[00:00:15] Matt Clifford: Hello, and welcome to The Entrepreneur First Podcast, where we uncover the stories, get inspired by stories from some of the world’s most impressive entrepreneurs. My name is Matt Clifford. I’m one of the co-founders of Entrepreneur First and I’ll be your host for today’s episode. Today, we’re talking about how pandemic era startups are shaping a new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended economies and had an impact on nearly every aspect of human life.
Individuals and companies around the world had to respond in real time to wholesale changes in how we work, shop, socialize, and organize. One consequence was the need for new and rapid solutions for the whole raft of challenges this created. Today, we speak to two founders whose businesses had to accelerate at breakneck speed through the pandemic, Pete Butler of Dishpatch and Matt Wilson from Omnipresent. In an environment where literally every restaurant in the country was closed, Dispatch had part of the answer.
Dishpatch partners with restaurants in the UK to prepare delicious top quality meal kits and deliver them to your doorstep for home finishing anywhere in the country. Now I’m obviously a proud investor in Dishpatch, but I’m also an equally happy customer. Dishpatch is probably the Entrepreneur First company that I’ve used most as a consumer. I’ve had many meal kits from Dishpatch throughout the crisis and it really was a game-changer in terms of the quality of what was available, particularly outside London and other major urban centers.
Meanwhile, Omnipresent helps companies with one of the biggest trends accelerated by the pandemic, remote work. Omnipresent helps companies hire and manage remote teams anywhere in the world by offering payroll advice, legal compliance, and technologies which facilitate remote work itself. Sit back and tune into our conversation about business in the era of COVID.
The pandemic highlighted the fact that millions of people can work productively from any location in the world as long as they have an internet connection but clearly, this was building on a trend that was already years in the making. Many companies have acknowledged the reality is that remote work is here to stay. It can enhance work-life balance, reduce cost, and enable access to talent once limited by lack of mobility, but beyond a changing mindset for companies, this transition does also bring operational challenges.
An obvious one is the question of how to onboard remote employees. I asked Matt about Omnipresent and what they do to make this transition easier for companies.
[00:02:50] Matt Wilson: I’m one of the founders of a company called Omnipresent, which was formed out of the EF program in 2019. What we do at Omnipresent is we make it easy to build global teams. The world’s changing, companies are working remotely more than ever, and what that means is that companies can access a global talent pool to hire the best person for the job no matter where they’re located, but that brings with it a whole set of challenges.
How do you manage that? How do you manage the administration of that? How do you understand how to employ people in all these different countries around the world? That’s exactly what we do. We combine a whole bunch of legal infrastructure, financial infrastructure, as well as a technology layer to make it easy for companies to hire the best person for the job no matter where they’re located. We say we’re here to make global teams work, is how we describe it.
[00:03:37] Matt Clifford: Pete launched his food delivery bit just as the pandemic hit Europe. I asked him to tell us a little bit more about Dishpatch’s very early days.
[00:03:45] Pete Butler: I am Pete. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Dishpatch. What we do is we work with amazing chefs and restaurants, people like Ottolenghi, Angela Hartnett, St. John, and we help them deliver their food nationwide in the form of a restaurant meal kit, which if you haven’t seen them, a new category of eating at home. They’re fully prepared restaurant meals delivered to you cold that you finish and reheat. You can have the most amazing restaurant or food experience in your home, no matter where you live in the UK.
[00:04:13] Matt Clifford: I have to say nothing but Dishpatch has really changed my eating habits and probably my waistline as well. At EF, we help entrepreneurs turn their ambitions into reality. That sounds great but doing it is often a painful and stressful process. For both Pete and Matt, they started their businesses in the chaos of the early pandemic, so I wanted to ask Matt to walk us through how he found starting a company when the whole world had come to a standstill?
[00:04:39] Matt Wilson: It was interesting. I think for a bit of context, we founded the company in November of 2019 at EF, and then we graduated EF in March of 2020s, which was really when COVID was taking hold in Europe. We were launching from EF, taking on our first customers, going out to raise our first round of investment at that point, and the first month or so, March, April while we were raising our seed round and we were just getting out there in front of customers, it was a bit of a bizarre time.
