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A food delivery company founder’s advice for entrepreneurs

Do not start a company for the sake of it, says William Shu, whose food delivery service Deliveroo is expected to go public next month and generate millions.

March 17, 2021 / 08:24 AM IST
Deliveroo has operations in parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia.

Deliveroo has operations in parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia.

Where there is a will, there is food. And, now there will be an initial public offering (IPO) as well.

William ‘Will’ Shu, a hard-working investment banker to begin with, could get meals from the best restaurants delivered to his desk when he was in New York. But once he moved to London, all he could order was rubbish. Seeing a gap in the market, Shu and his software engineer friend, Greg Orlowski, founded Deliveroo in 2013. The USP of the service was it could deliver fine chow, including from Michelin star restaurants. You did not have to kill yourself eating franchise fast food.

In April, the Amazon-backed company is expected to go public. It was valued at $7 billion in July 2020 and is expected to touch $10 billion after the IPO, give or take.

A 41-year-old Wharton MBA, Shu has some advice for entrepreneurs. But before that, some more background.

Deliveroo has operations in parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia. It’s not been all smiles and happy meals for the company. In 2019, it suffered a loss of almost $440 million. Last year, the figure came down to about $310 million, as restaurants closed and more people ordered food.

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Nonetheless, there is optimism around Deliveroo. It has the backing of giants such as Amazon. Most importantly, it has filled a void in the market and caught on culturally. Two TV actors, Richard Harrington and Stewart Wright, took on delivery gigs with Deliveroo after they were forced to stop filming during lockdown.

In an interview, Shu was asked what advice he would give aspiring entrepreneurs. Do not start a company for the sake of it, he said.

“You should start a company because you want to solve a problem or because you work in an industry that you’ve worked in for a while,” Shu said. “I think just trying to start a company for the sake of starting a company is not a great idea.”

Professionals can also learn from Shu’s willingness to climb down from the boss pedestal and deliver meals himself, including the company’s first order. He gained insights into the business this way. It also led to some amusing experiences.

“When I used to deliver food I used to say, ‘Hi I’m Will, I’m from Deliveroo, I just started this company’, and everyone shut the door in my face after I delivered the food,” Shu said in the interview.

“I think that’s right though, you’re hungry and you do not really want to talk to the delivery guy. I get that. So I learned that the hard way. The other kind of funny thing that happened was people used to just invite me in sometimes just to hang out, which was kind of weird.”

Another time, Shu delivered pizza to an ex-boss, who wondered if Shu was facing some challenges. The high-flying-banker-turned-pizza-courier said he was fine and quickly left.

Communicating the company’s mission to its over 1,000 employees was another challenge for Shu. “I’m a very straightforward person, I tell people what’s on my mind, I try to listen and I think that I’ve learnt how to tell a story of what we’re trying to do to our employees and that took a bit of time,” Shu said.

Asked what the best advice he had received in his life was, Shu simply said, “Clean behind your ears.”
Akshay Sawai
first published: Mar 17, 2021 08:23 am

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