Today on the show, we have Dane Atkinson, CEO, and Founder of Odeko. Odeko is a hidden platform supporting thousands of coffee shops with the technology once only held by the public giants. It uses AI and automation to provide a single source of supplies that is loaded into stores in the closed hours, and consumer apps making all cafes easily discoverable and accessible and soon a host of other building bricks. Odeko is a GGV portfolio.
Dane is a serial entrepreneur who started his first company at the age of 18. Since then, he has built a successful career running tech companies, mostly in the SMB tech space, such as Squarespace, SumAll, and Odeko. Dane was the CEO of Squarespace from 2007 to 2011. He also serves as a board member, mentor, and advisor to numerous other companies.
Hans Tung 1:57
Welcome to the show, Dane!
Dane Atkinson 2:22
Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here, I love you guys!
Hans Tung 2:26
Thank you. We have Irving from Bowery to thank for to connect us in the first place.
Dane Atkinson 2:32
We do! I think Irving’s an episode a few weeks back, he said, it’s fantastic.
Hans Tung 2:36
We’re looking forward to have you on the show as well. We can’t help but notice that you’ve been serving SMB businesses throughout your entire career. Where did that passion come from, and how did you know that this was the segment of customers, partners, you wanted to start?
Dane Atkinson 2:54
Like most of your founders, I’m a bit broken and have ADHD — I can’t really do anything but create, it’s been a habit since being much younger in my first material company. Both my parents are artists, and I think somewhere along the way, I connected the fact that: when you try to change the universe with your aspirations and your dreams (obviously, it takes blood, sweat and tears), that creation of a small business is actually art. You are making a community and the world slightly brighter, it’s a telling of your own identity and soul. It was clear that that’s a community that I’m part of, and stuck in forever due to my nature, and that really needs the love from the rest of the environment, because it is also the engine of society. 64% of the employed people on the planet are in small business, so it’s the driver of invention, and I think the spark of our culture. I’ve been very lucky to have found that early in my life and get to spend my entire life’s energy on the application.
Hans Tung 3:59
Now that you’ve been working in the segment for so long, what are the best, and less optimal parts of working with SMB founders, business owners. What’s also different today that makes the segment so much more attractive to go after now?
Dane Atkinson 4:16
In reverse of that, it’s the biggest segment out there. As I said, it’s responsible for more in the economics society than anything else. It’s worth the energy and people that are behind it. They tend to be phenomenal humans, and they tend to draw to their own business because they want to spend real energy, real commitment, with everything they have. It’s tough though, it’s a gnarly market and not easy, it’s not for the faint of heart. They consume products as if they were both a consumer, and as if they’re the large buyer, like an enterprise. You’re simultaneously selling to the CTO of Oracle, and to your 14-year-old teenager, so the necessity for your technology to be incredibly easy, beautiful and friendly, and at the same time creating immediate value is a really tough span to cross. That being said, they’re really pragmatic— when it works, it works. You can have the opportunity to try and test, learn and grow, and when you find the formula that works, when you find that you’re resolving something that they need, and find a way that they can get out without a lot of obstruction, everyone jumps in. You get these growth curves that are impossible and enterprise because it’s always related to salespeople on an engine. But in small business, when the formula works, the formula works, it just takes a lot of energy to get there and a lot of understanding and empathy for what that world is like.
Hans Tung 5:44
You also have customer turnover— the customer you have this year may not be around next year, so that adds to the complexity of serving.
Dane Atkinson 5:51
That’s true, there are some misconceptions around turnover. Everyone thinks a single entity is an entity, and the way we’re a part of that, is that we may count our customers’ accounts or doors, but the entrepreneurial spirit in the startup tends to not fade. If you look at the data, those who build a startup small business are likely to build another one, and very few jump back into the enterprise. If you just consider that relationship there, maybe one name changes on the door, but they get for the most part, hooked into this kind of world. This is for a good reason, because you are expressing yourself, and creating something right now, how could you not want to do that?
Robin Li 6:30
It’s true, just like you!
