XU: Today we are joined by 16 year old Ollie Beale who is the youngest ever Xero certified advisor. We wanted to take this opportunity to speak with him about his journey to date and what’s next.
Ollie, can you start by telling us about your journey and how at 13 years old you became the youngest ever Xero certified advisor?
OB: I grew up in a very business oriented family. It was back in 2012 when my parents set up Bookkeeping4u, and I always wanted to be part of it. I have a small memory of trying to spell Xero out with those little letters that stick to the bathroom tiles once wet! I attended my first networking meeting at the age of 9, adorned with the closest tie I could find to “Xero Blue”. However, it wasn’t until September 2019, whilst entering Year 9, that my parents finally decided I was old and mature enough to help in terms of Xero, including attending Xerocon in the upcoming November. And so, I set about getting Xero Certified, and successfully achieved it on the 29th of September.
We were then contacted by Xero a few weeks later, where we were informed that, in fact, I was the youngest person to ever complete the certification. I was sent a box of goodies from the Milton Keynes Office (which included a little trophy engraved with my name) and featured in the Xero Blog. It was at this point that I was approached by Rachael Powell, Chief Customer Officer, who had discovered I would be attending Xerocon and asked how I would feel about making an appearance during her keynote speech on the Main Stage. I managed to negotiate a meet-and-greet with astronaut Tim Peake, and so made my Xerocon debut on Day 2 in front of a packed ExCel London.
XU: How important has Xero been to your career to date and what part will it play in the future?
OB: I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been given by Xero already. Following Xerocon 2019, I set up a LinkedIn account and the response from our community was overwhelming. Within one month I had reached 500+ connections which included CEO Steve Vamos – I still have a screenshot of the notification of his request to connect! The company’s support for me helped to build my confidence, enabling me to take up opportunities which presented themselves.
Being Xero certified meant I could work for my parents and gain key business skills whilst still in full-time education. I was even able to juggle payroll around my GCSE revision.
As for the future, it was at this year’s Xerocon London back in July where this became clear. Once again, I was contacted by Rachael just before the event and asked about being on the Main Stage. This time my appearance was kept as a complete surprise – even the sound guy had me down as ‘surprise guest’! Hence, once again, I was on stage during her keynote speech but this time she had a surprise for me, Xero will pay for my university tuition. It was unbelievable for me, and it shows quite how great an impact Xero are having on my early career. I look forward to prospects between us in the future.
XU: The Xero Users Community loves to hear (and see) your story living out. It’s amazing to see someone with so much drive so young. However, what do people outside of the community think about what you have achieved so young and how does this differ?
OB: Much of the response I have received has been similar across all industries. Away from Xero, I am extremely passionate about football; many members of that industry are also more than happy to connect with me. How connected the whole accounting community is to specifically the women’s game has surprised me, with even my favourite player and Euro 2022 Winning Captain Leah Williamson, a trainee accountant herself. I was incredibly honoured when even former Lioness and Xerocon 2022 speaker Fara Williams said she was impressed by my achievements! Xero’s backing of the Women’s game is praiseworthy, and I am looking forward to seeing the brand during next year’s World Cup.
I have also become somewhat of a local business celebrity. Since Xerocon 2019, I often receive questions about my achievements and what plans I have for the future, whilst at networking events. This is partially thanks to my school, the Hereford Cathedral School, whose publicity after the event resulted with me in the newspaper and even on the radio. I’ve also appeared on several podcasts, stretching all the way from cloud accounting to social media.
XU: Many of us will know that Xero loves to bring you up on stage at Xerocons and get you to share your journey and rightly so. But as a 16 year old how does this feel and how do you prepare yourself to speak in front of so many people?
OB: Although still only 16 now, I seem to have matured a lot over the past three years. Back in 2019, I had zero on stage experience and the biggest crowd I’d ever been in front of was my Year 6 end of year production. At Xerocon, I was literally shaking whilst sitting in the ExCel London green room, waiting for my call to go up! However, being in front of such a massive but considerate audience helped to build my confidence and inspired me to want to speak more often. During the pandemic, I attended and spoke in a lot of Zoom calls, which also gave me much needed experience. I also have a coach who has significantly improved my confidence.
This year the preparation was vastly different. I listened to music as usual to ‘get into the zone’ before we left for Tobacco Dock. We arrived around an hour before Day 2 got formally underway, where we met up with Helen Kingham, Director Executive of Communications. She took me down to meet the sound team - who gave me my mic and took sound checks - and showed me exactly where on the stage I would need to stand.
