Founder Stories kick off at 1871 with GrubHub

Last night 1871 kicked off its Chicago Founder Stories event, a monthly series that will feature the most successful local entrepreneurs taking the audience through the good, the bad and how they ended up where they are today. The inaugural event featured GrubHub co-founders Matt Maloney and Mike Evans.

Maloney and Evans shared tips they acquired since launching GrubHub in 2004. For those that have been living under a rock, GrubHub is the #1 food ordering service and reached 300,000 unique individuals last month alone. They took the audience through their scrappy start, which included buying Selling for Dummies and working out of a spare room in Evans’ apartment, to present day successes like signing a lease for a new office space in downtown Chicago next to City Hall.

What worked for GrubHub? “Sell before you have a product, then think about the overall benefit,” said Evans, explaining the value of launching in beta and adjusting as you grow. “Everything that GrubHub does is to benefit the restaurants. If they make more money, we make more money. You don’t have to build a bunch of bullshit markets – just do what is fundamental.”

Staying focused has been vital, he says. Despite consumer requests for GrubHub to branch out internationally or tap into other delivery markets they have stayed focused. “Less than 1 percent of all food pick-up and delivery is placed online. There is still so much growth in what we are doing here,” said Maloney. This focus has helped them to find product market fit and build what the customer wants while avoiding becoming too abstract.

Satisfying the customer was a re-occurring theme throughout the event. Evans recommends always ending the conversation with the consumer by asking ‘what can we do for you better?’ He acknowledges that “the answer may be ‘oh, we won’t get to that in two or three years’ but it’s never ‘we will never get to that’”

With the events’ Chicago location and GrubHub being a Chicago-based startup, the city played a large role in last night’s conversation. Maloney described the city as a “great cross-section of the U.S.,” explaining “if you start and succeed here, that success will translate across all of the U.S.”

For startups looking for funding, they recommend staying close to home and put an emphasis on the fact that you are taking on investers as a part of your team – it’s not just about the money.  Investors also provide strategic guidance, executional strategy, help with hiring, partnership and mergers and acquisitions.

“Starting close to home will give you a higher touch relationship … it’s very helpful to be able to call someone and have them in your office that afternoon,” said Maloney.

The ongoing series takes inspiration from Chris Dixon’s Founder Stories on TechCrunch. With no shortage of local inspiration, this event allows us to hear the story straight from the mouth of the Founders. Instead of broadcasting interviews online, 1871 is conducting them in front of a live audience using Twitter and GoSoapbox, to field questions. GoSoapbox is a web-based app that joins event attendees in the digital space, allowing them to ask questions or vote up existing questions, ensuring the presenter answers them.

If you want to know more about the event 1871 will be posting the full discussion online on their website.

Filed in: Startup Community