Xero leading the way in Australia

First published in Fairfax NZ Unlimited  29 July 2014

In Australia, in terms of brand awareness, Xero is just as big a brand as it is in New Zealand.

As if by magic, the Xero accounting software appeared several years ago and in the blink of an eye created a name for itself that defies its current Australian market share of around five per cent.

Of course it wasn’t really by magic. It was a timely cloud-based product and channel marketing strategy that targeted accountants, turned them into confident advocates and tapped into their multiple clients.

Not unlike many incumbents who get caught ‘unawares’, MYOB was too sluggish to respond and swiftly shed a portion of customers.

In Australia, Xero has been a great ambassador of New Zealand’s technology capabilities and Kiwi companies would do well to capitalize on this and come on over. There’s significant interest from Australian investors, who have no reason to concern themselves with country of origin.

Software defies geographical boundaries: it’s portable, translatable and easily adaptable. In any case, if we’re feeling particularly friendly, New Zealand is practically Australia anyway. As I wrote a few months ago, Melbourne’s Square Peg Capital, together with Valar Ventures, invested more than  $20 million into New Zealand’s point of sale software Vend.

A good business will always find interest (and cash). Additionally, there’s increasing activity and buzz in the local Australian tech scene. You just have to read the daily business papers here to see that Aussie tech gets the media very excited. A recent Silicon Valley-style event called The Big Pitch, surprised even Oxygen Ventures, the organisers and investors fronting the cash, with the level of interest.

To a sell-out crowd, over 300 startups vied for $5 million equity funding from Oxygen. Three companies succeeded and split the loot after pitching to a panel that included founder Larry Kestelman, Sebastian Eckersely-Maslin from incubator BlueChilli, Channel Ten Exec GM Russel Howcroft, Chris Ridd of Xero and Steven Cooper of PayPal.

And the intentions are to hold the event annually, with New Zealanders also encouraged to pitch.

There is a great support network for New Zealand companies coming  to Australia. That includes NZTE Melbourne’s Chris Romano, who is actively building bridges between the New Zealand and Australian tech sectors. Several months ago he organised a delegation of e-tailing businesses to Australia, including the aforementioned Vend. And now, Romano has formalised a partnership with Melbourne’s York Butter Factory, one of a number of co-working spaces in Australia that is home to numerous startups.

The arrangement is a bit of an experiment for NZTE and one they hope will be successful and replicate in their offices around the world. So, if you’re a startup prepared to fly and put yourself up over here in Oz. NZTE Melbourne has funded three York Butter Factory desks, on rotation to three New Zealand startups for six months.

Pack your bags. It’s all happening here.