Head of Business Operations at Uber Eats Canada
Annanth joined UberEats in Canada in 2016 months after they launched the business in late 2015. He started in Sales where he was responsible for onboarding restaurant customers competing directly with Skipthedishes, owned by Just Eat Takeaway. Annanth worked for Uber for over 4 years and helped scale the business to over $1bn GMV and take market share from incumbents by aggressively expanding across Canada. He also worked closely with the US team in setting pricing, operational standards, and competitive strategy. Read moreView Profile Page
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Annanth, can you provide a short introduction to your background, please?
I joined Uber back in 2016. I was part of the US Canada operations team and was primarily focused on Canada, but spent a lot of time working with our US counterparts and some US specific projects, as well. When I joined, we were a pretty small and nascent team and Uber was mostly just in the Canada, US and France and so hadn’t really done its global expansion yet and we were just shutting down our original Uber Eats product, which I can touch on a little bit more later.
I originally joined to lead our sales and our onboarding team, mostly focused on acquiring and retaining restaurants. Then I spent a few years leading our business operations team, primarily focused on cross-functional initiatives that didn’t really constrain itself to a specific customer. For example, some of the initiatives we used to run were strategic planning for the business, managing and owning the P&L, launching new markets across the country, competitive intel, launching new products – we actually launched our corporate product and our grocery product, for example – and then business development, so working with partners such as McDonald’s and Yum! Brands, to get on the platform and to grow their business.
Could you lay out the Canadian food delivery market structure, before you joined?
It’s really interesting and I think Canada is in a really unique position. Many people don’t know this, but Uber Eats was actually launched in Toronto, back in 2015. The back story goes that Travis realized that, essentially, if we could get a car or a driver delivered to you in five minutes, what else could we get to you? We started this new product line, called Uber Everything and it was just a bunch of experiments. They originally picked Toronto because they didn’t think it would get picked up by the media very much if things went horribly wrong.
They didn’t; they launched a product and, in the first week, they did thousands of orders, so the signal was quite strong. Uber Eats ended up scaling from there, into the US, San Francisco, France and so on. Canada has a really unique position in the sense that it is Uber’s most mature market. But we were actually a late entrant into Canada and food delivery, in general. If you look at other competitors, such as Just Eat and Grubhub, they had already been operating for years. In terms of Canada, specifically, obviously we had Uber, we had Just Eat, who had a marketplace business, we had SkipTheDishes which was eventually acquired by Just Eat; we had DoorDash, which is also operating in the US and now in Australia. There was a company called Hurrier which was eventually acquired by Delivery Hero, which is a global food delivery player and they rebranded that to Foodora, which is their more upscale logistics business.
That was the context I entered in, back in 2016. Just Eat, historically, was by far the market leader, with their marketplace business. Eventually, I think they came to the conclusion that Canada was not a marketplace type of country, unlike the UK or certain markets such as New York. There just weren’t enough restaurants that did their own in-house delivery. Obviously, that’s problematic because you don’t really get that selection and that flywheel going. Uber scaled so quickly that they decided to fold their Just Eat business and just completely closed shop and they acquired SkipTheDishes back in 2016, right around when I joined. SkipTheDishes was a logistics first business; they didn’t really have a marketplace business. Essentially, they not only generated the lead or the order for the restaurant, but they also took care of the last-mile logistics, using their own driver network.
At the time, the industry was pretty nascent and was probably doing less than $500 million in GMV; it is now obviously doing several billion dollars and it’s been growing 100% to 200% per year, since 2015. Foodora has exited the market so the context has changed, over time. But essentially, that was the structure when I joined, in 2016.
It’s interesting, that point you made on Just Eat’s strategy of actually closing down the marketplace and saying, this is not a marketplace country. When looking at that kind of competition between marketplaces and logistics, what really defines a marketplace country?