We were all in lockdown for the first time. Nobody had any idea what was going on and actually, the world for about a month was in shock trying to figure out what it meant and what was going to happen. Economically, it wasn’t clear whether we were going to go into an enormous recession. It certainly wasn’t clear that we were going to, particularly in the world of the world of venture, go through this kind of acceleration that there’s been since COVID.
To start off with, we couldn’t necessarily see for the first month what it was going to mean for the business. I remember, Matt, you coming in and giving a talk to the other companies and us to say, “Look, you’re all coming out at this really uncertain time,” and talking through your reflections on what that would mean for us as a business. That was interesting, but actually, once the dust had settled, once things had started to settle down after a month or so, we’d raised our seed round and brought on some great investors. Actually, it became pretty clear what the change was going to be for the company.
We really believed there was this behavioral change that was going to happen. We thought it was going to happen over a 5 to 10 year period, that remote work would be more and or adopted by companies, but everybody was forced into experimenting with that way of working. As I say, after about a month, six weeks, it just became clear that we just had to run so much faster than we thought we’d have to and that the need for what we were building was going to be there much sooner than we’d anticipated.
We didn’t have 5 to 10 years to build the company. We had to build it in five months and get something really good to market very, very quickly.
[00:06:42] Matt Clifford: For Pete, clearly these unique conditions were an opportunity to move far faster than he could have otherwise ever imagined.
[00:06:48] Pete: Although I’ve had a thesis around food, we were not expecting to build Dishpatch. The story for us starts in March 2020. I was about to join EF, and a week before the program started, COVID happened. The first lockdown gets underway and I remember thinking, “This is completely crazy.” I’ve worked in restaurants for the past 10 years. Every single restaurant is closed. No one can get food and drink and I called James who’s now my co-founder. I distinctly remember this phone call.
He was in Thailand at the time on an island traveling and I said to him, “This is complete madness. There’s going to be some big opportunity that comes out of this. I have no idea what it is. We should try and build something and see if we can add value.” The first version of Dishpatch, if you remember, no one could get their groceries delivered for a three-week period. Shops were closed, Ocado’s delivery stops were awful, so we built a directory to help people find independent food and drink suppliers who could deliver to their home.
We built it in a day. We put it live and that’s basically how Dishpatch started. Obviously, we pivoted the business. We’re no longer a grocery business. We’re a meal kit business. We did that later down line.
[00:07:57] Matt Clifford: Sometimes finding product-market fit takes years. However, the pandemic meant that my two guests today were able to find a large and growing group of underserved customers with huge demand for what they were building right off the bat.
[00:08:09] Pete: It was pretty crazy. We got to the point where we were doing thousands and thousands of kits a week in Q1 2022 this year. There were three people in the team and all we could do was figure out how the hell to actually execute this product and get the boxes out. We’re quite an operational business. We’re not just a tech layer. The restaurants cook the food. We take it from them to our warehouse. We do the portioning, the packaging, we send it all out.
We were working seven days a week, 12 hours a day. All we could focus on was figuring out how we could fulfill these products, which is a different problem to have than I’ve had previously in the business. You’re usually figuring out how you get customers and we had the opposite problem, which is we were turning customers away. We’re trying to figure out how you fulfill the product, so I’m definitely not complaining. It was super, super intense, but it’s the best kind of problem to have in a business.
[00:09:00] Matt Clifford: Both of these companies are still growing fast. Matt emphasizes that it’s important to keep meeting the demands of your existing customers even as you’re trying to expand your market.
[00:09:08] Matt Wilson: We really launched in earnest around September, October of 2020. I remember we’d built a sales team. I remember in December having to tell the sales team to stop selling because we were not able to deal with the amount of customers that were wanting what we’d come to market with, which as Pete said, you can’t complain about, but certainly was intense and required a huge amount of work during that period to make sure that we were scaling up the service delivery and making sure that we were delivering really excellently for all the customers.
What we do is super high stakes, so the worst thing that we can do is take on more demand than we can serve and then end up letting some customers down and damaging our reputation. It actually sounds pretty similar in terms of that end of year, the start of this year, rush, and just had to hire a lot to get ahead of that and make sure that we did have enough capacity to get out there. Then this year’s just been all about trying to balance the different parts of the business growing together, right? Pete, you’ve probably had some similar challenges there. You’ve got to get end-to-end from your marketing, through your sales, through your onboarding, customer success and account management. You’ve got to level all of it up together. That’s been a super interesting challenge.
