A Startup Journey With GrubHub Founder Mike Evans
A Startup Journey With GrubHub Founder Mike Evans written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing
Marketing Podcast with Mike Evans
In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Mike Evans. Mike founded GrubHub in his spare bedroom and grew it into the multi-billion-dollar online food delivery colossus that is a household name. Since leaving GrubHub, he founded Fixer.com, an on-demand handyperson service focused on social impact. He lives in Chicago with his wife, daughter, dog, and bike. He’s also the author of a book that is to be released later this year —Hangry: A Startup Journey.
The journey of GrubHub began late one night in Mike Evan’s spare bedroom when he was hungry and tired and looking to get pizza delivered. At the time, there was no seamless way to know what places were open and which restaurants delivered. So, as an avid coder, he created GrubHub in his spare bedroom to figure out who delivered to his apartment. Over the next decade, Mike grew his little delivery guide into the world’s premier online ordering website. In doing so, he entered the company of an elite few entrepreneurs to take a startup from an idea all the way to an IPO. In this episode, I talk with Mike about his founding of GrubHub and he shares details of his entrepreneurial journey.
Questions I ask Mike Evans:
- [1:46] Could you give us a high-level overview of the startup of Grubhub to IPO to what you’re doing now?
- [2;47] When you did this was it kind of a like lark – meaning you created it because you could?
- [3:38] Did you knock on restaurant doors saying ‘I have this idea, do you want to be a part of this?
- [6:06] Was there a moment where you thought this is actually going to work?
- [7:15] At what point did you say we’ve gotta go get money?
- [7:52] Was there competition that you had to buy up, and/or what type of acquisitions did you feel like you had to make?
- [9:19] You put in a lot of hours – there are a lot of entrepreneurs and startups some of who don’t achieve anywhere near the level of success you did – what toll did that take on your personal life?
- [12:51] Right up to IPO at which point you quit, which I think some people would actually say, you made it now, why are you quitting? So what’s the story behind that and how do you position that story?
- [15:53] Are you an investor in GrubHub still?
- [16:08] Let’s talk about the bike across America, how many days were you riding?
- [16:23] Did you meet people along the road that knew who you were?
- [18:48] Where was the best beer?
- [19:45] What can you tell us about Fixer.com?
- [20:46] Will the expansion of this be much slower?
- [23:25] Where can people find the book and connect with you?
More About Mike Evans:
- Hangry: A Startup Journey
- Connect with Mike — MikeEvans.com
Take The Marketing Assessment:
- Take the Assessment
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John Jantsch (00:00): This episode or the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the Nudge Podcast, hosted by Phil Agnew and brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network. You can learn the science behind great marketing with bite size 20 minute episodes, packed with practical advice from admired marketers and behavioral scientists. Nudge is a fast pace, but still insightful with real world examples that you can apply her recent issue, talked about the, the idea of getting your customers, your prospects, in the habit of buying from you, or listening to you or following you. Habit based marketing, download, nudge, wherever you get your podcasts.
(00:48): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Mike Evans. He’s the founder of GrubHub and he founded in his spare bedroom and grew it to a multi billion dollar online food delivery. Colossus, that is a household name, probably be, became even more so the last couple years says leaving GrubHub. He founded fixer.com and on demand, handy person service focused on social impact. He lives in Chicago with his wife, daughter, dog, and I bet you it’s more than one bike if I had the gas. Yeah, that’s true. But any
Mike Evans (01:25): Show, you can never have enough bikes. That’s not true. You can have enough. I just haven’t hit that theoretical
John Jantsch (01:30):
Mike Evans (01:52): Yeah, so it started cuz I wanted a pizza and I could kind of just stop there. I, I literally just wanted a pizza and I was a software developer and so I wrote a version, one of, of a neighborhood delivery guide showed me all the restaurants delivered to me. That hobby turned into a business. That business grew, you know, I obviously spent a lot of time and energy on it about about 13 years and grew it all the way through the ipo, after which I, I literally quit and literally rode off into the sunset. I rode my bicycle from Virginia to Oregon. And so yeah, that’s, that, that’s the story that’s detailed in the book. Sort of a personal journey a lot more than the bus. You know, there’s some business elements to it, but it’s really about the personal experience of starting something from nothing.