Dane Atkinson 6:32
Oh, yeah! I’m the poster child for it.
Hans Tung 6:36
What’s different now about SMB tech? Over the last couple years, why has this suddenly become such a buzzword and becoming increasingly popular as a segment to go after?
Dane Atkinson 6:47
It’s a mixture of things, some of us have been lucky to build platforms with meaningful scale in the community, so it’s made clear that there is a real value to be done. The challenges that people are worried about have also been succeeded in. I think COVID has been a big shift. As much as the enterprises have moved along 3-4 years in their technology adoption, small business moved a decade ahead. One of the things that small business has over enterprises, 10/10, is their flexibility and adaptability— they tend to be able to shift very quickly and jump to the end of the tech spectrum. They want drones delivering coffee, spaceships doing things, they’re no longer back in the prior age. That’s been great for the tech community because we’re able to really provide value. I think the tech community hasn’t always done well by small business— as a class, we have not built the right kind of trust that community really deserves, so there’s hesitancy, but I think everyone has seen how a few businesses have really enabled the community through this last year. It’s for sure a different time for small business.
Hans Tung 7:58
We see SMB tech as the next consumer tech, especially in the US, as the smartphone penetration is so much higher than ever, almost all SMBs are on smart devices now, as a result a lot more services can be delivered to them.
Dane Atkinson 8:16
That’s the art of design, right? You should be able to run your business from the subway on your way in, it’s just the way the world works.
Robin Li 8:25
For people who are not familiar with Odeko, and how you’ve backed the small businesses and coffee shops here, especially throughout COVID, can you talk us through how you work with a coffee shop? How would a cafe be with or without Odeko?
Dane Atkinson 8:44
I think your audience here is pretty technical, in our community (the technical community), we have seen the infrastructure play over and over again. When I was lucky enough to be building Squarespace, we had an incredible data center. That was part of our value proposition, but it took a huge amount of energy. We didn’t win because your site was up, we just lost if your site was down, same thing goes for platforms like Shopify. In the old days, when you were building an e-commerce site, you didn’t win because you could run a credit card, but if you can’t run a credit card, you’re out of business. That doesn’t exist in the real world, the coffee shop doesn’t win because its people are paid, or winning because they have milk on the shelves— if they don’t have milk on the shelves, and the people aren’t paid, they’re out of business. They need to abstract that problem away and be able to focus on the problems that matter. From our point of view, we think there’s a need for there to be a Starbucks, or a franchise model that has been out there for forever, and only exists inside the enterprise as an open SaaS for everybody else. They should have the ability to just take those problems away and focus things that matter. A coffee shop on us is a widely different world. In the old world, they would have to build relationships with 10 vendors, and do account references, set up payment terms. They would also have to phone the order in every morning for the next two days, the delivery would come in at nine o’clock, having an invoice tapped on, the collection call would come two days later asking for payment, etc. A small coffee shop had 600 invoices, and every single month, they had to figure out a process. For Odeko, there’s a portal, they build their schedule for the month and make small edits to it, it’s guided by you intelligent AI, they press “GO”, and in the middle of the night, like fairies, we load the store, they can go on to their app and pay for everything in one shot. They can manage all that’s happening. They see the attachments and probability, it’s like their own Starbucks! They don’t have to worry about that disruption in the morning, or their staff being trained, and they end up having much less of a cost center. The small coffee shop pays about 35-37% of their total revenue on goods, Starbucks pays 21% right. When they come on us, they get margin right back in the business, this is why we fill the spectrum. Currently, when a small coffee shop wants to not have their customer come in and order ahead (being able to be on that tech wave), they’re stuck with either spending all their money on some custom developer, or having someone shout their order out to the window, or doing some half-baked version on another platform giving 30% away for it. We make it super simple, they just turn us on and can take orders, paying 2% instead of 30%, and have that relationship with the customer they need. They need someone to take those problems away.
Hans Tung 12:06
Of all the different subcategories within SMB, how did you decide that coffee was the first category that you wanted to serve?