[00:10:18] Pete: We found exactly the same thing in that we just didn’t have time to put any proper processes in place across any of our business. Our capacity was what we could physically do in the hours we had in the week. We didn’t do any marketing for the first six months. We didn’t have a customer support team. Distinctly, one weekend we were working on customer support all weekend, answering people’s inquiries, and actually, that puts a limit on, puts a cap on the business because there is only so much you can do.
It really takes time to build each of those different functions so you have a stable base, so you can go to the next level of business and the next level of scale.
[00:10:55] Matt Clifford: Starting a new business is challenging at the best of times. One of the most significant transitions is moving from being a pair of co-founders to leading a team of people. I asked Pete how he delegates work among his small team.
[00:11:06] Pete: I think the key thing is prioritisation. You cannot work on everything at the same time when you’ve got fires going off around the business. We literally had fires going off around the business. It was completely crazy. You’ve got to figure out what you fix first and just focus on doing that, stabilizing that, and moving on to the next thing. It can be really frustrating because you’re focusing on one thing and you know you’ve got another 10 things to focus on before you can really start working on the business rather than in the business, but you’ve just got to do it.
A great example is the customer support one I gave earlier, which is we have to answer customer support inquiries. If we don’t do that, we’ll get a whole bunch of negative reviews. People won’t come back to the service. We literally have to do that. The most important thing is finding people that can do that. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the next thing, which is probably bringing in more operational support. What you find is if you work on these things in the right sequence, eventually it does get better.
It is incredibly draining personally. The hours you work, super long, but like I said, it’s a much better problem to have, way too much demand than it is working long hours, trying to figure out why no one’s buying your product.
[00:12:12] Matt Clifford: I will always remember, Pete, having a Zoom call with you around the time you were raising your series A, and literally you were on video in your warehouse or in a storage room at the back of your warehouse, surrounded with boxes that were going to be dispatched. You were just like, “I’m really sorry. I haven’t got time to go anywhere else. I’m just sitting here.” To me, it summed off a lot [laughs] about what it means in practice.
[00:12:39] Pete: Well, We didn’t have any internet in the business for a while. We’d moved into this warehouse and office and there was no internet and actually finding a fixed line internet was not the top priority. We’d bought these dongles that we were using and on every single Zoom call, there was about a three-second delay. We were raising a round and we were speaking to all these investors around the world and there was this three-second delay on every single call, which people thought was absolutely mad, but, “Oh, I’m sorry. I literally don’t have time to figure out the right internet supplier. We’re just going to have to deal with this,” and people were very understanding.
[00:13:10] Matt Clifford: For Matt, finding the right balance between business efficiency and capacity building is the key when it comes to managing small teams.
[00:13:16] Matt Wilson: Finding that balance between making sure that things run really well today but also that you’re building capacity in a business, that is so important, right? As Pete said, you can end up being in a bottleneck if you don’t work on those things that are– Often that feels less urgent to work on the business than to others. This we’ve got this immediate issue that we need to fix or this immediate thing that needs to be worked on. Just working long hours is part of the puzzle.
I think the thing is that we, maybe with an extra six months on Dishpatch, we’re in a fortunate position where we’d had built out– As I said, when COVID hit, we knew we’d have to run fast. It was also a pretty good time to hire really good people. There were a lot of really good people available in summer, early autumn of 2020. We’d really consciously, overhired the first 10, 15 people to make sure that we could hire people that could then build out their own functions, their own units underneath them.
I think that’s the toughest period, personally, was probably end of Q3 going into Q4 of 2020, which is when we were onboarding and ramping that initial core group of leaders that then built out their functions. Once they were ramped, you can share out. It’s not just sharing out the work. It’s also sharing out the anxiety and stress, and that being able to think, “There’s this thing. There’s this problem that’s going on here. I don’t need to think about it because I know that X person is going to sort it out,” and they’re actually going to sort it out better than I would.
That was such a release. Actually, we’ve seen that happen again this year with some of the individual functions where as we’ve scaled up the functions, the leaders have been super capacity-constrained, and have had to be both doing all the things in their function themselves at the same time as building out their sub-leadership teams. That’s been an interesting parallel to watch the experience that me and Guenther went through as we built out our leadership team.
