Dreamstake’s excellent founder stories series continued on Wednesday evening at Google Campus; there were queues around the corner as a packed house assembled to hear David Buttress give a talk about how he helped turn JustEat from a promising Scandinavian start-up into a household name in the UK, with revenues of £157m and profits of £33m in 2014 on the back of over 1bn orders, with more than 1,500 restaurants signed up to the platform.
Like all great start-ups, and given the fact that all of the company’s profits continue to be reinvested straight back into a growth trajectory that he believes to be practically vertical, a start-up is exactly how David still thinks of Just Eat, it began small. Very small.
David describes himself as somebody who knows the value of humility; growing up in a small town in South Wales where life revolved around 2 things, the sport of Rugby and the industry of coal mining, the latter in the process of being decimated by the incumbent Thatcher government, he quickly learned the value of understanding how people, and how a community functioned. He had little choice in the matter; if you wanted to succeed, you had to learn fast, make connections, and stay open minded.
David was a quick learner; so much so, in fact, he earned himself a law degree; but once he had his qualification he didn’t stick with the legal crowd for long. “I hated it, but I stuck at it”, he told us. That kind of attitude would stand him in good stead. As he would explain to us later, anybody who believes that the life of a start-up founder is a glamorous one, they would do well to think again. So called “rock stars” have always worked harder than most.
Instead, he joined Coke as a marketing associate. By his own admission he was raw, naïve, and pretty clueless, but he had something in common with his employers; both believed him to be a diamond in the rough. “Coke helped turn me into a professional of pretty decent calibre”, he says; above all else he learned that the secret of successful marketing is to care passionately about your brand. As long as you are doing that, he insists, then taking care of the competition takes care of itself.
So with a great job, newly married and with a baby on the way, the logical next step was to…throw in his lot with a man he had only just met after taking him to lunch at Nando’s? Well perhaps not, but that, in fact, is exactly what happened. Jesper Buch, who had founded JustEat back in 2000 in Denmark but wanted to headquarter the company in the UK, was blown away either by the peri-peri sauce or by David’s can-do attitude and immediately asked him to join the project as UK Sales Director.
David was understandably cautious. Jesper showed him a picture; it was a picture of a hard working looking family proudly standing outside what was clearly their pride and joy. A family run curry house and takeaway. A father and perhaps his two sons, arms folded, smiling, wearing branded t-shirts. It was taken in 2006, but Jesper asked David to study the picture closely. What’s changed in the takeaway business in the last 30 years? Jesper asked. The picture could have been taken in 2006, or 1976; it would have looked more or less the same; digitally untouched. The industry that is, not the photo. The cooking is now and always was excellent, but if ever an industry were ripe for disruption!
3 months later and David was installed in Just Eat’s new HQ. Just him and Jesper, and probably a few mice chewing their way through the power cables. It was in South London, and state of the art it most certainly wasn’t. No passer by would ever have guessed that it was the launch pad for possibly the biggest start-up success story the UK has ever known. Truly, Just Eat has inspired a generation, put entrepreneurialism on the map, and made it a career choice that a fresh faced graduate’s parents can be proud of. But if you’d have tried to tell that to David a decade ago after yet another 15 hour working day, with only Jesper and their 2 wives (both drafted in to supply extra elbow grease), for company, he probably would have directed some fairly agricultural language at you, maybe even tried out a rugby tackle on you.
The first company David signed up was called “Speedo Pizza”, and he showed the audience a picture of this semi-salubrious establishment. Most self-respecting food lovers would probably have run a mile. It was at this point David turned to the Greek philosophers; “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm”; Emerson, in case you were wondering. David stuck at it, stuck to his guns, kept signing up restaurants, hired more sales staff to do the same, and the rest is history.
Fast forward 10 years and things have changed mightily. Just Eat had gone bust 3 times in 3 months but were bailed out by an opportunistic and infuriatingly smart investor, who asked for 50% of the company in return for a £1m investment. “Don’t ever ask Jesper and I for advice about angel investing; this guy took half of our company” advises a clearly still raw Buttress. In 2014 Just Eat received 1,000 orders per minute. Next year they anticipate it will double. Now that they are in 23 countries, the total addressable market is estimated at £23bn. Nice work if you can get it, Angel investing!
