From Xero to $11.5bn: The secret to success


The chief executive of Xero reveals the businesses, governments and customers have a role to play in driving innovation – and ultimately success.
Key Takeaways
  • Xero boss Steve Vamos says the company’s purpose is to make life better for people in small business, their advisors and their communities
  • From a startup in New Zealand, expanded to Australia and around the globe
Xero boss Steve Vamos on stage at Xerocon Sydney 2022
Steve Vamos at Xerocon, Sydney, September 2022 | Image source: Xero

Xero boss Steve Vamos recounts the day a couple approached him at a hospitality event in New Zealand. He told them he worked for Xero, and they said his business had saved their marriage.

He laughed, but they told him they were serious. Vamos, who has been CEO of the company since 2018, credits Xero’s marriage-savings powers to its approach to innovation.

“Innovation ultimately is change,” says Vamos. “How do we change something, or create something that provides a better outcome for us or for our customers?”

By cultivating an environment where people feel safe to speak up, to speak truth and to challenge, he says.

“We have to be attuned to the human response to change.”

– Steve Vamos, CEO of Xero

“If only a few are innovating, then change is slow. You want to create an environment where all your people can lead change. The only way to do it is to make it safe for them to speak up about what’s wrong and what could be different.”

When working remotely, this becomes a little more difficult, he admits. But, with the right leaders, it’s not impossible.

Xero boss Steve Vamos laughs while presenting on stage at Xerocon Sydney 2022.
Steve Vamos at Xerocon, Sydney, September 2022 | Image source: Xero
The role of governments in innovation

Xero was founded in New Zealand in 2006. Now, it’s a $11.5 billion company. But its success wouldn’t have been possible without the support of governments and financial services sectors in Australia and New Zealand.

Governments encouraged small businesses to manage compliance and payroll digitally, and financial institutions allowed customer information to be fed through bank feeds to the accounting platform, which was key to enabling real-time data.

“These factors mean that Australia and New Zealand are quite unique and in innovation and adoption, we lead the world when it comes to small business cloud,” Vamos says.

The role of customer feedback in innovation

In a digital business, you very quickly get a sense of what is working for customers, Vamos says, with 96% of queries that come into XeroCentral resolved by the AI on that platform.

“Our Customer Experience team has done a wonderful job over the years, thinking strategically about what we needed to build to enable the growth that we have.

“Customer service tells you a lot. If there are repeated issues, our product teams get to know about that and our technology teams are very attuned to things like security or service. Our product team does a lot of testing before new products launch.”

Ultimately, it’s all about listening and learning from your customers, and adapting to their needs.

“We have to be attuned to the human response to change,” Vamos says. “The concerns that you see around technology are human concerns; what does this do for people’s privacy, their security, the nature of community.”