We are happy to share that in October we applied to the Xero Beautiful Business Fund, an initiative backing small businesses for the future.
Xero is an online accounting software with tools for small businesses, accountants, and bookkeepers that has vastly grown over the years. The Xero Beautiful Business Fund offers more than NZ$750,000 in funding to be awarded to winners at a regional and global level. With seven countries participating, four winners per country will be selected according to four different categories. Each winner per category will then receive NZ$20,000 in funding or a regional equivalent.
Additionally, this pool of 28 regional winners will then be evaluated by a global judging panel and 4 global winners (1 in each category) will be identified and receive an additional global prize of NZ$50,000 in funding (or equivalent local currency).
For entering the competition, a 90 second video was required. This video must follow a set of recording guidelines and include: the business’ brief background, the reasons behind its need for funding and the plans for the upcoming future detailing how the fund would be used and benefit this.
LightSpeed, very excited to participate in this opportunity, selected two categories to be assessed on:
For small businesses seeking to innovate, setting pace with technological advancements, which could include digitalising operations parts or integrating new emerging technologies.
For small businesses thinking ahead and preparing for the future, seeking to support upskilling for themselves or their employees, which could include access to training and other professional development opportunities.
Inspired on my mission that gave birth to LightSpeed, here is a compilation of both video script presentations that reflect the company’s statement, our team’s consistent efforts and dedication, and our future goals and contributions to the tech industry:
“Hello, my name is Ash Shaw and I founded LightSpeed in 2003. The company moved from offering IT support to WordPress design & development services in 2007. Currently we are a team of 7 employees of which 5 of us have been with the company since before 2010.
I have worked with open source products since the early 2000s and quickly developed a passion for the open source community. In 2014 we started building our own Open Source WordPress Theme and continued to release open source products throughout the years, with our most recent product LSX Design getting released on WordPress.org in June 2023.
LightSpeed focused on servicing Tour Operators from the early 2010s, we released an open source Tour Operator product for building WordPress websites and we partnered with Wetu, a Tourism technology partner. Tour Operators made up the majority of our clients until the COVID-19 pandemic brought unanticipated challenges to the tourism industry and we had to pivot significantly.
I started LightSpeed not merely to build a business, but to create a convergence point where technology, passion, and collaborative innovation could thrive. Being an entrepreneur afforded me the ability to design my life the way I wanted and allow my team the freedom to plan their own lives more freely than conventional businesses.
Since 2014, we have operated as a remote business, rarely meeting in person except for team meetups and retreats. Effective processes and digital systems empowered the team to be effective as remote employees, ensuring that LightSpeed delivers a high level of service and quality to our customers.
The feedback we receive from customers is that we are passionate about what we do, which shines through in our work and we always deliver great solutions.
Being based in South Africa sometimes poses revenue generation challenges compared to our international counterparts, but despite these challenges we persevere and look after our dedicated team.
I have actively participated and contributed to local & international WordPress community events. In 2011 & 2012 I organised WordCamp Cape Town, which is a conference that focuses on everything WordPress. From 2015 onwards I attended the yearly WordCamp Europe conference, which helped me build a strong network of WordPress professionals internationally. Every event helped me innovate and implement new technologies, keeping the LightSpeed team on par with global technology trends, which aligns with our strategy to consistently innovate.
WordCamp Europe 2022 was the first event since 2019, due to the pandemic. During this time the entire WordPress ecosystem changed due to new technology. This event inspired me to redevelop our LSX theme and create a new design system. We collaborated with international consultants to aid the process of upskilling in new technology as well as learning to use new design tools.
At LightSpeed, we consistently focus on developing the team’s skills and contributing to the WordPress & WooCommerce open-source communities substantiates its commitment to not just be a part of the digital ecosystem but to continuously enrich it.
Despite the challenges and changes encountered, LightSpeed, anchored by its foundational principles and driven by a future-forward strategy, continues to forge ahead. This journey, marked by consistent growth, adaptation, and a relentless pursuit of digital excellence, showcases a trajectory that is not merely about survival but an unwavering thrust towards pioneering advancements in the digital space.
Trailblazing with technology
Securing this funding means we have the opportunity to pay for further sessions with an expert international consultant from a world-leading WordPress agency, providing dedicated mentorship to our development team. This isn’t merely about ongoing projects but is a conscious focus on innovation-centred development. It’s about enhancing our team’s capabilities, making more significant contributions to the Open Source ecosystem, and raising our profile and presence within our community.
