Xero’s Global VP of Product & Engineering on Solving Problems Through Innovation

Yen Lim
Former Chief Product Officer

Herman Man – Xero

For the better part of the past two years, Herman has led engineering and product management globally for the People Product Portfolio at Xero – an easy-to-use but powerful online accounting platform designed from the ground up. Encompassing employee products including payroll and expense management, the portfolio is set to expand in the near future to include other features which leverage the power of machine learning, automation and artificial intelligence.

Herman has held a variety of roles in engineering and product management, including a 15-year stint at Microsoft where he worked across various divisions from enterprise to consumer spanning identity management, commerce and multimedia. Herman holds multiple patents for identity and distributed computing, and is a successful entrepreneur – co-founding mobile app, Chewsy, which helped users find and share the best food dishes around them by uniquely combining crowd-sourced and professional critic reviews. Under Herman’s leadership, Chewsy was awarded ‘Best Startup’ at the Startup Riot in Seattle, and named a finalist in GeekWire’s Startup Awards for ‘Best Bootstrapped Startup’.

A proven technical leader, executive and entrepreneur, Herman is passionate about finding great ideas and building beautiful products that matter.

We love the work that Xero is doing and the impact they’re continuously making in the accounting and software world. Read on for our Q&A with Herman to learn about how Xero are empowering small businesses and solving problems through innovation and leveraging data.

What is the ultimate vision of your business and why is it important?

Put simply, Xero’s mission is to rewire the global economy, connecting millions of businesses to their banks, advisors and each other. Small businesses globally are underserved and undervalued. Even though they overwhelmingly drive our economy, they don’t always have access to the tools they need to do well. With access to the right tools and advisors, small businesses can thrive.

Xero provides a growing ecosystem of connected solutions and accounting tools for small businesses, with accountants and bookkeepers placed at the center. Collaborating on one single ledger in the cloud, small business owners become growth consultants.

We want to connect a small business’ financial world, on their terms, to empower and fuel entrepreneurialism around the country and the globe. If you make small businesses profitable you can make the economy more profitable.

What’s one of your favorite features of your platform or service and why?

Bank reconciliation is a game-changing feature for small business owners within Xero. Designed to transform bank reconciliation from a painful monthly, quarterly or annual catch-up process to an addictive daily activity, the function brings in bank account activity and compares it side-by-side with activity in Xero, such as bills, invoices and expenses – and automatically matches transactions between the two. The match is confirmed with a single click.

Understanding cash flow and position is the most critical factor in the success of small businesses. Combining bank feeds and revolutionary design to help small businesses prosper, Xero bank reconciliation gives small businesses and their advisors get an up-to-date snapshot of their financial position every day.

This plays to a larger theme at Xero. We look to new and innovative ways to solve problems that have been traditionally laborious or difficult.

What advice would you give a business who wants to leverage their own data?

For businesses that want to leverage their data, understanding it is the first step – there’s so much of it out there, and a lot of businesses don’t understand what it specifically means for their business so it’s going to be hard for them to utilize it.

The true value of data lies in the ability to extract insights, but bringing information together efficiently and effectively into a form that’s simple to digest and understand takes time and can become very costly – especially for small businesses. Today, powerful business analytics tools can help business owners analyze data and share insights, and by leveraging these applications along with the advice of a professional accountant, they can understand the true financial health of their business and make informed, smart operational decisions.

How does your business use data and what problems are you solving with it?

Small business owners are notoriously time-poor and are generally not accounting experts. In the future, accounting will be more automated and more of the workflow will be handled through machine learning algorithms. At Xero, we’re leveraging machine learning technology for invoice categorization. Because our computers have so much data, we can actively categorize invoices based on this data. This will save everyone time and help the small business owner most, who can spend more time doing what they love.

How do you see the data economy evolving?

In the future, everything’s going to be data-driven. The power of the open platform is changing everything for consumers and particularly small business owners. At Xero, we believe people own their own data, and shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of linking it to the platform of their choosing. It’s why we give our customers the ability to establish secure bank integrations, which enables the flow of their data into Xero, so small business owners start to get a clear view of their financial position and can unlock access to capital, faster. The world is headed towards these API-driven feeds over the next year or so, especially as demand increases for open and secure banking solutions.

What SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms excite you and why?

Google exemplifies how a SaaS platform can make a huge difference in the world. Across all of its products, they’re automating everything down to the finest detail. They’re constantly minimizing the amount of button clicks required for the user to get the information they want, and their apps use data effectively to make the user experience simple and intuitive.

What integration or partnership opportunities would you like to see created within your business?

Over the past ten years, Xero has invested heavily in maintaining an open platform. With the ability for ecosystem partners to build on our open API, we’ve created an App Marketplace where small businesses and their advisors can choose from more than 500 solutions. This gives them the ability to select the technology that best suits their unique needs and requirements as they grow, instead of locking them into a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

As our ecosystem continues to grow, and the integrations between the partners in it deepen, we’ll be able to give our users even greater access to the tools they need to thrive. Take our partnership with PayPal, one of the more recent improvements to our integration involved automatically matching PayPal payments and their associated fees, ready for the user to reconcile the total amount to its corresponding transaction in Xero with the click of a button. It’s the little things like this that amount to hours back in our customers’ days. I’m passionate about the deepening of integrations across all of our partners to not only improve our platform but benefit our customer.

Connect with Xero and Herman