Interviews

Globalized Entrepreneurship: an Interview with Steve Reardon

Business, in regard to industry, is an extremely broad term, to say the least. From rural small town restaurants to public universities to multinational media conglomerates, business is applied in every facet of life, and is industry-neutral; However, the understanding of how business works and ability to grow a given organization’s presence and revenue is a talent that as consequence can also be applied across industries and places given the right mind and motivation. As a former tech start-up founder in South Africa, marketing consultant to Barclays, and CEO of cutting-edge software company Bill4Time, businessman Steve Reardon is a connoisseur of opportunity regardless of industry and serves as a prime example of business-savvy for aspiring entrepreneurs across the globe. We had the opportunity to ask Reardon about how he has been able to navigate an ever-changing and increasingly globalized business landscape, as well as learn about a couple key strategies for growing businesses.

Since becoming the CEO of Bill4Time in Seattle, what are the major responsibilities of your job, and what niche does Bill4Time serve in the marketplace?

Reardon: Bill4Time primarily services the legal vertical. We are focused on time and billing and practice management for small to mid-sized law firms. Mainly my job revolves around setting and co-creating strategy for the business with my team, recruiting world-class talent and developing the people we have in the organization. The main job initially was to focus the organization on the key market we wanted to grow and identify a feature set that would allow us to continue to grow in that category. We have also been experiencing high growth and adding a lot to our sales and marketing team so attracting top talent takes up a lot of my time.

Given that tech and software related industries are typically extremely competitive, how have you been able to successfully network yourself and your talents in the US to gain more business opportunities?

Reardon: Well, attending Stanford was obviously a big advantage. The school places a big focus on their alumni network and keeping that active is a big part of being from the school. In addition, our investors have been active in connecting me to other executives across their portfolio. They believe in the cross-pollination of talent so they are always looking to make those connections. In the industry more broadly I am currently attending shows, meeting competitors and partners and trying to get better plugged into the vertical we are in.

Has your experience working with people belonging to different cultures across the globe played a role in the way you approach management in a workplace and/or business?

Reardon: I think it has. For one thing, I am really not scared of diversity and am an advocate that a higher level of diversity in an organization is a big multiplier of success. This also helps in attracting talent as most people want to work in a diverse, growing company. I also try to consider people’s backgrounds when thinking about how best to develop them, people from different cultures have different needs when it comes to management and I think that this exists in the US as well. I will, however, point out that the US management culture, especially the west coast, is a very servant leadership culture. While most of the world still operates on a very hierarchical, command and control structure the US is flattening their organizations and co-creating strategy with their teams. It’s great to see and a potentially big advantage.

What have been some of the biggest business challenges or goals you have had to meet in recent years, either in South Africa or the United States?

Reardon: I think we have big plans for Bill4Time including add-on acquisitions over the coming years and executing on the growth plan for the business will be a good challenge. Attracting the top talent we need and managing the growth rate of a growing software company are both real challenges that we are currently working on.

How do you go about achieving a rather ambiguous goal of increasing revenue for Bill4Time? This would appear to be quite a difficult, yet potentially rewarding task.

Reardon: I will say that managing an MRR (monthly recurring revenue business) is an exercise in data work. There are a number of key metrics we need to improve but essentially we are becoming sales funnel scientists. We are trying to increase the top of the funnel acquisition level, improve our conversion to the paid customer and improve our retention percentage. Driving the engine of growth means getting much better at paid and organic online marketing.

Generally speaking, what are some of the key ways you use data metrics at Bill4Time, and can those metrics be applied by managers in other industries?

Reardon: We use data-based decisions for everything at Bill4Time. From shortening our trial period, redesigning the homepage to forward development features we collect tons of data and try and use it to make impartial decisions. With a large customer base and lots of usage data, we can get more scientific about future strategy.

What led you to start working with Barclays Africa?

Reardon: I had a colleague that was working on a project for financial inclusion across lower income groups, using technology solutions and it sounded like a really interesting problem to solve. I had never worked in a business of that size with operations in 12 countries and part of a global banking group. It’s a completely different business and decision-making environment.

You recently created a political and business related podcast, BlindSpot, that you host. Who are some of the more interesting individuals you have interviewed, if you had to choose just a couple?

Reardon: I considered it a great honor to interview Dr William Perry. He is a legend in the foreign policy and military community being Secretary of Defense and essentially one of the pioneers of the stealth programs in the 70s and 80s. He’s also a big part of the nuclear non-proliferation movement and a highly energetic 90-year-old. Just a great person to meet let along interview.

I also loved interviewing Neil Malhotra (Political Science professor) the morning after the November 2016 presidential election. I had prepared the interview to talk about the election of President Hillary Clinton and obviously, when that didn’t happen we had to ad-hoc an interview with President Trump. The unscripted, unprepared nature of the interview I think made it one of my best because we just had a real-time conversation about what we were seeing.

What do you hope listeners gain from BlindSpot’s podcasts?

Reardon: Truthfully I just hope they learn one interesting thing they might not know before listening. Maybe about the importance of Nuclear policy, the regulation of cryptocurrency or the future need of business leaders to engage with political policy.

Are there are specific goals you have for yourself looking forward to the future as an entrepreneur?

Reardon: Honestly I consider it a complete honor and privilege to do the work I do currently. I want to continue to grow as a leader and serve my people as best as possible. Obviously, I want our businesses to be outrageously successful and exceed all targets and run larger and larger businesses but mostly I think about being the best leader I can be, no matter where I work.

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I'm a long time fan of tech innovation, especially its capacity to cross over into the realms of art and social justice. The paradigms are constantly changing, and we need to change with them.

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