DoorDash CFO: How I Think About Metrics, AI, and Creating Customer Value

By Daniel Pereira |  February 19, 2024

With 65 percent market share, DoorDash is the biggest food delivery company in the US, and it operates in 28  other countries around the world. Revenues for 2023 surpassed $8 billion, representing growth of 34 percent compared to the prior year.

Ravi Inukonda joined the company in 2018, and became CFO last year. Previously, he was Head of Finance at UberEats, Uber’s food delivery service. We spoke with him as part of our research initiative, “How AI is Influencing Corporate Innovation in 2024.”

• • •

The DoorDash Mission

We think of ourselves as a partner, and we have a three-fold mission in 2024 to grow and empower local economies. One: we want to help merchants be digital in a world of omnichannel commerce. Second, we want to provide “Dashers” — these are people who deliver restaurant food as well as groceries — to our consumers. Over the last year, six million people have dashed with us, and dashing is the most flexible way for people to meet their “earnings gap.” They have generated over $13 billion in earnings.  

Ravi Inukonda, CFO, DoorDash

And finally, when you look at it from a merchant’s perspective, we are driving the same store sales growth to merchants.  We have delivered over $50 billion in sales to merchants. So we think of our company as a fabric in local economies and local communities…

Creating Customer Value

If you think about the restaurant industry in the US, it is roughly about a trillion dollars. And today, the online delivery platform is only about a hundred billion dollars [of that sum] — not just us, but DoorDash plus Uber Eats plus Grubhub plus Postmates plus everybody else. And what you are seeing today is consumers asking for more convenience. What merchants and our restaurant partners are asking for is: in this world of omni-channel digital commerce, how do we have the same capabilities that some of the larger e-commerce brands have? And how do we enable those capabilities in a very native fashion for your local Chinese restaurant down the street? 

We serve seven hundred million people across the thirty countries in which we operate.  Our goal, over time, is how do we service every single person that wants to interact with the platform? Over time, our goal is to serve more people.

Our goal is how do we help the local Thai restaurant down the street from you… How do we make sure they have the same capabilities as a McDonald’s or a Chipotle or a Cheesecake Factory that have large teams of McKinsey and Bain and BCG consultants [working for them] — [and] the same level of analytics capabilities local merchants can use to compete to drive more sales growth. Because think about it: most of these local restaurants are mom-and-pop restaurants. Don’t get me wrong; we partner with the Chipotle and McDonald’s of the world too, but we want to ensure that every single merchant has access to a similar set of tools.  

The Role of the CFO

There has been a change that has happened in the last ten years, where the majority of the companies have shifted over to thinking of finance as a strategic function, and not just purely as a bean counting function. I think that ethos has changed. But it all starts with how do you think about the business, [and] what is the business objective? …So that means building a team that is strategic, that is business oriented, and that is operations and “operator”-focused rather than purely a traditional, old-school finance team.  

Traditionally, the mistake companies have made is, finance cannot just be a back-office function.  …I want our team to help the rest of the company become more successful – to think of themselves as operators.

My Team 

Traditionally, the mistake companies have made is, finance cannot just be a back-office function.  It cannot be purely be an accounting function. Where we end up adding a lot more value is the strategic nature of what we do. I want our team to help the rest of the company become more successful – to think of themselves as operators — and if that means diving into strategy with the rest of the business, [that] is what we will do. If it means we need to help model if this scenario is going to play out, or [another] scenario is going to play out, we are absolutely okay doing that.  

’Measure What Matters

We do OKRs, so we have objectives and key results. DoorDash is a metrics-based company…even when Tony Xu, our founder, started the company. We have always been a company that has been focused on driving growth via strong metrics that we measure and manage the business against. …One of our core cultural values is to “get one percent better every day.”  We don’t expect things to magically change overnight; it’s like this continuous improvement.  What Tony says is the compounding effect of one percent change over a prolonged period of time is massive.

Today, the last mile planning capabilities for us are better than any other company that you can imagine in the US.

Twenty Projects Focused on AI

At DoorDash, we have a number of experiments running in the preliminary stages. We have probably had twenty different projects or so within the company that are focused on artificial intelligence. In the end, our core competency is as a predictive analytics engine. If you think about DoorDash, the number one thing that we are trying to do is match demand and supply.  If you order a burger, I need to know how many drivers or “Dashers” I need to have Friday night in your neighborhood to be able to deliver that to you at high quality.  And that is a predictive analytics model that we’ve honed over the last ten years. We’ve just not called it AI, right?  Today, the last mile planning capabilities for us are better than any other company that you can imagine in the US. Oh, by the way, I also know that it is going to be raining, so I actually need more information and data inputs as variables for the operation on that evening, because some Dashers might decide they do not want to work in inclement weather conditions, right? So less Dashers show up for work that night.  That is basically what we have built. 

The Future of AI is Better Customer Experiences

A Dasher at work.

We have built a logistics platform that could deliver ice cream from one part of the town to the other part of the town without it melting, or a burger from one side of the neighborhood to the other side of the neighborhood while the burger is still warm. And that is because of these predictive analytics and machine learning models. Now people are saying it is “AI-based,” what we have been working on for the last ten years. And that is fine.  

What is important is that AI and machine learning and deep learning are already ingrained in the very nature of what our company is and the company culture. But now we are extending it. [We’re] saying, Hey, now Dan, you and your partner are in the same household, but your needs are quite different. How can we personalize the experience for Dan very differently from his partner, where you get to see two different experiences?” 

I’ll give you another example: Let’s say something gets messed up with your order, and you call DoorDash for support. I have enough information about you and your behavior that I could have more context using some of the AI technology that we have built — rather than purely having static information about you as a customer. So what we are trying to do is how do we use these technologies to make the overall experience better for all sides of the multi-sided platform marketplace that we operate. 

My Advice: Think of Yourself as an Owner

Read more from this report.

Think of yourself as a business owner. Ultimately, don’t wait for somebody else to tell you what to do. Think of yourself as somebody who wants to make a change and think about what you would do differently. Is it instrumenting the business? Is it how do you set goals? Are OKRs the right thing for your organization, department, or team?  You have to be able to rethink the entire infrastructure of how you measure and manage the business. You plug in the technology later.  

Technology is something that will help you accelerate. But first think about your processes, think about your business, think about your business model.  Start there, and then over time add in other things that will help you go faster. There is a lot of stuff that you may have to build on your own, and that is okay if it is an investment that you want to make. You should be able to make that investment because the leverage — the competitive advantage — that it is going to give you is ten-fold.