Now that’s happening at the next level down in the organization. I don’t know how comforting it is for me to be able to go to the leaders and say, “I know what this feels like. I went through this exact process and it will get better, but it’s going to be tough for the next few months and you’re going to have to work hard. You’re going to have to just suck it up and deal with it for the next few months, but let us know how we can help. If there’s resources we can give you, let us know. Sometimes, it just takes time to build out that organizational capacity.”
[00:15:53] Matt Clifford: Well, building a new business can be exciting. There are always hurdles to overcome. Pete told us about how he navigates the obstacles he encounters on the way.
[00:16:01] Pete: I think it’s a real skill to have to be able to say, I’m working on this and not on this because the irony is if fires are going out everywhere if you try and focus on all of them, you’re never going to put them out. Over time you learn that if you actually want to fix these things, the only way to do it is to prioritize. That gets better by doing that. I totally agree with Matt that I see other people in our business that are now learning that skill, that they’re trying to do everything, and I’m saying, “Well, no, no, no. We’ve got to think about the sequencing here, and how we prioritize the work, and what we focus on first.” It is definitely something you learn.
The other thing I’m realizing is as you get better at doing things, you start to think further out. In the peak lockdown with Dishpatch, we were literally thinking a day in advance. I could not think of what was happening at the weekend. All I could think about was fixing things to sort out what was happening today. Over time, that was like, “Okay, now I’m thinking what we going to be doing in the next two weeks.” That changes to months. Now, actually, we’ve got much more of we’re at three to six months’ time horizon which is probably not quite as far out as I would like, but we’re now fixing things that are going to make the difference for that time period.
I think definitely the pressure at that point is a little bit lower because you haven’t got this overhang on you every day, which is, “If I don’t do this right now, the business is going to fall apart.”
[00:17:17] Matt Clifford: Matt emphasizes that remaining focused on your company’s daily, weekly, or monthly goals is important when facing a big challenge.
[00:17:25] Matt Wilson: I think you need to think about what are the things that are truly mission-critical. I think that’s a mixture of urgency and importance, right? Those things that are super urgent that just need to get done, and if they don’t get done, things are just going to get worse. What things are on a downward trajectory, that if you don’t fix these problems, it’s going to cause more work later on versus which ones are, “Okay, this thing needs working on, but actually, I can work on it now, or I can work on it in two weeks and it’ll cause a little bit of pain and in those intervening times,” but whereas building out your team, that’s something that isn’t going to fix any problems next week.
Your hiring isn’t going to fix any problems in the next couple of months, but if you don’t do it, you then end up just completely capped out in terms of where you can go in the business. It’s tempting to do the things that are in your face rather than to work on those longer-term things that are important, but not urgent. Then you’ve got to think, I don’t want to do this explicitly, but think in terms of a two by two of urgency and importance and use that to prioritize, and everything important needs to get worked on, not everything urgent necessarily needs to get worked on.
That’s the trap that I think you can fall into where you just end up just treading water. It doesn’t really need to be said, right? Delegation of bringing on great people that you can really share the burden with is the way to solve that problem, and it’s the way that you get yourself out of that. It’s the way that you build an organization that is actually is effective. Even doing things yourself, you’re going to do them way worse than if you get specialists in. It’s almost trite, it’s so obvious to say that.
[00:19:04] Matt Clifford: It’s one of those things that’s obvious in the abstract but quite hard. In my experience, having seen a lot of people go through this, it’s quite hard to actually make it real. Maybe in a way for both of you, you literally had no choice.
[00:19:18] Matt Wilson: We didn’t have a choice. If we hadn’t done it, we would just stop. It was an existential need to do it. I do think this is where having both myself and my co-founder had both run other businesses previously. Maybe that was a lesson that we’d learned on a previous run out. You end up just standing still if you don’t do that.
[00:19:39] Matt Clifford: Both Pete and Matt told me how hiring the right people for the job has proven to be critical, both to scaling their businesses and to tackling setbacks. In other words, hiring phenomenal talent is both the most difficult thing a founder does and the single most powerful for their business. I asked them to tell us about their best hire so far.
