Street Culture: DoorDash Aiming to Constantly Improve Both Product and People

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It was a personal interest that turned into a professional one.

The four founders of DoorDash share a motivation to support local businesses, something that began cultivating earlier in life. Tony Xu, DoorDash’s CEO and co-founder, said that his mother has been a small business owner her whole life. Watching her experiences helped shape his perspective and influenced his personal interest in local business.

“It was always a part of me growing up, and you’ll see a similar thread with the other co-founders,” Xu said. “It wasn’t because I was a dishwasher, but that experience left an impression on me in terms of the daily grind that local business owners endure. Small business owners literally do 50 things a day, and thinking about delivery isn’t one of them. That’s one of the reasons that DoorDash exists today.”

Translating the desire to support business owners into a successful on-demand functionality relies heavily on DoorDash’s 200 core employees. In 2015, the company expanded from three markets into 22, and Xu says he expects the company to double in size in 2016. He’s not focused on the exact growth, and said it’s more important to focus on where investments are best made rather than checking off a box. Of course, those investments are often made in people.

“First and foremost, we all share the value of betting on people who really want to do well,” Xu said. “People who perhaps have more talent than experience at this point in their careers, and that message can be said for all the founders. That was something we observed for some of the early hires we brought on. People who are very ambitious and want to make an impact in the problems we are solving.”

Xu wants his employees to be just as passionate as he is about solving problems, and he believes in autonomy to make the best choices, even if unconventional.

“Regardless of what the industry best practice might be or what other people might be doing, we always want to be attacking the problem for the problem’s sake,” Xu said. “It’s not about reinventing the wheel or finding a new way of doing something. It can be a consumer or a Dasher or a merchant; we just want to solve that person’s problem.”

When pushing that value within the DoorDash company culture, Xu says he has seen his employees respond especially well to two things. The first is transparency, but the second he had trouble explaining.

“There’s no point in recruiting if you don’t let people do their jobs,” he said. “That starts with transparency and then everyone has full context for decision-making. The second thing is hard to put into words, but it’s really the belief that you can have far more impact in a far shorter period of time than you thought possible. The idea is that you can use ambition and humility to try to change an industry.”

Xu said employees need the ambition to want to try new things, and also the humility to realize that sometimes the new things might not work, and balance those to achieve a goal of quality delivery.

“The idea is that the ten thousandth delivery needs to be as good as the first,” he said. “We want to compound the rate of getting better, and that’s something that everyone at DoorDash shares.”

The getting better plan isn’t punctuated by special culture-driving initiatives, he said, because hopefully that’s something that is already happening on a daily basis.

“If we have to plan initiatives and formal mechanisms to distribute the type of culture we want, that would probably be a different situation for us where we weren’t thinking proactively enough about the needs of our company,” Xu said.

Incoming employees need great judgement and problem solving skills, and people who are humble about what they have achieved will do well. DoorDash has some formal employee policies, such as three months of paid parent leave and unlimited vacation, but Xu said most situations are handled informally.

“The reason why I hesitate with the word policy is because it’s really just about treating people the way you want to be treated,” he said. “Like most things in life are just conversations, that’s how it works at DoorDash. As long as people are able to communicate their needs, it’s easy for us to respond and find solutions for both sides. Just like how we always want to improve our product, why would we not want the same thing for our culture and people?”

April Nowicki is a Street Fight contributor.