So, you left journalism to join a startup. Why?
I’ve always had a ‘portfolio career’ - long before there was a term for it. I’ve switched careers a number of times: a web developer, teaching and consulting, to founding my own startup in 2011. Most recently I spent 8.5 years as a journalist at TechCrunch, reporting on the UK and European tech and venture capital industry. Then, earlier this year, I quit journalism to become an executive at London-based convenience delivery startup Zapp.
Because of my disability, a rare type of muscular dystrophy, I’ve had to shield during the entire pandemic. This gave me a lot of time to reevaluate the things I enjoy most and what gets me out of bed in the morning. Aged 45, I concluded that I needed a fresh challenge.
During a conversation earlier this year with Zapp co-founder, Navid Hadzaad, I mentioned that I was considering a career change. He suggested I should join the team as ‘VP of Strategy’ at Zapp - a role that feeds into a range of business operations working closely with the CEO. I made the switch in April.
What does Zapp do?
Using the Zapp app, customers can order snacks, drinks, essential groceries, over-the-counter medicine and other everyday items for delivery within 20 minutes, 24/7. Our sweet spot is impulse purchases and urgent needs. We’re building the future of convenience.
To make this possible, we operate our own local ‘Zappstores’ and each store stocks of thousands of products ready to be picked, packed and delivered. We also employ our own riders who go the extra mile to make every order a ‘wow’ experience.
Zapp launched earlier this year but already covers most of Central London. Our customers use Zapp for things like last-minute entertaining, half-time drinks, ice cream when the sun’s out, or a movie night in with the kids. They also tell us Zapp is a life-saver when missing a key ingredient mid-cooking or running out of nappies at one in the morning.
Why should we care about Zapp?
Launched earlier this year with a single dark store in West London, in just six months Zapp has expanded to reach most of inner London, in addition to launching in Amsterdam. The company now has over 30 stores and warehouses, with a headcount of more than 200 employees in its London headquarters.
To help fuel this growth, Zapp has raised $100m in venture capital funding and is backed by some of the world’s leading investors, including Silicon Valley’s Lightspeed, Europe’s Atomico, 468 Capital, and Burda. Notable angels such as Mato Peric, Christopher North (former Amazon UK CEO) and Stefan Smalla (Westwing CEO) have also invested in Zapp.
Isn’t this just another grocery app?
We actually believe that customers have great options to buy groceries online. Groceries is a use case where customers want a lot of selection and are more price sensitive than time sensitive.
Zapp is about when you want something now, when the alternative would be to leave your house and walk or drive to the closest convenience store to get that item that you urgently want or need. The fact that we are open all day and all night also makes us unique in the space.
Finally, we’re different from many online delivery companies in that we don’t use gig economy workers. Our riders are employed by us and part of the team at Zapp.
The market is crowded already and it’s not clear how these companies can ever turn a profit. Tell me why I’m wrong.
There are a number of companies in the world that have already proven this model is profitable, including goPuff in the US, by focusing on convenience, where customers are less price sensitive and margins and basket sizes tend to be larger. Meanwhile, according to IGD, convenience retail, a subsector of the overall grocery and food market, is estimated to be £45 billion in 2021 in the UK alone. If you took a healthy chunk of that market it’s a pretty meaningful business. But we’re not stopping at the UK: Zapp is already expanding to other cities in Europe.
I’d also add that the move from offline to online grocery shopping more broadly is still in its infancy and hasn’t happened as quickly as other areas of e-commerce. That’s because many online offerings require customers to organise their busy lives around the needs of the retailer, such as delivery slots and replacement items. At Zapp, we do the opposite: our entire service is organised around the needs of customers and designed to make their busy lives easier.
What is Zapp doing to make London greener?
Our delivery fleet is all-electric, using a mixture of e-bikes and e-mopeds. Products are delivered in recyclable paper bags and we recently partnered with Planetly to track and reduce our carbon footprint and invest in a number of carbon offsetting projects where further reductions are not yet possible.
We try to keep food waste to a minimum by only stocking products we know we are confident we can sell in time but also through our partnership with OLIO so that unsold food is shared with the local community.
We are very committed to being a sustainable business. Even if there’s a cheaper and easier option, if it’s more polluting, we try to avoid it.
For Zapp to win, who has to lose?
Convenience and the grocery sector more generally is definitely not a winner-takes-all market and is big enough to support many different online and offline offerings. A rising tide really does lift all boats so we are thrilled to see the online convenience market take off so quickly.
In the end, the companies that succeed will be the ones that really understand how they fit into customers’ lives and can deliver on their customer promise every single time. At Zapp, that’s what we focus on most.