Climbing Higher - Q&A with Kevin Mann
By XU Magazine
26 February 2016
CEO Kevin Mann and the Tidy team are aiming to climb higher this year along with their customers and partners. We talked to Kevin about how this company is moving upwards
Q: Could you explain a bit about the philosophy behind Tidy?
A: The name Tidy reflects the simplicity we are bringing out in our software. We have a vast range of customers and find that a large number of the smaller businesses have, necessarily, quite complex business processes. Conversely a lot of the larger businesses can be relatively quite simple. You would expect small businesses to always be simple and large ones more complex, however we have learnt during the last six years that is not an assumption you can make. Tidy’s philosophy is to continually assist every business by simplifying and streamlining their operational processes. We believe this contributes greatly towards productivity, less errors, clearer business monitoring and management and, consequently, greater profitability.
A huge effort goes into making the functionality and the Tidy user experience simple. Apple devices are probably the most widely visible example of the sheer effort that goes into creating simplicity. The new Microsoft Surface tablets and Xero software are other examples. The time and cost of creating a very simple and easy to use interface and what’s behind that interface is massive. We totally embrace that simplicity within our products and we get a lot of good feedback from customers about how easy Tidy software is to use yet how it can deal with their really complex business problems and situations.
Another principle behind Tidy software is to enable each user to see only what they need to in order to fully do their job. This is not to hide information, but too much information that is not relevant to them becomes clutter and complicates things. We are always looking for ways to remove that information clutter. We like to understand how each person needs to operate to do their job and at the same time how they can efficiently work with the Tidy software. Understanding their perspective is always how we like to work with them.
Q: Is this applicable just for small businesses?
A: No. Our software is proving to be able to fit in to both the very small business and the much larger ones. This is no accident as we think about how Tidy software will suit this wide range in each design-to-release cycle. For instance Tidy Stock has many single users and so too does Tidy Work, although it is unusual to get as much value from Tidy Work as a single user. The software can also easily accommodate hundreds of users, and we do have many businesses with a few hundred users all using Tidy, normally our Tidy Work Enterprise product, to run those businesses. These users are interacting intensively with our software and enabling Xero to operate for a much larger organisation than even Xero themselves would know about. Large businesses often deal with less financial transactions than a busy coffee shop. Only the transaction values are, on average, much much greater. We believe this is ideal for accounting firms who have invested in Xero and may need to recommend proven solutions for their larger clients. Tidy can easily span small to large SMEs creating a one stop solution. Cloud implementation partners can also work with Tidy and Xero on much larger projects if they have the knowledge and experience.
“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”
Sir Edmund Hillary
(First man to reach the summit of Mount Everest)
Q: What would you say is the thinking behind this?
A: Although businesses do not always get more complicated as they grow, generally they do. There will be more users, perhaps multiple offices, sometimes multiple countries, multiple teams, more stock, more complicated products that they are manufacturing, assembling or selling. The software needs to cater for that complexity. Businesses are not static. We have many professional services, creative agencies, manufacturing and engineering sector customers for example who have grown significantly over the course of a few years since becoming users of Tidy software.
It is important that we can provide the software they need from the start and then cater for their growth. Small businesses may start with just Tidy Stock, but as they grow and have teams going out to do installations, they may need to add Tidy Work. Some businesses, for instance some of our civil construction customers, scale up and down seasonally. We designed the Tidy products to all work together and be flexible to the changes businesses face. Our pay-per-user subscription pricing is the best method of pricing to cater for changing numbers and changing needs in terms of functionality.
Q: What sort of customers are going for this?
A: With Tidy Stock, we have businesses that are distributors, people who are assembling products, and simply reselling products needing to use the stock management component.
Tidy Work is about project management, job management, job costing, quoting through to taking on that job, managing it through the process when the project or job is won and passing the costs and invoices through to Xero.
We currently have a strong group of customers in the architectural,
engineering consultancy (AEC) sector. We are growing this further with Joe Emanuele, an in-house specialist who brings to Tidy 25 years of experience within that sector. Between Tidy Work (AEC) and Tidy Build we are making it possible for professional architects through to engineers and construction firms all to communicate and collaborate with each other during projects and increase productivity even further. Tidy embraces the Building Information Modelling (BIM) objectives and we continue to further Tidy’s capabilities in this area.
We have customers in the manufacturing industry, because a project for a manufacturer can be a very discreet one off large project or a large number of very small jobs through to quite complicated projects. For example, Tidy Work is being used on one of the major refurbishments of a large New Zealand oil refinery, with literally hundreds of steel fabrication projects and hundreds of users.
