Back in November last year we announced that DoorDash and Wolt are joining forces. Today, we finally get to say: the transaction has closed and we are officially one big team.
I know everyone states they’re excited when they announce news about their company, but that is my genuine feeling. I’m very excited to partner with Tony because we share the same vision about what kind of company we want to build. The feeling we all got from our very first meeting with the DoorDash team was that joining forces is the right thing to do – and this feeling has grown stronger as we have gotten to know each other better. We are very similar in our company cultures and the way we like to get things done, and we share very similar values. Because of that, I’m very happy to finally close this transaction and get back to work.
Before getting into what happens next, I’d like to take a moment to reflect how Wolt got to where we are today and share some learnings from the past eight years of building this company together with our 6000+ people in 23 countries. At the end of the post I’ll also discuss what to expect next, because this has truly only been the start.
Wolt’s recipe is hard work, dedication and ambition. And a fair amount of good luck.
We founded Wolt with a group of six co-founders in 2014 in Helsinki, Finland. Out of our co-founder bunch, five people had a product or tech background, which ended up being a foundational element in our company’s DNA. To this date, we continue to be very product-focused. We genuinely enjoy building products for our customers, partners and people.
The downside of having six co-founders was that it was nearly impossible to find a name that one of us didn’t hate, and for a long time our company was anonymous. Some of the names we tried included Sergei, Blueberry Pie, Skyliner and Zaplane. “Wolt” was actually inspired by a list of 10,000 imaginary band names (see “Volt United”). Wolt was the first name that clicked with us, so we ended up calling ourselves Wolt. However, Wolt alone was too short for the Finnish Patent and Registration Office, which I found out the day I had the honor of delivering the founding paperwork. And so, we added one more word to our name: Wolt Enterprises.
With a name and official entity, we launched the first version of Wolt in 2015 with pickup from restaurants. We believed that the revolution for local commerce going online would start with the restaurant, yet while there was some interest for people to order their meal and pick it up without standing in line, the truly magical moment was when we first started experimenting with delivery. Turns out there was a huge untapped need for people to get their favorite restaurants to their doorstep – the ones that didn’t do this themselves – now delivered quickly, reliably and inexpensively through our lovingly crafted app. We quickly realized we were onto something and had found the first version of the so-called “product-market-fit”. However, this was also very difficult to do both profitably and well without a lot more product and technology. And that’s what we spent the majority of the following two years building and getting right.
The good side about being founded in a country with a small population is that from the very start, we also needed to think about how to expand internationally quickly and efficiently. This was another major forming part of Wolt’s DNA. We’ve learned how to expand to new countries, and increasingly into new verticals while not overspending.
In 2016, we started to learn about international expansion by taking Wolt to our neighboring country of Sweden. To do so, we sent one of our co-founders Juhani to help us figure things out. Juhani will be the first to tell you that our first launch abroad wasn’t smooth in any way, and we made a lot of mistakes. But what we did right is to learn rapidly, and we started building a playbook for how (not) to launch Wolt in new countries. We were also lucky in our strategy to only launch one country at the time – this allowed us to make mistakes once, learn from them and continue to iterate our playbook for how to get expansion right.
After Sweden, we launched Wolt in Estonia in 2016. In 2017 we launched in Denmark, Latvia and Lithuania. After that, we started to get more comfortable entering multiple new countries at the same time. In 2018, we launched Wolt in seven countries in one year: Croatia, Czechia, Georgia, Hungary, Israel, Norway and Poland. In 2019 we launched in Azerbaijan, Greece, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In 2020 we launched in Cyprus, Malta, Japan & Germany. Today Wolt is in 23 countries.
One of our major learnings from rapidly expanding to new countries has been to not rush the first, critical hires. It’s difficult to come into a new country with an unknown brand and without a broad network of talent, and try to find the right people to build the company. Our approach has been to not rush it, and focus on finding the right team to lead Wolt in each country. Everyone in that team has to be a cultural fit, they need to have the motivation to build Wolt from scratch, and to have the humility to listen, to get their hands dirty, and do any job that’s required in an early-stage company.
When recruiting, we’ve done a lot of searching by ourselves for the best people in every country, as the best talents are usually already busy doing something else. Once finding talent, we’ve then spent a lot of time on convincing these individuals about the opportunity. We’ve had our misses, but we’ve mainly had amazing hits, and we’ve found wonderful people to build Wolt in all our countries as well as in our support functions. Scaling a company like Wolt internationally is like having to rediscover product-market-fit in every single city we launch in, again and again.
Since 2020, we’ve been focused on expanding Wolt into more than restaurant food, while adding new cities within the markets we operate in. We’ve increasingly built Wolt into a true local commerce platform, expanding beyond the restaurant into things like grocery, pharmacy, flowers, beauty products and many, many other things. We’ve also launched Wolt Market (our own delivery-only grocery stores) now in 17 countries and started offering Wolt Drive (30 min delivery that any merchant can offer to their customers through our APIs).
