- Graham invested in GeoOP to take it global
- Mobile strategy key to success for many apps
- Xero’s channel strategy repeatable
This is the second in a series of posts profiling Leanne Graham, technology entrepreneur and former head of sales of cloud accounting company Xero. In How Xero Added 120,000 Customers in Three Years Graham discussed the sales and marketing strategy that helped drive the company’s growth. In Top Cloud Accountants Moving into Technology Advice Graham spoke about a shift towards business and IT strategy among accountants and bookkeepers.
Leanne Graham is often asked why she walked away from Xero after she helped the company win 120,000 customers in three years. Ever the entrepreneur, she has a one-word answer: opportunity.
“I saw this massive opportunity in the add-on space,” Graham says (“add-on” is Xero’s name for cloud programs which connect to its cloud accounting platform). “Xero had built up this community of great products but the majority of them were geeks with little to no go-to-market expertise.”
Rather than back one cloud program for several years as she did with Xero, Graham decided to form a venture-capital company called Cloud Rainmakers and share her expertise with several investments.
“I figured I could give my time and money to help some of those businesses execute globally,” Graham says. The first startup funded through Cloud Rainmakers is GeoOP, a cloud-based job scheduling program for the trades and services industry.
“GeoOP ticked two boxes; it was not only cloud it was a mobile product. It also focused on an industry that I believe is poised for taking on technology,” Graham says.
“People said you could never have made accountants a forward-thinking industry that took on technology but we did that. Xero has transformed that industry. So why not do that with another?”
GeoOP combines invoicing, calendar scheduling, GPS tracking and staff management into a web-based application. Tradesmen want to know where their staff are and that they can invoice and receive payment on site.
GeoOP has built mobile apps that turn the iPad into an office planner and logbook for each field worker. Mobile platforms are a crucial breakthrough for on-the-move tradesmen who typically use pen and paper to record invoice and job details.
“If you got 100 tradesmen into a room four years ago they would have pulled out a cheap Nokia or Motorola mobile phone,” Graham says. But in the past two years any Joe has had a smartphone in Australia, she adds. The same has happened in New Zealand in the last year.
“We now have technology in the hands of the service and trade industries but they haven’t been enabled with the tools to run their business,” Graham says. “The majority are running on pen and paper and they carry their phones for calls and texting. It’s a real opportunity.”
The mobile advantage
GeoOP’s success has been heavily influenced by its decision to build native applications for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, Graham says. The New Zealand Plumbing Merchants Association recommended GeoOP over competitors to its plumbers because they wanted a product that was completely mobile focused, Graham says.
“It was the simplicity of the interface and the pricing model as well. And it’s really cleanly integrated with Xero and cloud inventory app Unleashed.”
Simplicity and a mobile-led focus on functionality set GeoOP apart in usability and channel strategy, Graham says. Rival job costing programs are more complex, with the result that the software makers also need to implement the programs with each customer, Graham adds. GeoOP keeps the interface simple enough that tradesmen can pick it up on their own or turn to a GeoOP partner for assistance.
GeoOP is hoping accounting firms and trades-savvy consultants such as TradiePad will sell its program in the same way as accountants and bookkeepers formed a recommendation channel for Xero.
“We need to keep it simple and functional and absolutely follow the successful model by showing it’s a channel play to market. We will always be a development company and not a services company,” Graham says.
Graham has taken on the role of CEO and has spent several months on strategy, forming partnerships, meeting investors and building a go-to-market strategy. The latter covers similar territory to Xero; education, channel structure and moulding the customer experience from trial through to sale.
Former CEO Nick Bartlett has taken on a COO role and is setting up a local office in the US. The company hopes to ride Xero’s coattails to the same success it has enjoyed in the Australian market.
Graham has brought in Rod Millynn as sales manager for Australia. Millynn worked for Graham at her last five companies, including Xero where he was the global channel manager.
Millynn hired a sales team which started on 10 January and GeoOP has doubled its sales month on month since then, Graham claims.
The results are also due partly to Graham’s work on improving internal business processes, partner structures and education programs, she says.
“We’ve seen that by putting the partner education process in place you can start to rocket what you’re doing in market,” Graham says. “I’m determined to replicate Xero.”
Graham is looking for investors who can also share their skills with software investments. The investment vehicle Cloud Rainmakers will allay common concerns about startups unable to market themselves effectively.
“I think there’s a lot of perceived risk in investing in these companies for the same reason that I see it – do they really know how to take themselves to market?” Graham says. “I don’t think dumping money on these businesses adds value because it’s how they spend it that is going to make the difference.”
Graham says she is already discussing further funding for GeoOP.
Graham is finishing due diligence on another cloud program and plans to select one more in the next 18 months. “The second investment is in another industry sector that’s reasonably untouched by technology and it also integrates nicely with what we’re doing with GeoOP,” Graham says.
Image credit: Xero