Out of the major victims of the COVID-19 pandemic are brick and mortar businesses. It may look increasingly grim but there is a silver lining. Once the smoke clears, and the retail life begins anew, it’s going to look extremely different. Retailers who balked at the very thought of going ‘digital’ will now have no choice but to acquiesce. They will have to find a way to bridge the gap between their products & services and their consumers. On demand delivery is the next logical step.

Are you digitally fit?

Most retailers already have a digital presence, usually involving social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, and so on. Pretty basic. Some might even have an online store and an on-demand plan, meaning that they work with FoodPanda, Uber, Careem, Amazon, eBay, and so on. A minute subset of them would have their own in-house delivery and e-commerce channels (website, mobile app, delivery network, etc.).

The lack of an online retail strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic is not an option. Businesses that were growing organically or with little effort focused on social media presence & marketing, before the pandemic, are not going to survive if they continue to follow the same strategy. They must become digitally fit by offering on-demand delivery services if they want to survive and thrive. Take a look at the food industry – pre-pandemic mature markets reported roughly 25% sales through online food delivery. Michelin star chef, TJ Steele, redesigned his menu to focus on comfort food instead of his trademark complex dishes so that he could stay relevant. Jamie Oliver had to close down his business because of their no delivery policy. Online delivery has become an essential part of e-commerce, retail, and food businesses, and the need for it has risen dramatically ever since the lockdown began.

The current situation

The world’s economy is taking a serious hit. It’s essential, now more than ever, to make it easy for consumers to access essential products, services, and goods, from the comfort of their homes, via on demand delivery apps. Some examples include grocery delivery apps, pharmacy delivery services, laundry delivery, etc.

The kind of economic shock we’re talking about can exhibit three different types of trends, according to an article published in the Harvard Business Review:

Harvard Business Review |  What Coronavirus Could Mean for the Global Economy

The article further depicts Coronavirus to have a ‘V-shaped’ impact, which would be in line with all the prior epidemics, including 2002 SARS, 1968 H3N2 ‘Hong Kong’ flu, 1958 H2N2 ‘Asian’ flu, and the 1918 Spanish flu.

If what the evidence suggests is true, businesses should aim to get at least 40% of their sales online through on-demand delivery of goods and services. While this may not be enough to keep them afloat, it will still pay out massively when the pandemic finally dies down and things settle into the new normal.

The road to digital transformation

If you are just beginning to build your business’s online presence, and automating your delivery services, here are the three most basic, yet important, things you should consider:

  1. Social media and the world wide web
    Whether you are aware of it or not, your business is most likely listed on Google and Google Maps. It might even have ratings and reviews. Similarly, your lack of presence on social media does not mean that people are not talking about you online. If you do not have a presence online, then set it up now. Start a page on Facebook and Instagram and you monitor your listings on Google Maps, Yelp, Foursquare, and the like. Building your social presence organically before you look into paid marketing.
  2. Delivery and e-commerce aggregators
    Ideally, you should be listed on delivery and e-commerce aggregators. They do charge a hefty commission ranging from 15-30% but because consumers use these channels, you have little choice but to be there. If your goods are more last-mile/on-demand (e.g. groceries, snacks, food), then you also need to work with on-demand aggregators (Uber Eats, Foodpanda, Cheetay, etc). If you are selling items that are not necessarily last-mile or local (electronics, for example) then you need to have a store on e-commerce aggregators (Daraz in Pakistan, for example).
  3. Create your own channel
    Look into developing your own mobile app and website for on-demand delivery, backed by in-house riders. Domino’s and Chipotle Grill in the US have done this exceptionally well. If you choose to create your own channel:
    • You can save on the commission to the aggregators
    • Build your own brand as opposed to being lost in a flood of other competing brands
    • Keep your existing customer relationships
    • Be in charge of your own destiny
    • Potential to make e-commerce a viable Business Unit on its own

This option is more difficult and costly but ultimately the most rewarding. It requires serious focus and investment and deep expertise in Design/User Experience, Growth hacking, and Operations/Delivery. If this is not something you know about or can manage then you can look into VentureDive’s white-label platform, IMPact Delivery. We understand that a technology platform is only the beginning. We are ready to help you in supporting functions, such as growth hacking and delivery operations. Reach out today so you too can survive and thrive!

On-Demand Delivery

Own a grocery store, restaurant business or a pharmacy? Take your products & services to your customers through on-demand delivery!

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At VentureDive, we take pride in housing one of the best design teams in the region, and arguably the best in Pakistan. But getting here was not easy.