John Jantsch (02:36): It, it’s really more of a memoir than I suppose a business guide.
Mike Evans (02:40): Yeah, it is, it is. Definitely. It’s a business memoir, in fact. Yeah. So it’s sort of a mash up of those two things.
John Jantsch (02:48): All right, so let’s go back to the, well, I, you, I was gonna go back to the early days, but now you made me go back even farther when you did this, was it just kind of a lark, like, because I can, I’m gonna create this thing.
Mike Evans (02:59): No, I literally was hungry and the yellow pages was a disaster. Certainly, and I talk about this a little bit in the book, that it’s true for most entrepreneurs that there’s a push and a pull to starting a business and the push is like pushing you out of being able to work for other people. It’s very hard for people about have that mindset. It’s, I’m kind of unemployable. I can’t handle having a boss. And so I was like, well, I better be my own boss then. So there was a push and then there was this thing that was a hobby that I was like increasingly aware, had legs and I, and it could run. And so I decided to sort of cast caution to the wind, quit my job and go for it with starting this food delivery.
John Jantsch (03:38): So, so I’m envisioning because you, you actually, both of your businesses really are, you’re creating the supply end of demand in a lot of cases, right? You have to balance that because without restaurants you kinda ha not gonna have customers. Without customers, you’re not gonna have restaurants, Right? So did you, I’m envisioning you like going down the street in Chicago somewhere knocking on restaurant doors and saying, I have an idea, you want to like be part of this.
Mike Evans (04:02): I did do that. I literally did that. But you know what you’re talking about a little bit right now. So when you have these kind of businesses that have these two different sides of a network, they’re called marketplaces and, and they suffer, they all suffer from this problem called, you know, the, you know, called the chicken and the egg problem. Like if without any restaurants it’s not valuable, it’s diners. Diners, it’s not valuable to restaurants. My answer to this problem is to cheat. You have to figure out a way to cheat to get an unfair advantage. And for me, what that was, I actually went and picked up the paper menus for restaurants and scanned them. And so when a customer came to the website to when a diner came to the website, they would see all of the re all of the menus for the city. And then the ones at the top of the list were the ones that they could order online from. Uh, so I literally had to walk the entire city of Chicago and the entire city of San Francisco and pick up every single menu. And so that was my way to cheat is I, as I sort of bypass the chicken and the egg problem by creating value for one of the sides. Yeah. Before I sold anyone.
John Jantsch (05:00): Yeah. So a lot of the restaurants were already seeing something in it for them before you really even got them to sign up, I guess.
Mike Evans (05:07): Yeah, I, it was true that when I started selling online ordering as like a package, the restaurants knew who I knew who the website was already. A lot of them, I had never talked to ’em, I had just put the menus online and they loved that we sent them traffic, but then it, that made it certainly a softer like opening when I walked in the door. It certainly, it wasn’t super hard, although restaurants get sold a lot of stuff and so I got kicked out of a lot of restaurants
John Jantsch (05:30): Early on. Yeah. And it’s a lot of people walking in the door at lunchtime trying to sell ’em stuff, right? Yeah. You don’t
Mike Evans (05:35): Do to sell restaurants, You don’t walk into noon, you walk at 2:00 PM after the long dress is over. And actually, and I literally have an anecdote about this in the book. I actually read like as a tip, like as a joke, you can walk in through the alleyway instead of the front door. And so I started doing that. I started actually walking on the alleyway behind the restaurants and walking in the back door, which got me, I won’t say violently kicked out, but it was certainly a little bit more emphatically ejected out of a few restaurants. But that’s just part of the rejection of doing sales.
John Jantsch (06:05): Yeah, yeah. So was there a moment, and probably this is in hindsight, where you thought this is actually gonna work.
