How to start a start up VIII (prima parte)

Stanley Tang, fondatore di DoorDash, spiega quali sono i primi passi da compiere per avviare una start up

Torna all’indice delle lezionivai alla lezione VIII parte B

Il testo dell’intervento:

Thanks for having me! I’m Stanley, the founder of DoorDash. It’s really amazing to be here, because it wasn’t actually that long ago when I sat in your seats. I was class of 2014, graduated in CS, as well as my cofounder Andy. For those of you who don’t know what DoorDash is, we’re building an on-demand delivery network for local cities. I want to start off with this photo that I took a few months ago. This was the night when we just raised our series A. I took this photo as I was walking back to where I lived; I actually lived in Roble at the time on campus. I took this photo because I realized just how ridiculous the combination of things I was holding in my hand was at the time. I was holding my CS247 homework, my tax forms (it was April – so I had to fill out my tax forms), that yellow speeding ticket, and right below that was a $15 million piece of paper I had just signed from Sequoia. And that kind of summarizes just how ridiculous our journey has been, doing this while I was at Stanford, and then transitioning this to an actual startup. I want to share with you that story today.

It all began two years ago in a macaroon store. It was my junior year at Stanford during the fall quarter. At the time, I was really passionate about building technology for small business owners. I sat down with Chloe, the owner of Chantal Guillon, a macaroon store in Palo Alto at the time, just interviewing her, trying to get feedback on this prototype we’d been working on, and also just learning about what her problems were in general. It was during this meeting when Chloe first brought up this problem of delivery. I remember she brought down this really really thick booklet. She showed me pages and pages of delivery orders, and a lot of these orders she had to turn down because there was no way she could have fulfilled them. She had no drivers, and she ended up having to personally deliver all these orders. That was a very interesting moment for us.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we talked to around 150 to 200 small business owners, and when we brought up this idea of delivery, they kept agreeing with us; they would say, “You know, we don’t have delivery infrastructure. It’s such a huge pain for us. There aren’t any good solutions out there.” This led us to wonder, delivery is such a common thing, such an obvious thing; why hasn’t anyone solved this yet? Like, we must be missing something here right? We thought it was maybe because people had already tried this in the past, but they failed because there wasn’t consumer demand for this. We asked ourselves, “How can we test this hypothesis?” We were just a bunch of college kids at the time. We didn’t own trucks or delivery infrastructure or anything like that; we couldn’t just build a delivery company overnight right? So how could we test this assumption we had?

We decided to create a simple experiment with restaurant delivery. We spent about an afternoon just putting together a quick landing page. When I went on the Internet, I found some PDF menus of restaurants in Palo Alto. We stuck it up there and added a phone number at the bottom, which was actually our personal cell phone number. And that was it. We put up the landing page and called it This is actually what it looked liked (PowerPoint slide): It was super simple, ugly, and honestly we weren’t really expecting anything – we just launched it. What we wanted to see was just would we receive phone calls, and if we got enough phone calls, then maybe this delivery idea was worth pursuing.

So we put it up there; we weren’t really expecting anything, and all of a sudden we got a phone call. Someone called! They wanted to order Thai food. And we’re like, “This is a real order; we’re going to have to do something about it.” So we’re in our cars and we’re like, “We’re not doing anything right now, might as well swing by, pick up some Pad Thai, and let’s try to see how this whole delivery thing works.” And we did. We delivered it to some guy up on Alpine Road I remember. We asked him, “How did you hear about us, what do you do?” He told us he was a scholar, and then he handed me his business card and told me he was the author of a book called We the People. That was our first ever delivery. It was like the best delivery/worst delivery you could ever ask for.

And then yeah, the next day we got two more phone calls. The day after that we got five, then it became seven, and then it became ten. And then soon we began to gain traction on campus through which is pretty crazy, because think about it: This was just a landing page. You had to look up PDF menus to place your orders and then call in. This isn’t exactly the most professional-looking site, yet we kept getting phone calls; we kept getting orders. And that’s kind of when we knew that we were onto something. We knew we found a need people wanted when people were willing to put up with all of this.

I think another key point to remember is we launched this in about an hour. We didn’t have any drivers; we didn’t have any algorithms; we didn’t have a backend; we didn’t spend six months building a fancy dispatch system – we didn’t have any of that. We just launched because at the beginning it’s all about testing the idea, trying to get this thing off the ground, and figuring out if this was something people even wanted. And it’s okay to hack things together at the beginning.

