Why Chef turned CEO Frank Greeff is sharing his cooking skills post $180 million Realbase sale

Frank Greeff spent three years working as a chef before joining his older brothers Ken and Jacques Greeff in creating a real estate technology business.

Greeff’s culinary skills were put aside, and replaced for a wild entrepreneurial ride that would see the brothers launch Realhub, complete a successful merger with their main competitor Campaigntrack to create Realbase, and lead the merged entity as CEO for three years before selling to Domain.com.au for $180 million in 2022.

He continued as Realbase CEO in the Domain-owned entity before stepping down in July this year, but also returned to the kitchen to do more than cook the evening family meal. He is writing a cookbook aimed at health-conscious, time-poor, high-performing people, with a mission to raise $1 million for charity by offering 100 per cent of the book sale proceeds. As well as hosting a podcast called Chew the Fat, Greeff is creating content across multiple social media platforms to share his tips for cooking quickly and efficiently. 

And he also knows his audience, and just what it takes for busy, people to cook regularly for optimal performance. 

“People were always flabbergasted that I would leave a role as CEO and go home to my wife and son and cook,” Greeff says. “But in 14 minutes, I know I can cook something that’s going to be better than anything I will order through a food delivery app. So why not? And why not then teach other people how to do it?”

How three brothers scaled and exited

Greeff grew up the youngest of three brothers in a family that left their home in South Africa to start a new path in New Zealand, where he saw his parents working day and night shifts at multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Seeing how hard their parents worked, and growing up in an environment where money was tight, saw the three brothers become commercially minded, and later exploring big business opportunities.

Frank Greeff initially pursued his chef career for a number of years, working at the well-known and highly regarded Bathers’ Pavilion restaurant in Sydney, before realising that he wanted to build something and create a bigger life for himself.

The brothers brought their different personalities together around a single idea: to disrupt the real estate market through property tech. They quickly grew to an annual revenue base of more than $4 million in six years, which Greeff credits to their different skill sets meeting shared values and trust.

“That level of trust meant that each of us could take our piece and just go as hard as we could, without having to worry about the others. But ultimately, we also all had big ideas, big dreams and ideas about where we wanted to go. That means our ambition, our hunger and drive, it was all shared,” he says.

Greeff also knew his place – which was talking to customers and team members, rather than in the code and finer details.  “I often say that 66 per cent of the Greeff brothers are hyper-intelligent, and one gets to talk,” he says. “So I’m lucky I had the opportunity to work with them. My older brother taught himself to be a software engineer and then taught my middle brother how to do the same. I have a high level of empathy, and so my traits are around being a people person.”

After six years of business growth and while fast eating into their main competitor – a company that was once significantly larger in size and profit – they were approached about a merger. Within six weeks, they had entered into a 50/50 merger, with Greeff appointed CEO. Just a couple of years later, they were acquired by Domain.com.au.

Time management and pushing through

Through the business scale and sell journey, Greeff says some of the most valuable skills he harnessed were time management, grit and resilience, and an overall constant desire to be effective. 

They are skills he learnt firsthand in the kitchen where he started from the bottom as a teenager and saw how vital it was for the team to work in perfect unison. Every person had their role and their place to ensure every dish would meet customer expectations.

“Working in a kitchen at the age of 19, doing 16-hour days, going to bed and waking up a few hours later to do it all over again, taught me how to push through on the challenging stuff and to push through when I feel really exhausted,” he says.

Overall, Greeff feels a constant push to pursue effectiveness in his work. He brings this idea of effectiveness into cooking.

Effectiveness also means working at speed, especially if you have a great idea.

His cookbook project is a clear example. He came up with the idea in May 2023, and within weeks started working on the socials and guests for his podcast, which has since reached among the top business podcasts in Australia with guests including Culture King’s Simon Beard and Airbnb Australia CEO Susan Wheeldon. He plans on releasing the book, Eat with Purpose, in October.

“That’s not because I’m great and amazing. It’s just because I know that if I don’t let perfection get in the way of progress, I can just move. And by the time you start, I’ve already gone through many interations to start getting really good – while the next person is still trying to find some kind of perfection before they even know what that perfection looks like,” he says.

“If you’re not laughing at what you were doing a year ago, you’re not progressing fast enough.”

A “purpose realignment”

Following the business sale, Greeff experienced what he describes as a “purpose realignment”.

He knew he had a strong commercial driver, which had led to great business results, but he didn’t see himself going from business to business for the rest of his life.

Instead of just turning off that commercial urge and drive, he realised he could translate the skill and fire to other purposes. While considering board position opportunities, he came up with the goal to raise money for charity, deciding his best opportunity would be to write a cook book.

Greeff believes there are more opportunities for busy professionals to get cooking – as long as they can tap into how to be more effective with the limited time they have, and ensure they are getting the best possible experience from the effort.

Personally, he finds value and growth in the process of cooking and believes others can too.

“When I’m cooking, I might be having a conversation with my wife, and my hands are busy with the food, and therefore I’m not on my phone and am just really present. And then when we sit down to eat and I see my family’s faces light up and say the food is delicious, there is so much personal enjoyment and satisfaction in knowing that you have created something,” he says.

“I want to combine my love for cooking with helping more people eat well, feel good and reach their full potential while giving them an opportunity to make a difference by supporting charities they care about.”

Eat with Purpose is out in October, and available to pre-order by registering here.