We are eager to share the first episode of The On Demand Leaders Podcast with you! In today's episode, Grant Duncan speaks with Christopher Manning, the Global Head of Product for restaurants at Just Eat Takeaway, one of the biggest on demand delivery companies. Christopher has a wealth of industry and product management experience, so let's jump into it.
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Grant Duncan (00:10):
This is the On Demand Leaders Podcast, in which you hear from some of the top leaders in the on demand industry about their real-world strategies and tactics as well as industry trends and predictions. It’s sponsored by Voximplant, who is trusted by Glovo, Burger King, KFC, Wheely, and 30,000 other businesses. Voximplant enables on-demand service platforms to optimize communications between support, customers, partners, and couriers by integrating communications into their products and their operations. If you’re exploring voice, video, SMS, in-app chat, or natural language processing, check them out.
Hey everybody, it's Grant Duncan. I'm talking with Christopher Manning, the Global Head of Product for restaurants at Just Eat Takeaway, one of the biggest on demand delivery companies. It's the parent company of brands most of you probably know and love, including Takeaway.com, Just Eat, SkipTheDishes, Grubhub, Menulog, and others. Christopher has a wealth of industry and product management experience, so let's jump into it.
Hey, Chris, welcome to the On Demand Leaders Podcast, we're so excited to have you on today. So, to start, can you share a little bit about yourself and your role?
Christopher Manning (01:23):
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, first of all, thank you very much for having me. So, a little bit about me, I'm lead product manager at Just Eat Takeaway, and I operate in the restaurant success domain. So, my particular area of focus is all around the products that our restaurant partners use to effectively market and promote themselves across the Just Eat app. So, our restaurant partners are absolutely our key stakeholder externally, and I have full product teams with full product managers looking after everything from restaurant offers, loyalty schemes, to paid-for promotion, all the way to menu management, and the tooling that we give to empower restaurants to actually manage their own businesses through the platform.
Grant Duncan (02:22):
Wow, it sounds like a lot, especially because the partners are restaurants. Yeah, that's so key. Before we started, you were just talking about how you'd gone to a big conference, and were able to talk with a lot of restaurant owners. How did that inform some of your product thinking?
Christopher Manning (02:41):
I think, again, it's the classic thing, it's not about talking it's about listening. So, it's just really, really useful and perspective shifting to spend a couple of days with hours on end being surrounded by the people you are actually serving with your product. It's not just Just Eat and the likes who had a presence there, but it was also a lot of vendors. It's people who provide packaging for takeaways, it's people who provide kitchen equipment, and people who provide marketing tools, point of sales solutions. The entire gamut of what you would need to open and run a restaurant or a takeaway was there. So, I think a lot of the value that I got from it was just walking around and listening to the questions that restaurants were asking of potential vendors or potential suppliers. As well as butting in and asking them, "That's very interesting, did you know that Just Eat is working on this? Is there anything that we could do to help you from our side on this?" Yeah, just getting that more holistic view of the problems that keep restaurant owners up at night is absolutely invaluable.
Grant Duncan (04:13):
Yeah, that's awesome to get that firsthand user, customer research in that way. How do you think about partner success when it comes to different sizes of partners, like chains versus one-off stores? Can you speak to that a bit?
Christopher Manning (04:31):
Yeah, absolutely, it's one of the perpetual issues that we face is what it takes to keep McDonald's happy on the platform, or any of the other huge brands that we work with, is different to what's required from a small cottage industry, a small one site, independent, been in the family for 20 years, business. I think one of the things that we try to do is balance our efforts across the estate in a way that reflects the greater good for the restaurants as a whole, and also the customer base who are ordering food from them. So, there are a lot of orders going through the platform for those big brands, but we were founded and built on the success of small, independent marketplace restaurants.
Christopher Manning (05:41):
Those are the restaurants that as well as providing exposure, and as well as providing that visibility to end users, we have a much greater responsibility to them to be true partners. So, it's not just about throwing more orders into their kitchens, it's much more, for them, about how can you give me the tools to scale my own small business effectively? There's a lot of things that we can do, so with the tools like giving restaurants the ability to edit their own menus, and change their own prices. You can do a lot of things in that space that would otherwise take a long time for them to do, or would otherwise be very labor intensive, and that's a game-changer.