[00:19:56] Pete: I think one of the best hires we’ve made or I’ve made is the chief of staff. There’s a bunch of things that that person does. A lot of what they do is take off the things that are urgent but not necessarily important on my plate. Really what I want to be doing is focusing on 3, 6, 12 months ahead. I should be thinking ahead whilst people are executing on the here and now. One of the best hires we made, that’s really freed my mind and freed my plate from the everyday CEO clutter that you have of like, “Can you sign this? Can you sort this out? Can you look at this?” As with a lot of things in Dishpatch, I wasn’t planning to hire a chief of staff. It just happened.
The way it happened with us was I began to realize that there was a bunch of things that were on my plate that no one was doing. Finance people, leadership comms and communication, and a lot of soft stuff that doesn’t really fall into any function but was something that I feel I should be doing to be running the business more effectively. I bought in someone called Nick, who was ex-head of operations at a few different startups, so a real operator.
He said, “I’ve run finance teams before. I’ve run people teams.” We brought him in a few days a week to just take control of these functions and pretty quickly– Well, both he really enjoyed being in the business and we realized that we worked together really effectively. It just gave me so much more leverage. Part-time role turned into a full-time role, and contract work. We actually had a lot of debate around what the right role title was with him. Is it the head of ops? Is it business operations?
We were like actually, this is the chief of staff role because it’s all of those things and some slightly other things. Probably eventually we’ll have a full finance team and we’ll have a full people team, but there’s still going to be a whole bunch of stuff that slips through the cracks that I’m probably responsible for but it doesn’t make best use of my time to be doing. That’s the way we think about how we allocate his time.
[00:21:53] Matt Wilson: Yes. We’ve done similarly and made a similar hire. Actually, making a second hire in a similar role so both founders can have somebody that they can work with because there’s so much going on. It has made a massive difference in terms of being able to just expand your– like an extra pair of hands, an extra brain as well. You get somebody really smart to work on stuff across the whole business. We got to a point where we felt we had good leaders in each of the functions that were looking after things in their department.
When it came to managing stuff that was happening across the business, or there’s this thing that touches multiple different areas, a lot of that came down and we’re getting better at working cross-functionally as a leadership team. A lot of that came down to, “Oh, it needs Matt or Guenther to come and step in and figure out this thing or to spot this problem that’s happening across multiple different areas.” That’s exactly where a chief of staff style role is able to step in.
Also among those, not administrative tasks that need doing but things that require somebody who has a deeper understanding of the business and is really smart. It’s not an EA role but it’s very, very distinct from that. There’s so much of the job that is just this doesn’t require me to do it but it requires somebody who knows what I know to do it. Those things are so valuable to be able to have somebody to share the workload. It just means the whole company gets more done because you’ve stopped being the bottleneck.
I think there’s a lot of people that think they’ll be good at it, but it’s actually a really, really challenging role. You need somebody who’s super smart because, in essence, it’s the archetype of a generalist role. They need to be able to basically turn a hand to almost any task and to be able to take that on, deliver on it quickly, work with a lot of autonomy because that’s the point. “Here’s this thing. Go and solve it and don’t talk to me until it’s solved,” kind of thing.
I mean, that’s the ideal outcome, is that people could take projects, run with it, but also deeply understand the business and be able to work well across the company as well and work well with and the rest of the company. You need somebody who’s pretty capable as well as having a really low ego. I can’t imagine anything worse than having somebody doing that role going, “Oh, I don’t want to do that particular task because I actually wanted to develop myself in this area.”
You obviously need to support the career development of that person, but actually, they need to just be able to do the things that need doing and turn their hand to what needs doing. That’s the essence of the role. The guy who we hired, he’s all of those things. He’d worked in startups, but he’d also just come from Bain and had been a consultant at Bain for a number of years, so he was used to– Matt you were at McKinsey for a time, so in a similar organization.
I think it’s an interesting talent pool to look at for those kinds of roles because they tend to have people that can pretty much turn their hands to anything, tend to have a pretty high clock speed, and also can just get shit done. That’s really what we’re looking for. Then that also just has to be a personal fit as well. You have to be able to gel with somebody and just get stuff done. We had a fairly challenging interview process for that individual. It took us a while to find the right person. It was important to get somebody that we felt was a really good fit for the organization but also for me and for Guenther.
[00:25:28] Matt Clifford: Fundraising is challenging, even in the best of times. In the early stages of the pandemic, it looked like the bottom might fall out of the venture capital market. In reality, the last two years have turned out to be two of the best for capital raising in the history of VC. Dealing with this sort of roller coaster is integral to a founder’s role. I asked Pete to tell us a bit more about his experience fundraising for Dishpatch during the pandemic.
