When your career experience spans industries such as finance, travel, insurance and retail, selecting where your next challenge lies can be both heartening and daunting. For Russell Gould, a serial entrepreneur and former English touch rugby medallist, its a chance to find another business that really charges him up.
He’s now five months into his role as CEO of Vesta, a marketplace for the private rented sector. “We’ve recognised that over 20 per cent of the UK’s housing stock is rented – and that’s predicted to grow to 25 per cent soon,” he explained.
“As it stands today, there is not a marketplace for the private rented sector. It is very rare that you come across such a big sector that doesn’t have that framework or marketplace set up. That is what makes it exciting.”
Gould touched down at Vesta after spending six months contracting in an effort to take a step back and identify a new challenge and opportunity. With a career dating back to the early days of ecommerce, Gould has realised there are three things any new role has to do.
“For me, the people involved have to be credible, robust and trustworthy. I then have to believe in the concept, idea and stage it’s at. Lastly, for the next three to five years I have to be able to wake up and be truly excited about it,” he told us.
“I saw a lot of frogs along the way, looking at lots of different things. But, as I said, it’s so rare that you come across an opportunity in a market that doesn’t have structure.”
Vesta provides a platform, or marketplace, for vendors to offload a property with sitting tenants. “As 80 per cent of the market is owner-occupied, most will be told to kick tenants out before selling it,” Gould explained. “We are changing that. All properties with Vesta are sold with tenants in, or on their way in. This is great for the seller as they retain income up until completion and great for the buyer as they have income from the first day of purchase.”
The business was incubated within another company called Mill Group, which has been around for around 20 years. Having spent around £3.5m and a few years developing what Vesta would look like, a period of time which included a big pivot, the business has now been spun away from Mill Group and launched four weeks ago with £50m worth of stock on the platform.
Gould said he “loves a startup challenge”. At this stage of business development he has a firm idea of what is critically important. Managing spend, he said, is “critical”. Despite Vesta being reasonably well funded as a startup, with £2.1m of seed capital, every penny counts in his eyes.
“Every penny spent has to have a level of return, that is a key lesson. If you don’t have to spend money, don’t. When you do spend, make sure it adds value.”
After spend, Gould touched on people and described them as even more important. “Make sure you have good people who believe in the vision and will give their blood, sweat and soul to make it happen,” he advised.
Gould has been through acquisitions, spin-outs, interim roles and short-lived shifts – picking up a wealth of knowledge during that period.
“I’m not afraid of change. There has been the odd occasion where, in the corporate world, I’ve got frustrated with pushing cement around. Very often, these sized companies don’t have the ability to move fast enough and that might result in me looking for other opportunities.”
Leaving companies still in the midst of growth has never been something that has scared Gould. Instead, the business leader sees it as evidence he’s effectively made himself disposable and redundant. “If I am doing my job properly then I’m building a team and concept so that I’m not needed anymore,” he explained. “There’s always a natural point where the team can step up and run things, meaning I can move onto something new.”
Our conversation with Gould frequently came back to people. People shape the business experiences everyone has and, through the careful cultivation of a network, provide help and guidance as time goes on.
Despite still feeling young at heart, Gould has now got to a stage where he has “done a lot” and amassed enough knowledge to help lots of other people. It’s something that he’s proud of.
Deciding on their next challenge, whether that’s after success or failure, is something every entrepreneur will go through. Gould seems to have created a great filter for dealing with the frogs that do hop across his path and now, in the shape of Vesta, has a challenge worth waking up for each morning.