Tony Xu, MBA ’13, Cofounder and CEO, DoorDash | Summary and Q&A

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February 12, 2021
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Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Tony Xu, MBA ’13, Cofounder and CEO, DoorDash

TL;DR

Tony Xu shares his insights on entrepreneurship, leadership, and the future of work, focusing on the importance of learning from experiences, simplifying problems, and trusting your team.

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Key Insights

  • 👨‍💼 Unstructured time during childhood can provide valuable lessons and skills necessary for starting a business.
  • 😷 Simplifying problems and asking the right questions is crucial in the early stages of entrepreneurship.
  • 💗 Entrepreneurs must continuously learn and adapt to different roles and develop new skills as their companies grow.
  • 👻 DoorDash aims to empower local businesses through digital tools, allowing them to establish their own online presence and compete in the e-commerce market.
  • 🧑‍⚕️ The future of work will involve more flexibility and value for gig workers, along with efforts to protect their rights and provide fair compensation.
  • 🐕‍🦺 Cities will continue to evolve, providing increased convenience and access to various industries, supported by platforms like DoorDash that bring services directly to consumers.
  • 😤 Transparency, a bias for action, and trust in the team are essential principles for leaders during tough times.

Transcript

i'm rex woodbury one of the view from the top student leaders on behalf of the leadership team thank you for joining us today we're excited to be able to bring an outstanding diverse slate of speakers to stanford this year to inspire all of us as future leaders and now it's my pleasure to welcome dean levin to introduce our guest today welcome to v... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What were the key lessons Tony Xu learned from his childhood that prepared him for starting a business?

Tony emphasizes the value of unstructured time, which allowed him to explore new things and learn important lessons about language, income, and independence. These experiences prepared him to navigate the uncertainties of starting a company.

Q: How did Tony Xu manage to overcome the challenges when trying to secure funding for DoorDash?

During a difficult period, when investors were skeptical about the delivery space, Tony focused on transparency, simplifying the goals of the company, and demonstrating the disconnect between external opinions and the actual growth and potential of DoorDash. By building trust and maintaining optimism, he was able to navigate the challenging fundraising environment.

Q: How does DoorDash empower local businesses beyond delivery services?

DoorDash provides tools and platforms, such as DoorDash Drive and DoorDash Storefront, to enable local businesses to establish their own digital channels and compete in the e-commerce space. The company aims to help businesses build their own customer base and reduce dependence on third-party platforms.

Q: How is DoorDash supporting gig workers and ensuring their well-being and protection?

DoorDash recognizes the importance of providing gig workers with flexibility and value in their work. They work towards establishing partnerships with regulators and elected officials to create a future of work that offers protections for workers, while still providing the freedom and independence they value.

Summary

In this video, Tony Xu, the co-founder and CEO of DoorDash, shares insights and experiences related to entrepreneurship, leadership, and the future of work. From his childhood experiences to the challenges DoorDash faced, Tony provides valuable lessons and perspectives for aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders.

Questions & Answers

Q: Tony mentioned that his childhood experiences prepared him to start a business. Can you elaborate on that?

Tony explains that growing up in an unstructured environment, where he had to figure things out on his own, taught him valuable lessons about learning, trying new things, and finding creative solutions. His parents' immigrant journey also influenced his entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic.

Q: When Tony moved to San Jose in high school, he was told he was two years behind his class. What gave him the confidence to say he would become the valedictorian?

Tony credits his confidence to his past experiences of adapting to new environments and his belief that he could succeed if he put his mind to it. Despite being academically behind, he knew he had the ability to catch up and excel.

Q: Tony mentioned the importance of simplifying the problem you're trying to solve. How did this principle shape DoorDash's early stages?

In the early days of DoorDash, Tony and his co-founders focused on three key questions: 1) Is this a service customers would want and pay for? 2) Would restaurants pay for the service? 3) Would drivers want this job? By simplifying the problem to these core questions, they were able to quickly test their ideas and iterate based on the feedback they received.

Q: How did DoorDash learn about the logistics and delivery industry during their early stages?

Tony explains that they learned by doing. They worked as drivers for other delivery services and gained firsthand experience, which helped them understand the nuances and challenges of the industry. They also embraced the lean startup philosophy and used tools like the "five whys" analysis to identify and address problems.