[00:25:48] Pete: I think one of the benefits of growing really quickly is that fundraising is easier. That is definitely one of the upsides. We were not planning to raise our previous round. We were growing really quickly. We had some amazing early investors, obviously yourself included, that were like, “Well, maybe you should speak to some of the bigger funds that might be next on the list.” We had those calls. Then actually, we got preempted. Once you get one term sheet, you get a few term sheets and then the round was done. We never had a pitch deck, we never had a model.
It was actually pretty low effort. To your point about taking calls in the stockroom, I was taking these investor calls running up from the warehouse in the middle of the staff room or the stock room and just doing our best. It does make it easier if you ultimately have investors looking for traction. Particularly in consumer companies, they want traction more than anything. It was actually a relatively painless experience although it was still quite painful given that we had a lot of other urgent things on the list.
As rounds go, it really wasn’t that bad. Of course, everything was on Zoom, which means you’re absolutely right. You can pitch investors from around the world. It makes absolutely no difference.
[00:26:54] Matt Clifford: Initially, many people were skeptical that Zoom could replace the sort of rapport you can build so much more easily from in-person meetings. However, this hasn’t stopped our founders. In fact, Matt believes that virtual meetings have made raising capital easier for him.
[00:27:06] Matt Wilson: I think doing stuff on Zoom makes things actually way easier. I mean, I ran another venture-backed company before Omnipresent. It’s also nice to meet people now if you can. I do like to meet people, especially if you’re going to be potentially having somebody join the board. It’s nice to meet somebody in person. Being able to handle most of the process virtually just makes things so much more efficient. I remember at our seed round, we were raising our seed round those first few weeks of the pandemic I was talking about earlier.
I think I was doing eight or nine pitches a day for that seed round. We were able to really cram that into a short period of time, which is good for the company. You get in front of more investors. You get more competition. I think one thing is that we’ve been balancing is in an environment where there is capital fairly readily available for companies that are growing fast, choosing the right speed to deploy the capital, acting in a way that is growing a business fast enough but not in a way that’s developing a culture and a muscle memory for being wasteful, I think that’s something that requires being deliberate, really focusing.
While there may be investors that don’t necessarily– When there’s money flying around, there are companies that are raising that aren’t necessarily being built on great fundamentals. You can’t build a business that’s not built on good fundamentals. You’re just on a fool’s errand. The chickens are going to come home to roost at some point. Really thinking, what are we building? How do we build it in a way that’s sustainable? How do we leverage the capital that is available to grow faster?
How do we invest in the right areas? Which areas is it okay to be inefficient in for the short term? Which areas do we really want to make sure that we’re proving out the efficiency of the model? It does open up new possibilities. It also opens up some dangers as well. Again, it’s probably one of those nice problems to have. It can still be a problem. If you end up getting into bad habits, you end up not really thinking fundamentally about things that are really going to drive success long term.
I think it, of course, can lead to some relatively short-term thinking as well, where it’s like, “Oh, we’re raising every six months. Let’s just get the metrics in a good place for what they look like for investors rather than let’s really work on these core things that are going to have a three to five-year payoff rather than a six months payoff.”
[00:29:20] Matt Clifford: Yes. We talk about this all the time with founders and it’s so hard because, obviously, you do need capital so you do have to look good to investors, but the role of a founder is not to look good to investors. A great company is not one that just looks good to investors. A great company is a great company that will endure 10 years out. Hopefully, the best investors get that and have calibrated their own thing.
[00:29:46] Matt Wilson: It’s even harder for the best investors to do that now. Things are moving so fast. It’s hard for any investor to get a real good feeling for the companies that do look good and look shiny because they don’t have the luxury of time to make those judgments. I don’t know. It’s an interesting environment.
[00:30:05] Matt Clifford: Pete also shared about how his investors have added value to his company beyond the cash.
[00:30:10] Pete: I think for us, one is having real partners that help you think through building the business from first principles and making the right decision for the business, not necessarily their VC fund. One of the people we work with most closely is Andrew Robb from Local Globe. He was CEO of Farfetch for 10 years, an amazing operator, not a venture capital partner, and so we work with him really closely and we talk to him about how do we build this business?
