and had some service people move his data across.
His old computer hard disk (8GB) had just died and so he was on his new laptop with brand new office 2007, not connected to the web (and only gets 40k dial up) and needed to send out invoices. Help!
So I popped down.
First problem was Office 2007 cannot open wks files. His Internet connection was not set up and we didn’t know the dial in number to connect so I couldn’t surf to find how to open wks files.
As much as it hurt I resisted the temptation to just sign him up to Xero (I’ll get him next time and the thought of 40kb dial up was too awful) as he just needed to pump out some invoices. The solution unfolded like this …
- Heading back home to find their ISP support page and locate the dial in numbers
- Determined that there was no Office 2007/WKS converter obviously available
- Headed back and located the original Works 2000 disks and installed it. That seems to be the only way to convert wks to Excel. Thank goodness he had saved the install disks for 8 years and it was a CD not floppies.
- Set up his internet connection and email
- Converted his wks files to Excel 2000 files
- Uninstalled Works
- Created an invoice template in Word
- Cleaned up his monthly excel files so that they could be accessed from Word
- Did a Word Merge to pump out his monthly invoices.
It took about an hour I suppose, but I’d hate to think what he would have done if I wasn’t there. Invoicing can now be done in a few minutes saving him 12 hours every month.
And even though it all now just works from Excel and Word to instruct a person how to do a Word Merge is just too hard. Especially as the monthly billing file needs to be changed each month.
Just trying to explain the 30 steps I almost burst out laughing how ridiculous it was to expect anyone to follow these steps.
Thank goodness someone showed me where the File dialog is in Office 2007. I would never have found that on my own.
When the MergeDoc opens there is a lovely message that says something like “ok to select * from ‘$table1′”. Eeek!
I could go and write an Office solution for him but that would be a day or two of consulting.
It was a reality check as to how hard computing is for non industry people. What do they do without a local geek?
What appalled me even further was how much crap was on a brand new laptop. There were probably 30 desktop icons in XP. When I uninstalled Works (because I installed temporarily so I thought I should take it off to reduce confusion) there was such stuff as Office Business Contact Manager which has a version of SQL Server installed. Yikes!
There was probably 3 antivirus programs and whole families of no-name brand photo suites.
A brand new laptop had XP and IE6! You just know that eventually he’ll have to pull down some huge files and IE7 over 40kb. I don’t even want to know how long that would take.
In the second example (word got out that computer fixit stuff was happening a few houses down) a person had brought a Sony MP3 player which only accepts songs from some program called SonicWorks or something and she had a raw Vista error code 0000099 yada displayed. Nice.
After some googling I found it was a security rights on the Sony program music store and found a fix sequence.
There was no way a normal user would have any idea at all how to solve that problem. Again, a fairly new laptop just loaded with all sorts of crap and icons no one would every need.
I was ashamed to be from our industry. It’s 2008 and this is the experience that we give users.
It made me more excited though about what we are doing with Xero. Really trying to think for normal people and make something complex easy - unlocking the power of computing.Great New Zealand online experience
A more positive example of a New Zealand eCommerce site is DVD rental site Fatso.co.nz.
DVD rentals online is semi complex online and real world logistics orchestration. Fatso is slick. They have great promotions, great communications and it all just works.
One of the best New Zealand online experiences I’ve had.
They have a free trial so give it a go. I’ll never go to a movie rental store again.
Hopefully we’ll see more Blu-Ray movies available soon. I’ve already seen most of the ones I’d want to watch.Not so groovy baby
Update 27 August 2009: See comments below. Groovy Baby now has new owners and I’m sure their service will be much improved. I hope a few people try them out.
When websites go bad.
My wife ordered a present from www.groovybaby.co.nz on Sunday Feb 10 for delivery within 10 working days.
On the 19th (getting close to the birthday) she sent an email asking when she should expect the goods.
She got an email back that day saying the goods would be dispatched tomorrow. Still nothing has been received. Disappointed child. Wifey emails again on the 25th and 29th. No response.
There are comments in forums as to whether the site is still being managed …
Is this website still being managed? I placed an order 3 weeks ago and still shows as pending. Money has been taken from my credit card. I’ve been emailing the firstname.lastname@example.org for a week with no response.
The comments have since been removed.
This is not the first bad NZ e’tailing experience I’ve had. I do not understand why people do not communicate and make things worse. They screw it for the rest of us who try to build trust for ecommerce.
On their website they do not have a phone number. Grrrr. So lets see what we can find shall we.
- First, who owns the website …. easy: www.who.is
- Who are the people behind it and where do they live … easy: companies.govt.nz
- Home phone number … easy.
