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How ecosystems enable entrepreneurship to flourish

As we celebrate the 10th Global Entrepreneurship Week, Nick Houldsworth, Xero’s general manager for ecosystem, reflects on the role of ecosystems in enabling entrepreneurship to flourish.

With the rise of cloud technology companies, the barriers to entrepreneurship are falling. Tech entrepreneurs today just need an idea that solves a problem and the tools and capital to develop that idea into a reality. They often don't even need to worry too much about how they will find and sell the idea to an audience. That’s because those audiences may already be there, linked to an existing cloud-based ecosystem.

Ecosystems are communities that grow around a common platform. The most well-known examples are operated by the big three – Amazon (Marketplace), Apple (AppStore) and Facebook (Businesses). But many ecosystems serve niche industries which, at a global scale, represent large communities, like Etsy (Craft Goods) or StackOverflow (Developers).

An ecosystem reduces friction between buyers and sellers, by creating a common place to interact. It means eCommerce startups don't need to invest heavily in building a brand or digital presence to reach every customer in the world. Instead, they can fast track their growth by leveraging the likes of Amazon’s marketplace to reach buyers already searching for products.

Building a platform is a long-term investment. The most successful global platforms effectively create new communities around them, then invest in their success by building connections between members of those communities too.

For example, Salesforce, one of the pioneers of Software as a Service (SaaS) ecosystems, recently launched the Salesforce Incubator, a five-month program of access to mentorship, workspace and a community of peers inside the Salesforce offices to accelerate growth for a number of early-stage startups building on their platform.

Xero’s SaaS accounting platform also hosts a digital marketplace that links business customers with applications developed by third parties. Our ecosystem creates demand among more than one million subscribers for innovative tools that extend the power of Xero’s core accounting engine, which in turn offers a completely new channel to market for technology partners. Finding scalable channels to reach small businesses worldwide is hard. Xero has already done a lot of the heavy lifting, which benefits those who build to our API.

Nick Houldsworth.

With 600 app partners and over 40,000 developers in our ecosystem, Xero also invests in connecting our partners so they can learn from a community of peers as they grow, through events like Xerocon, Developer Roadshow, and online forums.

Like other global platforms, this creates opportunities for software providers to develop niche solutions which traditionally might have only reached a small market in their home country. For example, tools for trades, hair and beauty or advisory services. The life of small business operators is changing fast and for the better. This access to niche solutions on a global platform benefits small businesses in those sectors by giving them access to tools that previously were only affordable by large enterprise businesses. Essentially ecosystems help democratise technology for small business - something that would have only once been available for big business. 

For example, New Zealand business app Timely was both built from the ground up with the Xero ecosystem and access to the Xero subscribers in mind. Timely is a scheduling software app developed specifically for a salon, spa, gym and personal trainers. Timely organises every aspect of the business from booking appointments for clients to managing staff rosters and inventory control. Timely is run out of Wellington by a group of developers and designers who cut their teeth at TradeMe and other start-ups.

Successful offshore app partners who develop their products with Xero integration core to their proposition include: FUTRLI, a forecasting and reporting tool;  and Receipt Bank, the paperless receipt and invoice tracker.

Our curated marketplace means it’s now easier for small businesses to find the right solution that works with Xero and for their business and gives them the tools to unlock efficiency, run their business operations from anywhere, and get hours back in their day.

Ecosystems can reach customers all over the world, so if you’ve got a good idea, there are very few barriers to stop you reaching those customers. It’s almost an unlimited opportunity to tap into ecosystems if you’re an entrepreneur looking to flourish.