Italian-born, London-based business owner Simon Beckerman launched a new company in London earlier this month. DELLI allows users to buy and sell ‘drops’ of food-and-drink products from local, independent producers. But can DELLI do for food what his peer-to-peer clothing app Depop did for fashion? Simon tells Courier's editorial director Daniel Giacopelli about his journey with Depop and why he finds the indie food space so exciting.
Daniel: ‘Depop feels like a young company, partly because Gen Z are so obsessed with it. But you started it more than a decade ago. Where did the idea come from?’
Simon: ‘I used to publish a fashion and music magazine called PIG. And, when I had the idea for Depop, I was trying to create an [online sales site] for all of the very interesting small brands that we featured every month in the magazine. So I started designing that. I'm a massive tech nerd. I'm always observing, adopting and trying new tech. The iPhone had just come out at the time, more or less, and so I started thinking: this needs to be an app.
‘I started designing the app like a social network, because my assumptions were that there was this whole new generation of people starting with a mobile paradigm who were getting to know each other through social media interactions. I thought, what better way to convey the existence of a product, if not through social interactions? That's how the real world works. If I discover a new album, it's because a friend recommended it to me, or someone I'm influenced by. The same with fashion: I go to a party, meet people, ask them questions and then the next day I'll go out and buy it.
‘As I was doing this, the brands I contacted to have their products on the app were saying, “Oh, we have minimum quantities, we can't distribute on the app, it's very complicated.” So, I said, how can I eliminate this problem? And then, I don't know, a brick fell on my head and I thought: we have to make it a marketplace! Today, in the tech world, you might call this product-market fit: take a community [and] a market, build a product for them, match them together. And, if you find that perfect fit, you get a flywheel turning and a business.’
D: ‘Vintage and resale have all really taken off in the past few years, especially. It must have been interesting at Depop during the pandemic.’
S: ‘Yeah. Depop made – if I don't remember wrongly – at the height of the growth during the pandemic, nearly three times some of the numbers [of its previous results]… The trajectory was very interesting.’
D: ‘Last year, you and the Depop board decided to sell the company. What drew Depop to Etsy, or what drew Etsy to you? Were you looking for an acquirer or did they come knocking on your door and say: “Hey, bring us your super-young audience?”’
S: ‘The best title I saw was [something like]: “Etsy buys Depop: marketplace for old buys marketplace for young.” We weren't in the market to sell the company. And, actually, when we had to vote at the board meetings to sell, many people voted “no”. We were sort of preparing for a potential IPO [an initial public offering, where shares are sold on a stock exchange]. But then Etsy came and we started talking with them. They wanted to explore the possibility of acquiring us. I think, initially, they weren't completely thinking about that, but just having chats. The coffees went for months, even before they started talking properly about mergers and acquisitions. And then, at a certain point, they came back and said they would be really interested in engaging in conversations. We went through due diligence, investment banks and lawyers, and the Etsy team did a lot of meetings with us.’
D: ‘So it was a long mating ritual?’
S: ‘Yeah, we started thinking: shall we sell, shall we not sell? What do we do? Some people didn't want to. Some people were a little bit more keen on doing it. And so, basically, we ended up deciding to sell, because we thought that Depop's biggest challenge was going to be developing the product to the next level, to the next stage. We were finding it really hard to evolve product-wise, and Etsy was doing such a good job there. We thought that the journey for our investors to help us build the company was finished, in a way. They'd done all they could to take us to that level. And so, to go to the next level again, we thought the only way was being part of the Etsy family. At the same time, the company was 10 years old – some investors were already nearing the 10-year fund age. So, all in all, we said: this is a great result.’
D: ‘I remember you said somewhere that you'd always thought it'd be great to sell the company for a billion. You've crossed that threshold.’
S: ‘I can't remember actually saying that, but I always thought about it.’
D: ‘I read it somewhere!’
S: ‘Obviously, it's an incredible achievement. The nice part is that it's now there in my CV. Whatever I do tomorrow, I'm super proud that I managed to at least found a company that reached this stage.’
