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Steve's ITK: Bye, bye journalism. Hello, Zapp.


Steve's ITK

April 25 · Issue #72 · View online

Steve's In The Know: Thoughts from a European tech insider.

Bye, bye journalism. Hello, Zapp.
Wow, what a week. For those that haven’t read the news – broken by the ever rigorous Isabel Woodford over at Sifted – I have quit journalism to take on a fresh challenge. I’ve joined Zapp, the on-demand convenience retail startup, as VP of Strategy. As I told Woodford, it was ‘the hardest decision of my life’, but for a multitude of reasons, I believe it’s the right one. 
As readers of this newsletter will know, I recently crossed the 10 year mark at TechCrunch (with a tiny break early on). And of course I’ve spent considerably longer as a blogger-turned-journalist overall. Meanwhile, a year spent shielding gave me a lot of time to think about the things I hold dear and what it is I really enjoy doing. It became clear that some of those things were no longer being met through work and I started to see a career path beyond TechCrunch.
Alongside this, the world of work changed nearly overnight. Obstacles that existed (or I perceived as existing) that were holding back my career, had suddenly been removed. Remote working was the ‘new normal’, and, to some degree, there is now an appetite for genuinely thinking differently. My disability has almost always meant that I need to work primarily or exclusively from home where I can manage various related challenges with little or no impact on my work. In the past, this had ruled out certain job offers, but - if anything - the pandemic has taught us not to let perfect (or an outdated ideal) be the enemy of good or even great.
As opportunities opened up, I began to allow myself to be more open to offers and quickly established that a straight comms role didn’t interest me, though going back into startup land, either as a founder or operator, certainly did. The other avenue I was keen to explore was moving into early-stage venture capital. Again, not a VC comms role, because I’m much more interested in investing, business models and mentoring founders – using my story-telling skills as my ‘edge’ rather than my core value-add. After putting the feelers out, a few VCs got close to making this happen, but honestly I can’t say many had the imaginative leap required to look beyond my journalism experience. Outliers, you say? Pfft.
Then Zapp came into the picture, right as I was in the midst of scooping the company’s Series A funding round. Like take-out delivery, challenger banks, and e-scooters before it, I’d been drawn into covering the ‘dark store’ convenience space, quickly carving it out as one of my ‘beats’. That didn’t go unnoticed by Zapp’s co-founder and CEO Navid Hadzaad, whom, it just so happens, I have known for more than 5 years. While calling him late one evening to get the story over the line, I casually mentioned I was considering leaving TechCrunch. His reply: ‘Come and join our team’. ‘What would I do?’ I quipped back. ‘What do you want to do?’ came Navid’s answer.
Once my scoop was out, we talked – and talked and talked – about what the vision is for Zapp and the type of principle-driven company Navid and (Zapp’s other co-founder) Joe Falter want to build. And what were the things I was interested in most and where he and I thought I could make the biggest contribution. It soon became clear we have a very similar way of looking at the world.
Meanwhile, Zapp’s consumer proposition – get your essential items delivered within 20 minutes – means I’m the perfect customer. It’s a problem space I can really relate to, especially given my own mobility challenges and desire to live as independently as possible. History has shown that when you solve a problem for one part of the community, you often solve a much more universal problem faced by everybody (and vice versa). Of course, there are already lots of options for planned grocery shopping, but Zapp’s well-defined sweet spot is impulse purchases and urgent need use-cases, which is a huge opportunity.
Having spent the last ten years and more profiling 1,000s of startups, including many operating at the intersection of e-commerce, logistics and delivery, I could also see right away that Zapp is a service that looks deceptively simple for consumers, but under the hood there’s a multitude of moving parts. This requires the right team and mixture of technology, processes and long term thinking to delight customers every single time. I enjoy thinking about these types of hard problems.
But perhaps most importantly, Navid, Joe and the rest of the team are creating a company that wants to be progressive, such as being customer-first in everything we do, sustainable and building a highly principle-driven culture. This already includes things like an all-electric fleet and employing riders directly, and lots of other things I can’t yet talk about.
Related to this, as VP of Strategy, I’ll be working with and reporting directly to Navid and will be broadly responsible for making sure the company does the right things internally in terms of the strategy and the first principles we’re developing — and how that impacts right across the business and its stakeholders. This will involve longer term strategy but also being parachuted in for shorter term projects. The first of which is building some internal Comms capacity, precisely because that’s not what Navid wants me spending all my time on day to day going forward.
So, with all the above worked through, next came the hardest part: being totally transparent about the accommodations I would need to put in place to ensure I can do my best work for Zapp. This included stuff I never talk about publicly related to respiratory complications and the need for time away from back-to-back Zoom calls. And, of course, that I would be 100% remote.
Navid’s response: ‘We don’t want to build a company that can’t employ someone like you’.
That’s better than sugared water, I thought.
I’m in.
(If you’re in London, download the Zapp app. We are expanding fast.)
At last, I landed a profile piece! (still no awards, though)
Veteran journalist Steve O’Hear quits TechCrunch for grocery startup | Sifted
Things I wrote in my final days at TechCrunch
With two new funds, LocalGlobe has more latitude than ever
Atomico’s talent partners share 6 tips for early-stage people ops success
Butter is building an ‘all-in-one’ platform to run virtual workshops
TrueLayer raises $70M for its open banking platform
Bob W, the ‘tech-driven’ hospitality provider, raises €10M in seed funding
Charles raises €6.4M seed to bring ‘conversational commerce’ to WhatsApp
Zapp, the on-demand delivery and ‘dark’ store operator, picks up backing from Lightspeed and Atomico
Nested, the UK-based ‘modern’ estate agent, raises additional £5M to improve the home-selling experience
MessageBird acquires 24sessions to bring video to its ‘omnichannel’ platform
Finch Capital acquires Wirecard Turkey
Everli, the European marketplace for online grocery shopping, bags $100M Series C
Zapp, the on-demand delivery and ‘dark’ store operator, picks up backing from Lightspeed and Atomico
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