Mike Evans is the Founder of GrubHub, and the author of “Hangry: A Startup Journey.” Mike founded GrubHub in his spare bedroom and grew it into a multi-billion dollar food delivery business that’s a household name. After leaving GrubHub, he founded Fixer.com, an on-demand handyperson service focused on social impact, and providing full-time work for well-trained tradespeople. Mike shares what he learned from raising a startup to IPO, biking across America, and writing “Hangry.” He believes it is necessary to create a business not just to make a profit, but to be powerful levers for social change.
[2:27] Mike loves cycling and getting around places by bike, but not quickly. After the GrubHub experience, he rode his bike across the country. Later, Mike and his wife rode across Austria. They hope to ride across another country soon with their daughter. Mike tells what he likes about electric bikes.
[4:41] As GrubHub grew from a few employees to 2,500 employees over 12 years, there were two things that increased his anxiety and made it challenging to live.
[5:14] The first challenge was the fact that there are a lot of competing interests: shareholders, employees, diners, and restaurants and it was hard to balance them all. There’s no scenario where everybody wins 100%. There are tradeoffs. It was a tightrope walk to do. Mike started seeing the company making different choices as it grew beyond him. That was challenging to see.
[6:09] The second challenge was hiring. As a business leader, you either hire your friends, or the people you hire become your friends. Sometimes you have to make decisions that are not the best outcomes for your employee-friends. When you have to let people go that you like, you cannot recover those friendships. They’re gone. You can’t fire somebody and then go hang out with them.
[6:37] It should be hard to fire someone. You can’t be good at firing people and be a good leader. It should never get easier. You should care a lot about the people you work with. The competing interests, and having to fire friends took a toll on Mike over the course of a decade.
[7:53] Contentment is fleeting, especially for entrepreneurs who start from a place where “something is broken in the world and I’m really annoyed by it.” Mike doesn’t think contentment was ever in the cards for him. An entrepreneur has to see the world with an expectation that it could be better than it currently is, which is not a good recipe for contentment.
[9:45] Mike believes it’s important to have a personal definition of success that other people or factors don’t define. Other people won’t necessarily agree with it. Mike tells how he defined success all the way up through GrubHub’s IPO. Other people told him the IPO was his success, but that wasn’t Mike’s definition. Your definition of success gives you a North Star for one aspect of your life, business.
[11:11] You also need personal definitions of success for your relationships, family, faith community, and civic community. Then you need to do the hard step of making tradeoffs between them. Work/life balance is elusive because it’s impossible to achieve. You have to make tradeoffs. The best you can do is say “I have a clear-eyed picture of what I want from a family perspective,” and make choices explicitly.
[12:03] If you don’t choose explicitly, things happen to you instead of you making choices. That’s what causes imbalance, frustration, anger, and disappointment. Your definitions of success change during your journey. As you approach your goals, the goalposts move. It’s a destination and a journey. It’s not one or the other. As we do hard things, we change, and therefore our goals change.
[12:54] Sometimes we fail. If you’re not going to be able to accomplish a goal, continuing to have it as a goal is only an exercise in frustration. Be able to say “This isn’t working; I’m going to go try doing something else.” Whether you succeed or fail, your goals change. Success is a larger concept; it’s the accumulation of goals over decades.
[13:54] Mike compares how he feels about goals today with what he might have felt at age 24. One of the themes in his book is Think Bigger. Don’t set your goals low. When Mike launched GrubHub, he just wanted to pay off his student debt. He missed the opportunity to embed the value of “Do right by restaurants, no matter what,” in the DNA of the company. At 24, he only wanted to make money.
[14:37] If Mike had struggled at age 24 with the decision about doing right by the restaurants, there might have been a better outcome over the decades.
[16:17] Starting GrubHub and taking it through the IPO involved thousands of decisions of Mike letting go. On Day 1, Mike owned 100% of GrubHub with 100% of the responsibility for it. On the day Mike kicked off on his bike ride across the country, he had 0% of the responsibility. He had a few shares in GrubHub for six more months. His hack was to give up first the thing he hated most — scanning menus!
[18:14] Mike’s first hire, a graphic designer to scan menus, went on to create the brand which ended up in two Super Bowl ads. He started scanning menus but had an opportunity from being in a high-growth startup. He ended up having to delegate. Once you hire your first employee, you get your first investor. Lean in on that and enjoy it!
[19:31] Accepting reality is a paradox for an entrepreneur. You have to have enough arrogance to say “The world is broken, it needs to be fixed, and I’m the only person who can do it,” and you have to have the humility to listen to your customers and employees about what you’re doing right and wrong, and how to adjust. Arrogance and humility do not “play nice” together. Mike doesn’t always get it right.
