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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Meet the Deliveroo boss who still brings orders to customers' doors

Chief executive Will Shu talks heavy traffic, rider welfare and satellite kitchens to speed up orders

Will Shu, founder and chief executive of Deliveroo worldwide. Courtesy: Deliveroo
Will Shu, founder and chief executive of Deliveroo worldwide. Courtesy: Deliveroo

Will Shu is not your average multi-national chief executive.

Dressed in t-shirt and shorts, the Deliveroo founder and chief still takes time out of running the business to deliver takeaways on his bike in London, to ensure that even from the executive office, he has his finger on the pulse.

Speaking during a trip to see the company's operation in Dubai, he reflected its fast growth - and the rise of satellite kitchens strategically scattered around major cities to speed up deliveries and allow restaurants to share resources.

The former investment banker’s relaxed look is as unlikely as it is refreshing as the head of an emerging mega-brand.

Deliveroo operates in 200 cities across 12 countries, employing more than 30,000 riders, on bicycles and mopeds delivering food from more than 20,000 restaurants.

In Dubai, the company has partnered with 1,200 restaurants and has more than 600 riders on the books.

Those numbers will substantially swell when the new Dubai airport expansion kicks-in and satellite kitchens open to connect those living in more remote areas of the city.

The first ‘Deliveroo Editions’ is now open in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Equipped with six-full size custom kitchens – it is a far cry from a similar short term shipping container concept of ‘dark kitchens’ that opened in London earlier this year.

The concept aims to reach customers beyond current boundaries, to deliver the city’s favourite foods to communities further afield within 20 minutes or so.

A new food delivery service at Dubai International Airport offer food at the gate for waiting airline passengers.

“We view Dubai as a centre of innovation and are excited about the new airport service,” said Mr Shu from the Oberoi Centre in Business Bay, a base for Deliveroo Dubai.

“People are passionate about food in the same way they are about music and film. Food is emotional and there is a certain brand loyalty.

“Our data tells us what restaurant will succeed in different areas. We know that delivering food from our Edition Kitchens is about five minutes faster.

“Dubai has incredible restaurants and it’s clear people here are passionate about food.”

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Deliveroo launched in Dubai in 2015, two years after the first riders picked up their orders from restaurants in London, where Mr Shu has made his home. The company was founded with his friend Greg Orlowski.

Online orders are delivered by couriers, with Deliveroo charging customers and the restaurants from where meals are collected.

Mr Shu worked as an investment banker in New York before being transferred by Morgan Stanley to the financial hub of Canary Wharf in London.

It was there he came up with the Deliveroo idea. He was eating most meals at his desk, but there were few quality restaurants delivering food in his area.

Customer experience is at the heart of what Deliveroo is trying to achieve, with Dubai’s love of food and convenience the perfect partner to fast-track the company’s ambitious plans, he says.

The 37-year-old still rides his bike near his Notting Hill home, delivering food to unsuspecting customers to experience what his riders have to go through every day.

Little tweaks here and there based on those experiences are helping shape the company’s future, giving him real life customer feedback.

“I do cycle deliveries every week in Notting Hill where I live,” Mr Shu said.

“It’s good for fitness and it gives me the opportunity to speak with riders and restaurants to see how things are working. I love it.

“Customers, riders and restaurants have no idea who I am. People tell me what they really think when I ask them how things are working.”

Like taxi service Uber and other companies at the heart of the ‘gig economy’ where employees often work without a contract, Deliveroo has also faced criticism.

The UK government commissioned an independent review of ‘modern working practices’ to develop new worker rights and responsibilities.

Unlike some cities, Deliveroo riders in Dubai are considered full time employees and are so covered by health insurance.

“For many of our restaurant partners, they don’t have the capital to expand so we are helping them do that,” Mr Shu said.

“We are building the technology whilst helping develop the restaurants’ supply chain and labour force. You need multiple kitchens to reach your customers in Dubai.”

The company has become famous for using cyclists in London, but due to the road network and summer heat, that is unlikely to take off in Dubai any time soon.

Drones have also been ruled out as a viable option to help reduce delivery traffic on congested roads.

“I think the concept of delivering to your door using drones is still some way off,” he said.

“Yes, Deliveroo contributes to the traffic but it would be worse if everyone was in a car, 99 per cent of our riders are using either bikes or motorcycles.”