We are finding in the UK that there is quite a community of large organisations doing design on large scale events, which need a lot of planning and involve a lot of costing stages. There are budgets associated with these events and these need to be managed closely through Tidy. These events last for a time, and then they have to be dismantled. From theatre and
stage productions through to large scale outdoor/indoor events in London, Tidy is being used in those environments, which is quite interesting. It is quite a range, but they all have a project, stock or inventory management need. Tidy provides the process to manage these events. Control is essential to prevent costs going out of the window and avoid the event losing money.
Q: Does this mean you need different types of integration partners?
A: Yes, we have a lot of partners wanting to integrate Tidy software with Xero into end-user sites. It is a challenge to integrate to the specific requirements of organisations and for that reason we only work with integration partners with a lot of experience, knowledge and capability. Crucially, they have to understand the whole business, not just the operational side of it.
We are defined in what we do and work with integration partners who also focus on the quality on-boarding of customers. Our key focus is on continually improving Tidy software for the operations of a business. This means the organisation of manpower, teams and projects and those teams and projects working with materials and managing them, or the stock of businesses and how the staff of that business interacts to add value in some way from their suppliers through to their end customers. When Add-ons are focused in what their product delivers it is less confusing for the customer and makes the integration partner’s job much easier.
Q What about the move to open a UK office. Has that paid off? Why?
A It is going very well. We are only a few months in and it is running better than I had expected. Whenever you set up an office in a new location there are many challenges and risks. We had to decide when we would move into the UK, bearing in mind that we had been supporting the UK market for quite some time, albeit not from a formal office. We had a strong customer base here before we had a physical office. Having people on the ground shows how serious we are about our long term focus on the UK market.
The UK is also a good place to reach other close proximity time zones, such as the eastern USA, South Africa, and parts of Europe where Tidy customers are also located. Our familiarity with the UK made it simpler to make it our base for those areas as well.
Then the question was where in the UK we would be located. The reason for Newcastle-Upon-Tyne being chosen was covered in our article in Issue 05 of XU Magazine and Real Business magazine. Newcastle has a strong connection with cloud in terms of leading UK university research, facilities, support and education, and also with the construction industry and the architectural sector. It wasn’t a random decision - we really thought about the benefits of our first UK office being located in place that suited many objectives.
Q: Where did the idea behind the front cover shoot come from?
A: It came in a moment of inspiration when out running. Your managing editor, Wesley, said I should run more often as he loved the idea! I was thinking about what would be interesting to connect our planned growth in 2016 and that of our customers with a non-business fun activity.
Climbing it is certainly popular. With lots of climbing walls, people can now access climbing for anything from a children's party through to training for actual mountaineering. The whole concept of climbing is a great metaphor for growth, trust, skill and agility. Climbing is also simple in concept which fits with the Tidy philosophy I explained before.
There is also the team effect - another of our core values whether internally within our company, with our customers, or with our partners. Even from us doing the photo shoot we worked as a team and learnt more about each other. The shoot was almost a team building activity in disguise!
It was quite an exciting thing to do, to have the photographs taken on the high climbing wall in Newcastle. It’s one of the top in the UK I believe. It’s in a fantastic old church with a very high interior. I have promised the team we will return as they too liked the challenge. Now our NZ team want to arrange this so it is becoming viral at Tidy!
Climbing has a special connection for us, being from Down Under, as New Zealand is renowned for its climbing, with Sir Edmund Hillary and the like. It isn’t a sport that I do day to day, but I think it is one that I will be getting into, so that’s a challenge for the year ahead as well.
I think climbing will carry on as our theme for quite some time. Tidy Climb!
Q: So what plans do you have for Tidy this year?
A: 2016 is expected to be another exciting year for us. We have become a profitable cloud company, which is not the norm. We achieved that last year. All businesses must at some point, rather than rely on capital. It also proves the business viability of your product. Now we are building on Tidy’s strengths, to make further releases of advanced features within the software.
Two areas of release, just out, are advanced reporting and advanced resource scheduling. The former is very important to businesses in order to get a lot of information out of Tidy presented just as they want it to be. We can now tailor make reports for any customer, in any way they want, securely, and without affecting the generality of our software in a cloud environment. We have also released advanced resource scheduling. Moving people around, understanding where they are and being able to make quick changes. This is increasingly essential for users of Tidy because projects get delayed; many at short notice and people need to be redeployed from one job to another. Businesses need to be flexible to change and dynamic resource scheduling is essential to managing this.
"XU Magazine is the independent magazine run by Xero users, for Xero users. The magazine is aimed at the ever growing 500,000+ strong community of Xero users"