What do we need to work on? How do we prioritize things? It really feels like he is part of the team. He hasn’t got any ulterior motive or different incentives. He wants us to build a really big sustainable business in the long term, and he’s amazing at being a thought partner to help us think through that.
[00:30:55] Matt Clifford: Matt told us how one of his seed investors played a particularly important role in shaping the very core of his business.
[00:31:01] Matt Wilson: I think the best people, the best investors that we’ve worked with that have had the biggest impact to their company beyond the capital that they’ve brought and had the biggest impact in supporting the founders are those that have once they’ve decided they’re going to invest feel like they’re part of the team like founder investor relationship and company investor relationship.
It’s like, “We’re on board. If there’s another round that goes on, let’s talk about that and let’s put our hats back on, but actually 95% of the time, we are in this to build this thing together and we are super excited and that’s why we’ve invested.” I think the best example of this is probably one of our seed investors is Joe, who’s the partner there. They called our seed round and Joe, after their investment, not even after the round was completed but after the term sheet was agreed, he joined our team and worked 60 hour weeks and not doing high-level strategy work.
He was working on a Sunday evening screening CVs working through 300 job applications, screening them, working through all the crap. You always get some spam and nonsense stuff in there. We knew we’d have to hire quite a lot. How do we build out that core team? I told you about getting that leadership team in place first and foremost. His background was in talent and recruitment. He came in and it was like, “This is where I can help,” and we needed the help. It was similar to how Pete was saying.
It was all hands on deck and just him going, “Look, this is what the company needs. We’re a team like let’s do this,” and getting stuck in. I wouldn’t want to promise on Joe’s behalf of that’s what he does for all of the companies he invests in, but it was less about the work but more about the attitude that meant a lot and just feeling like we’ve got somebody on board that, through the good and the bad, is going to be partnering with us and going to be working on this together and viewing this as something that they’ve invested.
They’re part of the same thing that we are part of, and obviously, they’re there to hold us accountable. They’re there to protect their investment as well but that almost feels secondary in the day to day and particularly when things are going well to how do we solve these problems? How do we get stuff? How do we move things forward?
[00:33:18] Matt Clifford: Yes. This idea of partnership, not just financing I think is so important. It makes an enormous difference.
[00:33:27] Matt Wilson: I think having those kinds of partners is great, but I think there’s a middle ground which is worse, which is people that pretend to be partners, don’t really add value. Those are, I think, the ones to avoid. Just capital is fine. Obviously, having a partner that’s actually value-added is even better but having somebody that’s not really helping but adding friction and adding distraction is the worst.
[00:33:51] Pete: I also say the same thing. I think the three types of investors there’s negative value, zero value and positive value. Not every investor that you have is going to be positive value.
[00:34:00] Matt Wilson: Yes. You don’t need them all. You don’t need 30, 40 people that you’ve got to manage.
[00:34:04] Pete: It’s actually better to have a few people who are really engaged, who are really best placed to help you rather than 30 people who are trying to help you. It’s absolutely fine to have people who are zero value-add. The ones you want to avoid and fortunately, we don’t have any of these investors by the way, is people that– I could imagine what it is like to have them is zero value, when actually all they’re doing is asking you for stuff and taking stuff and slowing you down, but we’ve been very fortunate to avoid that.
[00:34:30] Matt Clifford: Spoke to a founder the other day who said they were super relieved when they spoke to an investor for their series B, who said, “Just to be clear, we don’t help.” That’s fine.
[00:34:40] Pete: Yes. I think that is totally legitimate. I totally agree with Matt that sometimes trying to help can just get in the way. It comes down to this as a CEO, there’s a lot of clutter in your inbox, and in your mind, and actually, the worst thing you can have is constantly to be bombarded with questions and, “Can you do this? Can I leave it to you to do this?” Sometimes you just need people to get out of the way and let you execute.
[00:35:04] Matt Clifford: One of the CEO’s most important roles is to articulate a compelling vision for their company’s future. I asked Pete how he sees Dishpatch developing in a post-pandemic environment.
