“Learn how to delegate better”: Interview with British serial entrepreneur and investor, William Reeve

William Reeve is a British serial entrepreneur, who is best-known for founding renowned companies like LOVEFiLM, acting as CEO of Goodlord.co (a leading proptech in the UK), acting in non-executive positions and investing in high-growth companies (like Graze, Smart Pension, Secret Escapes, and Zoopla), or sometimes is a combination of all of the above. What ties together all of William’s ventures is an interest in forward-thinking internet innovations, meaning he has often been leading future trends way before their time.

We spoke with William about the secrets of good leadership, weathering a financial crisis, and his future predictions for the UK and European tech scene. Read on for some more than valuable insights.

Hello William, thank you for joining us. You’ve got a strong background founding a number of successful businesses, like LOVEFiLM.com and Secret Escapes. To get started, can you tell us what drives your entrepreneurial spirit?

I attribute a lot of my success to my being both competitive and ambitious; I believe people can achieve anything they set out to do with the right tools, the right technology, and the right people by their side. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been motivated by the desire to develop and push things further than they’ve gone before. When I was at school I published a computer game (“Pipeline”, for the 8-bit BBC Micro). It was my first experience of creative entrepreneurship and I loved the thrill of building something that was, technically, ahead of the market at the time. By the time I got to university, I’d fully got the entrepreneurial bug and was ready to seize every opportunity to turn those ambitions into a career. 

Having weathered previous financial storms, do you have any advice for founders today battling the challenges presented by the coronavirus crisis? 

There’s no doubt that we are all sailing through uncharted waters right now. Different sectors are being hit harder than others, so there’s no magic formula for every founder to search for. But my main advice would be to involve your people in tackling the challenges. Nobody expects you to have all the answers; what you can do is lead your team and people in tackling the big questions your organisation faces together. Organisations want and expect leadership, not magicians. 

Compared to when the dot-com bubble burst or the 2008 crash, we have a much stronger VC and funding ecosystem now. We also have stronger companies who are better at monetising their offerings. The job market is presenting a fantastic opportunity to make some outstanding hires, and 2020 is also giving founders a chance to redefine their niche or point of difference.

For tech startups, there’s a lot to be positive about if you take the long-view. Now is tech’s moment: people are crying out for the right tools to improve their lives and the world around them. 

With regards to fundraising at this time, do you have any words of wisdom?

I can’t offer wisdom but I can share my experience. Fundraising is never a walk in the park, let alone during a recession. Adding to the pressure is the fact that investors will be nervous about meeting new teams and closing a deal remotely. With that in mind, expect fundraising to take twice as long as you anticipate, as funders will spend more time on due diligence when it’s remote. 

If you can find a safe, targeted way to use physical touchpoints in your outreach, you can expect to deliver a far greater impact and a more successful result. If not, work out how to personalise your approach as much as possible.

But, overall, VC money is still available for good ideas and exceptional founders. 

It can be complex to pull a team together and lead effectively, let alone during a pandemic. What leadership tips would you have given yourself 15 years ago? 

My entire career has been a learning journey in effective leadership; it’s rare for a week to go by without me learning something which helps me to improve and develop further. 

If I were to have the opportunity to speak to former-me, I’d say “learn to delegate better”. 

When you’re really invested in a project it can be painfully hard to step back and let others get involved, but micromanaging or trying to do everything yourself just doesn’t make sense – even if you think you can do a faster or better job. 

To help with the delegation process, I’d advise myself to pay attention to where experience is most important, and to where skills can be developed internally.

Finally, I’d emphasise that building a diverse organisation should never be considered a box-ticking exercise. Diverse teams are better teams, I know this from experience – even if they are harder to assemble. 

What changes have you seen in the UK  – and European – tech community in the last 5-10 years, and what do you predict for the next?

The fantastic thing about the tech market both in the UK and Europe is that it is constantly buzzing, shifting and growing. The changes which most clearly stand out to me are the attitudes to business models; there is much more understanding of the need for monetisation, and more respect for margins and profitability. More freemium models like Zoom or Spotify, and less models like Kazaa or Skype.  

At the same time, members of the startup community seem to have a more in-depth understanding of the paths open to them, and the directions in which they want to grow. Their development is being aided by a broad set of skills, especially in the newly-emerged arenas like ‘Product’, ‘Success’ and ‘People’. 

I predict that in the coming years the next generation of the community will begin to really make their voices heard. There’s all to play for in the current climate, and the younger generation have the energy to take the whole movement in the direction of their choosing. 

What’s on the cards for the rest of 2020 and 2021? Any exciting projects underway?

The next 18 months are certainly going to be very interesting. The pandemic will continue to hover over us for the foreseeable future, but I don’t think it will result in a large-scale downpour – more like localised squalls with smaller-scale impact. 

I think that we need to start now when it comes to re-shaping and re-imagining the economy. It’s time to get the UK moving again – economically, politically, and emotionally. The shock has happened, but we need to pick ourselves up and start deciding things like how permanent remote working is going to be, and how we are going to make this work for our businesses. 

Excitingly, the fintech revolution is only just starting to make itself felt. I can see that  OpenBanking is now really beginning to drive entire business models and empower millions of people – this is a phenomenon which is going to take centre stage in the 2020s and beyond. 

At Goodlord, we’re focusing on strengthening our product and making sure that we remain at the forefront of helping our industry – lettings – make the most of the opportunities technology offers.

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