Dane Atkinson 12:13
We had some good data— we saw a lot of commonality shop-to-shop, it’s a huge category with net $80 billion in the US. It is also the third largest commodity and it’s very long tail, there are less than a dozen chains that are over 100 locations, so it’s almost entirely independence. I also own a coffee shop, bars, restaurants and clubs, but the coffee shop in Williamsburg (which is the hip place) was a mess!
If only you had Odeko!
Dane Atkinson 12:49
Totally, you have no idea how much that would have possibly made it work, because it’s really hard! We picked it, and it turned out to be really fortunate. The history is always a way that works, it’s a very durable industry, with a very small skew graph, most importantly the people behind it have the desire to make the world better. Everyone who goes in wants to express the way they found the beans in Guatemala, or make it a place that moms can come by, etc. They have a reason to make their local world better, and they care about the environment, they’re such fantastic people in that industry, deserving of the help and independent in their backbone to do what’s right in every choice they make. We couldn’t have been happier for the choice there, which looks great now, so I think I’m clever in hindsight, a lot of it also has had to do with fortune.
Hans Tung 13:58
It also helps to have Starbucks in the business, prompting everyone to do better since Starbucks sets the customer experience at a certain level, and one needs somebody to help them to get to that level. In the case of pizza, Domino’s pizza is so dominant, it gives a chance to Slice to be relevant. Amazon is also so dominant, giving chances for Shopify to provide Amazon-like shopping experience to all the other independent sellers out there. That definitely gets everyone to move along and aspire to do better.
Dane Atkinson 14:27
Starbucks is a fantastic business, for what it did for the community, showing that this could this space exists. The same goes for Domino’s, but the richness of an individual caring in that space, and the ability to not pay $0.18 for a paper cup that you are now, but the $0.06 that Starbucks pays, is where I think they can really succeed.
Robin Li 14:49
How did you evolve into Odeko from SumAll? When we first met, you were really “SumAll”, I could really remember that phase.
Dane Atkinson 15:00
It was only 2 years ago, but it seems like 1000 years. SumAll was wonderfully missioned in trying to provide analytics and get everything done for small businesses. We felt that the enterprise was stealing the data from small businesses, and we wanted to free it. We had a half a million small businesses on the platform and an incredible amount of tech, but we didn’t internalize how hard it was to use that data and be effective with it. With Squareone, one of our early partners, we saw this incredible penetration inside of the coffee shops and the QSR, it gave us the end of the machine learning script. We started throwing all the rest of our cloud data, which included social check-ins, street traffic etc. On our initial drive (which thankfully, you guys dove in with), we could predict the future of a coffee shop with around 90% accuracy, even in the first months. We then thought that we had enough that’s inexistent in that space, to be able to do some good. Later on, as you both know, we dove into coffee shops and realized the problems were much bigger than accurate prediction, but it’s where we started. and we’re really happy to have the chance to take that story and find a really meaningful, and impactful success out of it.
Hans Tung 16:29
I want to do a double-click on the number you cited earlier, stating small independent coffee shops pay $0.18 cents for a cup, whereas Starbucks pays $0.06 per cup. Can you share a bit more about how you can leverage your economies of scale to help the coffee shops save more and be more efficient?
Dane Atkinson 16:50
When you think about it, the small coffee shops, aka “every man coffee”, is two locations. They had to build Starbucks: they had to build their own supply line, their own procurement infrastructure, payment infrastructure etc. The community that decided service that was all micro as well, you’d have little little baker’s sitting five miles away, having to build everything themselves. That inefficiency (bullwhip) was getting worse and worse, even farms had to build distributor relationship and a sales relationship and everything else. Where we’ve been able to fit into that equation is much like Starbucks. We’ve consolidated buying for all these 1000s of shops, which has given us the ability to negotiate at the very source, whether it’s a farm, or Oatley, giving us a fair and similar price to what Starbucks pays. The other real improvement we have is that our model so much healthier. Instead of there being this “bullwhip chain” of the shop guessing how many customers can come; vendors guessing on the orders of shops; farms guessing how many gallons the vendor will ask for, we are the system. We can take one truck into the city at night with all seven deliveries that were historically there, all seven drivers that used to do the same route is now one driver. We can also make it so the baker doesn’t have to go and sell every coffee shop, they just have to be part of our platform, a baker doesn’t have to hire someone to track down those invoices from every coffee shop, they can get paid by us every week.
