In November 2015 I attended SleeterCon in Las Vegas (Accountex in 2016). It’s one of the very few agnostic conferences that serves users of Xero, Intuit, and Sage — along with dozens of other technology vendors that help bring those accounting products to the next level. The conference is a magnet for lovers of accounting technology.
Although Hector Garcia is very well known in the accounting technology industry, SleeterCon 2015 was the first time I had met him. We immediately had an engaging conversation about why we each preferred the software we were using. It certainly wasn’t a debate since it was obvious from the start that neither one of us would be swayed in the slightest, and we weren’t interested in “converting” the other person anyway. Rather, it was more of a discussion about why we personally chose one piece of software over the other.
Accountex (formerly SleeterCon) is awesome because it brings together great minds in the industry, who then get to interact and share perspectives. In that spirit we present this lively exchange between Patti Scharf (for Xero) and Hector Garcia (for QuickBooks Online).
After Hector told me about his practice, it was immediately clear to me why he would be using QuickBooks Online instead of Xero, and I suspect the reverse was true as well. We thought it might be fun to bring everyone into our conversation (for Hector’s part of this exchange, click here), so here goes…
My History and Perspective
Like most US accountants who have been practicing for more than a few years (or, “cough,” a couple of decades), I’ve had plenty of experience with QuickBooks, and for years, QuickBooks Desktop was my preferred tool. I was an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor and the whole bit.
Coming from the tax world, I often met with business owners who would bring us their QuickBooks files in September to complete returns for the prior year, and their books were in utter shambles. I couldn’t understand how a small business could effectively run their business with stale and/or disheveled information that was only updated annually.
When my husband and I started our business (Catching Clouds) in 2011, our intention was to create a business that could be run entirely in the cloud using tools that were built for the cloud. We wanted to run our business from any beach in the world, and we wanted our clients to be able to do the same. We wanted our clients to have current, accurate, and actionable information so they could make important business decisions on the fly.
Now our team of 11 does all of the bookkeeping, controller, and IT integration work for our clients. Our clients review financial reports in Xero and some do their own invoicing. But apart from that, they largely keep their hands out of the books. We don’t do any training beyond teaching them how to look things up in Xero because they don’t need to be (and in my opinion, shouldn’t be) bookkeepers. They are business owners and should leave the accounting to the professionals and spend their time growing their businesses instead.
Because of the nature of our firm, we want something solid, dependable, and efficient. We only use fixed pricing, so it’s in our best interest to finish the work as quickly and accurately as possible. We’ve tried QuickBooks Desktop (hosted), QuickBooks Online, and Xero, and Xero is by far our favorite for stability, accessibility, and efficiency. We very rarely need to contact support, but when we do, we get very productive responses. They may not have phone support, but you can request a call if needed. Overall, we’ve been very happy with Xero.
As I discussed in my last Sleeter blog post, we picked only our favorite tools for our niche clients, and Xero is the core tool in our business.
Some of our team’s favorite Xero features are:
- Automatic bank feeds
- Bank rules
- Suggested coding
- Cash coding
- Depreciation & ability to roll it back if needed
- Find and Recode
- Integration with other apps (Hubdoc, Stitchlabs, Dear Systems, Bill.com, etc.)
- Search (new)
By far, the biggest appeal to our team in using Xero is our ability to quickly and easily get data into the system without having to key in data by hand. People who feel compelled to type in every transaction one by one will probably hate this software. But for us, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and it rocks my world. As long as our team is good with technology (they are) and understand accounting (they do), this system is great to use.
The system has the added benefit of being able to publish reports and store them in the software. So when we close the books, we can point our clients to the reports folder to review the updated financials. It’s easy for them and easy for us.
Apart from the solid accounting and cool bells and whistles that the software provides, there are some intangibles about Xero that make it the company we have chosen and continue to choose to work with:
Xero Just “Gets It”
Xero seems to understand that having a good accountant is critical to the success of small business owners. And this is probably the most important trait to us, since our entire focus is on helping our clients’ businesses succeed.
Xero is not about using accountants as sales reps for selling their product. You can see this in the (free) online training they provide to accountants and business owners. You can see it in their open API and network of hundreds of third-party applications used to customize accounting systems. You can see it in how they encourage small business owners to team up with accountants. You can see it in their total absence of per user fees. They genuinely understand that the key to success is through a complete ecosystem of data support and collaboration.
So Xero does what they do best — build great accounting software, and help others collaborate doing what they do best — build great add-ons, provide great accounting advice, and build great companies.
In my opinion, this is one of the biggest reasons why they have a growing base of raving fans.
Hand-in-hand with the “they just get it” piece is Xero’s company culture, particularly with respect to their relationship with accounting partners. Even as a fledgling little no-name company, we were always able to build a relationship with the Xero team regardless of how high up the individual was in the food chain. They are a down-to-earth, accessible group of humans who actively listen to feedback and constantly work to improve their product.
Xero works with hundreds of add-ons, making it possible for us to customize the right solution for each client instead of having to depend on the features inherent in one piece of software.
Even though we specialize our tools for a niche industry, we still probably use close to two dozen add-on tools. It’s extremely important to the success of our company and the health of our clients’ businesses that the tools we use integrate well with the accounting system we’ve chosen. It’s also critically important that if there are integration issues, we can reach out to the product teams to quickly solve the problem.
It became clear to us from the onset that even if Xero wasn’t (yet) the market leader in the US, they would be the ones driving the industry. Xero was built in the cloud and for the cloud beginning in 2006, five years after QuickBooks Online was launched. Xero crossed 500,000 worldwide users by June 2015, and they are arguably growing at a faster pace than QuickBooks Online.
I constantly hear fans of both QuickBooks Online and Xero mention what a great race this has turned into, but without Xero, the race would not exist. Xero, in my opinion, is absolutely forcing Intuit to step up their game, and they are driving the entire industry every day to be better than it was yesterday.
I personally don’t care who the market leader is today. I want to use a product that I trust, built by a company that is driving innovation. Business owners know more and are demanding more. They are actively seeking out alternatives, and the Internet makes those alternatives easy to find. A long legacy, an inspirational talk by Oprah, or nifty swag can only go so far. It’s the company’s vision and day-to-day hands-on experience with the product that are going to create raving fans who will help create the next big thing.
As Seth Godin, a popular blogger and thought leader, mentioned in his recent blog post:
“When one surveyed people in 1996, most thought AOL = The Internet. They were the same thing, game over. Then, of course, just four years later, Yahoo cornered the market.”
“… it’s hard to imagine the next thing. Until it’s here.”
I don’t claim to know whether that next thing for the accounting industry will be Xero, but… it’ll be fun to watch and see.