Christopher Manning (06:45):
An extra member of staff to update menus for a huge company like Greg's might not be a massive deal, but if you are a one-site restaurant that is working to build yourself up, having to bring on an extra person just to do that is massive. It's a huge, huge dent in your own income. So, giving them the ability to do it themselves at pace, and scale as a result of it is a huge, huge benefit to them, that they aren't really going to get anywhere else. So, it's much more rewarding, but it's also more important for the grand scheme of offering choice to the end user to have as many restaurants as we possibly can. The way that we do that is by making sure that we provide them with the tools to be successful in their own areas.
Grant Duncan (07:58):
Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. In some ways, it's almost like you're giving them the ability to test things out with the menu example. If they want to see, if I increase this by X amount, does that make a difference? That's pretty cool. In some ways, it's almost like you're becoming a trusted advisor or a thought leader to them as well saying like, "Here are the things you should consider changing, here are these tools that you can use to empower your business to grow," that's pretty cool.
Christopher Manning (08:39):
That's exactly it, I mean, the amount of data that flows through our platform is of huge, huge value to the restaurants themselves. So, one of the huge responsibilities that we have is how do we place some of that back to the restaurants in order to enable them to make sensible business decisions? Are my chips priced at the right level? Should I consider opening a different brand in a different area, or expanding the one location that I have now? These are all absolutely fundamental questions to the business and the growth plans of our restaurant partners. They're things that we can really, really help them with, so much more in that is what we want to be doing. Again, it all ties back to that idea of we're here to be a partner to restaurants, we are not here merely as an advertising platform.
Grant Duncan (09:51):
Right, and is a lot of that happening within the product, in self-service manner, or is that happening through communication, chat, voice, video, with Just Eat Takeaway people?
Christopher Manning (10:08):
It's a real mix, obviously, it's tied back to that ethos of providing tools that allow restaurants to scale. The most effective way we could do that is by making as much of it self-serve and intuitive as we possibly can. Some of that doesn't always translate, some of it requires a lot of context, a lot of filtering, and sometimes there are very, very large sensitivities when it comes to giving insights to restaurant A. You have to also be very sensitive to the fact that some insights you could give would actually be betraying the privacy of restaurant B. So, making sure that we never violate that trust is hugely important as well, and if we can't provide data with sufficient context to be absolutely unambiguous, then we don't. Because, as I say, these are tools that we hope businesses can make business decisions on. That really dials up the responsibility that you have to get it right, and to be absolutely unambiguous.
Grant Duncan (11:36):
Good point, how do you think about product analytics for your teams and seeing how they're using it, what metrics are most important?
Christopher Manning (11:51):
Well, it's the starting point of everything for me, product analytics. It should be as integral to every step of the process as designers, or as researchers, or as actually building the product itself. It's how you make the decision in the first place, and what you want to prioritize. It's how you make the difficult trade offs on what you are not going to pursue to build, and it's how you verify, or otherwise, that the thing that you are doing is remaining on track and delivering the results that you expected or hoped for. It is the compass that all product managers should use throughout the product development journey.
Grant Duncan (13:00):
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. I think people talk about being data driven a lot, but when it can actually happen and inform decisions, like you're saying, I think that's the difference between good and great, in many fashions.
Christopher Manning (13:15):
Absolutely, and I don't want to paint too rosy a picture there, we still have issues. I think if you spoke to enough people, you would find examples of when product analytics hadn't been consulted early enough, or there was a little bit of shooting from the hip to get the ball rolling, these things happen. It's not like it's like we are absolutely regimented every single time, every single step of the way. But being able to understand what you are trying to achieve, and whether or not you achieved it is... If you are not doing that, you are not doing products.
Grant Duncan (14:03):
Yeah, good point. Are there certain KPIs or stats that you and your team look at most often for measuring partner success?
Christopher Manning (14:17):
Yeah, so we have a blend, because you have very long tails metrics that are things like restaurant NPS, but that takes a very long time to change, it takes a lot of incremental features to change. If it's bad, you could do some really great stuff, and that would still take a while to turn around. But, that's a good overall barometer for how well we are serving our restaurant partners. But then, we have our sort of weekly figures that we check in on, we have our feature specific figures, getting to the adoption rate, and the dropout rate, and is this particular feature having the impacts we expected it to have? But, I mean, fundamentally, in restaurant success, we align our own metrics to the metrics that restaurants care about.