At YC there’s a mantra we like to talk about that is doing things that don’t scale. So at the beginning we were the delivery drivers. We would go to class, and then after we would go deliver food. We were the customer support; you know I sometimes had to take phone calls during lectures. We spent afternoons just going down University Avenue just passing out flyers trying to promote DoorDash. We didn’t have any dispatch system so what we had to do was use Square to charge all of our customers. We used a Google Doc to keep track of our orders. We used Apple’s Find My Friends to keep track of where all of our drivers were. You know, just stuff like that, just hacking together solutions to try to get this thing off the ground. In fact at one point we were growing so fast that Square actually shut us down because we were under suspicion for money laundering. I mean think about it, we were getting small chunks of $15-$20 orders coming in at a rapid pace. Luckily, my cofounder Tony worked at Square so he just emailed some buddies there and everything was solved.

Another thing about doing things that don’t scale is it also allows you to become an expert in your business, like driving helped us understand how the whole delivery process worked. We used that as an opportunity to talk to our customers, talk to restaurants. We did dispatching which helped us figure out – you know, we manually dispatched our drivers and that helped us figure out what our driver assignment algorithms should look like. We did customer support ourselves, getting real-time feedback from customers. I remember for the first few months when we got started, we would manually email every single new customer at the end of every night asking how their first delivery went, and how they heard about us. We would personalize all these emails: If I saw someone order chicken skewers from Orange Hummus, we would say “Oh I love Orange Hummus. How are your chicken skewers? How did you hear about us?” Feedback like that was really valuable, and customers really appreciated that.

I remember this one time – this was during YC – we had just come out of a meeting with one of our restaurant partners, and we heard about this ice cream place that had just opened up on University Avenue called Cream, and we wanted to go try it out. Then all of a sudden, our cofounder back at our office/house texted us saying “Oh we need drivers on the road; we got a huge spike in demand.” So we debated for maybe about 10 seconds if we should go get ice cream or should we go deliver. We obviously went to deliver, but that kind of became our motivation on scaling, like you know, if we would scale, then we could go get ice cream next time.

Now of course we scale across different cities. Now we have to worry about building automated solutions, building dispatch systems, and figuring out how to match demand and supply – all that fancy technology stuff. But none of that mattered at the beginning because at the beginning it’s all about getting the thing off the ground, and trying to find product-market fit.

Just to summarize, there are three things I would say I learned from doing DoorDash. First, test your hypothesis. You want to treat your startup ideas like experiments. The second thing is, launch fast. We launched in less than an hour with a really simple landing page. And finally, it’s okay to do things that don’t scale. Doing things that don’t scale is one of your biggest competitive advantages when you’re starting out, and you can figure out how to scale once you have your demand. And then maybe once you’ve scaled, then you go get that ice cream. Thank you

Q: How did your first customer hear about you?

A: Our very first one, I have no idea. We just launched in Palo Alto; we didn’t do any marketing, so I assume he just must have typed in “Palo Alto delivery” into the web browser. And then after that, we did barely any marketing. I think I sent out one email to my dorm, and that was about it. It was all through word-of-mouth. And that kind of just validates how strong the need we found was when people are just talking about you, and willing to put up with a terrible user experience, terrible design, and stuff like that.

Q: When you started, it seemed so obvious to you, you were wondering why, what the reason was nobody had done this before. What’s your answer now looking back?

A: Looking back I think the biggest thing is mobile. Now everyone has one of those in their pocket, and we saw that trend and thought what if you could design a delivery system that was entirely based off mobile, where you didn’t have to have any infrastructure, or delivery fleets. Instead of hiring drivers full-time or purchasing vehicles, what if you could tap into more of an on-demand pool of independent contractors, and only send orders to them when they have time. So that’s kind of the insight we had; everything was done through mobile.

Q: Did you know you were going to be a startup, or were you just making some money at first?

A: At the time we were all just really passionate about building technology for small business owners, and obviously this delivery thing came out of an experiment with the landing page. It was literally an experiment. We weren’t expecting anything, and it just took off, and we just went with it. And logistics was always something we were really passionate about as well, like logistics of transportation – the perfect fusion of how you can help small business owners through delivery.

Q: Did you launch the mobile site first or the website?

A: We started with this landing page right here which took us about an hour to launch.

Q: How does DoorDash stand out amongst a very competitive space?

A: At the beginning consumer demand was never a problem, even up until now. So for us it’s just about finding a need and just focusing on serving that demand. At the beginning competition doesn’t really matter.

Q: How long did it take you to get incorporated into a company?

A: We launched in January 2013, and then we did YC that very summer. When we decided to take this idea through YC, we incorporated.

Q: Where do you plan to go beyond food delivery?

A: For us when we started DoorDash, it was always about helping small business owners and figuring out how you served this for any local merchant whether you were a macaroon store, restaurant, or furniture shop. That’s still our focus; that’s our long-term vision. For now we are just focused on restaurant delivery as a way to scale, but ultimately that’s where we want to end up in.

L’intervento di Stanley Tang termina a 15’52”. Le schede relative alle successive presentazioni – di Walker Williams, fondatore di Teespring, e di Justin Kan, fondatore di TwitchTV e partner di Y Combinator – sono qui e qui!

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