William Reeve of Goodlord: Lessons from a struggling startup’s turnaround
William Reeve is a serial entrepreneur and investor involved in some of the UK’s most well-known tech start-ups, from Lovefilm, a pioneer in online movie streaming, to Zoopla, a real estate portal.
He launched his first tech company, Fletcher Research, an IT industry analysis agency, in 1997 after a brief stint with McKinsey, the management consulting firm, as a business analyst. Two years later, he sold it to Boston-based Forrester Research. “I made a life-changing amount of money because I owned most of the shares,” he says. And what the money gave him “was the freedom to choose what I did and who I did it with.”
We meet at the East London base of Goodlord, an online property management platform for tenants and landlords, where Reeve is the Managing Director. He was invited to take over in 2018 by the company’s first investor, LocalGlobe.
The dawn of dotcom entrepreneur was given a monumental turnaround task as the tech startup was bleeding money. Two of Goodlord’s co-founders had just stepped down, leaving only a third, Tom Mundy, still with the company. The group had laid off nearly 40 of its 134 employees.
Robin Klein, the General Partner of LocalGlobe who offered the job to Reeve, believed – and still believes – that Goodlord’s core proposition is solid, especially as the number of rentals, especially in cities like London, increases. What was needed, he adds, was someone who understood the specific issues of managing start-up teams.
“I worked with William in a few different scenarios and I knew he had the right analytical skills to clearly understand what needed to be done, that he was not afraid of challenges and [had] experience to handle difficult situations, ”says Klein.
Reeve, 49, initially agreed to be a counselor and visit the team to assess the situation and offer advice before setting out on a trip to visit his wife’s family in Australia. “I deliberately tried to give these guys some advice that would give them something to think about during the month I was away,” he says.
“I was trying to make an impact, even though some might have thought, ‘Who is that asshole? Luckily when I got back it seemed like they had taken into account what I had said and had started cracking up to make changes.
“It warmed my heart because you could see these guys were very hungry for change,” says Reeve, who later accepted the role of GM. “They had a lot of talent but they had no experience. So I thought if I could give them a little experience, we can figure out the rest quite independently.
Reeve’s leadership style focuses on setting performance goals: There’s an element of the director, his childhood dream job, to the role, he says. Reeve positions himself as a tutor to Goodlord’s young entrepreneurial workforce, where rather than homework and gold stars, he issues performance goals tied to compensation. “Most of the people here are Gen Z. Compared to them, I’ve had a lot of past lives,” he says.
On Reeve’s slightly damaged laptop is a spreadsheet with three columns that contains performance goals for each Goodlord employee, what each must do to get an outperformance bonus and results that would justify significant outperformance and earn. a higher sum.
“For a typical employee over £ 30,000, they will earn 10% more on the percentage tied to those goals by beating all of their performance goals in one quarter,” Reeve said.
Three questions to William Reeve
Who is your leadership hero?
This is JPMorgan Chase President and CEO Jamie Dimon. JPMorgan is in an industry [banking] which no one likes, but Jamie’s reputation is excellent – for combining strategic thinking, operational skills and charisma. When JPMorgan bought Nutmeg earlier this year, I saw how his people will step on hot coals for him.
What would you do if you hadn’t become a founder of technology?
I had always wanted to be a principal because of the inspiring principal Dr Martin Stephen I had in my school [The Perse School] in Cambridge. What stopped me was the idea of having to become a school teacher first, as well as realizing that running a business could be even better for me. What I do in start-ups itches me a lot as I could have done if I had followed this first career idea.
What was your first lesson in leadership?
I learned a lot from Jonathan Heathcote, one of my first bosses when I was a business analyst at McKinsey. His background was in the British Army, including leading a platoon in the Falklands conflict. He taught me what a successful team is. I worked with him on a six month project in Grimsby at HERE [the former British chemicals company]; there were only four of us, but Jonathan set very clear goals for himself, made sure we all knew our roles, and created a culture of trust and accountability. He was the first manager to show me my vulnerability by saying, “I’m not smart enough to do this, can you do it?
Individuals are kept up to date on their personal progress, but all staff receive monthly and quarterly company-wide updates at town hall meetings, chaired by Reeve.
“I remember one of my first recruits [at Fletcher] saying he really liked it [the performance updates] because it made him feel like part of a very large company even though there were three of us in a closet at the time. I remember being quite proud of the fact that he joined a company because it took things like goal setting seriously. “
Importantly, employees can’t lose their pay if goals aren’t met, even if that would trigger meetings with human resources to find out what happened, Reeve adds.
According to Reeve, one of the ways the system creates innovative solutions to problems is a style of leadership that dictates what employees should achieve – not how they should work. “I’ve never been very good at micromanaging or remembering the tasks people face, so I just want everyone to know what their big four or five goals are and then let them worry about how of which they reach them, “he said.
Among those reporting to Reeve is Goodlord co-founder and COO, Tom Mundy. The two meet every Monday morning for a one-on-one breakfast to stay aligned with company goals, but what does Reeve think of running a company founder?
“We complement each other,” he says. “There is a loneliness in being a CEO and I have always tried to treat Tom like my business partner rather than my employee or my number two. ”
Mundy agrees. “William is very much like a mentor, but we are also able to work quite independently,” he says. “I am very good at starting a product from scratch. William is a strategic thinker which is helpful as I often want to go fast and he’s pretty good at making sure I look up and see the bigger horizon of what we’re trying to accomplish.
Reeve is hoping he can bring Goodlord to the kind of success he and his co-founders have achieved at Lovefilm, which was acquired by Amazon for £ 200million in 2011.
Until September of this year, Reeve balanced his role as Managing Director at Goodlord by serving as part-time chairman of Nutmeg, a London-based digital financial advisor, which he led to an acquisition by JPMorgan Chase as part of ‘a deal valuing Nutmeg at £ 700million. .
Reeve also tasted of failure. He invested £ 100,000 in London-based online grocery delivery service Hubbub, but the business collapsed in 2017. Seeing the outlets and the story of the outing was not there, ”says Reeve.
His experience in the real estate market is more positive, having been both an investor and a non-executive director of Zoopla, which was launched in 2014 and sold to Silver Lake, a technology investment firm, for £ 2.2bn. in 2018.
Since Reeve joined Reeve, Goodlord has gone from losing more money than he got from each new customer to a department where every one of his departments – from collecting rent for landlords to managing connections. broadband for tenants – is profitable, according to Reeve.
It now employs 300 people and raised £ 10million in Series B funding in March 2020 to build the engineering, customer service and product teams. However, the Goodlord Group recorded a loss of £ 5.4million last year, up from £ 4.3million in 2019.
Reeve refuses to say when Goodlord might reach profitability. Success would be the result of the combined work of Mundy and others, not just his leadership, he adds. “I was never the only founder,” says Reeve. “I have always seen the value of acting as a team. “