There are a few countries in the world where, partly for density reasons and partly because of culture, restaurants historically have just not done their own delivery. Australia is another good example where it’s a very logistics heavy business. If you go to London, UK, for example, you will see a ton of restaurants that do their own delivery. It just has a long history, over the last decades, with Chinese restaurants, pizza restaurants, all doing their own delivery so it’s pretty historical. That is the underlying structure that really drives what type of business is going to be successful later on. You can’t really create a marketplace business out of thin air. If restaurants don’t do their own delivery, you’re not going to force or coax them into that; it’s really just pushing a boulder uphill. Most of these platforms have come to the realization that it’s better to tailor your business to the underlying structure as opposed to trying to change the underlying market itself.
Did Just Eat switch their supply side, in the marketplace, to SkipTheDishes?
They actually totally folded their original marketplace business. They shut down operations, the brand, everything gone. Employees were transferred over to the SkipTheDishes business. That business operated out of Winnipeg and it has always been a logistics business. They eventually ended up adding a marketplace business but, to this day, if you look at Canada and, to a certain extent, some markets such as Australia, it’s probably 90% to 95% logistics. Very few restaurants do their own delivery and, I would say, there is a secular trend, in these markets, away from doing their own delivery because logistics is such a turnkey service. Running your own in-house delivery is pretty complex. There are a lot of headaches related to it, such as hiring drivers, getting commercial insurance, paying them on time and so on. You are seeing a secular trend towards logistics business, around the globe.
On this point, do you think that’s going to really continue in those strongholds, like the UK or Netherlands, where historically, the marketplace business is? Do you think that we’re going to see the restaurants say, actually, it’s a bit of a headache doing delivery; I’m just going to pay the fee for Deliveroo or Uber Eats?
I think that’s the million-dollar question. Nobody actually knows what’s going to happen over the next couple of years. There are two things, I would say. If you look at Just Eat’s logistic business in the UK, for example – they just recently released their Q4 results – they had a stellar quarter for their logistics business; I think it grew about 300%, year over year. They’ve been doing a good job more recently, transitioning to a logistics business.
There is this underlying question around, if you do your own in-house delivery now, will you change to logistics? Part of it is the nuance of these restaurants. For example, if you’re a mom-and-pop restaurant and you don’t have any staff – you’re the cook, the chef, the manager – but you have some kids who are just always hanging around the restaurant, that isn’t an incremental cost to the restaurant, to do that delivery, to send your son or your daughter to go out and do that delivery. That’s not going to go away, per se. To a certain extent, you are always going to have a pretty sizeable chunk of restaurants doing their own in-house delivery, when somewhere is already a marketplace driven market, such as the UK, for example.
The million-dollar question is not necessarily what is going to happen over the next five or 10 years. It’s going to be, over the next 10 plus years, will those mom-and-pop restaurants, who leverage their own existing family members or cheap labor, still be around?
Going back to Canada, what was your strategy in entering, post 2016?
Scaling in Canada was interesting. When we first launched, Uber Eats was a pretty differentiated product versus other players. A lot of it was minor differences. For example, we had pictures of the restaurant and food. Believe it or not, that was not a thing before Uber launched; that was a small product innovation from us. We also launched with flat delivery fees; $3.99, no matter where you are in the city, you can get a restaurant delivery versus these really complex pricing structures that some folks had. No minimums. Grubhub, Just Eat, etc. usually had a $15 or $20 minimum.
We launched, originally, with a pretty differentiated product; we were pretty aggressive on pricing and promotions and we really focused on providing a better experience. Part of that just comes from the fact that we were integrated. For example, in a marketplace business, you cannot see where your driver is in terms of, are they picking up the food, how far they are. We brought over one of the innovations from the ride side of the business, where you can open up your app and you can see, at any time, where your driver is. He’s five minutes away; great, I’m commuting to home and I’m going to be there at the same time and I don’t need to call them to tell them to leave the food at the front door. It was a pretty differentiated product and experience and it had really strong product market fit and started to grow organically.