- Deliveroo CEO Will Shu built a $2 billion (£1.5 billion) company because he spent years as a banking analyst in London eating terrible food.
- Deliveroo is one of the most successful and highly valued startups in the UK, offering takeaway food from restaurants that don't conventionally do delivery.
- There have been rumours that the company is in early buyout talks with Uber and that it held preliminary talks with Amazon last year, but Shu said it was not for sale.
- He spoke to Business Insider after being named to the UK Tech 100, a ranking of the 100 coolest people in the UK tech industry.
Deliveroo CEO and cofounder Will Shu spent the mid-2000s being astonished that food delivery in London was so terrible.
An American posted to a banking-analyst job in Canary Wharf, Shu found himself suddenly deprived of New York's buzzing takeaway scene and stuck with to-go food from Tesco and the local Tex-Mex.
Perpetually hungry for better food, Shu nurtured the idea for a better online takeaway service. His initial iteration, created with a technically minded Connecticut school buddy, Greg Orlowski, didn't go anywhere because smartphones and apps hadn't taken off yet.
The pair eventually launched Deliveroo in 2013, when the rise of smartphones meant communication among a company, restaurants, and a fleet of delivery riders wouldn't be an issue. Deliveroo was an immediate hit, and takeaway in Britain suddenly became much more exciting than the local Chinese restaurant or pizzeria, with customers able to order from their local boutique cafe or national chains like Nando's without leaving the sofa.
Deliveroo's popularity and growth are why Business Insider named Will Shu to its annual ranking of the 100 coolest people in UK tech this year.
Not everyone loved the concept from the outset. One of Shu's first investors tried to dissuade him from pursuing the idea in 2011, two years before Deliveroo was established.
"I remember how passionate he was to solve this problem," said Hussein Kanji, a partner at Hoxton Ventures. "He was so annoyed that you couldn't get good food in London delivered. I tried to talk him out of it."
Kanji didn't succeed, and Shu and Orlowski began to build Deliveroo. Kanji and his fund partner Rob Kniaz would go on to participate in an early Deliveroo funding round. The company has now raised $859.6 million (£647 million) in total funding from backers including Index Ventures, T. Rowe Price, and Fidelity.
"In those early days, he was driven not necessarily to build a whopping big business, but to solve this problem — I think partially for himself," Kanji added. One of Shu's most impressive traits, he said, was his willingness to understand every aspect of his business, from persuading restaurants to get on the platform to going out and doing deliveries.
"That was impressive. He had no problems rolling up his sleeves and working hard," Kanji said. "I remember his first office. It was a council flat with almost no windows, with 20-plus people crammed in there. He was so careful about cost."
Deliveroo is now worth more than $2 billion. Bloomberg reported in September that the company was considering a buyout offer from Uber, which operates a takeaway rival called Uber Eats, though sources suggest the company wouldn't sell for much less than $6 billion. The Telegraph subsequently reported that Amazon had twice held preliminary talks about acquiring Deliveroo.
Business Insider caught up with Shu shortly after the buyout rumours broke. Shu wasn't available for an in-person interview but replied to questions via email. Here's what he said, edited for order and clarity.
Shona Ghosh: There are some entertaining anecdotes about Deliveroo's early days, like you delivering pizza to an old banking boss who thought you had fallen on hard times. Has anything funny happened to you more recently?
Will Shu: I have a habit of dressing casual. Come to our offices in December and I may well be wearing shorts. Maybe it's an aftereffect of wearing a suit for most of my 20s when I worked in banking.
At the Tech for Good Summit, I was so happy to see [French President Emmanuel] Macron say it wasn't compulsory to wear a suit. So I arrive at the summit, wearing what I consider business casual — some pants and a plain T-shirt — and I'm the only person in a one-mile radius not in a suit. Bet you didn't even spot me in the press shots. I got ushered into the very back, but no matter. It was a great day, and President Macron is a great guy.
[Here's Shu hiding in the back, while besuited luminaries like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi are with Macron in the front.]
Ghosh: You used to do some Deliveroo deliveries yourself by bike. Is that still the case?
Shu: I don't do this as much as I like, with travel often getting in the way, but I still make deliveries. I try to do a few hours each month. At Deliveroo, we're beginning to introduce riding and doing shifts working in restaurants as part of our onboarding process for staff, as we want every staff member to be ingrained into the business understanding the rider, restaurant, and customer experience, no matter their expertise.
Ghosh: What kind of bike do you have? Or do you borrow?
Shu: We have bikes at the office that I tend to borrow. I have a hybrid bike that I bought from Evans for about £150.
On acquisition rumours
Ghosh: Is Deliveroo for sale?
Shu: We are not.