I met with Rachael again, who offered me some reassurance. There were two speakers before me and so I was sat at the front of the Main Stage audience, alongside the senior Xeros. I took some last-minute mental notes of what the first speakers were doing well, before Rachael began her keynote session. Around 15 minutes into the session, she reintroduced me to the crowd, a lot of whom had seen me in 2019. Daft Punk’s ‘One More Time’ then hit, which was my cue to go up. Once upon the stage, unlike in 2019, I took a long look out at the audience, to really savour the moment of being back. The experience of having thousands of kind members of our community cheering me on is one I will never forget, and I hope to one day do it again.
XU: Social Media is a massive part of everyone’s life. How do you feel you are able to impact people of all ages with your social media?
OB: LinkedIn has played a noticeably significant role in the reputation I have created. I initially joined to connect the people I had met at Xerocon 2019 – including an ex-pilot turned accountant who had heard about my passion for aviation. In January 2020, I became Payroll Certified and decided to share the news on my LinkedIn. The response was overwhelming, with the post gaining over 700 likes and 63,000 impressions, more than the capacity of my favourite football team Arsenal’s stadium! However, some people were less kind in receiving the news, as I was informed by few to ‘get a life’ and received other similar negative comments. This really affected my confidence, as I was only just 14, and so became more reserved on my social media.
As we were plunged into the first lockdown in March 2020, I decided to start sharing more personal posts on my LinkedIn, sharing one post per day of lockdown. From the raspberries or sunflowers which I grew in my garden, to a maths lesson turned scavenger hunt, these posts were received tremendously by my connections. These continued for over 100 days, which included being one of the first people awarded with ‘Creator Mode’. Many of my followers will know I share a lot of my personal life on my account nowadays, showing my similar young followers that I am in fact a normal teenager, and that with enough initiative and drive anyone can be in my position.
I love when people recognise me from my LinkedIn, as it proves to me that the work I put in is being received far more with positive opinions than the occasional negative. I was honoured when Rachael called me a ‘Xero Ambassador’, and this is a label I try to live up to. ‘Xero Queen’ Laura Evison also recently crowned me the ‘Xero Prince’, a title I need to start using more often!
XU: I am sure many of us would agree your future is bright. What do the next few years look like for you?
OB: I formally finished school back in June, with my last GCSE (Physics Paper 2) on the 23rd. However, I am staying at the Hereford Cathedral School Sixth Form for the next two years, after being renewed as an Academic Scholar. I joined the school back in Year 7, and I cannot thank them enough for their support, helping me to maximise my time in education. Without them, I would have struggled to find the confidence I have needed for my achievements. Therefore, I am over the moon to be continuing for two extra years, as I complete my A-Levels. I will be completing 4 A-Levels, including Maths and English Literature. After that, thanks to the incredible gesture by Xero, I will be continuing onto university. Where and for what I am still unsure of at the current time, although London area sounds cool.
As well as working at Bookkeeping4u, my parents also run a local events company called ‘Herefordshire means Business’. I am hoping to use these events as a chance to gain vital business experience, in terms of both public speaking and networking. I am also going to be taking the reins in organising a business conference in 2023, for which I am hoping Xero may attend. I am also currently a Fundraising Volunteer for my local football club, Hereford FC, and hope to continue in this role for the near future.
XU: Following on from that, where do you see yourself when you are 30?
OB: As I mentioned on stage, the last few years have really shown us all quite how unpredictable life can be. Who could have thought we would spend the worst parts of two years in some form of lockdown? I am barely over halfway to 30 and so would require a DeLorean to give any form of realistic prediction. However, I really enjoy public speaking and would like to do more of it in the future, although getting some experience at smaller venues than the ‘Glastonbury of accountants’ is necessary. I also aim to continue to grow my LinkedIn network, and maybe even be an influencer at 30? I hope to also have the confidence to freely post on my Instagram, where I have been quite reserved. For now, I try to stay grounded by appreciating each day as it comes.
On personal terms, I would love to travel to Australia. I have many family members who live in Adelaide, and I aim to stay with them one day. Maybe even a Xerocon could be scheduled into the visit!
XU: It’s been great being able to speak with you and get your insight into being a young Xero User. To finish, what bit of advice would you give to anyone reading this interview?
OB: Rather than giving a 16-year-old opinion, a quote that I find quite thoughtful would be from my childhood idol Richard Branson, whose entrepreneurial nature has always inspired me (especially growing up mad about planes and trains): “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”