Skate to Where The Puck Is Going & Other Adventures at XeroCon 2016
by Sherry Witt Snow
CFO | Strategic finance management for startups to midsize businesses | Speaker
Once a year I attend a gathering of my tribe – accountants – a misunderstood, maligned and sadly unfashionable lot. We are not a popular group but everyone in business needs us and therefore resents us. We in turn, resent them because we know everyone else is having fun being way cooler than we are. We know. We see the bills. This year I went to XeroCon held in my home town geography – San Francisco. Xero positions itself as the cool, hip accounting software. In fact, Xero doesn’t even call itself software. Company executives refer to it as a “platform”. If there’s one thing I aspire to be – it’s hip and XeroCon promised to show me how to achieve that elusive goal.
DAY 1: IT’S ABOUT TECHNOLOGY, STUPID
On the shuttle I overhear 2 accounting partners talk about finding good staff. It comes down to technical people says one. “I can teach the accounting”, he says. “But the technical software combined with the accounting is a difficult skill set to find.”
“You don’t need accounting”, says the other, “Accountants follow processes and at the end of the day say “this is the result”, without understanding if something is broken or set up incorrectly.”
Hmmmm. I knew my profession is being upended by the cloud but I didn’t know I was becoming obsolete.
The conference is being held at Pier 27 – a converted cruise ship dock on the San Francisco Bay – very hip. My first stop is the Xero booth in the Pier which doubles as the exhibit hall.
Music is pounding & it is LOUD. I can barely hear the desk person enthuse over the fact that I am getting a t-shirt. “It’s a real woman’s t-shirt.” She emphasizes. “It’s so great.”
The line for espresso is long so I go in search of regular coffee and find muffins & fruit which I eat standing up. The noise at this hour is overwhelming but I consult the Exhibitor map and gamely start my rounds.
Partway through my tour I come across a video screen displaying real time tweets from the exhibit floor. I need to get with it. It’s been a while since I used my Twitter account. Fortunately, I remember my password. I have 3 followers but one of those is Xero, which congratulated me last year on becoming a certified partner. I’m not sure that counts. Dimly, I remember my daughter’s explanation of what a hashtag is. I create #siliconvalleyaccountingsolutionsgoestoxerocon. It’s way too long but my creative juices are low. I review how to take pictures with my smartphone so I can post to Facebook. I’m all set.
EXHIBIT HALL STRATEGY:
Having a plan of attack is a must otherwise I just end up wandering around aimlessly. I’m going to visit every vendor our QuickBooks-oriented firm uses. I need to see how these vendors work with Xero and then find some new software tools. I quickly discover I need to develop an elevator speech for the exhibitors to communicate what my priorities are. But it needs to be cool and hip. I come up with “I’m my firm’s Xero Evangelist”. Steve Jobs would be proud.
One thing hasn’t changed – Booth Bunnies. Every time I approach a woman at a booth I find myself being introduced to a man. “Jared, Jason, Dave…really knows more about the product…” “Then what are you doing here?” I think to myself. “If I wanted to talk to a man I would have asked one.”
I have a love-hate relationship with my smartphone. I spend part of the first keynote –Xero founder Rod Drury – downloading apps for posting to LinkedIn and Facebook. I miss part of what he’s talking about but I understand the slide: A shark eating a gold fish. That I get. Early adoption is crucial.
The Xero executives are all out of shape balding guys wearing brown XeroCon t-shirts. It’s not a good look with one exception; Amy Vetter is totally rocking it with skinny jeans, silver jewelry & a denim jacket.
Keynotes are held in a white tent that Cirque du Soliel would feel at home in. With pounding music, lots of blue lights chasing across 3 big screens, camp chairs and lots of clapping the atmosphere is akin to a camp revival. I sit on a camp chair at the very back but first I have to move the sock that’s on the seat. If I want the other sock I have to go visit an exhibitor booth at the break. Socks as swag, also very cool.
SWAG BAG UNPACKED:
Speaking of swag, there are trends in swag just like anything else. By the end of XeroCon I have not only collected the requisite logoed pens, lanyards & sticky note pads I will also have bagged 2 more t-shirts, 3 water bottles, 6 pairs of sunglasses and a tape that measures your BMI. The message is clear:
My tribe is dehydrated, sensitive to the sun because we never see it and we need to do something about being overweight and out of shape.
Post keynote there are breakout sessions with titles like Conscious Accounting, Ecosystems, Culture & Creativity. I attend the Product Mastery Series – here is home: we’re boringly going through Xero set up, finding errors and best practices, reviewing cash flow statements. The speakers do their best to be hip. Our sample client is a slide of a hunky guy who runs a surf school after striking it rich in high tech. I wish I could be on the beach running my own surf school.
Back in the revival tent the Emcee, an accounting comedian (who’s also a CPA, tres hip), tells a joke about pirates, pieces of 8 and capital gains. The audience laughs.
DAY 2: SKATE TO WHERE THE PUCK IS GOING
THE MORNING OF THE WOMAN:
I’m up early for the 7 AM Women’s Breakfast. I shiver under the shower water planning how I’m going to get everything packed and checked out of the hotel. I have to find my own way to the breakfast; the shuttles aren’t running that early. I’m going to walk the mile to Pier 27. My husband volunteers to go with me before he sets off on a run to Coit Tower.
The breakfast is my networking style – serious discussion by the panel about the reality of women in finance. It’s not all sweetness & light even though there are way more women in finance now than when I started out.
Lisa Cines shares a quote from Wayne Gretzy which resonates with the room: “Skate to where the puck is going.” Ingrid Vanderveldt is more direct: Being in the room is not enough. We need to show up at the table.
Amy Vetter shares a powerful Queen Bee story that has me so embarrassed I seek her out to apologize on behalf of the women in my generation. I am discouraged to hear that we are making so little progress. Still, these discussions didn’t happen 30 years ago.
WHERE’D EVERYBODY GO?
The wheels are starting to come off the bus. There are more empty seats in the big tent at the keynotes & the catering staff is racing to keep the coffee urns full. Exhibitors have glazed expressions & attendees are rumpled with dark circles under their eyes.
The bloom is coming off my own rose, too. My attention wanders during Mel Robbins’ presentation. How is Amy Vetter looking so pulled together? The rest of us are looking like unpressed suits. The answer comes to me: it’s the short denim jacket she’s wearing over her XeroCon t-shirt. I resist the urge to use my phone to surf the web looking for a denim jacket.
By the time of the afternoon breakout session we are dropping like flies. The woman next to me has her head down on the table. I think I hear snoring in back of me. I try to focus on the presenter reviewing the new financial reporting features Xero is rolling out but it’s no use. I end up staring out at the Bay thinking about how long it’s going to take to get back to Silicon Valley.
WHAT IS HIP?
Back at home I unwrap my XeroCon t-shirt and finally understand why the woman I met at the XeroCon Desk was so excited about the t-shirt. It has a scoop neck and a fitted waist. Now all I need is a denim jacket to go with my skinny jeans.
Sherry Witt Snow is a senior consultant and Xero Evangelist with a focus on high tech CFO work at Silicon Valley Accounting Solutions in Santa Clara, CA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org