Christopher Manning (15:25):
So, that is how many orders am I getting? How loyal are the customers who order from my restaurant, and how much are they spending when they order with me? So, a lot of what we do ties to that, and that means that we're also having to work very collaboratively with our teams, our colleagues in the teams that serve the dining app, so the actual front end customers app as well. Because to take a recent example of a product that we've just launched at the expo that I was telling you about, that we were at yesterday. So, we just launched a loyalty card scheme, it's called StampCards. Exactly as you would expect, you order from a restaurant, you get a stamp, and you get enough stamps, and you get a reward at the end of it.
Grant Duncan (16:21):
Christopher Manning (16:24):
So, that we've been running the numbers on. Okay, well exactly how many incremental orders over and above the baseline does that add in? Is that coming from brand new orders that wouldn't have otherwise happened, or is that cannibalizing orders from someone else? Because what we want to be able to do, the real, real measure of success is can we give restaurants additional orders without taking them from another restaurant? So, that's really the be-all and end-all of what we do, that's our real, real North Star, but obviously, there are so many... I could show you a metrics diagram where that is one heading, with a million branches coming off it.
Grant Duncan (17:11):
That's awesome. Yeah, that sounds like a tough decision to be able to think about, do we do this? How will it be successful? Will it not cannibalize, et cetera? Like you're talking about. How did you and the team go about making that decision to indeed roll it out?
Christopher Manning (17:31):
So, the product manager who was responsible for that followed a really, really solid strategy. So, first of all, he rolled it out in Australia, and so it's a slightly smaller market. So, there was a bit more risk mitigation with it being a smaller market there, but it also gave us a chance to have rapid feedback, and we tweaked some of the settings on it as well. So, the amount that was being rewarded or the amount that you earned as a discount each time you ordered, that was an important tweak. The fact that it worked successfully in both markets really drove some of the features for the product roadmap around, well, how customizable do we want it to be? What are the right things to make customizable? So, it was a fantastic victory of great MVP, that in and of itself provides massive value. But also, tests some assumptions by tweaking different things in different markets, and gives us a ton of learning to inform future iterations. So, that's a really, really good product, and a product manager that's knocked that one out of the park, for sure.
Grant Duncan (19:13):
That's an awesome story. Yeah, thanks for sharing that. You brought up different markets there, how do you think about partner success in different regions or countries?
Christopher Manning (19:22):
I mean, it does vary, but fundamentally, restaurant owners are looking for broadly the same thing, the key metrics that we just discussed. But the climate can be very different in different markets, and as a business, our market positioning is a little different in different markets as well. Our tech stack is a little different in different markets, because Just Eat Takeaway is the result of several different extremely successful businesses buying each other out over time, or consolidating and becoming the umbrella Just Eat Takeaway brand. So, there are some legacy pieces of code here and there, so you have to have very solid and open lives of communication with the different countries.
Christopher Manning (20:29):
Make sure that they are being heard, make sure that the realities on the ground are very different. Because it is things like rolling out a piece of work in the UK, where you can rely on postcodes, let's say, so setting areas based on a postcode. Postcodes and addresses work very differently in Italy, so it's not necessarily apples for apples, it's not necessarily the case that, okay, well, once we rolled it out in the UK, we can just lift and shift it to Italy. So, little details like that can trip you up, if you're not going through things with a fine tooth comb. But yeah, the problems tend to be not universal, but the problems tend to be shared amongst the complete estate.
Grant Duncan (21:30):
Yeah, that's a very great insight, I think others are probably going to take that one away and think about that further. So, how does Just Eat Takeaway communicate with its partners and restaurants? Is it all in-app?
Christopher Manning (21:45):
No, it's not, so there are a lot of different channels that we make use of. Some of it is in app, so we have a B2B app, we have a restaurant facing product called Partner Center. That's the tool that is the real touch point for restaurants who are managing their performance, so that's the tool that you'll use to purchase a promoted slot in a search result, that's the tool that you'll use to see your invoices, and get some financial reporting as well. Amongst a host of other things, well, I mean, if any of the product managers that are working on that, they'll be disappointed I've not mentioned their slice. But yeah, there's a ton of functionality in there, but then there's also the hardware that kitchens use or that restaurants use to take orders.