Throughout our years of operation, we’ve kept building and improving Wolt. We are never satisfied with what we’ve built, as we can always keep improving and making Wolt better. Our product and engineering team is approximately 450 people strong and they work on a range of technologies beyond the current delivery platform: making Wolt into a true everything app – a mall in your pocket that allows you to discover and get anything that you want or need within minutes. These amazing teams are taking us to item-level discovery and product line navigation, increasingly personalized customer recommendations, working with real time traffic data in our logistics optimization engine, our monthly subscription model called Wolt+, and more.
2021 was a big year for us, as we doubled down on our retail offering as well as started to expand with Wolt Market, while again more than doubling our business. At the end of the year, we announced the news of joining forces with DoorDash, and today, as we become one company, we embark on a completely new journey with Wolt.
What have we learned along the way
This post isn’t only about the company since Wolt has also been my personal growth story. I wasn’t trying to be a typical college-dropout-became-entrepreneur, but life has a funny way of happening to you when you’re busy building things.
When we started Wolt, I was a 25-year-old kid who despite his sometimes overabundant self-confidence knew very little about building companies or leading people. Through the many years at Wolt, I’ve come to appreciate how much there still remains to learn and how I’m still nowhere close to being “ready” as a CEO. I have to say these past few years have been one hell of a school, and I really look forward to the many lessons ahead as we embark on this new part of our journey together. I am thankful for the trust I get every day from the people in our team and from the hundreds of other people who have helped us get to where we are today.
I often get asked about my biggest learnings with Wolt. There are many, and it’s difficult to boil them down into a short list, but that’s exactly what I’ll try to do here. To sum up some of our key learnings from the years, here’s one for each year we’ve spent building Wolt:
1. Always obsess about the customer.
Since the very beginning, we’ve tried our very best to build an amazing service for all of the people using our platform – be it customers, merchants, couriers or our employees using Wolt’s internal tools. The few of you that might have been early Wolt users in Helsinki might remember our Wolt & Friends group on Facebook that we used to get product feedback, hunt for bugs and get ideas from our customers, or the famous “Aspa-Aku”, who was the first ever full-time Wolt person to do customer support, helping us find “the Wolt way” for doing support. Meanwhile, customer retention has always been one of the most important north star metrics that we have as it’s helped guide us into building a service people truly want to come back to.
Also, when we talk about customer obsession, we also don’t only talk about people using the platform to order food and other things. We’re big believers in building consumer-grade products for everyone using our platform, and we’ve tried our best to take the same lovingly crafted approach to our merchant and courier apps and tools, as well as to the internal tools that we build for our own employees and internal users.
2. Success follows from solving hundreds of problems better than others.
If anything, Wolt has taught me that building a growth company is ultimately very little about the original idea and all about building a winning team that is able to consistently learn, improve and solve increasingly difficult problems that are initially often unfamiliar and completely new to everyone – and do so consistently, day after day, year after year. Some of the most impressive people I’ve had the honor of working with over the years had little to none subject-matter expertise in the problems they needed to solve, yet over time they became world-class in their fields. Through this experience, I’ve come to appreciate that there are no silver bullets to success and that the real secret is to take these hundreds and thousands of small things that everyone is trying to solve, and to find a way to do these common things uncommonly well.
3. Never settle when hiring.
When it comes to solving said problems, it’s literally all about the people. Every company has access to the same MacBooks and Amazon cloud services. It’s the people who are different. As a result, who you bring to your team also directly determines where you end up. Never hire for pain or settle for good enough, and tirelessly search for the best person for each individual role at that point of the company’s journey. Rather spend ”too much” time on this. As Wolt has been rapidly growing, we’ve all had to stretch beyond our comfort zone and take on responsibilities that we weren’t expecting. We’ve really needed more people to join and share the work. The biggest mistakes have been trying to hire people too quickly, to alleviate the growth pains, and making suboptimal choices. The only way a startup can continue to grow and become better than your competition is by taking the necessary time to find the right people.
4. Culture is about actions and constant adjusting.
Culture is what people do at any given moment at the company: how we act towards each other, give and receive feedback, start meetings, send emails, ask for help, party together, admit mistakes or have each other’s back. The way to build and keep a healthy culture is about agreeing what we stand for as a team, then applying constant small adjustments to get there and stay there. This, in turn, requires a critical mass of people to consciously pay attention to all of those things all day every day, give positive feedback when even a small thing looks right and take action immediately when even a small thing looks wrong.
Culture is about the actions people on your team take, and how these people turn into role models and their actions turn into stories, which ultimately determine who you will be as a team as you continue to grow. It’s very difficult to change these things after the fact, so tread lightly, write things down and don’t hesitate to take massive action even on small things when you see something going the wrong way.
5. Choose investors who have relevant experience from your industry.
We’ve been lucky to find investors who have experience from operating and investing into companies in similar industries. Having a mix of investors that includes both entrepreneurs and operators from companies that you can learn from, and then combining this with experienced growth investors that have seen the next stage of your journey tens, if not hundreds of times, has been a tremendous help to myself, and a huge value-add to Wolt. We’ve received advice that is concrete and actionable. After years of working together, I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to call many of our investors not just colleagues but also friends. Bringing an investor into your company should be thought of very similarly as hiring someone into your team. You will go through successes and failures together, and you will likely do so for several years to come, so try to choose carefully who you end up with if you have the choice.