We’ve made the model vastly more effective, and made every player in the model happier. There certainly are some middle distributors who jack that price up for like $0.06 out of a cup, but at the end of the day, being where you’re just directly connected, the baker’s make more money, while taking so much stress off their life because they can trust an infrastructure that works. All that has made the costs dropped materially for the shop, and we get down to the $0.06, as Starbucks does. From the standpoint of an independent shop owner, it is a night and day equation, even if you were a chain and much more cost effective. For example, in New York, which was our starting market, we are their poster child for environmental impact— we have reduced the traffic. There were around 3000 trucks a day no longer driving in city streets because they were coming to us at night, we do around 750 coffee shops at night, which is twice of Starbucks. It’s all designed for this one kind of customer who is not trying to work with100 different variations, and received an email from us in the morning saying the store is loaded and ready to go, simplifying their life.
Robin Li 19:51
They don’t come in having to worry about which barista is going to do what, like handling delivery while having to making coffee at the same time. The customer also gets a better experience.
Dane Atkinson 20:05
We forget how hard it is to be in that business. It is very stressful, when you walk in at six, you don’t know if your store is going to be ready to go, and then you’re waiting at nine for the milk to come, and the milk comes at 10, and you’ve got a line… It’s so hard, especially in a world where there are so much challenges in being able to build a business. To know that as you hit the subway, you have a picture of your shelves loaded, and it’s going to be ready to go when you get to the store , and not having to worry about the invoices is definitely distressing. There are so many things we have to do, we have a lot to learn, but it’s a it’s a state change.
Robin Li 20:54
I think you would be happy to know, that I went to Starbucks a few days ago to order an oat milk latte. In the app, while ordering ahead, they wrote that the location was out of oat milk, so I decided to try soy milk. When I got there, I picked up my order and the barista had lot of cartons of oat milk next to him. I thought, wow, even Starbucks can get this wrong!
Dane Atkinson 21:37
It’s not an easy thing to get right, and it’s impossible if you aren’t Starbucks or on us. If you were using delivery route for your deliveries, they’re not tied into your inventory. The benefit we have is that we are your back end, so everything we can do is informed by all the choices you’ve already made, so your Oatly will be there!
Hans Tung 22:03
Let’s switch gears a little bit— during COVID, a lot of coffee shops had to unfortunately close, especially in New York City. Somehow you managed through it, and grew quite a bit this year as everything opened up, now attracting more investor interest than ever. Can you walk us through how you guys manage to go through all that and come out stronger on the the other end?
