Leadership

The CEO of $2 billion food start-up Deliveroo still helps out with deliveries

The site of Deliveroo Editions 2 in Lavender, Singapore
Deliveroo
The site of Deliveroo Editions 2 in Lavender, Singapore

Next time you order take out, take a moment to register the delivery driver — they could just be kind of a big deal.

At least, that's the case at Deliveroo, where co-founder and CEO Will Shu still regularly delivers food to customers near his home in Notting Hill, London.

What started out as necessity for the former Morgan Stanley investment banker-turned-entrepreneur has now become an important part of his strategy, Shu told CNBC Make It in Singapore.

"At first, I didn't really have a choice; it wasn't like I decided to do it," Shu said, referring to the eight months he spent as a delivery driver when he and childhood friend, Greg Orlowski, first launched Deliveroo back in 2013.

Will Shu, co-founder and CEO of Deliveroo
Deliveroo
Will Shu, co-founder and CEO of Deliveroo

"I funded it with my own money in the beginning, so you just do everything."

But, five years on, Shu still delivers once every two weeks despite sitting at the helm of the $2 billion company.

"I still do deliveries once every two weeks. You get to really understand what restaurateurs are thinking, what customers are thinking, what drivers are thinking. I've done every job in the company. I think it's invaluable," explained Shu.

"No one recognizes me, so I'm always just talking to riders going 'what do you think of this thing?'"

That's an important consideration for Deliveroo, which alongside Uber is one of several so-called gig economy companies under continued scrutiny over their employer responsibilities.

User trials the app for Deliveroo's new Editions site in Lavender, Singapore
Deliveroo
User trials the app for Deliveroo's new Editions site in Lavender, Singapore

Shu said his experience on the ground allows him to "know what riders want better than anyone else," — namely flexibility — and he continues to work with governments to find a balance in the "trade-off" between flexibility, pay and benefits.

But he certainly doesn't expect a celebrity reception when he drops off an order. An American of Chinese descent, 38-year-old Shu says he still enjoys a degree of anonymity despite the company's quick international expansion to more than 150 cities in 12 countries.

"There's one lesson I learned that was completely unexpected," Shu said of his delivery practice. "I've learned that no one ever wants to talk to you when they're hungry. They just shut the door and that's about it."

He doesn't mind. He didn't launch Deliveroo to become a famous entrepreneur, he said he simply wanted to satisfy his passion — food — and recommended other hopefuls follow the same tack.

"My biggest piece of advice is do something that you actually care about personally," said Shu.

"Literally, I just wanted to create a company to deliver great food quickly," said Shu. "That was really it. I didn't have any other ideas."

Rider trials the site for Deliveroo's new Editions site in Lavender, Singapore
Deliveroo
Rider trials the site for Deliveroo's new Editions site in Lavender, Singapore

Shu spoke to CNBC Make It at the launch of Deliveroo's second Editions site in Singapore. The bespoke kitchen acts as an outpost for restaurants where demand is high but supply is limited.

Editions 2 Singapore is the first of the company's 100 sites to offer collection and a dine-in option, a divergence from its core delivery proposition. Shu said that will help distinguish it from competitors such as Grab, which recently acquired Uber in the city-state and is set to launch GrabEats in the coming months.

"We really only care about food — that's all we do. That's what we're obsessed with. That's in our DNA and that's what allows us to come up with innovations like this," Shu said of Editions.

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