In conversation with Will Shu, CEO of Deliveroo

In conversation with Will Shu, CEO of Deliveroo

Will Shu discussed his remarkable journey with James Harding at Tulchan’s latest Frameworks event

04.05.22

Deliveroo was founded in 2013 with Will Shu delivering to five restaurants. It now has 160,000 restaurant partner sites and 180,000 riders delivering to 8.1million active monthly consumers.

When Shu moved to London from New York he found the options for food delivery a huge disappointment. Choosing what to have for dinner with his team while working late was the highlight of his day in New York. In London, his team walked to the local supermarket for food rather than choose dishes from a local restaurant. There were very few options. Shu says as a consumer he knew there was a gap in the market for a courier service he wanted to use. So he got on his bike.

Deliveroo started with five restaurants in Chelsea including the restaurant below Shu’s flat, owned by his landlord. Shu was the only delivery rider and co-founder Greg developed the tech offer. Many of his first customers were friends. Partly because they wanted to crack jokes about his “crazy idea” when he turned up at their door then mainly because they wanted to eat good food at home. They weren’t the only ones.

Within nine months they started to operate in Chiswick and growing customer numbers indicated they were onto something scalable. The founders raised £100,000 through the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and began hiring more riders.

By 2014 they expanded into Cambridge and Brighton, and further consumer growth allowed them to raise considerable institutional capital from Index Ventures. A Paris launch was followed by nine more markets. Most worked but some didn’t. Germany faltered when it proved impossible to overcome price conscious consumers, despite a strong execution the company exited Spain last year.

The journey has not been without challenges as the team navigated an IPO and an 18-month antitrust case with the Competition and Markets Authority. Continued success eclipses the difficult days. Deliveroo recently reported solid growth with gross transactional value up 12% in Q1of 2022 and continued expansion of Deliveroo Plus with partners including Amazon Prime, Waitrose and Carrefour.

Shu has always been focused on the customer experience and wants partners and riders to have the best experience working with Deliveroo. He still works as a rider each month to learn what’s best for customers and partners but also to experience first-hand what it’s like to be a Deliveroo rider. When he first did this he was surprised to find people looking differently at him as a rider - discrimination he had never faced before.

There’s strong evidence riders enjoy working at Deliveroo. Rider retention was stable after Spring 2021, when the economy re-opened and vacancies soared. The barriers to entry are relatively low - you need a bike, a phone and the right to work in the UK and there’s no upfront financial commitment. The offer of training, insurance, and maternity and paternity leave have set them apart from competitors and there’s a huge amount of flexibility, with just 10 percent of those on the app working 40 hours a week meaning those – including actors, students and carers – who need to can fit it around other commitments.

Seeing first-hand how consumers and riders experience the business is core to Shu’s leadership. The company has bought a small Italian restaurant in London with the sole purpose of monitoring how the restaurant model interacts with the Deliveroo operation.

How we eat is evolving and Shu is determined that Deliveroo continues to deliver what people want. Innovation in technology and talent have been at the heart of the company’s success. The “collective creativity of the restaurant industry” has seen so-called dark kitchens emerge and work on Deliveroo’s platform well. These businesses don’t need to pay for front of house labour, or the same rent, which has afforded greater opportunities for digitally native concepts to emerge.

There is a rise in delivery only kitchens supplying restaurant quality food without the restaurant overheads but Shu makes it clear Deliveroo is not seeking to displace traditional restaurants. Future technology improvements at Deliveroo will likely include changes to the app to improve the customer experience.

Shu doesn’t define Deliveroo as a technology, logistics, or a food and hospitality business but as a company which focuses on delivering “a great consumer experience”. He wants people who think about food, to think about Deliveroo first.