Dane Atkinson 22:26
These are the hardest times hospitalities have faced in recorded history, probably even more than that in the 1920s. It was apocalyptic, every single shop closed, and we couldn’t foresee the future better than anyone else. We became really critical and understanding the necessity for the role of being a partner for the community. We spun off a site and sold 50,000 cups of coffee to hospitals from shops that were close and couldn’t do anything, and moved all the milk around New York City so that it wouldn’t go to waste. I tried everything we could to help, but pretty much every single shop on the platform had to close and pause. We were very fortunate, whether it’s because we make such a difference, or just the folks who joined in the platform are great operators, but we actually lost a little more than 10% of our shops to this, and the community at large hospitality is, you know, 30-40% of this. It was great to see them hold there, we cut half our team and kind of buckled down, but it was nothing compared to our customers. I remember sitting down with a lot of our partners, and they were like: oh, 400 people today. I don’t think it’s necessarily been rippled through, how hard it has been actually for that community and how much they’ve had to fight. People have thrown their savings and, and done everything they could to make it work. On the other side, those who fought through become harder, the fires made them stronger, and they’re very eager to adapt, and start a smarter new chapter for themselves. As some market reopened, we found a lot of folks saying they couldn’t can’t pay for their goods. And we can’t build a solid graph and we need to come back to a partner. We felt a pretty epic growth curve from 0 to $50 million revenue in six months, it was mind-boggling because everyone would move on to a better system. Now, it’s the inverse, today we see on an hourly basis about 125% over 2019. Coffee’s a very big part of society coming back to itself, and shops don’t have the kind of hours they used to have, so they are still a little behind what they were before, but they’ve done very well. Chains that endured customers who fought are now starting to all open locations and stretch back out, taking advantage of the time. There is the hardest of years hardening the community, and knowing that they’ve played a big part in the local spaces, and they all want to come back. For us, it’s been the most extreme roller-coaster that anyone has had on the lowest of lows. Again, you guys were a big part of our getting through it. I’ve had this journey before where investors are very fair weather, and GGV incredibly, the two of you stood by us and said that we would make it work. We raised money in the middle of a pandemic, because we didn’t know the future, which was principally led because of your love of us, and the belief in the future. I don’t think we would be here if it wasn’t for that it wasn’t for that kind of support along the way. I think the community saw there needs to be a partner like us in the future, and our shops stuck with us, it’s been quite a ride.
Hans Tung 26:07
You’re amazing, the team’s amazing and you have an incredible board. You have surrounded yourself with good, high quality people want to support you. Robin has been an incredible board member for you in the process, and it’s great to see you guys all grow, even through the hardest times. What did you do to encourage your team, rallying them and keeping their spirits up, in order to get through that dark period? What are some of the lessons or tips you can share with the CEOs and founders out there?
Dane Atkinson 26:37
It’s funny because people ask this a lot, and it’s a very simple answer: we were in war. I remember hanging out with CEOs during the pandemic, they were all debating whether we would do remote, but we really felt like we were at war. I was driving around in U-haul truck delivering coffee to hospitals, and everyone on our team knew it. Everyone took pay cuts because our customers were dying, everyone just said that we were going to fight it through.
Robin Li 27:08
So many of your team members got COVID too.
Dane Atkinson 27:12
So many of our team members, and so many of our team actually had people who passed because of COVID. New York was such a tough epicenter for this, it was the Wuhan of the US. We’ve now caught up to realize that there EW so many other things that we need to do as an organization to make sure that we fit well into this new future. Focusing on your customer, especially the customer in crisis was the trick. I had this happen before in the past where I’ve made missteps in the company, but thankfully, this wasn’t my misstep. The technique of saying, okay, we’re at war and a lot of the softness that we encourage, a lot of the diplomacy and making mentorship, we just said, okay, we all have to buckle down. It’s not a bad tool for startups, there are times where you just have to face down the phone, make some marks and run out. We’re super lucky, the team we have and had are just extraordinary, I couldn’t be prouder of the work we went through, I think it resonated to our shops, and helped really show our future is designed around helping them, taking advantage of these opportunities for ourselves. Is it emotional?
Hans Tung 28:45
It’s the human side of things that that treat our audience, and those are the great lessons for other founders to to take it. You’ve got to make a personal and relatable.
Robin Li 28:56
I remember when you guys (the entire management team) decided to take that pay cut. There was a point where you took nothing just so everybody could get support and runway.
Dane Atkinson 29:13
It was easier for me, but our team sacrificed that all the way down. Everyone in the team took pay cuts and fought. This was an awakening for me, many decades ago when I stood in front of my team, I had to let go of hundreds and I finally cracked. Often, CEOs try to burden the entirety of their organization on their shoulders, but this time the team came up to me and said we were going to work through this together, at that moment I knew I was not alone. When you’re transparent with your team and share the challenges, it’s humbling how much humans want to fight together and don’t want to be excluded from the hard choices, standing up for what’s right. We did it in this case, but it was definitely having messed that up in the past that reminded me to fight this war together.
Hans Tung 30:13
Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves, you and your team made it easy for us to want to be supportive.