Mike Evans (06:12): Yeah, when, So it was started as a delivery guide and we tracked the orders that came into the restaurant through a phone system, which was great at the time. And that phone system ended up being like sort of a, people really hated it later in the businesses, in the business life cycle, like politicians and attorney generals, everybody hated that phone system. But the restaurants liked it at first cause it tracked how effective their advertising was. And I was kind of onto something. I had quit my job. I was making about half as much money as I did as a software developer, which wasn’t great, but it was like, okay, this is all right. But when I switched from that to online ordering the revenue and the business tripled with the same customer base and, and I realized just how much friction there was in the ordering process. Like people say, Why don’t you just call on the phone? And actually it turns out there’s a lot of reasons you don’t want to call on the phone. Yeah. Or an inaccurate busy restaurant, right? Like phone calls are inaccurate. There’s a lot of reasons. And so when that revenue tripled and suddenly I was like, Oh, I can hire people to help me, like this thing is gonna work. That was a big moment That was, there was several, but that was probably the biggest one.
John Jantsch (07:15): So at what point did you say, we’ve gotta go get money?
Mike Evans (07:20): So I ran the business for four years without taking investment where it was just whatever we could grow based on the revenue you’re generating. Now that’s, it’s a little bit misleading in the sense that the investment, I could write the software myself because I got a software engineering degree from mit. So in some sense that was the investment, right? Learning how to code myself was the investment. But in terms of actually taking outside like cash from a venture capitalist, it was, it was four years in, it was in 2006. So I started in 2002 and in 2006 we took financing in.
John Jantsch (07:52): So I know that you talk about acquisitions in the, uh, in the book, but were, did you buy up competition or was there competition anywhere? What type of acquisitions did you feel like you had to make
Mike Evans (08:03): There? It was a, it was the kind of a business where there was always competition. I mean, I think there were probably a hundred other companies that were trying to do what we were doing at one point. Simultaneously, there’s probably two or 300 that came and went over the course of that, you know, 13 years. And you know, there were little ones, like there was a company called Order Up and there was another company called Quick Order and Quick Order did the online ordering for Domino’s Pizza. And so they already had a pretty robust technology and then all the way up through Living Social and Group on started competing with us. And then ultimately Uber launched their own delivery thing, Uber. And so there was always competition. And so the thing that really we focused on when all these sort of competitors came up was how do we just make the best possible product for the customer? And that way we don’t have to outcompete them by spending we, you know, it’s not just marketing dollars spent Unintelligently, it was about repeat purchase rates and referrals and retention of the customers that we had spent so much money to acquire. And then, and so that was a big part of the Secret of Success and why we outgrew everyone and we’re the first one to ipo.
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(09:43): You do talk in the book about the amount of hours I’m, you know, I’m thinking the walking all of Chicago, walking all of San, So, you know, you put in a lot of hours. What, like a minute, like a lot of entrepreneurs, startups, some of who don’t achieve anywhere near the level of success you did. What toll did that take on your personal life?
Mike Evans (10:02): Yeah, it was certainly, it was challenging. I didn’t have kids at the time, so certainly I didn’t have that like competing for my time. But in terms of my marriage and my friendships and things like that, yeah, it took a really bad toll. It’s very hard to, it’s hard to spend that much time on a business, um, and then develop healthy relationships. I prioritized my marriage and so that, that did fine. But I ended up hiring a lot of my friends. And so I ended up not having really a lot of relationships outside of work, which I think is actually a pretty typical story for most people who start businesses that, that sort of take off. You wanna share in the upside share the wealth, right? Yeah. And so you wanna include your friends, but what that ends up doing is it, it ends up for very rich work relationships, but actually a sort of a posity of personal relat. Right?