While I am not a designer by training, I had the good fortune of working with some of the best design teams in the world during my stints in Boston, San Francisco, and Berlin, and thus developed a keen interest in design. When we started VentureDive — with the vision to create a world-class technology organization and an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan and the MENA region — I knew that great design would need to sit at the center of our customer value proposition.

Design in the Silicon Valley

Back in the United States, it is second nature to most technology companies to have a strong emphasis on design. I was accustomed to seeing designers as some of the most articulate members of the larger team, and they had the first and the last say in most discussions. A few factors that contributed to their active participation are as follows:

  • They had a holistic sense of the product and the customer
  • Their thoughts were a lot more structured
  • They seemed to take the charge in cross-functional brainstorming sessions, often organizing topics on the agenda and corralling people around those topics
  • They were great at capturing and drawing up notes in a structured and visual fashion

It was with this expectation about the role of designers in a tech organization that I moved to Lahore in October 2014. However, I was in for a rude awakening. I had a steep learning curve with regards to local norms and talent pool.

The rude awakening

The greatest challenge we face is finding the right talent. A few reasons follow.

First, there is often a mismatch between designer titles and corresponding job descriptions. I often received resumes of folks calling themselves Graphics Designers, Front-end Designers, Front-end Developers, UI Developers, Web Designers, Web Developers, etc. Many of the job descriptions and capabilities differed from what I had gotten used to in Boston and Silicon Valley.

I once hired a “Front-end Designer” who turned out to be a “Front-end Developer” — I, of course, should have known better at the time of the interview. That said, it became very clear to me in the first few days and weeks that design was not his forte. When we discussed his performance, then only he opened up saying he doesn’t like designing but loves front-end development.

Second, very few people knew how to design experiences. Local universities rarely teach designing user experiences for a digital world, and the closest exposure students typically get to UX is “Graphic Design”. What further compounds the problem is lack of jobs where designers can take a lead role in designing digital experiences and products: They are often either following a product manager’s lead or designing nice visuals for social media and other forms of communication!

Design at VentureDive

Fast forward a little over four years, we already house one of the most competitive design teams in the region.

A little more context on our business. We develop solutions for our global clients, build in-house products, and invest in product-based start-ups. For designers specifically, we encourage rotation between Products and Services. As such, we don’t have a title called Product Designer. However, when on a product, a designer is generally needed for a longer time frame, and that’s also when they create the most value as they iterate their way through releases and metrics. On the other hand, in our Services org, we have less of a need for a designer to stick to one specific project for a long period (though we do have a few long-running engagements).

We believe that this healthy mix of engagements helps the design team learn different facets of design than what they may have learned if we were building a specific product or delivering services only for example.

With this thought in mind, we traced out three major facets of an organization that help nurture a creative design studio — all-around exposure, performance-driven and collaborative culture, and thought leadership. Let’s dive in.

All-around exposure

Design at VentureDive plays a pivotal role in many aspects of running the organization, growing our business, and defining our culture.

  1. Our designers dabble with varied aspects of business such as analytics, marketing, and growth hacking. Having an in-house products team helps us hone in the science and art of growth that we then apply to help our clients master growth as well.
  2. Much of the office interior and decor was either designed or consulted and in some cases procured by designers. Designers play a central role in the creative aspects of most events we conduct in-house or off-site.
  3. We believe designers should span across several functions within the field of design, and only a few specialties should be called out. Secondly, we tend to distinguish our developers from designers, while at the same time offering a path to those who are good at both.

To this end, we have created a rather simple and flat array of designations where we only have UX Designer, Visual Designer, and Web Designer titles, and no dedicated Interaction Designer, Graphics Designer, UI Designer or User Researcher to name a few. We encourage our designers to cut across domains while at the same time allowing them to specialize in particular fields like Visual Design for instance.

What do I mean when I refer to a UX Designer, a Visual Designer, and a Web Designer?

UX Designer is an all-encompassing role and frequently rotates between Services and Products. Technically speaking, those UX Designers who can code CSS and HTML could be called a different title — however, it is rare: once a UX Designer, they are encouraged to expand their horizon within the design lifecycle: Research, Synthesis & Ideation, Prototyping & Design, and Implementation.

Visual Designer is meant to specialize in graphics and visual design. They also help with branding and identity design with the help of content strategists and marketers (the latter two are part of the marketing team).

Web Designer can do Visual Design as well as code CSS/HTML. In my experience, there are very few folks who have a good design sense and can also do good coding. Consequently, we rarely have people fitting the required profile, but when we find them, we know what to call them.

We encourage Visual Designers to become either a Web Designer or UX Designer. However, they can continue to specialize and grow in the capacity of Visual Designer as well. Moreover, Front-end Developer can also choose to become a Web Designer and thus become part of the design team.