Dane Atkinson 30:23
We are here to do things in our lives to change the outcome of this planet for a reason, so it’s bad to get in the way of that.
Hans Tung 30:32
That’s part of the reason why we’re investing so much in FoodTech, with FinTech angle specifically. It has a great upside, creating a lot of value, but the same time, is so much better for our environment, and is much of what our society needs right now.
Dane Atkinson 30:49
Hugely better. I think it’s exciting that you guys have been leading that, a lot of the community sees that our creative engine, and startups and technologists help in fixing those systems. Our AI cuts 30% waist down, just because it could predict that people aren’t going to eat it at the end of the day.We’re able to compost at the end of the cycle, take out the waste and food and put into donations. You can do things when you’re taking a fresh view, for example with milk wastage, we talked to farms, and they said they can’t even graze our cows, because of not knowing what the demands would be. Changing that system was better.
Robin Li 31:30
The amount of insights that you can gather up and down the supply chain is transformational. I know you started in New York and are penetrating throughout, how are you thinking about reaching other coffee shops in other geographies? Everybody knows it’s notoriously hard to reach SMBs as a sector, and you spent your whole career doing that. What are some secrets in reaching out to them? As you’re thinking about different cities, what does that what does that look like for you?
Dane Atkinson 32:03
There are a lot of hacks to the SMB, one of them is to not hire a sales team, because it’s impossible to make your CAC up. We are very fortunate that we can expand our technology and our categories, but we’re really focused on geography right now, and we’ve been lucky to open up a number of other markets that precede because our prices are just so absurdly good because of our buying power. We have customers that are buying from us remotely, and we actually ship it (which is horrible), but it’s a temporary state to develop these places. But for our playbook, as we come into a city and we get our infrastructure, the coffee shops know either through our partners or through existing relationships. Stunningly, the shops prefer to order on a portal and have it all simpler, so we’ve been really fortunate in seeing adoption in these communities work. For us, we run into shops who are just facing the same problems everywhere, and we feel an obligation to try to make this available as broadly as we can. Especially as a community, which is standing back up, it’s almost as if there is a trillion dollar food industry rebooting from scratch, considering how big the category is. Being there with them at the beginning is a unique opportunity. Again, thanks to you guys and everybody else has supported us, we’re able to really try to post up these different markets and make sure they start with advantage.
Robin Li 33:52
Having that portal right in their hands is so convenient, just as they would now on smartphones, ordering from Amazon or from any app. It is so much preferable than over the phone and a catalog.
Dane Atkinson 34:08
I am constantly baffled by the fact there’s just not tech. They’re buying a ton, it’s a huge industry, and they’re doing it on the phone or through some antiquated system. It’s took time, like the picture of an owner sitting on a laptop in the back in the bathroom trying to randomly go through different sites or portals is absolutely true. In this world where you can pretty much do anything on your device, the fact that they’re doing that is that is certainly worth correcting.
Hans Tung 34:42
With COVID and so many shops being affected, it’s hard to find people to come back to the service industry. Everyone has to adopt technology, automate things, and do more with this without the aid of tech is impossible. You’re doing a lot for coffee shops, becoming more vertically integrated than ever, in terms of services, statistics, purchasing back IT, to even front end preorder on mobile phones. Can you see a day where you will expand beyond coffee to any addition categories, or will you stay in certain coffee shops for a long time?
Dane Atkinson 35:21
I have ADHD, and part of the reason you’re on my board is so that I don’t like try to make spaceships deliver coffee to the moon. It’s very hard not to want to solve all problems all times. It’s entrepreneurial, failing everything we see, and thinking we can do this better. For the category side, we’re limiting ourselves to coffee, because we want to do it right. If we do it right for coffee, we’re pretty sure it’s right for the ice cream shop, the juice bar and everything else. We do feel morally challenged at that— we had a burger joint join on a couple weeks ago, they did this Spring Street burgers/coffee shop, hoping we wouldn’t notice. It’s a really tough debate, regarding when is the right time, morally, because they need help, but we also need to make sure we do our job right. We’ve solved the problem in the coffee category, but it’s such a big space to fill into, however we’re not designed to just to stay in this one community. We couldn’t have gotten luckier with the audience to really start helping start with. At some point it will have to be ice cream/coffee!
