The Story So Far: How Xref Came to Be a Reference Checking Industry Leader
This year, Xref turns 10 and before we get to the balloons and fireworks, we want to take a moment to reminisce and share the history of Xref and how this platform came to be. Every business and every person has their own unique story to tell and we’re happy to be able to say that Xref’s story has been one of humble beginnings, great challenges and remarkable success.
We’re excited to celebrate how far we’ve come, so grab a glass of bubbles and join us for a trip down memory lane as our Co-Founders, Lee-Martin Seymour, CEO and Tim Griffiths, CSO recount the milestones Xref has reached and some of the amazing achievements of our clients.
How All Good Ideas Start
The Xref platform, like all great ideas, was born of the need to solve a real life problem. A little over a decade ago, Lee was leading a successful recruitment team and Tim was supporting multiple companies with his deep understanding of the power of technology and once a month the two of them would meet for coffee to talk through ideas and catch up. On one fateful day, after a particularly rough morning, Lee arrived for their catch up feeling frustrated and ready to vent. He’d discovered that one of his team had faked references to get a candidate into a role. After spending the morning dealing with the situation and doing everything possible to save a major account, it was clear to Lee that the referencing process needed a shake up.
Knowing Tim’s experience in tech, Lee unloaded his frustrations about the current process in the hope that they could come up with an improved referencing process that was much more consistent and reliable. After coffee turned into a bottle of wine, the Xref platform began to take shape.
“I remember that we stole the waiter's pen and started drawing out the process on a napkin. We upgraded that napkin into an A4 bit of paper and by the time we’d finished the bottle of wine, we knew we had something.” - Lee-Martin Seymour, Co-Founder & CEO
What Does Xref Mean?
Xref had its name from the very beginning. Tim and Lee both like their cars and have a strong interest in engineering so they easily found themselves referring to the drafting term ‘Xref’, referring to when two lines cross in an engineering drawing, also sometimes known as the integer.
In the context of their new idea, the ‘Xref’ represented a moment in time when two career paths crossed. The crux of their idea at this stage would be hinged on a platform that was capable of garnering feedback from individuals who had crossed career paths at a time in the past.
Landing The First Client
In the beginning, building the Xref platform was just for a bit of fun alongside their day jobs. Once Tim and Lee were at a point where they thought the product was ready for the market, they did their first mailout to their contacts and were contacted by Fuji Xerox. After meeting with them and discussing the challenges that this new platform could help solve, Xref had its very first client.
Fuji Xerox was interested in Xref as they had a graduate group intake scheme they needed to reference quickly. They were intrigued by the fact they could automate the process, because back in 2010 no one else was doing it, it was all done manually.
“I think the first green light for us was seeing what happened when a real company started using our platform for real-world work issues. It proved we were right in thinking we had something great to offer. Getting that first client on board was fantastic!” - Tim Griffiths, Co-Founder & CSO
Xref decided to partner with Fuji Xerox as both parties adjusted to a new way of doing references. This allowed Xref to explore new territory together and tweak the platform based on real-world needs and feedback.
From there, Xref was referred to another client, Westpac, who helped provide clarity over where this product sat in the market. Originally Tim and Lee had thought their product would be well placed for small to medium sized businesses. However, it became clear, very quickly, that this solution was much better placed to service the high-volume referencing needs found at an enterprise level.
“One thing that we pride ourselves on is that we've always partnered with our clients. Our clients have a real need for the platform. They have real world issues and I think we're very good at understanding those issues because we have that unique blend of the tech and recruiting.” - Lee-Martin Seymour, Co-Founder & CEO
Becoming a ‘Real’ Business
The balancing act of building a start-up while maintaining full-time roles and juggling family life was certainly a challenge that both Tim and Lee needed to navigate in the early days. Once they had a few clients under their belt and had started bringing in cash, it was time to think about hiring their first few employees and getting an office.
“Tim and I would take it in turns, he would get busy at work and I would take over a bit of support, I’d get busy at work, then he would take over a bit of support. It was just a really fine-line balancing act made up of frequent messages such as ‘I'm going to go to a meeting. Can you take support?’ or ‘Which coffee shop are you in? Can you do support?’.” - Lee-Martin Seymour, Co-Founder & CEO
A defining moment for Xref was when they were faced with a situation where they had an office, three staff members and a pending invoice they were hoping would be paid soon. In order to pay their staff on time, Tim and Lee had to take a massive leap of faith and use their own rent money to make ends meet. Thankfully, not long after paying their staff, the invoice they’d been expecting came through.
Since then and over the 10 years of doing business, Xref has never missed or been late in paying their staff.
“Facing the challenges head-on and putting ourselves on the line has been so important for us as a business to grow. In fact, it’s still very important to us today.” - Tim Griffiths, Co-Founder & CSO
Building a Team
Xref’s initial sales team all came from a recruitment background. The focus was on finding people who could hold a conversation with clients around the various stages of hiring including; time to hire, attrition and cost of hire. In the early days, the sales team not only needed to learn how to sell the Xref platform but they needed to be able to educate the market on how this new automation process could completely change the way companies complete their reference checks for the better.
With Lee and Tim both coming from different backgrounds within the local recruitment and tech industry, they were able to successfully leverage their networks and build a great team from the ground up. Many of the people hired in the beginning are still with Xref today.