Christopher Manning (22:50):
So, we communicate important things through notifications, we know that that's going to be seen right then right there. But then there's also email, newsletters, there's also physical publications. So, every quarter we send out a really big quarterly magazine that talks about the product innovations, and where we've made strides in different marketplaces, or everything from, as I say, StampCards is now live, to these are the new electric scooters that we're rolling out, or this is the new partner that we're working with that you can get a discounted rate on this product or that product. So yeah, it's definitely multichannel, there's definitely a lot of communication, but we are always looking to make that more effective and more impactful. Making sure that we're sending the right message through the right medium at the right time, that's what's really important.
Christopher Manning (23:59):
That's the struggle a lot of the time, what's the right way to communicate a small feature versus a big feature, when to do it, do we include this on our blog, or do we include it on our lead website, do we include it in the magazine? Yeah, it requires a lot of finessing, it requires a lot of attention from product managers.
Grant Duncan (24:26):
Yeah, great point. How do you think about prioritization and trade off decisions?
Christopher Manning (24:34):
That is a very, very big question. I think my honest answer to that... Because we've been having this conversation a lot recently across all of my teams, actually. But the honest answer is we have a very clear vision, and a very clear mission for our particular pillar, so we operate in the restaurants' pillar, and within that, my own team is the restaurant success domain. We have a very strong vision for our domain, a very strong mission for our domain, and we understand the problem space. So, we know the problems that we are trying to solve, and our priority has to be faithful to those things. So, it's what is going to maximize the extent to which we can solve this problem, and who are we solving it for? As I say, our allegiance is always to the restaurant as the primary port of call, so that can throw you into conflict at times, when you have a commercial growth team that are...
Christopher Manning (26:01):
Their job is to optimize revenue, our job is to make sure that we're providing products that have a clear and impactful revenue for the business as well. But, at the same time, that can't come at the cost of the value that we provide to the restaurants. So, we have to be faithful to that, and in terms of thematically, what we choose to spend our time on, it is the biggest problem. Then obviously, the day-to-day prioritization, we have an absolute focus on reducing the time from idea to meaningful impact. So, sometimes that will mean taking big, bold bets, sometimes that will mean small, incremental improvements. But, one of the models that we use is... So, we plan in halves instead of quarters, because it just takes our planning cycle and gives you a bit more of a longer view of what you can do.
Christopher Manning (27:17):
We imagine that as a vessel of some sort, and the idea is that you would have a mixture of... You would fill that vessel with some big rocks, lots of big rocks, but you also want to make sure that you've got some pebbles, and even a sprinkling of sand there, so that it's as full as it could possibly be. Which I quite like that analogy, and thinking along those terms does help people say, "Okay, well, am I trying to just ram too many huge rocks into this thing? Or alternatively, have I just filled this up with sand? That's no good to anyone." So, it's a nice way of not compartmentalizing, it's a nice way of balancing the things that you prioritize through a planning phase.
Grant Duncan (28:10):
Yeah, I think that's a great analogy as well as it shows you can't only do big rocks or you can't only do sand, you need a mix there. I think that mix, like you're talking about, probably is going to look like a mix of long-term and short-term results as well.
Christopher Manning (28:32):
Yeah, that's exactly it, if everything you've been planning for six months worth of work is going to land in the last four weeks, then you have planned wrong.
Grant Duncan (28:43):
Yeah, totally, so what made you want to join Just Eat Takeaway and immerse yourself in this on demand food delivery world further?
Christopher Manning (28:58):
So, I mean, I've spent the last 10 years at different hyper growth startups in London. I hadn't really realized until a few years ago that the common thread was marketplace products. So, I've worked on property websites, I've worked on automotive websites, I've worked in fintech, I've even worked in staff benefits products as well. The common thread is this dual audience through every one of them, where you've got a B2B customer who you are providing really hardcore tools for them to run their business through. Then you've got an end user, who is consuming a B2C product, and that product is being put in touch with the B2B user. I just love that aspect of it, the fact that you are serving two very diverse sets of people at the same time by providing them with the tools to recreate what is normally an offline relationship in a new way, so that's very exciting. I think the rate of change and evolution within food tech is just astronomical, and especially at the moment, there's so much disruption, there are so many niches within it as well.