Robin Li 36:49
I want to turn around and ask this question to Hans, given that you have invested a lot in SMB, SMB tech, and GGV’s investment in other markets, from India, Southeast Asia to Latin America, what are you seeing on the SMB/food tech side that’s worth investing in?
Hans Tung 37:16
At GGV, we work in teams, and we have thesis that are supported by multiple partners and increasingly, is very global in the places that we invest in. On SMB tech, I give our partners, like Jeff Richards and Tiffany Luck a lot of credit for starting and making that practice known by launching the SMB tech index and having conferences around it. We have done a lot in the US with Odeko, GrubMarket, Slice of the world. There’s just a lot to do in the US alone, like we said earlier, the SME tech in the US is becoming the next consumer tech investment phenomenon. Outside of the US, in Latin America, we invested in Frubana that’s supplying everything to the restaurants. Loggi, that’s on the logistic side working with many enterprise customers for delivery in Southeast Asia. We have Telio in Vietnam, India with Khatabook, and Udaan, that’s doing a lot for the kirana stores. Some of the cofounders Udaan a person investors in Telio. You start seeing that a lot of founders around the world compare notes with each other and learn from one another, like Dane said earlier, just doing more to get back to the community. To have all the founders derive inspiration, notes, wisdom, lessons, hard lessons learn with each other, is so good to see that within all these categories, founders are learning and inspiring each other to making the world a better place. That makes our jobs so much easier and meaningful than otherwise, with plenty of upside and lots of value being created, both to ourselves, to stakeholders around us, and to the environment. I can’t think of a better way better reason to live this way, work this way and impact this way.
Robin Li 39:21
I’m excited that we get to invest in this sector, because it is the backbone of all these countries, including America, it’s around us every day.
Hans Tung 39:36
We’re so lucky to be part of this!
Dane Atkinson 39:39
Thank you. It’s really great to have concerted effort, and the learnings. We’ve met with your Indian entrepreneurs and Asian counterparts, having walked away with great learnings. It’s a bit of a lonely job being a CEO, but it’s been enlightening and encouraging.
Hans Tung 40:19
That’s right, we had a MissFresh’s COO on our show!
Dane Atkinson 40:24
She was phenomenal! From an operational standpoint, I think she quoted their “per inch time on shelf was 16 seconds”, it was crazy!
Hans Tung 40:45
We invited all our food tech CEOs and senior offices to listen, it was so good to be able to listen to her share and for you guys to ask questions afterwards, as she was very generous with her time.
Dane Atkinson 40:57
It’s a rare privilege, and something that makes the whole community in the society succeed a lot more. For some reason, it just hasn’t been part of the history of this community, so thank you for helping us get that together!
Robin Li 41:10
One last question before the quick fires that we have, Dane, what are you most excited about for Odeko this year or early next year?
Dane Atkinson 41:23
We feel like we’re just trying to hang on to the rocket ship, but I think the effect is pretty interesting. I’m really scared of a world where you walk out of your house and there’s a Chick-fil-A, a Starbucks , McDonald’s and then a Chick-fil-A, with all the franchises out there opening up tons of locations. Starbucks wants open 30,000 stores in the next 10 years, and I think there’s opportunity, as it would be in the way we can able the world where, if you’re building an e commerce site now you just go and turn on AWS you press a button, and it takes you to the buying servers. If we can create this opportunity for people who want to start a coffee shop, and press that button, we will have contended with that and put the culture of communities back in the hands of the committee’s and let them thrive, while also being part of it. We feel an incredible amount of pressure, the sense that it’s in our view, but tech needs to help this space. It’s a better world when it’s driven by care, love and community, and we’re part of that spirit and try to bear as we can. I would like to visit a town and see what it expresses itself in the small business, and what franchises in the corner have been saying.
