Jelte Vrijhoef is passionate about software and software development. According to his LinkedIn profile, he has been developing software solutions since 1999. Although he has worked with different companies throughout his career, he particularly enjoys working for the hospitality industry and solve their problems with innovative solutions. This was the inspiration and motivation he needed to start Deliverect.
Vrijhoef started Deliverect back in 2018, along with Zhong Xu, Jan Hollez and Jerome Laredo. The Belgium-based online food delivery management company has come a really long way since and recently achieved the unicorn status after raising over $150M (€132.6M) in a Series D round of funding at a valuation of $1.4B.
Deliverect’s SaaS platform automates restaurants’ online order flow through a single point. The platform integrates multiple services that a restaurant may be using, like Uber Eats, Grubhub, Deliveroo, Doordash, Foodora, Shopify and more, and transfers orders from them straight to the kitchen.
Deliverect claims to have received 100M orders to date and processed 1.5M orders per week in 2021 alone, a 300 per cent increase in less than one year.
It counts large global chains such as KFC, Chipotle, Five Guys, Taco Bell, Le Pain Quotidien and Outback Steakhouse, as well as smaller independent restaurants among its clients. The company currently serves more than 20,000 establishments in over 30 markets across the world.
Here are the edited excerpts:
SC: How would you describe yourself as an entrepreneur? What was the inspiration or Eureka moment for creating Deliverect?
Vrijhoef: To be honest, I’ve always liked to help people and solve problems. Small, big, it doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s solving a real problem that someone is having. Before we started with Deliverect, I visited a lot of restaurants and they all had a common problem — an overload of tickets coming out of different printers and having to manually punch them into their Point-of-Sale. After creating a simple proof-of-concept and the positive response we received on that, I knew that this was a bigger problem than it looked at first glance.
SC: What were some of the initial challenges that you faced while setting up Deliverect?
Vrijhoef: When we started with Deliverect, most of the big delivery players (like Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Takeaway.com) didn’t have any way of sharing order info with us. They could only send them to their printers and their tablets. Since we wanted to do it the right way, we needed to build up relationships with these players.
That took time, but once the relationship was there, we quickly showed our value; not only to the restaurants but also to the delivery players. Thereby, quickly reducing the error rate and increasing the number of orders a restaurant could process.
SC: What was it like to hire your first team member?
Vrijhoef: Hiring the first group of people of your team is always a special moment. These people make or break a team. I was lucky enough to find someone that shared our vision of connecting everything. Very quickly during the interview, it became clear to me that this person had the right energy and vibe. That person is still working with us and still has that same energy and vibe!
SC: What was your first office like? How has your office evolved over the years?
Vrijhoef: Our first office was a shared desk — we got a desk for 2 persons at a startup incubator. Well, it was supposed to be for 2 people. It didn’t take long before we took over a large part of that floor. That was the moment we realised that we needed our own private office. I think we were with about 15 people, when we moved into that office, staying there for about 2 years. Expanding the team in other offices in other countries while keeping our HQ around 50 people. Once the team in the HQ grew to about 80 people, we moved into our current office where we are with over 110 but can more than double it still.
SC: What are some of your most memorable memories during Deliverect’s journey?
Vrijhoef: The opening of our new HQ. That was a real eye-opener. We had been working from home, like everyone else for the better part of a year. But with the opening of our new HQ office, we invited everyone to come and take a look. At that moment I saw how big the company had actually grown. So many different nationalities and cultures all working together for this one goal, making sure that restaurants are succeeding in this new online environment. That is something really amazing!
SC: Was it difficult to seek VC investment for your company? What were some of the key challenges you faced while seeking your first investment?
Vrijhoef: Because we came with a proven background in tech, investors quickly saw that we could deliver on what we promised. In the last round, we were lucky enough to be in touch with several investors, they did extensive market research and found out that Deliverect is unique in its space.
SC: With this new funding round, Deliverect has anchored its position as a unicorn. What does reaching this milestone mean to you as an entrepreneur?
Vrijhoef: It just confirms that we are bringing value to our customers. We are actually solving their problems and helping them be more successful.
As a leader, I try to give credit to everyone around me. I’m there to help them solve their problems and move forward in their careers. For me, this round feels like a big compliment, a confirmation that we are on the right track.
SC: What is your long-term vision for your company?
Vrijhoef: We are here to stay, we want to build a lasting company. We will continue growing our development centres. Expanding the office in the Netherlands and hiring more people around the world. In my mind we have actually just started, there is still so much to do. We are helping the restaurant in the move to digital, making that more efficient and successful for them. But there is also a lot to gain still in the front of the house, we have tons of ideas how we can be of help here. Next to that, we are putting effort into our quick commerce solutions, expanding our services not only to restaurants but also to supermarkets and gas stations.
SC: When would you consider your company to be a success?
Vrijhoef: I don’t think I will ever be done, there is always more to help with. But I will be very proud when in 10 years from now people look at what we have built and take it as an example of something that they want to create.
SC: What are your international expansion plans, especially in the Netherlands?
Vrijhoef: In the coming year, we are focusing on Australia and the US. We are already there, but we want to extend our footprint to make sure we are well known and well established.
Next to that, we are heavily focussing on growing the engineering teams. We are opening a bigger office in Amersfoort and investing heavily here in getting and training talent. The goal is to more than double this team here in the coming year.
SC: What would you advise your younger self? Are there things that you would do differently if given a chance?
Vrijhoef: Not sure if I would do anything differently, I think I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes that I’ve made but I would have some advice.
My advice to my younger self would be, just do it and dream big. I know this feels so generic, but ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen. An idea can fail, but then you learn and you go at it again.
Pick up the phone, call your leads who you think are in need of your solution. Reach out to those potential partners you have been thinking about. And please don’t build something for one country only, build something that at least can conquer Europe.
And lastly, surround yourself with people with different backgrounds and cultures. It will enrich you and your ideas.