6. Don’t be intimidated by bigger players.
The first question we usually get asked when we launch in a new country is “Company X is here and they are bigger than you. Why are you launching here?” The thing is, if the opportunity is real and big enough, there will always be other companies going after it as well (and if there’s no competition, you should probably be asking yourself why). With this being the case, it’s really easy to become obsessed with the competition, forgetting that these are very long-term industries we operate in, and that ultimately it will be the customer who decides the winner. So, benchmark and learn from competition, but be analytical about it, focus on the long-term and obsess about the customer.
7. Frugality is a form of art.
Wolt works in an industry that is known for razor-thin margins, very well-financed competitors and extremely intense competition. When everyone is small, it’s possible for different companies to make up for differences in technology, operations, culture and capital efficiency by just paying up for the differences and through that be competitive for the customer. However, when you go from one million orders to a hundred million or a billion orders, these differences start to stack up. As we came from a very small home market, we always had to be very mindful about the frugality of our culture and the efficiency of our platform and unit economics – which might not matter as much when you’re small, but will matter a lot when you grow in size. So don’t get the most expensive office furniture, stay at the fanciest hotels or fly in business class to get where you need to go. You will build a culture where people are in it to build something great together and not just looking to live a fancy startup lifestyle they’ve seen on TV.
8. Never get too comfortable.
If we’ve learned something from the pandemic and the current war in Ukraine, it’s that everything can change overnight. Meanwhile, customers are always looking for something new, competition is moving constantly and markets are ever-shifting. So you can never get too comfortable or assume that the current status quo will continue. At Wolt, we do our best to keep an eye on the world around us and stay prepared to take massive action when the market changes. There’s a saying that I think about especially during difficult times such as these: both good and great companies know what needs to be done, but only the great ones execute. Greatness comes from being among the first to accept the new realities and making even radical changes when needed to be able to continue to succeed.
Now that the transaction has closed, we can actually start to focus on the next chapter of our journey together. As mentioned above, Tony and I share the same vision of building an international company that is a leader within our industry. The opportunity is massive: in each of the countries Wolt and DoorDash are in, only a single-digit % of sales in the restaurant industry comes from delivery. And that’s just restaurants. The possibilities across convenience, grocery, and other retail categories are vast. It is still the start in so many ways both for our company, as well as our industry.
By joining forces, DoorDash and Wolt have a presence in 27 countries, and Wolt continues as Wolt in all the 23 countries we’re in. It is amazing to welcome so many new colleagues from the DoorDash teams in both countries to build something long-lasting together. In Australia, Canada and New Zealand we continue with the DoorDash brand and product just as before, whereas in Japan and Germany the combined team continues with the Wolt brand.
I will continue as the CEO of Wolt, and I will also lead DoorDash International. Combined, that means 26 countries outside of the United States. Balancing international expansion with growth in our existing markets remains the top priority for our combined business.
We’re at the beginning of a completely new chapter for Wolt and we have an exciting future ahead, now as part of DoorDash. As written in the blogpost we published to announce the news in November:
In DoorDash, we will have a partner with a very long-term perspective to build together a significant international business in the years and decades to come. We are really committing to one thing: optimizing for success. We’re both very low-ego cultures, and ultimately this will be about figuring out what allows us to create the biggest possible impact in the years to come.
We got here because of the way we’ve built the company, and if anything, this means that we need to stick to our ways of being customer obsessed, balancing growth and efficiency, being frugal and keeping our two feet on the ground while aspiring to build something that’s truly best in the world. Wolt’s name, color, brand, product, technology, team, central functions and markets will all continue as is. We’ll continue our journey forward both as Wolt and as a part of DoorDash. In many ways, we’ll be the same, but more.
In times like these when the world is as unpredictable as today, it’s more important than ever to lift up your gaze from the short-term, continue to obsess on the customer and stay focused on what you’re building in the long-term. And long-term is what Wolt has always been about as a company, and what our future with DoorDash is also all about.
This has only been the start.
This communication contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Forward-looking statements generally relate to future events, including the timing of the transaction and other information related to the transaction. In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements because they contain words such as “may,” “will,” “should,” “expects,” “plans,” “anticipates,” “aims,” “could,” “intends,” “target,” “projects,” “contemplates,” “believes,” “estimates,” “predicts,” “potential” or “continue” or the negative of these words or other similar terms or expressions that concern the transaction and our expectations, strategy, plans or intentions regarding it. Forward-looking statements in this communication include, but are not limited to, (i) expectations regarding the expected benefits of the transaction, (ii) plans, objectives and expectations with respect to future operations, stakeholders and the markets in which Doordash and Wolt and the combined company will operate, and (iii) the expected impact of the transaction on the business of the parties. Expectations and beliefs regarding these matters may not materialize, and actual results in future periods are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected. For information on potential risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ from the results predicted, please see our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2021 and subsequent Form 10-Qs or Form 8-Ks filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. All information provided in this communication is as of the date of this communication and we undertake no duty to update this information unless required by law.