Christopher Manning (30:48):
It's one of those things that literally everybody touches, and every everybody eats, everybody gets meals. The supply chain from... People think of food tech or a company like Just Eat Takeaway as operated in that space between the food being prepped in a kitchen, to the person eating the food, which, it's a tiny, tiny sliver of the food industry. The supply chain is everything from growing, to eating, to recycling, and you are seeing more and more companies step into different parts of that. You look at some of the numbers, some of the numbers that are going around at the moment in some of the companies that are doing the very, very short turnaround deliveries on groceries or on takeaways, this industry is super fast-paced, super competitive. It's one of those where you can't not stay sharp, you have to be absolutely on it, you have to be knowing what's going on. You have to be thinking three, four steps ahead, it's 3D chess sort of thing, there's so much going on.
Christopher Manning (32:28):
It's okay, again, that balance of very short-term things versus long-term plans, can we do this now to defend, to get ahead, take market share? Do we do this long thing, that's going to have really long-term impact, but we're not going to see much from it in a while? So, that balance is really, really crucial, and it's just a fascinating problem space to be working in. The other part of that, to your question, what made me want to come to Just Eat, is I think perhaps more so than any company I've worked for before, the B2B side of it is small grassroots businesses that you can have a really meaningful impact in helping them to grow. It's a notoriously difficult business and sector to operate in, if you want to open a restaurant, tell your friends that you're opening up a restaurant and see how many of them say, "That's a great idea." It's tough, and so being able to help the people who are doing that, it is very, very rewarding.
Grant Duncan (33:52):
Yeah, that's awesome, I love your passion for it all, and how you see the work to be very meaningful as well. You talked about it rapidly evolving so much, and so many different pieces moving, how do you stay up to date on everything? Are there communities, or online resources, or people that you stay in touch with?
Christopher Manning (34:14):
Yeah, I mean, it's very important to build out a community, to build out a group of people that you are in constant contact with. Also the restaurants themselves, specifically within the restaurant space. Restaurants are being approached all day every day by entrepreneurs who are opening up new companies doing new things, I think I've got a product for you, I think I've got a product for you. So, being really plugged into your customer base is one of the very best ways you can do that, because they will tell you, "You know what? I had someone in here the other day that was trying to flog me this, that, or the other." So, that's always really useful, I think making sure that you are very, very well plugged into your sales teams as well. So, making sure you've got really tight relationships with the people who are out there selling your product, your account managers. That's one of the most important things, because I could speak to the restaurant and they could tell me everything that's wrong with the products that I've put in front of them, and how they think they should change.
Christopher Manning (35:32):
But when a salesperson goes in to talk to a restaurant, they instantly get, "Well, hang on a minute, I had so and so in here the other day, and they were telling me they could do X, Y, Z." So, they're much more used to hearing about what else is going on in the market, what competitors are doing. So, that's very important, but then online resources, seeing... I mean, a big one for me is following where the money is. So, not just following the food tech websites, and the news in the sector, but following more around where investors are placing their money, what have they betted on? That's why I mentioned about the numbers that you're seeing being invested in different companies, the companies that are buying each other out in different parts of the world. Where is the investment happening geographically, and what type of business is it happening in? What businesses are folding? What businesses aren't surviving? Why are they failing? Why are certain city center locations more difficult to crack than others? That's really what I look for.
Grant Duncan (36:46):
Yeah, that's great, I imagine others will probably start following some of those things as well after listening to this. Switching it up a bit, what's the pie chart of your time on a normal day or week look like?
Christopher Manning (37:04):
That's a good question, I think I spend a lot of time obviously on calls, in meetings. So, we are still officially not back at the office yet, and I started with Just Eat Takeaway during the pandemic, so I've never known a normal office environment. In fact, I only went to the offices for the first time last week, so I've only been into the office a couple of times, but I'm now getting back into that routine of two or three days a week back in the office. When I am in the office, almost my entire day is just meeting people, talking to people, checking in with my team, with other teams, and putting in the face time around the offices. So yeah, that usually takes at least a day a week, a lot of... I'm always very strictly blocking out times for preparing materials for other meetings.
