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  • Writer's pictureLucas Bergmans

How the Cazoo Product Team built the UK’s fastest unicorn.

Updated: Jan 4

I’ve never worked anywhere as fast-paced as Cazoo.

I was employee number 13 when I joined Cazoo in 2019. Within 3 years the team grew to over 4,500 people. Turnover by our third year was over £1.2bn. Within that time, we launched more major initiatives than a normal business would launch in 10 years, including rolling out into 4 European markets.

Delivering at pace is very much a team effort across all parts of the business but at the centre of it all, the Product Team played an outsized role. This was a team that grew from 1 to over 100, founded and led throughout by the one and only Louis Badcock, our legendary Product Director.

I spoke to Louis about his experience of leading the Cazoo Product Team over nearly four years.

Hi Louis, thanks for joining. Can you please start by giving us an overview of your career to date?

Thanks for having me. So, I’m Louis Badcock and I currently look after Product, User Research, UX and Design at Cazoo. In terms of my career, like a lot of people I found a slightly strange route into Product. At University I did a degree in Experimental Psychology, which I did because I thought it was quite an interesting topic. When I graduated, I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do, but I thought maybe technology might be a useful thing for the future. At that time, John Lewis allowed you to join their engineering graduate programme even without an engineering background, which was amazing. They wouldn’t do that today. So, I trained to be an engineer and was fortunate enough to do this when they were building John, back at the start of the internet! It was a brilliant experience. There was a real buzz, it was a new and growing part of the business and you see the number of orders building every single week.

In that role, I was really into Engineering and the creativity of coding, but also I was really interested in how both the user experience and the design of the website I was building impacted what your customers think and do. I got a lucky break doing a maternity cover role in the User Experience team and continued doing that for a number of years before going to work at Astley Clarke, which at the time was a 16-person start-up selling jewellery online. That was my first Product role and I’ve been in Product ever since.

The thing I love about Product is that it’s an intersection of your business, your customer experience and the tech. And I think it's actually a very difficult place to be, but it's also incredibly gratifying when you get it right and you actually deliver results and customers love it. It's one of the best feelings in the world and I've had the fortune to work at a real variety of different companies along the way to get to where I am today. From big corporates like John Lewis, Tesco, start-ups like Astley Clarke and then Simply Business which is a mid-sized business, selling insurance online for small businesses and landlords. And now Cazoo. I think it's just one of the most varied careers you can do, and I certainly enjoy it.

You were one of the first people to join Cazoo and you helped build the website from scratch before we even sold a single car. You’ve gone through an amazing journey through that period of time with huge growth over the last four years. Tell us a bit more about your experience of being at Cazoo.

Yes, it's been amazing I have to say. I joined on 1st July 2019 and I've been there for three and three quarter years. I think there were about 50 people in the company when I joined. And there was no one in product or UX at the time, so I was a founding member of the team. And we didn't have a website, but we wanted to go live to the public ASAP that year.

I think it was August, the first deadline we were set by Alex (Chesterman, founder of Cazoo)

Actually, I remember before I was even working at Cazoo coming for an All Hands and I remember Alex saying we're going to launch it in May! We didn't quite make May, but we did make the end of the year.

We went live in December, but we did a public beta in September of that year, which was amazing. And it's just been an incredible journey. We’ve done a lot of things at pace. Getting the website live and getting the business live to customers and selling cars online by Christmas was an achievement in itself, but we didn't stop after that. We launched brand new, big proposition after proposition. We did real time consumer finance which was cutting edge at the time. No one else offered the ability to get a loan entirely online in real time and get a decision in minutes.

We went from doing that to launching a ‘collection’ proposition when we acquired Imperial Cars and opened a number of customer centres across the UK. We then went onto a ‘subscription’ proposition. A ‘we’ll buy your car’ proposition followed after that, which was the equivalent of the entire Webuyanycar business. This allowed customers to sell us their car without buying one from us. We did that in one quarter.

And then more recently launching in four European markets as well. So, I think one of the things that really characterises Cazoo, was that we did amazing big genre-busting proposition-changing projects in very, very rapid timescales that other companies would have spent years doing. I’ve never worked anywhere so fast where you really deliver that quickly. And all the time, we were growing the team as well. My initial team was about seven or eight people including some Product Managers, Product Designers, a User Researcher. And we grew and recruited a team that I think at its peak, got to about 110 people. And this growth matched Cazoo itself which got to probably about 4,500 people at its peak. So we were doing all that big stuff, as well as the company expanding at real pace all the time.

Yes, it certainly kept you busy! That's been an amazing experience. What would be your top tips for other Product Directors or people working in that space in a scale-up going through anything like that?

I've got three tips and I think they're relevant regardless of whether you're going through crazy growth like that or not.

"If you can get people behind common goals (...) you're going to go much, much faster and you will deliver results."