For more than a decade, we’ve utilised cloud-based solutions to enhance our operational efficiency and the quality of our product delivery. Our operational model relies on defined processes to ensure the efficient delivery of quality service to our customers, along with our open and transparent communication with them, allowing us to deliver exceptional solutions. Recently, we’ve begun integrating AI tools into our workflow, aiming to enhance our software development and collaboration processes. Funding would allow us to expand our research and development horizons, with an emphasis on embedding AI further into our operational workflows.
With our application of the latest WordPress technology, we’ve not only redesigned our company website but also released our new LSX Design theme. This isn’t just about reaching milestones but symbolises our constant pursuit of excellence and adaptability within the ever-evolving WordPress platform.
We would like to use the funding to allow us a buffer to be able define a roadmap for our LSX Design theme that will improve accessibility, making our theme usable by everyone, especially people with disabilities.
We would also like to extend our theme to have a deeper integration with WooCommerce and the most popular WooCommerce extensions like Subscriptions, Memberships, Blocks and Sensei Learning Management System. We have already documented many of the improvements we would like to implement on Github.
Innovation isn’t an afterthought for us; it’s woven into our identity. The development of our LSX Design Theme speaks volumes to our dedication to innovative solutions. Our vision goes beyond adaptation – our major goal is to anticipate, plan, and create a digital future, ensuring we and our clients are consistently steps ahead in the digital realm.
Upskilling for the future
I hired an expert international consultant from a world-leading WordPress agency to mentor and train our developers. This mentoring enhanced our workflow, product offerings, and aligned our outputs with global best practices. He not only trained our developers, but also audited our code, ensuring that our output aligned with global best practices and methodologies.
At the same time, I personally led the move to a new collaborative design tool called Figma, that exponentially enhanced our design workflow, resulting in a significant acceleration in project delivery.
The result was we launched our new LSX Block Theme and a design system to compliment it. This not only significantly uplifts our product offerings, but also establishes a foundation for quick, efficient, and high-quality project deliveries in the future.
LightSpeed’s forward-thinking initiatives also encompass client empowerment through technology. Recognising the potential complexities of new technologies for our clients, we initiate client training, ensuring that they are adept and confident in manoeuvring around their website solution, thus aligning our skill development not only internally but also externally towards our client base.
The commitment to remain constantly evolving is not just a strategy, but an ingrained part of our identity, promising that LightSpeed, our clients, and our community are continuously evolving in our digital universe.
Our aspiration to win the “Upskilling for the Future” category in the Xero Beautiful Business Fund is rooted in our commitment to further deepen and expand our upskilling initiatives. The funding will be used to pay for further 1-on-1 mentoring with the expert international consultant we have worked with in the past. We will collaborate with the consultant on defining further skills development and our LSX Design theme development roadmap. The funding will afford me the opportunity to spend more dedicated time on defining this roadmap without concerns for constant revenue generation to fund this mentoring.
Building a successful website means not only design & development expertise. We would like to expand our knowledge and team expertise to provide marketing and optimisation solutions to customers after their launches, specifically using Zoho or Hubspot integrations.
In a world where technology constantly evolves, LightSpeed aspires to remain not just relevant, but pioneering, ensuring that our team, our clients, and our community are perpetually equipped, empowered, and future-ready.
In LightSpeed’s universe, we see not just the present but the opportunities of the future, ensuring that our team, clients, and community are not merely spectators but active, empowered participants in the digital epoch.
Thank you for considering our entry, and we invite you to traverse the digital cosmos alongside LightSpeed, exploring, learning, and pioneering into the future.
Whether we win funding or not, it was a valuable exercise to distil my thoughts and ideas into a succinct 90 sec video. I have to say this has already helped improve my confidence when responding to whoever asks me about “What is LightSpeed?” or “What does LightSpeed do?”.
It is definitely a very interesting challenge to sum up the whole idea and mission behind LightSpeed in only a few words, including the milestones we have reached in a 20 year trajectory and the reasons why at this precise moment of shift and expansion we look up to winning this fund, and believe we deserve it, and invest it on keeping them ongoing.
Following our overall quest of being up to date on the latest technologies, counting with the best tools to provide an easy-going workflow, and delivering open-source solutions that contribute with the industry’s community. In these fronts we do face demands that require investments on upskilling, through training and development, and tribalizing with emerging technology, both on a long-term projection.