My, how Xerocon has grown
If Xerocon is accountancy’s answer to Glastonbury, Xero UK MD Gary Turner sees himself as the master of ceremonies who pulls all the strings to bring the annual extravaganza together. Ahead of this year’s event, he told me how Xerocon has evolved since 2012.
Anyone who has kicked around the accounting software scene for a while will recognise how Xerocon has become the biggest date in the UK accounting calendar – three days of turquoise, ledgers and APIs.
Now in its eighth year, Xerocon UK has even grown its own fringe of satellite events and pre-show cocktail parties.
Taking centre stage and pulling all the strings together for the 3,000 attendees is the master of ceremonies himself, Gary Turner. Much like the world’s most famous dairy farmer, Michael Eavis, Turner says the annual festival has become a huge undertaking that occupies his team for a big part of the year.
“We’ve become an events management company for the past 3-6 months,” he told AccountingWEB on the eve of this year’s show.
Away from the main stage, Turner is the host of a massive party where everyone knows who he is. “Most of the time I wander around, chatting to as many people as I can,” he said. “I just love being a delegate at the conference – though I did give myself tennis elbow in 2017 from shaking so many hands.”
The first Xerocon
But it wasn’t always like that. Xerocon UK has come a long way since the first event in 2012, when a small band of techie accountants turned up at Chartered Accountants Hall to find out more about the emerging trend for cloud accounting.
“It was a good event and we were relieved a couple of hundred people showed up,” said Turner.
“It only ran for a day, but many of the same ingredients we had have persisted. It’s not like we invented the concept. US tech conferences are famous for their production values as much as for their content. But that expectation had never been set in the accounting industry.”
The seven-year transition to this year’s mega-bash has been gradual from the initial 200 in 2012 to 400 the next year, then 800 and up in succeeding years. So walking out on stage to talk to 3,000 people about tax returns, invoicing and MTD doesn’t faze Turner.
“I enjoy it weirdly. In any other universe it would be the most mundane thing, but clearly there’s huge relevance for the audience who come and the millions of clients they’re connected with,” he said.
Some old-timers might mutter that it’s not like it was in the old days – like Glastonbury veterans who hark back to the 1980s, when you could drive into the site, park your car and pitch your tent right across from the Pyramid stage. There was a time when everyone in the Xero universe knew everyone else and they could fit into the same room for an informal drinks party.
But Turner doesn’t see it that way: “This year’s Xerocon won’t be as intimate as the first one, but I don’t feel we’re losing touch with the community spirit.
“If I’m proud of anything, it’s that we’ve managed to nurture the event from its small beginnings and not ruin it on the way. The feedback I get on the scale of Xerocon validates that [the people who come] are in the right community. They’re no longer a small minority of pioneers – there are thousands of people who see things the same way they do.”
You can’t do it all
The scale of Xerocon can be daunting and no one person can hope to take in everything that happens. Turner’s advice is to make a plan in advance of the sessions you want to attend and the people you want to connect with. There will also be video replays of most sessions, so you can go back afterwards to catch what you missed.
If you’re going to be there in person, there are usually question and answer sessions at the talks and roundtables. Think about the burning questions you’d like to ask experts and speakers face-to-face, Turner suggested.
“The more digital we become, the more we need events like Xerocon,” he said. “I think people still need to connect with people. Otherwise you’d never leave the office.
“Above all, enjoy it. People are very busy running their businesses. A physical conference gives you a bit of distance from the day to day and a chance to think… and don’t enjoy yourself too much at the party.”
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