“Xref was my first encounter in the job market in Australia. I believe I was really lucky to have a chance to work with Lee & Tim. A simple idea and a small application has now become an ever evolving platform, hiding enormous complexity under the hood while keeping the user interface as simple as possible. Xref's biggest success is the people who work here. To be able to put together, and maintain, such a brilliant team is what we are proud of.
I am a strong believer in the quote, "If work isn't fun, you're not playing on the right team." I am glad to be on Xref team.” - Imran Shahid, Lead DevOps and Security (7 Years With Xref)
“The passion for the product and the work involved in getting it to 10 years is quite outstanding. To see so many of the same faces around today that were here in the very beginning makes me very proud to have been on the journey with them.
We have all had some challenges and had to work together, thinking creatively and always putting our best foot forward but there was never any doubt that it would work and that we would continue to make it work.
We have also had some amazing times as a team! Regardless of whoever comes and goes (as is the nature of business) one thing remains and that is the belief in the product and the great people who make it all happen. I would like to say thanks to them!” - Melanie Seymour, HR and Payroll Manager
By this point, Xref had been in business for around five years and Lee and Tim knew that, order to continue growing and improving cash-flow, their next move should be an ASX listing.
Xref decided to go global in response to growing demand for the platform in other countries. The team were increasingly seeing situations where candidates had worked previously in the US or Europe and their referees would still be overseas. These candidates and referees would use the platform and then call to ask if it was possible to use the service for their business needs in their region.
As the demand for Xref’s services overseas continued to grow, so did the need for multilingual and multi-region capabilities.
Following initial global expansion, in order for Xref to scale further, it became increasingly important to make sure all governance required and insurances were in place, and that Xref became a ‘proper’, ‘grown-up’ company. This was when Xref went through the process to become ISO 27001 certified, the highest global standard for data security.
The Xref platform was completely rebuilt to accommodate all of the very necessary requirements that made the service safe and secure, ready to be used all over the world. This was also when Xref began to add additional languages to the platform, making it more accessible to service the needs of clients at the time. Xref then went about setting up offices and building strong teams in the countries that the platform was most sought after in.
Surviving, Then Thriving Through a Pandemic
From day one, Xref was built to be remote. The ability to be flexible was always important to the team, especially when the decision was made to take Xref global.
When COVID-19 hit, from a business perspective, Xref was able to keep working. The time came when a decision was made for the sake of everyone's safety that staff should pick up their laptops and set up from home. The transition worked seamlessly because the business was built with the ability to do this from day one. With all the systems being interconnected and cloud based, even the global offices could do the same without any issue.
Prior to COVID-19, as of December 2019, the decision had been made to aim for cash flow break even. So the preparations to restructure costs across the business had already begun before the virus was in full swing. When March 2020 came around and the lockdowns and isolation began, Xref had already started to become a much leaner business.
“In the 10 years we’ve been building Xref, we’ve never been afraid to make tough decisions to liberate the business. So, we made the necessary decision to skinny down so that we could actually stay in business. I think because of that, not just us but everybody in Xref now has their own survival story of how we made it through the pandemic.” - Lee-Martin Seymour, Co-Founder & CEO
COVID-19 has helped Xref to see the value of a more outcome-driven workplace and after gathering feedback from staff has even made the decision to let go of some physical office space to adapt to the ‘new normal’. It has also been a great honour to be able to support essential services such as healthcare organisations as they respond quickly to the hiring needs brought about by the pandemic and provide a product that is reliable in times of uncertainty.
In terms of how the pandemic has affected the market, there is a great opportunity ahead for Xref to provide support to companies who will be looking to hire in the new year. Many companies needed to slim down to survive but now, as the world adapts, companies will require an abundance of safe and secure reference checks to help build their teams more than ever before.
For the proud leaders of the business, what the pandemic has really demonstrated is the trust the Xref team and platform have built with existing clients and are quickly able to garner from the increasingly resilient and adaptable organisations we see joining every day.
Where to Next?
Moving forward, we are building products right now based on feedback from our clients that will help to solve some big industry challenges. These are not new problems that we’re looking to solve, simply questions that COVID-19 has highlighted as companies begin to navigate building new teams with new ways of working.
“The pandemic has provided a much needed focus on human verification on a global scale and Xref was able to respond quickly to the growing demand. As a result of the pandemic we are just about to witness the biggest migration of talent ever and Xref is poised to assist companies globally on the attraction and retention of the right talent.” - Lee-Martin Seymour, Co-Founder & CEO
In 10 years, Xref has come a long way from two guys airing their frustrations with the industry over a bottle of wine. With a strong team of 60 staff, Xref now has 1000 clients, with approximately 100,000 platform users across the globe. We’ve integrated with 53 leading HR and ATS platforms and are working on adding more every day.
It’s been 10 years of building trust, and ten years of learning important lessons along the way. Yet, what started out as a platform aimed at easing the everyday frustrations of the recruitment industry has since become proven to be a critical product for delivering the best recruitment experience possible, with as little turnaround time as possible.
This really is just the beginning for Xref and we’re incredibly grateful to have such great staff, clients and partners making it all possible.