William’s previous role as Head of Operations at Paddy Power is where his penchant for problem solving is perhaps most evident, simply due to how complicated the technology that deals with in-play betting is. Many would shy away from such an undertaking, but William, compelled by the sense of challenge and his predisposition for tech, met it head on, guiding this area of the largest quoted bookmaker in the world for a period of 13 months.
William has shown no sign of slowing down on this front, either, with his latest role – CEO of Goodlord – being a real contender for the most surprising decision yet. So, why trade his NED roles for the hotseat at Goodlord? “It was [about the problem Goodlord wanted to solve], but it was also about the process of leading and building a team”, he explains. “I’m most fulfilled when I’m part of a winning team and, as a non-exec, you might have a ringside seat, but you aren’t on the pitch.”
As his first role as a solitary CEO, William’s tenure at Goodlord has made several differences between being a founder and being a CEO apparent. “You have to be good at assembling teams [as a CEO]”, he states, “developing, managing, and keeping people on your side.” This is essentially the idea of being one of the team, rather than their superior or overseer. “I don’t lead by shouting from the rooftops and claiming credit”, he explains, “all I care about is getting the team in a winning position.” William believes that the CEO must be indiscriminate of where the answers for the business’ problems come from, so long as they come. Never mind politics, never mind wanting to have all the answers; a CEO cannot be omniscient, so a strong, well supported team is absolutely crucial if they are to succeed.
And if we were to ask what makes a founder so unique? “I think the founder magic is irreplaceable”, William replies, “because they’ll typically have well over the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours’ of perspective on the business. They will literally have thought about it all day long for years.” The upshot of this is that the founder will – or at least should – understand the business better than anyone else; they are the authority on the business, knowing what it stands for and how it should act in different situations.
Furthermore, founders also have a natural tendency to view their businesses through a more long-term lens than CEOs. “Bezos, Buffet, and Dimon are all very big cheerleaders for thinking long-term”, William explains. “But when you’re in fundraising mode with VC firms or angel investors, it can be difficult to do. I think a founder naturally thinks long-term because they want their business to be around forever.”
Our previous podcast guest and former CEO of innocent, Douglas Lamont, also supported this idea. As one of his Three Things, Douglas recommended taking the ‘Rocking Chair Test’, in which decisions are evaluated based on whether you will look back at them proudly in 30 years or not.
The qualities characteristic of most founders are still not grounds to suggest that they should always remain at the head of the business, however. “Not every aspect of a founder is a positive thing and not every founder is the full package”, William clarifies. Inevitably, this leads to the dilemma of succession, a topic which All Together recently explored during an event with our partners at Investec. Founder and CEO duo from Mindful Chef, Giles Humphries and Tim Lee, agreed that succession is usually a necessity in businesses that grow, but stressed how useful it is to keep the founder involved in some capacity, in part because of that ‘founder magic.’
The Great tech revaluation and the growing cost of capital
With an interest in so many tech-enabled businesses across the UK, we wanted to ask William for his perspective on our recent article, ‘Winter is Coming,’ covering the predicted crash in tech valuations. In the US stock market, for example, the tech bubble has well and truly burst, with some SPACs (including UK start-ups Arrival and Cazoo) down a whopping 90%. UK start-ups and early-stage scale-ups must take note of this developing situation because they will bear the brunt of the storm as it crosses the pond.
The effect of this situation hits start-ups and early-stage scale-ups the hardest because they are typically loss-making enterprises, however this is not solely the case. “Even the biggest tech companies are down 30%”, William states. These companies have established themselves as profit-making giants by generating astronomical profits for decades, and even they have experienced drastic decreases in their valuations.