D: ‘It's good for your next job interview. You stepped down as CEO of Depop in 2013 and joined the board, and Maria Raga became CEO in 2016. When you were on the board, were you dabbling in projects on the side, leading up to DELLI?’
S: ‘I was full-time at Depop until mid-2018. Then, I started slowly leaving the day-to-day, and my job was basically being on the board as a director – but also as a founder, helping out the leadership team. My main things were helping strategy, brand, community, some product stuff, some design and obviously contributing with whatever I could during the decision-making processes at board meetings.
‘I started having a bit more spare time and thinking: what's next? My wife and I were becoming passionate about cooking at home and discovering new food products. [There were] so many creative people going into the food industry, so many new nice products. And, at the same time, the way I was changing my food habits was making me feel more happy. I started to eat better. I tried, for example, different kinds of diets – a ketogenic diet, which made me much more focused. I felt so much better. And so, when thinking about what to do next, I thought I'd really like to contribute in the food world.’
D: ‘Did you have a specific business idea at that point?’
S: ‘Initially, I was thinking of doing a mobile app focused on vegan products – like a mobile vegan supermarket.’
D: ‘A sort of vegan version of [grocery delivery company] Gorillas?’
S: ‘Sort of. The supermarket apps out there are really bad. I'm talking about the traditional ones like [UK grocery chains] Tesco, Sainsbury's, even the Ocado app. Imagine the difference between a traditional bank app and Monzo or Revolut. I wanted to build a mobile supermarket [that] stood against the standard incumbents in the same way that Monzo stood against traditional banks. Create an incredible user experience; a nice, curated community; I would say more products; focus it on vegan and education – helping people to eat more sustainably, becoming more healthy.’
D: ‘Were you thinking of connecting to third-party sellers or that you would hold stock like a ghost supermarket?’
S: ‘Initially – this was pre-pandemic – the idea was to hold stock, like a proper supermarket. We'd have physical spaces. People could buy in the app and go and collect at the shop. The idea was sort of a precursor to the Gorillas model. It was also that every shop worked as a warehouse. So, basically, you open the app, you buy your products and you can select whether to collect in person or have it delivered [from] that store by someone on a bicycle. So, it was Gorillas, but more community-oriented, with a nice brand and an objective [that] wasn't [just] fast growth. I don't like to compete on features or money, because you always lose if you do that, unless you have someone that backs you with billions and billions. But, I would say that even Uber is having a hard time, nowadays, across the world.’
D: ‘What happened when Covid hit?’
S: ‘I was still in my thinking phase for the app. I'd already bought the domain. My name was already DELLI. It was pre-Etsy exit, so we didn't know Etsy was interested. I was making the rounds with the board to ask them if I could start a new company, because I needed approval from them.
‘When the pandemic struck, I saw so many people getting furloughed and getting into the food business. Willy's Pies in Leyton, for example, or Kamienko's Bagels, which we have on DELLI. So many of these. I thought that there was something there. I saw the potential of – let's call them – home-based food entrepreneurs. I started thinking, what if this is an untapped market?
‘Like Gen Z, when we started Depop – they didn't exist as a market. What if this is an untapped market that wouldn't exist if it wasn't for DELLI? For example, Airbnb: if you had a house, you wouldn't think of listing it for rent if it wasn't for Airbnb. You could have done it before, but you wouldn't think about it. Airbnb gives you a tool that's inspiring enough to make you want to do it. Depop did the same for clothes. And maybe DELLI can do the same for food. Who knows?’
D: ‘It makes sense. In the early days of the pandemic, I hosted a daily podcast for Courier where I talked with all these people – furloughed workers who were launching side hustles, or pivoting and adapting. It was innovative, really clever stuff. And it was inevitable that someone would wrap a platform around them.’
S: ‘I thought, if this small subset of people are a representation of a [bigger market] then, by building, as you say, a “wrapper” around them, it can attract others to want to become home-based food entrepreneurs.’
D: ‘You've brought aboard Natalie Lee-Joe from London restaurant Jidori, which closed during Covid. Is she acting as your guide to all the things you don't yet know about the food space?’