Q: Tony mentioned the principle of "getting to the lowest level of detail" in DoorDash's operations. Can you explain what this means?

Tony emphasizes the importance of digging deep to identify and solve the underlying problems in the delivery process. By understanding the smallest details and iterating based on feedback and data, DoorDash aims to continuously improve the quality, timeliness, and accuracy of their service. This principle guides their problem-solving approach and helps them maintain a high level of service.

Q: How does DoorDash empower local businesses and gig workers?

DoorDash aims to empower local businesses by providing them with tools and technologies to create their own digital channels and online stores. They also offer services like DoorDash Drive, which allows businesses to use their drivers for on-demand or same-day deliveries. In terms of gig workers, DoorDash provides flexibility and value, allowing them to choose when and how much they work. DoorDash also advocates for fair treatment and protection for gig workers in collaboration with regulators and elected officials.

Q: What are the principles that Tony relies on as a leader during tough times?

Tony emphasizes the importance of doing the right thing, even if it's difficult. He encourages a bias for action and a focus on what can be controlled. Trust in the team's abilities and processes is also crucial. Tony highlights the need to focus on the inputs rather than the outcomes, as it allows for better decision-making and adaptation. Additionally, he believes in choosing optimism and building a plan to navigate challenges.

Q: How does Tony adapt his leadership style as DoorDash grows and evolves?

Tony explains that leadership style adapts based on the stage of growth and the challenges faced. In the early stages, the focus is on learning and building a product. As the company grows, the emphasis shifts to developing skills in areas like finance, engineering, and sales. Eventually, the focus moves to building systems to enable efficiency and quality. Tony stresses that continuous improvement and progress over time are essential in leadership.

Q: How does DoorDash plan to help local businesses and gig workers in the future?

DoorDash aims to continue empowering local businesses by offering tools and platforms that allow them to thrive beyond DoorDash's marketplace. By enabling businesses to create their own digital channels and online stores, DoorDash helps them compete in the e-commerce space. Regarding gig workers, DoorDash seeks to support their flexibility and value while also working towards providing them with necessary protections and collaborating with regulators and elected officials to shape future employment policies.

Q: How does Tony envision the future of cities and DoorDash's role within that evolution?

Tony believes cities will continue to evolve and get better, as they have historically endured and adapted over time. He envisions a more distributed access to services and resources, eliminating the need to live in specific cities for certain opportunities. DoorDash's role is to foster local commerce, contribute to economic growth, and provide tools and platforms for local businesses to thrive. By empowering local economies and supporting local businesses, DoorDash plays a crucial part in the future development of cities.

Q: How did DoorDash navigate the challenges of the pandemic, and what were the key lessons learned during that time?

Tony explains that DoorDash pivoted its focus during the pandemic to prioritize the safety of the community, including customers, dashers, and merchants. They adjusted their business plans and provided support to those in need, such as delivering meals to children and healthcare workers. The key lessons include the importance of doing the right thing, a bias for action, and trusting the team's abilities and processes. Tony also emphasizes the significance of building resilience and being prepared for different scenarios.

Takeaways

Tony Xu, the co-founder and CEO of DoorDash, shares valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders. Starting a business requires learning on the fly and finding other principles from various aspects of life to overcome challenges. Simplifying the problem you're trying to solve is crucial for testing ideas quickly. Learning by doing and focusing on the inputs rather than just the outcomes help in continuous improvement. Building a strong team, trusting in their abilities, and having a bias for action are essential during tough times. DoorDash's mission is not just to grow their marketplace but also to empower local businesses and gig workers. They provide tools for businesses to create their own digital channels and support gig workers' flexibility while advocating for fair treatment and protection. As cities evolve, DoorDash aims to contribute to local economies and foster growth. During the pandemic, DoorDash prioritized the safety of the community and learned the importance of doing the right thing, preparing for different scenarios, and trusting the team.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Tony Xu emphasizes the value of unstructured time during his childhood, teaching him the importance of trying new things and learning through experience.

  • He highlights the significance of simplifying problems and asking the right questions when starting a business, as well as the need to adapt and learn from different roles and skills required at each stage of a company.

  • Tony discusses the responsibilities DoorDash has towards local businesses and gig workers, aiming to empower and support them beyond just delivery services, and how cities will continue to evolve, bringing convenience and access to various industries.

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