Deliveroo CEO talks about a possible Singapore restaurant, and why he still makes food deliveries himself

William Shu, co-founder and CEO of Deliveroo
Deliveroo

Don’t be shocked the next time you order food from Deliveroo and find its CEO standing at the doorstep with your pizza.

William Shu, 37, still makes food deliveries on his bicycle despite having a multinational business to attend to.

His company is one of the UK’s most well-funded start-ups with a presence in 150 cities across 12 countries. It’s latest round of funding provided a boost of $482 million, bringing its total funding close to $1 billion.

Shu, an American-born Chinese who co-founded food delivery app Deliveroo in 2013, says he does deliveries from time to time so he can keep updated on what matters most to its delivery riders and partner restaurants.

And of course, it gives the London-based CEO a great workout.

Speaking to Business Insider at Deliveroo’s Singapore office in Tanjong Pagar this week, Shu proudly declares that his personal record is making seven deliveries in one hour.

And of course, he’s an avid Deliveroo user as well, being able to cook just three dishes (he says he makes a mean Asian-style omelette with lots of scallions). His latest favourites include doner kebab from a Turkish restaurant near his home, and dim sum from a Chinese eatery near Deliveroo’s swanky global headquarters.

Cycling to keep in touch with the core business

Making deliveries in his spare time has kept him up-to-date with the problems riders face on the job, but he also makes it a point to speak to Deliveroo’s pool of riders personally as well.

When we met up with Shu on Monday (Nov 20), he was in town to mark the company’s second anniversary here. His day involved having donburi for lunch (ordered via Deliveroo of course) and speaking to a group of riders here to understand their concerns.

“Flexibility has become much, much more important over time. It varies from market to market but I would say it was a very big deal to the riders I just spoke to here. Because if they’re taking care of their children or the elderly, the ability to work whenever you want is actually really important to them,” he tells us.

Deliveroo’s Singapore business currently has a fleet of around 4,000 delivery riders.

Like many other online marketplace platforms, Deliveroo has felt the pressure to constantly innovate and implement tools that will help support the role of the gig economy in its business.

One example is its implementation of the ‘Frank’ algorithm to decrease the average time taken to deliver orders. So far, Deliveroo says the technology has helped to reduce its delivery times by 20%.

Another is its rider feedback options which now give riders “a lot more control over their schedule”, as well as the ability to reject certain jobs and provide their reasons for doing so, Shu says.

A Deliveroo restaurant in Singapore? 

And while Deliveroo was for a long time focused on its delivery business, recent reports have pointed to a possibility that it could also start running restaurants from its Editions kitchens in Singapore.

While he acknowledged the possibility during our meeting, he emphasised that the eventual outcome is dependent on the local team’s strategy and implementation.

He says: “The key point is that we’re a food company – that’s what we really care about and that’s what we’re focused on.

“The medium of ‘delivery’ could mean going to your house or going to your office, and it could also mean dining in as well. So we have a pretty broad way of thinking about it.”

With its latest round of funding, more changes can be expected for Deliveroo Editions, which is a concept that uses central kitchens to help restaurant partners reach new customer bases in areas they did not operate in.

“A good amount of (the funding) would be (used to) spend time on Editions,” he says, adding that he plans to invest in implementing more technology for Editions, rather than just in developing the physical spaces needed for its kitchens.

“It’s not like you invite a restaurant into a delivery-only restaurant and (simply) hope they succeed – it’s using our data, using our technology to help them succeed; to ensure they can make money,” he says.

The benefits of Deliveroo Editions, he says, are “really huge for everyone”.

These include increased revenue, expansion of customer base and lower operating costs, especially since Editions kitchens are typically located in lower-value real estate areas.

“The labour structure is very different because you don’t have a front of house. You don’t have wait staff, you just have a few chefs. So from a restaurant standpoint, they view that very positively.

“And also, we’re willing to put up the capital expenditures to build up the site itself, so it’s a turnkey solution for restaurants,” he adds.

Not about being a boss, but a problem solver

So it’s not just about expanding for the sake of expansion, but rather, Shu seems to focus a lot on coming up with solutions for existing problems.

That is, after all, why he started Deliveroo in the first place.

“I think the key (to founding a startup) is your motivations for starting a business. For me, it wasn’t to be a founder or CEO – that’s not what I cared about. It was really to solve a problem, and the problem I faced was that I wanted great food delivered quickly and the current options weren’t there.

“If you’re just starting a business because you want to start a business, that to me makes less sense. Focus on a problem, focus on something that matters to you and the motivation will come pretty easily.”

And although life as a successful CEO may seem appealing, the former investment banker doesn’t consider his job glamourous at all.

“This is the most fun I’ve ever had working but it is really hard,” he says.

Still, it remains one of the best decisions he’s made.

He says: “Compared to all the other jobs I had, this is so much more rewarding.”