This may sound a bit contrary to our philosophy of cross-functional work, however, in my experience in the local industry, we have plenty to learn within the field of design. Venturing out is welcome, but generally in areas that are outside the software development and higher up the stack— i.e. things like product management, growth hacking, marketing, etc.

Performance-driven and collaborative culture

Here’s the question most organizations ask but only a few get away with the right answer:

“How to drive performance upwards?”

While many things come to mind, our objectives setting and appraisal system plays an important role and is closely modeled after OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).¹

  1. Set stretch objectives. It’s OK if we miss them, as long as we keep aiming for them, and at some point surpass them. This requires a hockey stick function at some point of our organization or product lifecycle.
  2. Level up, keep improving. Every 6 months or so, carry out a self-assessment exercise to keep a track of the design team’s progress. Discuss the results and improve on any point where the team may be lagging.
  3. Reward people on a geometric or a nonlinear curve. This way, people who perform well are rewarded way more than if they were to be awarded proportionally to someone who performs less.

Lastly, through daily stand-ups, regular design review and critique across initiatives, sharing design inspirations and UI refactoring exercises across projects, we foster collaboration and spur innovation.

Thought leadership

Unlike most local software companies, we typically take a lot more proactive approach with our customers. For example, with Careem, we played a pivotal role in the design and product management for at least four years since its inception. We are often helping customers make sense of how users are using the product via funnel analysis. Since we also have a Products org, our designers are often involved in decisions and analysis of growth hacking for example. Last but not least, we often conduct Discovery Workshops for a varied and complex set of customers — ranging from Fortune 500 companies, fledgling startups, and unicorns.

Within Services org, we have started to take on more design-led engagements as opposed to end-to-end technology solutions. This allows us to solve complex and interesting design problems that we may not have had a chance to work on if we were offering an end to end technology solution, where design is an important but not the only piece of the puzzle.

Looking ahead

While many challenges remain, the entrepreneurial and design ecosystem has improved in many ways. More universities are incorporating aspects of digital user experience, and there are a lot more product companies than there were 4–5 years ago.

At VentureDive Design, we see the following big things happening in the next year and beyond.

We have incubated quite a few product teams in house. At least two of them are ready for the next growth phase. This will result in the expansion of design function not only within those teams but also the design team at large.

Within our services and consulting business, we have expanded to broader aspects of user and customer experience design. For example, we now offer services for Identity Design & Branding, Service Design, and User Research to name a few.

Last but not least, while we do run hackathons and design mentorships in the industry from time to time, we plan on introducing an initiative focused on building a strong design community. While there are a few welcome design initiatives in the country already, we believe that with the backing of an organization and broader focus, ours will be one of its kind.

VentureDive Design team conducting a product design sprint

¹ Our objectives setting system differs from OKRs in two key ways: i) they are not publicly visible to the rest of the organization, and ii) we link them to performance reviews.

UI designUX design

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Getting your favorite food delivered with a single tap, especially in the times of COVID, has exploded the growth of many food delivery platforms such as Grab, Uber Eats, and DoorDash. 

Despite the uptick in demand, the food delivery business model remains highly fragmented and at least at this time a money-losing proposition. There are quite a few challenges that the food delivery industry faces

  • Network effects are limited to a given geographic area. Cross geographic network effects are minimal at best.
  • Most users are not loyal and switch to a competing provider in search of a better promotion or an offer, better user experience, or quality of the service. In other words, switching costs are very low.
  • Unit economics are tough. Riders do not make enough money, vendors run huge losses on promotions, and users do not seem convinced they need to pay the premium and would rather hunt for a promo.
  • The business model seems to have exploited a weakness in labor laws allowing them to “hire” riders without the need to add them to the companies’ payroll. Uber and Lyft are facing legal challenges in California that threaten to shut them down.  

In the end, companies that overcome most of the challenges above will thrive. Uber and Doordash have already started to offer rundles — a bundle of offerings, such as rides and food delivery in the case of Uber, and grocery and food delivery by Doordash along with monthly subscriptions. These rundles can be somewhat effective at increasing network effects and customer loyalty.

Despite these initiatives, we will see more mergers and acquisitions in the space as different food delivery providers join hands to minimize the crazy spend on promotions. It is hard to track investments, mergers, and relationships between companies and investors. We have tried to map out the intricate landscape of food delivery business models across the globe. We welcome readers to help us fill in any gaps.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what the food delivery industry looks like, worldwide:

Infographic on food delivery trends 2020
Infographic on the leading food delivery brands of 2020

Industry trendsMobile app developmentOn-Demand Delivery

Want to maintain a competitive edge in the middle of a global pandemic? Quickly adapt to meet the evolved demands of users in the new normal.

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