[00:35:14] Pete: First, I think we’re already in the post-pandemic environment in the sense that restaurants are open and for as long as restaurants are open, they don’t close again and I don’t think they will, we’re in the new normal. Therefore, what we’ve been doing for the past six months and what we continue to do is actually work on the fundamentals of the business, which is helping restaurants develop new revenue streams. They needed that before the pandemic. The pandemic accelerated that need, and they’re going to need that going forward and helping customers have amazing food experiences in their home.
Again, that trend was happening before the pandemic. It was massively accelerated during the last 18 months, and it’s not going anywhere in the next 10 years, and so, yes, it’s all about working on fundamentals and building a long term sustainable business for the completely new category, which is what we are doing, restaurant meal kits, of eating at home.
[00:35:59] Matt Clifford: Well, Matt is excited about the future. He also acknowledges that navigating the post-pandemic world isn’t going to be easy.
[00:36:05] Matt Wilson: We founded the company pre-COVID. The trend that we founded the company on the change in the world wasn’t a COVID-induced one. It’s a COVID-accelerated one, I think, and the change that we built the company around and the thesis was that it was actually economic and technological shifts that are changing. There’s the internet bringing the world into one place online, being able to do things like this virtually rather than have to go into a recording studio but also broader economic trends of globalization as well, meaning that companies are thinking with such a global mindset now.
COVID has kicked a lot of that on and accelerated some of that behavioral shift, but that’s been happening anyway. I think it’s just like that flywheel’s turning just even faster now than it was before, so I think it’s going to keep accelerating post-COVID, whatever that means. For us, that means the problem that we solve is that those companies that are wanting to be global have to deal with all the complexity that comes with that.
They have to figure out how to operate as multinationals, and really we’ve got a product that our customers love today which is helping them employ people overseas but actually, there’s so many more problems that our customers have as they build global organizations. We’ve only just started to scratch the surface of the problems that we want to help our customers with. Hopefully, lots of exciting things ahead. We’ve certainly got a lot in the works for next year, but again, next year’s only step two. I think that there’s going to be a lot more to come after that as well.
[00:37:36] Matt Clifford: Both Matt and Pete have grown into phenomenal business leaders, striving to launch and grow their companies in the pandemic era, but I wanted to find out what work they think they might be doing if they hadn’t started their businesses when they did.
Pete: I’ve worked in food and restaurants for the past 10 years. That’s the space that I know. When I came to EF 18 months ago, I was actually planning to do something completely different, so I would like to say that if Dishpatch hadn’t worked, I would be building a completely different company in a different space, but fundamentally, I think, I would’ve always come back to food and restaurants in some way. What that business looks like, I have no idea, but I think once you’ve got a space that you know really well, you’re going to build.
If you are an entrepreneur and if you like solving problems, you’re going to build something in that space. What looks like I have no idea, but I’m sure I would’ve done something.
[00:38:19] Matt Wilson: I ran a B2B software company prior to founding Omnipresent, and I think it’s hard to see myself outside of that sphere, the B2B software world. Whether that’s a founder or as somebody in a product or go to market role, those are the things that I enjoy doing and I can’t really see myself outside of that sphere.
[00:38:35] Matt Clifford: Finally, I also asked Pete and Matt to share some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to get started themselves.
[00:38:42] Pete: Don’t hold back. Make it happen. Jump off the cliff. Build the plane on the way down.
[00:38:47] Matt Wilson: Ambition is a prerequisite, but I think ambition is easy. I think the thing that’s harder is just getting stuck in and getting shit done. I think there’s a lot of posturing and image crafting that people do particularly at earlier stages, and it’s a complete waste of time. It does not help build your company. It does not help build a product. It does not help you get customers in most industry. Maybe if you’re building some social media platform or something, it would but certainly not in the spheres that I’m interested in. Just get shit done. Results are what really matters at the end of the day. That’s, unfortunately, the truth. You can’t build a business on Twitter.
[00:39:29] Matt Clifford: That brings us to the end of this episode of the Entrepreneur First Podcast. I hope you enjoyed hearing how entrepreneurs like Pete and Matt are tackling the challenges of the pandemic era and embracing the new future of work and leisure. Join us in the next episode where I speak to Joe Root, co-founder and CEO of Permutive, whose company is leading the charge in building privacy-first infrastructure for consumer advertising.
If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. For more information about Entrepreneur First visit joinef.com.
A big thank you to Cofruition for consulting on and producing the podcast. Thank you for listening. Catch you next time.