[20:28] If you put a document in front of five people, they’re all going to start editing it. Don’t put a press release in front of anybody but the people who have the responsibility of doing the press release. One way to keep micromanagement from happening, to allow people to delegate, is don’t put the work product in front of them before it’s done. Don’t give people editing access.
[20:54] Not micromanaging starts with not being in there to edit things. Trust people to do their work. Tactical things like that help you to let go of the small decisions.
[21:33] Mike’s book has a humble tone, but the exclamation point at the end is, “I had a fricking IPO, folks!” Mike captures in the book the paradox of arrogance and humility needed to run a startup well.
[23:18] Mike had done week-long backpacking trips and liked being out in nature. On one of those trips with his wife, he went to Grand Tetons National Park and camped. He saw people riding in on bikes and setting up tents. It was the TransAmerican Trail cross-country bike tour going through the park. Mike thought biking and carrying a pack on a rack was a way better idea than hiking with a backpack!
[24:14] The bike tour sounded like a very accessible adventure. It was accessible because he did it in 90 fifty-mile bike rides, not one 4,500-mile bike ride. His first day was just 25 miles. One thing Mike learned is that it starts with the first mile. The best training for Week Two is Week One. The best training for Week One is to go slow. Don’t try to eat up the miles in your first week.
[24:54] Anyone physically able can ride 10 miles on a bike. You can do that and you can take lunch and you can do that again. And that can be your whole first day. You build up until you’re riding 100 miles in a day. The decision for Mike was just following something he was interested in doing. He quit his job to ride his bike across the country. It was a very clear decision for his life.
[26:18] Mike kept a journal of his bike ride, on MikeEvans.com. He used those notes in Hangry to write about his bike trip. The trip reinforced something for Mike: the idea that you don’t do it all at once. When he looks back, yes he did a 4,500-mile bike ride. Day to day, he woke up every morning and made the decision to start pedaling a mile.
[26:51] Long-haul hikers say, “Don’t quit at the end of a long day. Wait till the morning, when you’re fresh.” A lot of people feel like quitting when they’re tired. When you wake up in the morning you see you can do another day. That was true for Mike in business, as well. He kept at it because he had a bigger mission he was trying to accomplish.
[28:14] Mike’s purposes for his bike trip were to reflect on what he had accomplished, how he did it, and how he felt about it, and to consider what he was going to do next. That led to the creation of Fixer, the on-demand handyperson business. The handypersons are full-time employees, trained from scratch. He wanted to create a business with social benefits built-in: great employment with a path into the trades.
[29:11] Mike’s first decision for the bike trip was to buy a recumbent bike because he wanted to look at the horizon instead of the ground. He already had a tent. He rented a van and drove it down to Virginia Beach. One thing that helped is that the Adventure Cycling Association publishes TransAmerica Trail bike route maps so he ordered a set of maps and joined their online community to talk about the ride.
[31:51] Starting a business is ugly and hard. It’s filled with self-doubt and recriminations. To succeed, you have to make tough choices and a lot of people judge you for those choices. Mike also judges GrubHub and where it went after he left from the IPO and how it became a poster child for the gig economy and not great for restaurants. That is frustrating to Mike.
[32:21] It felt to Mike that it was important to tell the whole story and how businesses are huge levers for social change, whether you want them to be or not. When Mike was intentional about that at GrubHub, it was beneficial for restaurants. When that intentionality left the business, it was not as good for restaurants.
[32:40] Mike’s goal with Hangry is to show the idea of changing the world by creating a business. He wanted to make it accessible and he wanted to elevate the importance of being intentional about creating the change you want to see in the world through the business. It’s not a thing you can do after the business is done, through charity work. You have to create the business as a lever for social change.
[33:21] Hangry is mostly about trying to take what Mike learned and letting other people learn from it and live their lives, whether as an entrepreneur, a business leader, or an executive in a company and do their work in such a way that the communities in which they operate benefit from what they’re doing.
[34:11] The book is called Hangry, so Mike isn’t happy and pleasant the whole time. He’s snarky about exclusionism. Silicon Valley is great at drawing circles and saying “You can’t come in.” Cyclists do it, too! There are lots of groups that draw a circle and say, “You’re not allowed inside this circle.” Mike says that Silicon Valley is particularly good at excluding anybody who’s not a white male. There’s a better way.
[34:52] Democratizing the startup culture, democratizing the process, and demystifying the hero narrative that people use sometimes, make it more accessible to people. There’s an urgency to making our world a better place for our children and grandchildren that sort of raises the bar for what success looks like at a business. It can’t just be making money anymore.
[36:27] The catalyst for creating Fixer.com was trying to get a handyperson and having to use “the phone app” on his phone. He wondered who uses that anymore! He started looking into it. The work that tradespeople do in the economy right now is typically great. Scheduling, communication, and billing are not done well. They’re inaccessible.