Ghosh: Is the company in talks with Uber or any other potential buyer or partner?
Shu: So, as a rule, we don't comment on rumours. Deliveroo is the fastest-growing company in Europe, so people love to chat about us.
Ghosh: You've floated an IPO as one possible outcome in previous interviews with us. What are your views now on a float?
Shu: It's not what we are focused on right now.
On the future of the business
Ghosh: Are you thinking about a US launch in the near future?
Shu: We're always looking to grow and expand, and the US is already a super competitive market. With so many players vying for consumer attention, it'll be interesting to see developments in the next 24 months. The USA is an amazing market though.
Ghosh: Who came up with Deliveroo Editions, and how did that person convince investors and colleagues that "shipping containers in car parks" was a feasible idea? [Editions are pop-up kitchens from new and existing restaurants that are dedicated to serving Deliveroo orders. Some are in former car parks and industrial units.]
Shu: I came up with the idea with our now COO, Rohan Pradhan, back in 2015. The idea was not a hard sell when you can back up the physical elements with Deliveroo's rich data that shows how consumer demand will ensure a high likelihood of success. We've moved on from shipping containers to permanent brick-and-mortar sites. You only have to visit one of these super kitchens and meet the chefs who work in them to understand why the concept works.
Ghosh: What's the end goal for Editions? I understand it's to drive down restaurant costs and, ultimately, takeaway prices.
Shu: The end goal for Editions is to create amazing food choices for our consumers at faster delivery times. In addition, the margin structure (no front-of-house, and extremely low rent for partners) can also support lower prices over time.
That's why restaurants choose to work with us exclusively, because they see us as their partner in food delivery, not just a mechanism for getting their dishes into customers' hands. It's also about putting us at the heart of the business journey of new restaurants, where they go from startup to established brands, helping them take the next big step expanding.
Ghosh: I understand Deliveroo's bigger ambition is to kill home cooking.
Shu: We want to feed people three times a day. Our ambition is to become the definitive food brand — that means transcending customer perceptions from just a food-delivery company. As we grow, we're focusing on combining innovation with our world-leading technology to ensure when people think about food they think about Deliveroo.
On company culture and switching off
Ghosh: How often do you sit in on interviews for new candidates at Deliveroo, and what's the one weird question you ask?
Shu: Not as often as I like, but I do get to meet one or two candidates a week. Perhaps not surprising, but I'll ask what their favourite restaurant is and then what their favourite restaurant on Deliveroo is.
Ghosh: Are there founders, investors, or other figures who you look to for support?
Shu: I speak to other founders/CEOs in the States and here for support. One particular person I spend a lot of time with is Darrell Cavens, who is on our board. He is the founder of Zulily and Blue Nile.
Ghosh: How did it personally feel, being the poster child for the gig economy and all its attendant problems?
Shu: I'm actually really proud of offering riders what they want. We create flexible, well-paid work, and we listen to them about the changes they want to see. We've led the way in offering increased benefits and security, like this year's insurance package. Riding with Deliveroo is popular, and when I chat to real riders directly, I find it invaluable. I can't change headlines, but getting under the skin of what riders want is what really counts and what really makes a difference.
We're trying to do what is best for our riders, our riders are earning £10 per hour on average. We also were the first company to roll out globally free rider insurance, offer education courses. We know from extensive research and speaking directly that our riders value flexibility more than anything else. We're committed to giving them what they want.
Ghosh: What do you do to chill when you don't want to think about being in charge of a $2 billion-plus company?
Shu: Walking. People laugh at me for this, but I love visiting towns across the UK and just walking around. It's a great way to clear your mind!
Ghosh: Is it really true you only know how to cook an omelet?
Shu: I know this sounds made-up, for storytelling purposes, but I love food, even if I'm truly a pretty terrible cook. I guess I'm very on brand. My saving grace is the humble omelet.
As someone who can't cook, I started Deliveroo because I wanted takeout options that weren't just curries and kebabs. Since then, Deliveroo has grown up quite a lot. This year we launched Marketplace+ to incorporate those traditional takeaway joints on Deliveroo. Who are we to tell you that the kebab you love isn't good? We want to become the definitive food brand, and that means giving you what you want, when you want it.
Ghosh: How often do you eat takeout, and how often is it ordered through Deliveroo?
Shu: I'll order Deliveroo about three times a day, often testing out our new restaurants on our staff members and asking for their feedback. I also try out other services. It's really important to take note of what your competitors are doing well, but I've learnt that if you just focus on them, then you lose your winning edge.
Ghosh: Wikipedia says you're single. Is that true?
Shu: This is getting kind of personal. I'm going to revert to Deliveroo's rules — we don't comment on rumours, Shona.
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