John Jantsch (10:44): Right. Yeah. Plus I’m sure you had many times when even when you weren’t working, you couldn’t stop working because you’re always thinking of what’s next, right,
Mike Evans (10:52):
John Jantsch (11:27): So, Oh
Mike Evans (11:28): Man. And so for like 36 hours, cause I was on a camping trip and so talk about like not being able to take him up. I came back and like half of my restaurants were like, We’re done. We can’t, we can’t. I’m like, well I went, I left for one day, but what happened? And so it does, that kind of stuff does happen. And so there’s the, I can’t stop thinking about it because I’m thinking about the next thing and then there’s the, I can’t stop working on it. Cause literally when I go away, everything falls apart.
John Jantsch (11:55): Are you a fan or have you watched the show? The Bear
Mike Evans (11:58): The Bear? No, I haven’t seen The Bear.
John Jantsch (11:59): Oh, okay. Well it’s filmed in Chicago. It’s about a restaurant and one of the episodes they, they turn on online ordering. They were like an old school restaurant that somebody talked to me. They turned online, online ordering, like the thing just exploded and all these orders were coming out of it. They didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. So I’m envisioning that a little bit.
Mike Evans (12:15): I mean that was an experience, you know, when we ran super, we, you know, we started with, it was in my apartment. It got to the point where we ran a Super Bowl app and the amount, just the amount of traffic that your web servers like get hit with, I mean, it was millions of people are going to our website. It was very effective from a branding and awareness perspective. But like conversion did not work. Like the site crashed, like yeah, it was, it didn’t quite crash, it just bogged down. But people also weren’t ordering by the time the Superbowl started, you’re not ordering pizza. So didn’t result in a lot of orders right away. But yeah, I mean it was, it was a whole experience to sort of see that, those kind of volumes.
John Jantsch (12:52): So you mentioned this, so I’ll just ask you to tell us a story that, that you know, right up to IPO at which point you quit, which I think some people would actually say, You made it now, why are you quitting? Yeah. So what’s, what’s the story behind that? Or is there, you know, I know there is a story behind it, but, uh, how would you, how do you position that story now?
Mike Evans (13:12): Yeah, I think one of the things that surprised me the most about when people talk about that moment when I decided to quit, they usually ask me the question, Well, why did you quit? And I respond with, Look, you should have a reason to stay at things, not a reason to quit. Right. You should, there should be a reason that you’re act, There should be a clearer connection between my activity that I spend every day and my goals for my life. And if I can’t draw a line between those two things, I need to either change my goals or change my activity. And that’s just where I ended up after the ipo. Like, there was nothing else I wanted to accomplish with that business. I wasn’t in it for the vanity or for the, um, you know, so the bells and whistles of running a public company, that that wasn’t super appealing to me.
(13:52): And so I finally had this opportunity to like go do a long bike ride. Like I, I, I had thought about doing, you know, hiking the Appalachian Trail or doing some sort of big adventure thing. And what I ended up doing is riding my bicycle across the United States. It was great. It was a great decision, especially coming after the investment banks and the IPO and the wealth and the private jets that are all involved in that process to, I’m having a peanut butter Jan peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a campsite in rural Tennessee. Like it was, it was quite the contrast. And I, I think it was healthy for me.
John Jantsch (14:25): Well, and I think, again, this is with me not knowing, I mean, in the 20 minutes you and I have been together, I, I’m guessing that the culture of that company would’ve been hard to keep.
Mike Evans (14:38): Yeah, I think it’s true. I mean, culture’s never static anyway. The, I any, at any company, it’s dynamic. Yeah. And if you’re not controlling or influencing where it’s going dynamically, then it’s going somewhere you don’t want it to go. Right. And it’s true that, you know, know at that time we had close to 4,000 employees, which is a big difference in
John Jantsch (14:55): The one you were out of friends at that point, right? Yeah. To hire
Mike Evans (14:58):
John Jantsch (15:33): Yeah. Yeah. It’s sort of a different set of masters at that point. This is just a curiosity question. Are you an investor still?
Mike Evans (15:40): I have invested disastrously in a number of startups.
John Jantsch (15:43): Well, no, I actually met in GrubHub, little shareholder.