The first one – and I think one of the things that made us very successful in what we did, was a really strong focus on common goals across the company, having united outcomes. All those propositions I mentioned involved pretty much everyone across the company and we had a very clear set of OKRs that we were driving to, that would be the outcome of doing these things. And I think by having that clarity of focus at any one time across the whole company, it really helps us all work together in a much more aligned way. More than I've seen in other companies where often you've got people doing multiple different things and they're often working against each other or at opposite ends. And it was quite amazing that we managed to keep that going. You'd expect to be aligned when you launch a business for the first big hurrah, but the fact that we were able to keep doing that after launch, was down to that focus on common goals. If you can get people behind the common goals on the big stuff, and you're all working on that, I really believe you're going to go much, much faster and you will deliver results.

"Expect to make loads of mistakes (...)You have to persevere in the face of all of those failures, but with the learning you get from it, you will eventually break through and find something that works."

Tip number two is to expect to make loads of mistakes along the way, which we did. For all the great stuff we did, we made hundreds and hundreds of mistakes, of course, but I just think it's super important to bear that in mind. I'll give the example of when we launched our Car Care products (extended warranty, paint protection service plans, etc). When we first launched them, the attachment rates were pretty miserable actually, they were tiny. And everyone across the company had lots of different ideas and thoughts around what might be wrong or what we should do. From Alex (Founder, CEO) to the Exec, everyone had an opinion on it. And we just tried a lot of things. We tried everyone's ideas and, to be honest, the vast majority of them actually failed.

I remember there was this quarter where we were trying all these different experiments, different treatments of the presentation or different ways of describing the products, etc. We’d do it every other week or so and then when we got to pace we were doing it every week. Sometimes you get a little bit of a result, often you would get nothing. And then suddenly, after a quarter of banging our head against a brick wall like this, we had a bit of a breakthrough. It was like ‘Oh wow, that's lifted conversion quite a bit.’ Then off the back of that and all the learning that the team had built from countless failures, we had another success and it really rocketed up and we ended up more than doubling, probably tripling, the attachment rates from where it started.

Everyone talks a lot about test and learn and experimentation and failing fast etc. but it is really true. But you have to be in that mindset, and you have to persevere in the face of all of those failures. But with the learning you get from it, you will eventually break through and find something that works.

And there’s every chance that it won't be what you expected that really drives the performance. And the stuff you thought was an absolute banker just doesn't work at all.

I like taking bets on these things. Which one do I think is going to win? And invariably I'm wrong as well. And it’s fine! I don't care really, so long as the data shows that it's right and customers responded in the right way: that's what matters. Which is another point - don't get too attached to your own ideas because it's not the idea that matters, it's the result that matters.

"Real customer feedback always trumps opinion."

My third and final tip for you, Lucas, is one that was baked into Cazoo because one of our core values is about being ‘Customer Obsessed’. It’s that real customer feedback is more important than opinion. One of the things that I think we've done quite well at Cazoo is that we have made sure that we engaged with customers and spoken to customers and done quite a lot of usability research and user testing labs and stuff like that. Real customer feedback always trumps opinion.

We've all got opinions and you can say to yourself, ‘I know how this works’ but you’re not a customer. You work at this business, you know all the ins and outs of it but you should never naively or arrogantly assume that you know what the customers think. Because you'll always be surprised when you do put it in front of real customers to see how they react. And customer testing is not rocket-science. It's quick, it's easy and cheap to do it. So aim to do it at least every other week or every week if you can. All the best companies do it. But the thing to bear in mind is that we need to hear what our customers say, we need their opinions, but then we also need to remember that we can't necessarily count on our customers telling us what the right thing is to build. But they can certainly show us what their problems are. And that's where the gold comes from.

Fantastic three tips. Thanks, Louis. And can you think of a mistake that people should avoid? 

I’ve thought long and hard about this and there are many things I could choose. All of the things I’ve just given tips on – there’s a reverse to each one of those which are obvious mistakes. But I’ve got one for you. Two actually, but I’ll sell it as one. Both related to scaling.

"Before you scale in anger, make sure that your business can actually scale."

So, in the haste of moving fast and trying to grow your business you really need to make sure - before you do that scaling ‘in anger’- that your business can actually scale. And there are two parts to this. There’s scale from a unit economics perspective. If you start shipping more orders and your variable costs start increasing, does it wash its face and are you actually making a profit? Or are you just spending more and more money? And if you're spending more and more money and not making a profit, you've got a problem. It sounds so obvious, and everyone talks about it these days but it's actually quite hard to do. Particularly if you've never actually spent the time cross-functionally thinking about this with people across your company around every single order. Have we thought through what the costs are for everything involved in it, whether it's people working on it to shipment costs to customer support costs? All of those sorts of things.

And then tied to that as well - not just the unit economics - can your processes scale effectively? Particularly in the unhappy paths. Because everyone always focuses on how we ship the product, make sure it gets out there, and that customers love it, but things will go wrong. And when those things go wrong, they can hurt you. You can get away with not necessarily automating or having scale processes for all of those unhappy paths. But you need to identify what are the really key unhappy paths that, if they go wrong, really upset your customers, and that also cause you an incredible headache as a business to sort out. Identify those things and fix those things before you really, really scale.

Very useful tips. Thanks very much, Louis.

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