Made the call. Something like … “Not sure what you are talking about” …”What did you order”
She’s going to check and get back within an hour. Let’s see if we get some action. An email arrives. Will check with couriers Monday. Another email. Did you get my last email. Wow. Action.
So its now a few weeks later.
The courier lost the product, can’t get the product anymore, would you like refund, dog ate my homework.
Then nothing. 10 Day gap since the last communication. No product. No refund yet.
Maybe this will spark some action. Stay tuned.Safari 3.1
Seems that Safari 3 is now out of beta. (The worlds 2nd longest beta after Gmail).Two cool things I’ve noticed already.
- Tabbing between form fields issues seem to be resolved
- You can now double click in the tab bar to create a new tab ala FireFox. Yay!
Editing WordPress items is closer, but no cigar. Still loses line breaks.Daylights savings time screwed again, sigh
Between Entourage 2008 and my BlackBerry *some* of my meetings are out by an hour this week.
Already had 2 double bookings this week.
Voda says the BB8310 is already compliant with the new rules. Entourage 2008 should also be compliant.
Amazing this stuff just doesn’t work.iPhone for NZ
Chatting to a couple of people who know a bit about things carrier today we got into a discussion on when the iPhone will officially come to NZ. We have a few more in our office and I know a lot of non-tech people who are running iPhones on the VodafoneNZ network. Best guess is there are about 2500 iPhones on the network already.
While I’m sure Vodafone NZ would love to have the iPhone officially that ball is very much in Apples court. The problem is that Apple’s model is to select one network operator as preferred vendor and the rest are shut out.
Apple demands a clip of the ticket for all services delivered over the handset, even if they’re handset independent, so Vodafone Music Store, Live! and other existing services and relationships create an issue.
The iPhone is therefore much more attractive to challenger Telco’s with little investment in their own content deals.
So is Telecom the logical choice? Well the iPhone may not work on their network as the 3G iPhone is rumoured to run on 2100MHz or 900MHz and not on 850MHz.
So this will be an interesting one to watch as everyone jockeys for position later in 2008. The question becomes can the big boys even be in the race. And given the number of iPhones already in NZ and Voda’s relaxed attitude so far, does it even matter?Xero for rental properties
A great way to get started with Xero is to catch up on your rental properties.
It’s pretty cool …
- Read some of the benefits to Property Investors and check out the Property Investor Guide.
- Sign up to Xero
- Go through the setup process and upload the Property Investors Chart of Accounts to get started quickly.
- Now the cool stuff. Download your investment property bank statements from your online banking system back to April 1 2007 (Use OFX or one of the other formats). Then upload them to Xero. You’ll probably have a few hundred lines to go through.
- Then as you look through them you’ll notice the regular rental payments. Use our Repeating Invoices to enter those regular rent payments once back from April 2007. This will create a Rent Schedule for all of your properties back dated to the beginning of the year.
- Then you can use the learning Bank Reconciliation to mark off all the transactions. Once you have done the first month many of the items will automatically match up. Within a few hours you’ll be completely up to date. (Watch a video here).
- Whenever rent is due, the Repeating Invoice creates a new transaction so you can see immediately if anyone is late paying rents.
Give it a try. It’s a great way to see the power of Xero and will save you hours of trying sort out your rental property at year end.
Also, Hamish Carter is in Christchurch on Monday showing Xero.
Introduction to Xero session with Hamish Carter and Grant Cartwright
Monday 17th March 2008, 10:00am – 11:30am
Xero, Level 2, Te Waipounamu House, 158 Hereford St, Christchurch.
RSVP to: Grant Cartwright or ph: 021 822 245
So far I like it.
WordPress is now up to 2.3.3 and problems of last week seem to have cleared up.
As I don’t have VisualStudio.Net on my machine anymore I’m starting to learn a bit about WordPress to get my coding fix.The UK likes us!
Really exciting that we’re starting to see some great reviews of Xero out of the UK. This is one of the fun things about early market entry. After all the hard work it’s very satisfying to see these sort of comments coming through.
In our home market it is of course much easier to generate buzz. In the UK we are unknown so it takes a lot more work. Our team is passionate about growing a global company from NZ so we get a real kick out of articles like these.Latest NZI report on Broadband
The New Zealand Institute released for discussion this morning their next report on Broadband in New Zealand.
NZI has consulted widely in this report and I’ve certainly appreciated having a lot of time with Paul and David. I really appreciate that NZI are taking such a lead in working through the issues in this difficult area.
This paper is part of a modified program of work NZI are doing to surface the issues and unemotionally do the background research required to put forward credible solutions. This particular paper is very important because it asserts that the program of work the Government is doing will not get us to where we need to be.
It’s all building up for the next exciting chapter which will put focus on some suggested solutions. Of course I have an opinion on that.