[37:23] It’s hard for people to enter the trades unless they have an uncle or father who shows them how to do things. It continues the bias against women entering the trades. Entry-level handyperson jobs are good-paying jobs. They’re also stepping stones to becoming an electrician, a plumber, a roofer, or a mason. It was the same problem he saw with food. You can’t order things online and it’s annoying.
[37:54] He wanted to make handypersons more accessible, but he found there just aren’t enough tradespeople. So he figured that by training people from scratch, they would get quality and wrap it in modern packaging. You schedule online and ask for someone to be there at 11:00 a.m. and the handyperson shows up by 11:00 a.m. They’re highly trained, and they clean up after the job.
[38:45] Mike uses the service himself, even though he’s pretty handy.
[40:00] Fixer.com has hundreds of applicants for every job position that they open. They target people who are working in food service, grocery, and retail and invite them to have a career instead of a job. Fixer.com pays people while training them. It’s easy to get people on board. People in the service field don’t have the flexibility to set their hours and schedule, which is hard in this job climate.
[40:48] The adoption of working from home as a norm is damaging to people who don’t have that flexibility and it creates a two-class society. Seventy-five percent of the people at Fixer.com are tradespeople, not office workers. At some point, they will have 10,000 tradespeople as full-time employees. Mike is concerned about issues of equity and expectations around time.
[42:34] Mike explains why he picked a business model that’s hard and hard to copy. It is intentional and it makes his company the competition that everyone else worries about. He’s building a multi-billion dollar business that will be hard to compete with.
[43:51] Mike’s listener challenge: “I would love it if everybody would buy the book. … If you want the summary line, it’s this idea that businesses affect the communities in which they work, and being intentional about what that impact is, is really, really important.” You’re going to be juggling competing priorities, but it’s still useful even if you’re considering a socially beneficial impact for every decision.
[45:19] Closing quote: Remember, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” — Daniel Burnham
Quotable Quotes“I’m not like one of these fast people who are always racing along the Lake Path in Chicago. Seeing the country; getting places at 10 mph is great. … After the GrubHub experience, I rode my bike across the country.” — Mike Click To Tweet “Electric bikes are great. They really create access for people who might not otherwise physically be able to do it. And so I think they sort of democratize our bike trails. I’m a big fan of electric bikes.” — Mike Click To Tweet “It should be hard to fire people, anyway. … You can’t be good at firing people and be a good leader. I think those two things are totally mutually exclusive. It should always be hard. It should never get easier. You should care a… Click To Tweet “The difference between an entrepreneur and a miserable grump is that the entrepreneur actually does something about it. So, I’m not sure it was ever in the cards for me to be content.” — Mike Click To Tweet “[An entrepreneur] has to see the world with an expectation that it could be better than it currently is, which is not a good recipe for contentment.” — Mike Click To Tweet “I think it’s really important to have an internal, personal definition of success that’s not defined by some external factor.” — Mike Click To Tweet “Sometimes we fail. If you’re not going to be able to accomplish a goal, continuing to have it as a goal is only an exercise in frustration and self-punishment. So being able to say, ‘This isn’t working, I’m going to go try… Click To Tweet “People often ask me ‘What’s the most strategic hire that you can do first?’ … Forget that! Hire somebody to do something that’s the most annoying thing to you. And then you start to get the benefit of ‘I don’t have to do every… Click To Tweet “Don’t put a press release in front of anybody but the people who have the responsibility of doing the press release. One way to keep micromanagement from happening, to allow people to delegate, is don’t put the work product in… Click To Tweet “The tone of the book is humble. I tried to be self-reflective in the book, but the exclamation point at the end is, ‘I had a fricking IPO, folks!’ which is not a humble thing. I’m kind of bragging.” — Mike Click To Tweet "Anyone physically able can ride 10 miles on a bike. You can do that and then you take lunch and you can do that again. And that can be your whole first day. And then by the time you hit the Rockies, a 100-mile day is like, ‘Oh,… Click To Tweet “There’s an urgency to making our world a better place for our children and grandchildren that sort of raises the bar for what success looks like at a business. It’s not just making money anymore. It can’t just be that.” — Mike Click To Tweet “Picking hard business models, that are necessarily hard, to create value for customers is a really good defense against competition. What we’re doing is hard and so it’s hard to copy. And that’s very intentional.” — Mike Click To Tweet “The thing that really sucks about competition is it’s not in your control. But … you can choose to pick a business model where you have to have some grit and some hard work and some thoughtfulness and some talent to make it work. …… Click To Tweet “Businesses affect the communities in which they work, and being intentional about what that impact is, is really, really important. … it’s still useful even if you can’t make every decision toward a socially beneficial impact if… Click To Tweet
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- Mike Evans
- Race Across America (RAAM)
- The Appalachian Trail
- The Pacific Coast Trail
- Grand Tetons National Park
- TransAmerica Trail cross-country bike tour
- Adventure Cycling Association
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