S: ‘Living in Dalston, I used to eat very often at Jidori, so I knew Natalie already. And Jidori was one of my favorite restaurants in London. I really liked the work that she did there. It was a very unique place. So, when it closed, I was sad but, at the same time, I saw an opportunity. I called her and I said: “Listen, I have this idea that I'm building, a food community. I would be really honored if you wanted to join the company. There are a couple of other people from Depop who are joining, too.”
‘I have no experience or credibility in the food world. My job, my talent maybe, my passion is building communities. But, where I had credibility in fashion because I worked in fashion for 10 years prior, I [don't have] in food. So, I thought Natalie, with her passion and her knowledge, and her being so trusted in the community, could be the right person.’
D: ‘Right, so how does DELLI work?’
S: ‘It's very, very simple. Sellers have their own profiles. When they come on board, they can list their products for sale. We're starting with the concept, which we took from the fashion world, of the “drop”. We saw that this was something [that was] happening already. Willy's Pies does it – I think on a Friday – and it sells out immediately. These other guys called The Oyster Boys [an oyster delivery brand] do it, and they call them drops.’
D: ‘Kold Sauce, a great hot sauce brand founded by Drew Wolf, who you have on the platform, did it too.’
S: ‘Drew does that, yeah. I didn't [originally] think about having the concept of the drop on DELLI but, as we were designing the app, the people we were bringing on board were single-product people, or [they] had two flavors. They didn't have a proper line of products. So, how do you allow them to succeed on a platform where basically they have to post only once?
‘We came up with the idea of [the drop] as a proper feature. They could drop something, attach a date to it in the future and make it last for X amount of time, then people could press a button and get notified. Similar to Nike's SNKRS app. They have drops and a “notify me” button – we've got the same. That's how it works for now.
‘In the future, we'll add more features, like the possibility to buy more products from one seller, or a feature where even buyers can post drops. For example, I buy a bottle of wine, then click on my purchase and say: “drop this” – which means I post that I'm drinking it and people can buy it from my post.’
D: ‘Interesting. It seems like you're really building a community and then experimenting with the platform's features as you go along.’
S: ‘Yes. You remember earlier what I said about Depop, that one of the main things was to discover products through friends I followed? The idea of DELLI is the same with food. People love to share food – I think even more than they do with fashion. It's a very powerful form of self-expression. It's very simple and easy to share what you're eating on Instagram. You like to do it because you want to show your friends: look at this good wine I'm drinking, or this new chilli sauce I bought. So, giving the buyers the ability to do that on DELLI can help make the products go around and allow people to discover all these new food makers.’
D: ‘A lot of those makers ended up doing what they're doing because they lost their jobs in the restaurant industry. Will we see these side hustles melt away as restaurants reach their pre-pandemic level, or are these new brands here to stay?’
S: ‘I think it's going to be a mix. I don't see restaurants ending any time soon. And, actually, I have a gut feeling that once the pandemic is over, we'll want to go back to the roaring twenties... I see people wanting to go out and have more experiences in real life. Platforms like DELLI are going to be useful for the times when you're at home, want to buy something and don't want to go out. In terms of sellers or makers, I think there's going to be a mix: people who are used to working in restaurants, maybe they'll go back to the restaurants, but some of them will be so successful [with their own brands].’
D: ‘DELLI is very much a London-focused app. Do you want this to go global like Depop?’
S: ‘We're launching in London because we need to test it so, for the next 12 months, probably, we need to see if there's a potential market, if we can create a business out of it. Until then, we don't know what the future's going to be. But the desire is to be in every city where people like to eat in this kind of way. As I said, my dream is to be able to convey good food to as many people as possible.’
D: ‘It would be cool to buy a limited drop of a food brand from Tokyo, for instance…’
S: ‘So, you go to Tokyo, you open up DELLI and you see completely different products because [you're in a new market] – that would be incredible, yeah.’
D: ‘Let's talk money. You've raised money for the company.’