Mike Evans (15:46): No, I, I sold the last time I shared about a year at Dry Luck. So I haven’t, I have not had a horse in that race as the gotcha as DoorDash He Eats and Gro Hub has sort of gone head to head. I’ve been like just eating popcorn from the side like everyone else, like okay, Wells. I mean, I do still order on the Gro Hub app, obviously I’m not gonna like switch apps, but yeah, I don’t know in any of the company. Anyway.
John Jantsch (16:08): So let’s talk about the Bike across America. How many days?
Mike Evans (16:12): It’s 79 days, which is typical. It takes most people between 80 and 90 who do it. Okay. There’s a few hundred that do it every day, every
John Jantsch (16:19): Year. And you, you told people obviously of your plan. So what kind of, did you meet people along the road that knew who you were, knew what you were doing? Or was it just like you’d bump into somebody and you’d strike up a conversation?
Mike Evans (16:32): Yeah, there’s, there’s a website with a really weird name. It’s called Crazy Guy on a bike.com and Okay. It’s like a, it’s like a website to meet up with other people who are into this long distance touring idea. Okay. So I had met like maybe online, I had probably met like 15 people who were planning to do the trip of that 15, only three or four of us actually started. So there was a lot of people who wanted to do it. But when you get down to like actually on the bike pedaling, there’s a lot of barriers between I am two and I’m actually there. So I knew maybe I think three or four people before I started and then I met like six or seven. And what ends up happening is you end up leapfrogging the same group of people, like they get in front of you a bit, then you get in front of them. And so you really, whoever you meet by day seven are kind of the people that you’re gonna meet most of the most that are gonna be with you sort of as you go across the coast. Yeah. And so I started solo, but by the time I got to Kansas I was riding with two other guys 24 7, we became close friends.
John Jantsch (17:30): Yeah. I actually have heard people describe what you just described for people that go like out on the at or the Pacific coast that you end up bumping into the same people. I live in Colorado and like I can’t imagine riding over who’s your pass.
Mike Evans (17:42): Yeah. It’s funny because after riding over who’s your pass? I bought a house in Silver Thorn because I loved it so much. So who’s your, your pass was easy, which is weird. Yeah. The reason it was easy cause I is, because I rode 2,500 miles before I got to pu. Right. And so the Appalachians were really hard, they were steep, I wasn’t ready for ’em, I wasn’t physically conditioned, but I got over them. I took some rest days and then I rode across Kansas and then, uh, the sort of the last city, you’re in the plains, you sort of get through the east southeastern Colorado desert and you get to Pueblo and then from there it’s just three days straight up. Yeah. With 9,000 foot climb and it’s stunning. And then after you pass through your pass, it’s like a 50 mile per hour downhill into Breckenridge and it’s just amazing. It’s so much fun.
John Jantsch (18:30): Rewarding. Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. No, it is gorgeous. I am, I’m about, I don’t know how many miles, 50 miles maybe ish west of Silverton.
Mike Evans (18:38): Yeah. That year in Golden, right? Is that
John Jantsch (18:39): I I, that’s my town address, but I’m up in rural area, but at about 9,000 feet. So let’s talk, Oh, I did have one question. Where was the best beer
Mike Evans (18:51):
John Jantsch (19:21): So I’ve spent a lot of time in Kansas. I can’t imagine that there was a gastro pub in Nickerson, Kansas.
Mike Evans (19:26): Yeah, there, there was. It was right before we hit the Colorado sign, the pass on the border and it was like in the middle of nowhere. But it was a really, Were
John Jantsch (19:34): You on 50? I don’t
Mike Evans (19:35): Remember. No, it wouldn’t have been an interstate. Cause it, all, the roads are quite, so the next town was Sheridan Lake in Cuba County.
John Jantsch (19:43): So a little bit south.
Mike Evans (19:44): Yeah, it was really far south.
John Jantsch (19:45): Yeah. Yeah. All we better spend some time talking about Fixer. You’re late at Adventure I guess. So maybe I’m actually familiar with it because I, we have some clients that are in the remodeling space, but others may not know about it yet. So maybe give us a heads up on what fixer.com is.