Robin Li 42:45
I wonder if you will have to localize your brand name, trademark it so we can see different colors everywhere again.
Dane Atkinson 42:53
We will never put our colors on to anyone’s door, we are very invisible now like an unknown story. I think it’s actually the right place for us to be, it isn’t our story, but the story of the shop, it’s business, it’s a kind of inspiration. You’ll see that little square icon on a lot of sites, but it’s no it’s not to own it, it’s to make it happen right more.
Hans Tung 43:35
Let’s shift to the last section of this interview, called the quickfire section, where we ask you a series of questions, and you just share what is on top of your mind. I’ll start first, if you have dinner with three people (present /past), would they be, and why?
Dane Atkinson 43:54
I am curious to talk about future with Musk for some odd reason. I’ve been reading all the dune series.
Robin Li 44:07
I re-read it every year.
Dane Atkinson 44:09
I am in awe at the ability to understand human society and it’s driving engines, it’s fantastic. Before I got to follow this, I did love physics, so the Hawkins and the brains there would be quite lovely. I don’t think I’d get let them leave after an hour of dinner, it would be a 20-course thing!
Robin Li 44:39
Second question. What is the type of small business you’ve always wanted to exist but haven’t seen yet?
Dane Atkinson 44:47
That’s a deep one! I think that there are a lot of human behavioral changes happening in the way we identify ourselves, and also the way small businesses are orienting to that. In my generation, if you you asked: “Hey Robin, who are you?” You’d be like “I work at GGV and I make investments”. Now, if you ask somebody who they are, it’s “I’m a Birch customer, I love Game of Thrones, I went to Kilimanjaro last year”… I think people are identifying with their experiences more than they are identifying with their achievements or possessions, it’s no longer “I live on this giant street”. I think small businesses are shifting quickly to that, but I think there’s opportunity to connect themselves to the lifestyle and story behind people, giving a fuller experience.
Hans Tung 46:10
Last question would be: what is the habit that changed your life? Since you’ve also been the founder for so long, what would be one piece of advice that you will give to other founders out there?
Dane Atkinson 46:22
All of us are hacking ourselves all the time, the only tool we have is our brains, so I very quickly got into the practice of running two things I don’t like. When I was young, I was running an agency as a teenager, longer story short, I hated firing people. So I went to the overlords that control the agency and asked: “Can I fire everybody?” I let go of a lot of people and got comfortable with the area that I dislike the most, as a founder building the ritual to try get stronger and improve things are bad at is a good hack.
Robin Li 47:08
Don’t just keep building on your strengths!
Dane Atkinson 47:13
The Bruce Lee thing makes sense, if you want to minimize your strengths and strengthen your greatness. Advice to first time founders, after a while, you start to realize this is a career. It’s a world you can live in. It’s an overused the pirate analogy, but I’ve sunken boats, gotten a rowboat and built into a fleet again, and I’ve moved fleets— you meet people, you’ve crossed people, you’ve crossed experiences, constantly trying to develop long relationships with folks and develop yourself. It isn’t the shaving of yourself into the existence, but this journey you’re on. A lot of operators make various short term choices because of that, but most of us have had to make a lot of mistakes, and get grinded through to get to be halfway decent. If you think of that one perspective, you can actually get to be pretty good in time, and you make a lot of better choices.
Hans Tung 48:38
You also recruit and hire very well, not just with the people who work for you, but also people who work with you, and your customers, partners, and investors on board. That’s something not a lot pf people realize, they need to take effort and thoughts to do that.
Dane Atkinson 48:56
It’s everything. If you have people around you who’ve been around you like my head of accounting, he’s been with me for 28 years, I hired him when I was a teenager. You end up you end up building a community that supports you, it takes time but that pays off. The journey on the ship, having the fun, figuring out how to hoist the sails faster, is really what makes us worth doing.
Hans Tung 49:55
Thank you so much for being here with us.
Thank you so much.
Dane Atkinson 50:04
Thank you so much. That’s wonderful.
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