S: ‘When I was doing the rounds with the Depop board to ask them if I could do a new company, one of them told me that he really liked the idea and he wanted to invest. This is [venture capital firm] HV Capital from Germany. It was, in terms of shares, the biggest Depop investor. It was an investor in companies like [online fashion platform] Zalando, [meal-kit company] HelloFresh, [food-delivery service] Delivery Hero and [payment solution] SumUp. Lars [Langusch], the partner from HV, had known me for 10 years. He said: “Simon, I really like the idea. Let's do it again. Let's try again together.” He insisted on being the investor. Obviously, being able to fundraise with a phone call, without a deck, is amazing. So, I said “yes”.’
D: ‘Was this through his own personal capacity as an angel investor, or through HV Capital?’
S: ‘HV Capital invested £2.5 million. And that money was invested last year and is going to last probably the rest of this year. But we're going to go for [another] potential fundraising [round] in the next couple of months. We want to raise a bit more money to give us peace of mind to be able to have 12 months of validation. So, testing the app: if something doesn't work, we want to fix, iterate, test, fix. The goal is within more or less a year to see if we can turn the flywheel organically, like we did with Depop.’
D: ‘There's a classic question that founders often get asked: what happens if Google decides to do something like this? Do you look at a huge food player like Deliveroo and say: man, what happens if they launch a “buy drops of local food products” feature? Does that worry you?’
S: ‘It's a good question, and I've been asked this question a lot, even with Depop. I think there are multiple aspects to the answer. I think, as an entrepreneur, my job is to create a company that has a very unique USP that isn't replicable with money or features.’
D: ‘Like a moat.’
S: ‘A sort of moat. Whether that's a community or you're super fast in building the platform, so you bring people in before someone else can do it, like Uber did, for example, or Facebook. Our goal is to create a community that people want to be part of.
‘We're noticing that most of the community we talk to, they really don't like Deliveroo. [Deliveroo] will have a hard time building something like [DELLI], because they have different kinds of incentives as a team. It's like Facebook. How can you change a model that's based on advertising? They have an entire leadership team who thinks in a specific way. You would need to change the whole team to change the business model. And the same with Deliveroo. So, I see this as a very difficult thing. The option for a company like that probably is to invest in us or buy us. But then we would have a moral problem, which is: should we sell to a company like that? I would say I'm not concerned at the moment.’
D: ‘What sort of founder are you? A big vision guy? A numbers guy?’
S: ‘The first. My whole career was discovering the new, the undiscovered, the independents, the avant-garde. That's my cup of tea. Obviously, as an entrepreneur, I've needed to learn other skills, like building teams or analyzing data... I think I learned a lot from Depop there.’
D: ‘You're in the food world now. Of course, I've got to ask what your favorite meal is.’
S: ‘It's a meal that I can't eat any more, unfortunately! I slowly became intolerant to lactose, but I do sometimes take a pill and eat it anyway. It's buffalo mozzarella pizza.’
D: ‘From anywhere in particular?’
S: ‘There's a place in [north London's] Newington Green called Oi Vita Pizzeria. They're from Naples and they make an original Neapolitan pizza.’
D: ‘How do you stay motivated?’
S: ‘I try to read as much as I can. Although, in the very early stages of building a company, you have less time to do that. But there are a lot of really interesting books out there that taught me a lot. They're the classic books that everybody talks about – the cliché startup books – but I think they're good and they do help you a lot. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A Moore; The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen; The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz; High Output Management by Andrew Grove; or The Lean Startup [by Eric Ries] – all those books are really useful.’
D: ‘Any advice for someone starting a company right now?’
S: ‘The first advice [is to] read these books, because they're useful. Then, I'd say, find people around you who have experience and can help you and give you advice for every stage you're at. Find investors who have done this before. Don't look for simple money. Investors have this term – they call it “smart money”. But, basically, find investors who know how to help you build the company because they've done it already.
‘Then the main [advice] would be – and it's a Steve Jobs [one], not mine, but I think it works – is perseverance. He used to say 50% of success is perseverance. I would say, in the 10 years I've done Depop, so many times I've wanted to give up. So, perseverance. Just continue. Close your eyes and go and go and go. You'll find a way.’
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