Mike Evans (20:00): So Fixer is an on-demand handy person service. Similar in some ways to Grow Hub in that you can go on, you can see exactly when people are available, schedule it, have them come up to your, come to your home. The big difference is that instead of working with, you know, in Grub was existing restaurants with Fixer, we actually employed the workers full time. And so it’s not just a contractor like sort of matching service. We actually take responsibility for the quality of the work and we train people from scratch. And the whole idea behind it is we’re trying to reboot and entry path into the trades and the gender inclusive and create a great consumer experience in the home because we have a lot of control and a lot of influence over the actual experience in the home. It’s in Denver, a Chicago, a Seattle, Phoenix, and Dallas.
John Jantsch (20:45): Yeah, that, that was my next question. The expansion, you know, will be much slower won’t it, because the fact that you’re actually building both sides of it now. It’s like you’re going in every town and building a restaurant.
Mike Evans (20:54): Yeah, I kind of feel like saying, hold my beer, watch this
John Jantsch (21:43): It’s really interesting because obviously, I mean, you’re tapping into this, that’s obviously an area that, I mean, you talk to remodeling contractors or anybody needing skilled labor and they can’t find people right now.
Mike Evans (21:53): Yeah. That’s, that is the problem we set out to solve is, is creating an entry path into the trades. You know, the handy person work is typically, you know, it’s uh, there’s, it’s very broad, so you have to be able to do a little plumbing, a little electrical, little carpentry. We, you know, you develop what we call core skills, but, but the specialist jobs like electricians and plumbers and things like that, they need a broad base to, to be able to hire from, to even be able to train somebody to be an electrician. You have to, they have to have a certain set of core skills before you can even start there. And so, I mean, my hope is that this really ends up being a very large business that creates, that starts to rebalance um, the supply of skilled trades people relative to the demand. Cuz it’s all outta whack right now. There’re just aren’t enough people in the trade. Yeah. Which means they should be paid more by the way. They
John Jantsch (22:38): Well, yep. Obviously they are being paid more I think now
Mike Evans (22:41): I mean that is, yeah, that is true. The, the rates are certainly going up for trades people.
John Jantsch (22:46): Yeah. It’s funny as I listen to you talk about that, I’ve lived in mostly older homes, my home ownership life and we’d have people come in and work on something and they’d pull a wall off and go, I don’t even know what I’m looking at. You know,
Mike Evans (23:07): Yeah. We tend to do work in older homes as well. I mean, most, most of the homes in Chicago are about a hundred years old. Sure. So not like really old homes like they’d be in Boston, but because the city bounced, burned down at the turn of the century, the previous century. And so, but yeah, I mean, it is true that you just have to see a lot before you can know how to have the confidence that you can walk into any home and, and do the work.
John Jantsch (23:28): Talking with Mike Evans, the founder of fixer.com, author of hangry, his startup journey to founding GrubHub. So Mike, you wanna tell people where they can certainly find the book, but also if you wanna invite people to connect with you somehow.
Mike Evans (23:41): Sure. The book, the easiest place to buy the book is on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It’s available pre as of November 1st. And I’m not sure when exactly this podcast will publish. It’ll be available for order, in addition to pre-order. And then if you want to connect with me, you can go on my website @ mikeevans.com.
John Jantsch (23:56): Awesome. Well really appreciate you stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast and hopefully we will, uh, run into you one of these days soon out there on the road, either on a bike or in a car. Although I must admit, I spend most of my time riding over rocks these days.
Mike Evans (24:10): That’s awesome. Yeah, Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
John Jantsch (24:13): Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It’s called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it@ marketingassessment.co Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That’s just marketingassessment.co. I’d love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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Everybody’s online, but are they finding your website? Grab the online spotlight and your customers’ attention with Semrush. From Content and SEO to ads and social media, Semrush is your one-stop-shop for online marketing. Build, manage, and measure campaigns —across all channels — faster and easier. Are you ready to take your business to the next level? Get seen. Get Semrush. Visit semrush.com/go to try it free for 7 days.