Why did everything eventually go the way of David, Jesper and Just Eat? Hard work certainly, but it was fascinating to hear David talk the audience through the philosophy that has helped him to shape the company and helped it to achieve pre-eminence. It’s worth remembering that Just Eat were by no means the first online takeaway aggregator on the scene. What’s undeniable is that they have been the most successful. Hungry House anyone? GrubHub? Here are some of the key takeaways from David’s talk, for those building their own enterprises, or empires.
You must have a clear purpose!
A recent staff survey showed that 99.4% of the Just Eat workforce had a clear and thorough understanding of what the purpose of Just Eat is. Sounds simple, but David’s view is that a company stands or falls on whether its staff come into work every day knowing exactly what they need to do, and why. How can you move forwards if everybody is pulling in different directions? Woe betide the 0.6% if David ever finds out who they are!
Necessity is the mother of invention
People tend to discover new ways of doing things once it becomes harder to stay the same than to change. The reason why Just Eat succeeded was because the market was open to disruption, in fact it actively desired change. The industry hadn’t made any kind of move into digital and yet digital was transforming almost every other industry in existence. As usual, it took a visionary, Jesper, a trusted lieutenant, David, and the complicity of restaurant owners across the country to create a lasting change.
There will be doubters
Better than “there will be blood” but still problematic; David’s advice on this one is pretty straightforward: ignore them! The same with the competition. Keep an eye on them for sure, but the second you start thinking more about somebody else’s company than your own, it’s game over. David told us that recently the Just Eat management team had spent 2 days at a conference brainstorming about how they could make the company better. The result was 7 words: “empower customers to love their takeaway experience”. From the outside that might seem a little underwhelming. But it doesn’t matter what outsiders think, what matters is what the inner circle are thinking. If 7 words are you need, they’re all you need!
Know your customer: meet Kevin!
Kevin was JustEat’s first ever customer. Thanks to their data analytics team, JustEat compiled a phenomenal amount of data about Kevin, which they used to tailor their services to Kevin’s needs.
The timeline they created which David showed the audience showed that Kevin ordered from JustEat on average 11 times each year, that he had complained once after an order failed to process (it was dealt with swiftly by the customer services team), and most importantly, that Kevin loved playing with his iPad. So David and his team built Kevin an iPad app with outstanding UX and UI.
The result of this move is that Kevin now orders from Just Eat 30 times per year using his favourite toy, his trusty iPad. Paying attention to their customers allowed just Eat to triple its sales in under a year. Buttress is obsessed with the rate his company grows at. It is everything to him, but even he couldn’t argue with that rate.
At the end of the evening there was a little time for some questions from the audience, cleverly displayed on stage and voted for by the audience thanks to Glisr app, a new device that allows audience members to post questions and vote for their favourites. Hence the question “how fat is Kevin now?” having to be asked by a reluctant Marina to a bemused David!
Other questions included whether David feels threatened by the new breed of start-ups such as Deliveroo (he does, “it’s the start-ups I worry the most about”), how hard he worked during the first 15 months (very hard; he signed up 15-20 restaurants each month whilst earning a tiny salary in comparison with what he had left behind at Coke; the support friends and family was what kept him going), and whether he feared the Samwer brothers, Rocket Internet and the formidable rise of Delivery Hero, which raised more money than any other start-up in 2014, around $500m (he is, but he is not going to let the b*stards grind him down!).
There is a lot more to say about David Butress, about Just Eat, and about what start-ups can learn from their incredible experience, but we are out of column inches, and besides, the founders tell it a lot better than we can! Dreamstake’s next event is on the 23rd June; it’s called Go Fund yourself, and it helps start-ups learn the do’s and the don’t’s and the “for god’s sake, NO’s!” Of the process of getting funded.
Dreamstake founders Paul and Marina continue to do sterling work procuring some of the finest and most original speakers and delivering some of the best workshops, all for free. We should all show our appreciation; start-ups by listing on the Dreamstake platform, and investors by joining them at the next HoxTech Angels event.