Interview with Christopher Payne
Chief Operating Officer at DoorDash
Hi CP, tell me about what you do at DoorDash.
I’m the Chief Operating Officer at DoorDash, basically responsible for the profit and loss of the company. I run the day-to-day business operations — mainly on the Marketing, Merchant, and Dasher side of the operation. I’ve been at the company for 4.5 years now.
You’ve been a leader at many other tech companies in the past. What makes DoorDash stand out?
In my past career, I was at Microsoft for 15 years, Amazon during its early days, and then eBay. Interestingly, DoorDash has elements of all three: It’s a software problem like Microsoft; it’s an intensely operational scale challenge like Amazon; and it’s also a marketplace like eBay that connects various audiences. But then DoorDash is still unique in that it has to execute on a local basis. It doesn’t matter if you had a great experience tonight in San Jose. If you live in the San Diego suburb, you’d care about what happens to you locally. We have to operate with excellence, day in and day out, and I love that relentless aspect of the company.
As you know, competition is pretty fierce in the food delivery market. What do you think is our competitive edge?
If your company has a lot of competitors, that’s actually a good sign because it means that you’re in an interesting area that has a big prize to win. So I view it as an asset, not a disadvantage.
How does DoorDash differentiate itself in that landscape? We’re now a leader in this industry with over 40% market share in the U.S. However, it’s important to reflect a couple of years back, and remember where we started. We were not the first mover in this category, and we did not have the most money, either.
Then how did we take the lead? People often expect one magical answer and unfortunately, that’s not what happened. It’s an artful blend of strategy and execution together. There are a few things I think we got right:
First, we partnered with the most restaurants. From the beginning, we understood that our consumers cared most about having the restaurants that they loved available for delivery. It sounds like common sense, but it actually requires a lot of work to make that happen. Every restaurant has a different set of priorities, and there are about 1 million restaurants in the U.S. Some want to get orders via fax vs. phone, some like to be integrated into a point of sale system, and there are many permutations of those. We had to build a system that scales and offers choices that works for each restaurant.
And then quality is paramount. We promise our consumers that the food will be delivered by a certain time, and it needs to be accurate. Consumers order 3–5 times a month, and it has to be done right every time. Ultimately, this is a combination of operations and software that needs to come together to create an integrated experience to deliver the best quality.
I don’t think any employee of DoorDash thinks we’re winning anything yet. This is phase one in the on-demand delivery space. Our CEO Tony’s vision for the company is to connect every consumer to every business and be able to dynamically bring what they need in real-time. This is a wave of convenience-driven by rising consumer expectations and we’re trying to build a system that’ll have a huge impact on the world. We are just getting started.
How do you think of “customers” in your thought process?
I have been a customer of DoorDash even before joining the company. One day in 2015, my son asked for some food delivery and I remembered hearing about DoorDash. I downloaded the app on my phone and found that I could order from 70 restaurants in my neighborhood including my favorite Thai places, some fast-food restaurants my son liked, and Chipotle my daughter loved. I was really wowed by it.
One way I like to think about customer-centricity is by being the customer yourself. It’s one of the reasons that I like to work in a consumer business. With DoorDash, I can be a consumer every day, experience services myself, and that’s how I can help the team prioritize fixing the biggest pain points. DoorDash also has a monthly employee program called WeDash where you can get the experience of “dashing” (delivering) yourself to understand how the system works. I also often go talk to a lot of restaurants to hear their side of challenges.
Ultimately our competitive advantage stems from understanding our customers, and then working the design and the system backward from there. If you don’t understand what customer segment to go after and what they need, your product and operational system can’t succeed.
In many meetings and reports, I love seeing the customer verbatim feedback. Our NPS score is the measure of customer satisfaction at a high level, but what I value the most is the written feedback because it helps us understand the real insight on “why.”
What are some design efforts you were excited about at DoorDash?
An interesting thing about DoorDash is that the problems we tackle — Design, Product, Engineering, and Operations — all have to come together to create a good user experience.
There are many good examples of such collaboration, so it’s hard to pick one. :-)
One successful example of this cross-functional collaboration over the past year is the integration of photography on the restaurant menus. We used to have only a text description of the menu on a lot of menus, when in fact the photo is an integral part of ordering food for our consumers. We should show the relevant photos intelligently depending on the time of the day too. Designing a seamless flow and architecture was led by Design, while the Operations team scaled up the photo coverage in the system.
The menu of the merchant is the catalog of DoorDash, so if it’s not accurate, we’re in trouble. It’s hard to build because every merchant has different configurations and levels of complexity with their menu. Our internal menu editor is a great example of where a good internal tool is essential to the performance of the company.
Another project I’m excited about is the new design of our Pickup experience. The pickup scenario is very different from delivery. “Which specific store they should go to” becomes much more important than when you get something delivered to your home. I’m very excited about the new map design we’re testing and believe that it’ll be a game-changer. But of course, this excitement is just my intuition, and we’ll continue to learn and iterate the design based on how consumers react.
And most recently I was completely blown away by how quickly the teams came together on the contactless delivery solution, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s such a magical moment when you see a little food bag waiting for you on the porch. My wife and I built a small station with water and snacks outside our front door to thank our Dashers for delivering food for our family multiple times a day. :-)
Any tips/advice you’d give to the designer/researcher candidates who might consider joining DoorDash?
I *love* the people and teams I work with here. DoorDash is a very special place that is collaborative, customer-focused, and data-driven. Design is at the center of utilizing software and technology to bring the best customer experience to life. It transforms customer insights into reality, and this is ultimately how we win. We’re still in the very earliest days of this journey. You’ll get to come and define our future, and make a difference in the world!
Thanks, CP for your time!
Please learn more about other leaders at DoorDash:
Rajat Shroff — VP of Product
Tony Xu — Chief Executive Officer
Helena Seo — Head of Design
Erin Strange — Head of New Verticals Design
Blake Engel — Head of Logistics Platform Design
Cameron Wu — Head of Merchant Platform Design
Andrew Hahn — Head of Operations & Support Platform Design
Kathryn Gonzalez — Head of Design Infrastructure
Tae Kim — Head of Content Strategy
Zach Schendel — Head of User Experience Research