This month we speak to advisor Andrew Maddox for our spotlight. A high-growth tech specialist, he’s an operations leader. His area of expertise is the intersection between modern tech and logistics - an area that is suddenly very topical as we prepare for a world post-Covid, where a lot of assumptions about what we move and when we move and how we move are being challenged. Mostly recently General Manager for the UK at Shift, the logistics company. and before that he spent the last three and a half years helping Uber scale different products and regions across the UK.
How do you help ambitious businesses?
There are two areas I really like to work on: helping craft strategy and helping build teams. I like COO / Head of Ops type roles where I can have a real impact on the direction of the business and building a high performing team.
What is your background and experience that enables you to do so and be the expert in the field?
I’ve spent the past few years in leadership roles in high growth tech companies: at logistics start-up Shift I was General Manager; before that at Uber and Uber Eats I ran Uber Eats’ largest global region (London). Prior to tech I spent a number of years in banking, working in corporate strategy for HSBC, Barclays and State Street.
What are some of your success stories with the businesses you’ve worked with?
At Shift, which is focused on consumer logistics, we were really blindsided by Covid-19 and the shutdown of movement and house moves. In response I led a pivot into grocery delivery, based on an-over-the-counter model - i.e. using ‘shoppers’ to purchase and then deliver groceries, rather than depending on a supermarket to provide delivery slots. In three weeks we ran up from scratch a business with over £100k monthly gross bookings.
At Uber Eats, when I was Head of London, the London business grew by 2.4x, the number of failed orders more than halved and unit economics improved by more than a pound per order. I also scaled the team from zero to twenty, led the response to major courier protests and led on our response to local government regulatory relationships. It was a busy few years!
What types of businesses do you work with?
Recently I’ve focused on the intersection between modern tech and logistics (transportation of goods, of food and of people). It’s an area that is suddenly very topical as we prepare for a world post-Covid, where a lot of assumptions about what we move and when we move and how we move are being challenged.
Beyond the sector piece, I‘ve generally been working with B2C businesses that are enabled by the internet to operate without physical boundaries and to scale extremely rapidly.
What are the things you look for in a business that makes you decide to work with them or not?
Three things: a business where I can see where I will add value, a team that will teach me something and a product that I can get excited about.
What key things does an ambitious business need to consider when thinking about working with you?
I need to understand the clear business objective and see a credible plan that connects that to tangible reality. If a business has that, and a space for someone with my skills and background over the longer term, then I think it makes sense.
I have told people in the past if a role they want me to fulfil doesn’t make sense for their business. Bringing in good operators won’t fix problems that start with not knowing what you are trying to achieve. (Though bringing in someone to help with strategy might not be a bad idea!)
What are your thoughts on where the UK ecosystem is at the moment?
We are facing unprecedented times. It’s an extremely uncertain environment: Covid, Brexit. Be greedy when others are fearful. There’s opportunity in uncertainty. Working from home is the new normal.
I think the reality is that no-one has anything especially insightful to say about the UK ecosystem at the moment, myself included. We just don’t know enough. Some companies will do well and some will fail - and we’ll probably all be surprised at who ends up in which category.
The best advice now is the best advice for most times:
figure out what the 2-3 most impactful things you could be doing are;
do those things phenomenally well;
look after your people.
What are some of the common trends you see amongst the ambitious businesses you support?
The best companies have a few things in common: a product that solves a real problem both better and cheaper than anything customers are used to; leadership that can clearly articulate a strategy, is into the details on execution and has the discipline to focus resources on a small number of the most impactful things; they hire at a high bar and then empower their people to do what they think is right without arduous approval processes; a process to encourage people to admit mistakes and then share the learnings; an extremely low tolerance for bad customer experiences or for poor execution; they always act as if acting quickly is crucial; and they can change direction rapidly.
Most of these things feel obvious to the point of being truisms, but very few CEOs could honestly give themselves high marks in every single category.
What UK-based ambitious business do you admire the most and why?
The ‘great idea’ is mythologised, but in reality execution is what matters. We like the idea of there being a ‘secret’ to success, but in business as in weight loss, it’s usually just good hard work and skillful execution that gets results.
For that reason, I really admire Brewdog. They got the branding right, they invested in the product, they courted controversy for attention, expanded aggressively, lobbied for rule changes where it was needed and then fought to defend themselves when it was principled to do so. They also weren’t afraid to try things that were unconventional for a brewery, such as crowdfunding or launching a TV channel. The two founders are now worth half a billion.
If you could have lunch with someone from any ambitious business (UK or abroad), who would it be & why?
I think this one is easy for anyone who spent a few years at Uber during the Uber 1.0 days. I would love to have lunch with Travis Kalanick. So many of his decisions were daring to the point of genius, while others now seem insane hubris ( it was rarely clear which was which at the time). I can’t think of anyone I could learn more from in a short space of time - both in terms of what to do and in terms of what not to do!
What gets you up and motivates you in the morning?
I have been fortunate lately to work with people I like on work that is interesting. Getting up to that is pretty easy.
What do people not know about you?
I love musical theatre. I’ve basically memorised Les Mis.
Favourite past-time or hobby?
I am a big rugby fan, though a few too many blows to the head mean I don’t play any more.
Interested in engaging Andrew to support your operations function? Contact us on email@example.com to discuss how best Andrew can advise your business.