Grant Duncan (38:32):
Christopher Manning (38:33):
I have what I can only describe as an absolutely mortifying fear of walking into a meeting and not having done my homework, not being prepared for it, and being the reason that 10 people have wasted half an hour. That terrifies me more than anything else I can think of, so I make sure I block out time to prevent that from happening. So, I would say, I spend at least as much time preparing for meetings as I spend in meetings. That leaves very little time for anything else, to be honest, I think there's a lot of writing up documentation as well. I like to invest the time in thinking through ideas by writing them down, I think I do buy into the idea of a strong writing culture being a strong product culture, because-
Grant Duncan (39:53):
Christopher Manning (39:55):
... there is just a real strength to that discipline of creating a coherent narrative, and you don't get it with a slide deck, and you don't get it with a spoken conversation in the same way. When you can sit down and just tap out a document, it really forces you to interrogate how detailed your thoughts actually are. I've thought I've had absolute watertight, game-changing ideas that have been rattled right in my head for days and weeks. Then I'm like, "Right, I'm going to get this down and circulate this now," and then you start and like, "I haven't thought this through at all. I'm two sentences in, I've already realized there's five things that are really obvious that I've got through. Thank God I didn't start talking to the people about this before I've written the document."
Christopher Manning (41:02):
So, I think that's a useful exercise in and of itself, and that's what I would certainly encourage people to do, just as a means of developing the muscles for thinking through your own product ideas. Even if you are not planning on circulating the document, or using it as a snapshot, or a historical record for future teams to come and look back on. Just for ordering your own thoughts, and really deep dive into things that you might have missed, or seeing it from a different angle. If you get it down on paper, it really sharpens that tool, and it also gives you the opportunity to get it down, get it out of your head, and focus on something else. Then you can come back and assess it a bit more objectively, you can almost imagine that someone else has written it and be a bit more critical with your own thoughts as well, which is never a bad thing.
Grant Duncan (42:17):
Yeah, that's a great practice, I'm similar in that I really like to be able to write things out. I think people process things in multiple ways, but one of the ways for me is a written processing, so I'm totally with you there.
Christopher Manning (42:35):
Yeah, one of the strongest product people that I've ever worked with was in my last job, a fintech company called Curve. A lady called Amy, and she used to be a lawyer, she was trained as a lawyer. She had this discipline absolutely down, and she would write stuff down, think stuff through. She did it from a very... Litigating an argument over and over, and like, "What am I trying to prove? Have I been convincing enough? Is this compelling? What's the main point of this?" Bouncing ideas off her, and refining documents with her was a really, really fruitful way of developing out ideas, and I've kept that going.
Grant Duncan (43:30):
That's an awesome example. Last question for you here, how do you explain to your family what you do or friends?
Christopher Manning (43:42):
Well, to some of them I've stopped trying… I mean, I tell them, in a sentence, that my job is to define what we should build and when we should build it, and then bring together people who are far more skilled and far more intelligent than I am to actually get things done. I mean, my own wife thought I was an IT technician for about six or seven years, I'm sure. Yeah, I think if you ask my parents, they'll probably tell you that he does what Steve Jobs does, [inaudible 00:44:37]. But no, when I explain it to people, it's always my job is to ask questions, find problems, and I'll discover the solutions.
Grant Duncan (44:52):
Yeah, I like that. Well, Chris, thanks so much for coming on today. You had great insights, I think there's a lot of take aways for people listening.
Christopher Manning (45:00):
Awesome, thank you very much for having me, Grant, I really appreciate it.
Grant Duncan (45:04):
Yeah, good talking to you, bye.
Christopher Manning (45:05):
All right, take care now.
Grant Duncan (40:31):
Thanks for listening to today's podcast, and thanks to our sponsor, Voximplant, as well. If you are looking into how to improve your communication and customer engagement, check them out. Lastly, if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and tell your friends so that others can find it more easily. Have a great day and feel free to reach out to me, Grant Duncan, if you have any questions you want asked in our next episode.