Hire people willing to roll up their sleeves and do any job. Years ago at our Boston office, we all had to wear many hats. On the weekends, we would take out the trash and clean the office — as a team — because we had to. It was a group effort and I believe much of our early success came about because everyone had the characteristic “one team, one fight” DoorDash attitude.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Lachs.
Jessica Lachs is VP, Analytics and Data Science at DoorDash. In her role, she oversees a team of over 100 people that use data to solve business problems, covering business and product analytics, data science, experimentation, data engineering and performance management.
Prior to this position, Jessica held the role of first General Manager at DoorDash, responsible for launching new DoorDash cities (like Los Angeles and Boston) combining marketing creativity, analytics and hustle to operationalize each new city.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I entered the world of analytics & data science out of necessity. I joined DoorDash about a year into the company’s founding, and as an early GM, I had a lot of questions about market performance and customer behavior. I wanted to understand the underlying drivers affecting engagement and why my market was performing differently from other markets. Early on, there was no analytics team to help answer these questions, and I saw an opportunity to both answer my own questions and uplevel the overall business by creating this function. I learned how to do it, myself, on the job, and have been motivated by the potential to support, grow, and improve the way our business works ever since.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I built and grew our data and analytics team from the ground up, which means there were many, many learnings along the way.
In our earliest experiments, we learned about the significant impact of network effects on our experiment results. For example, when we first evaluated the impact of “SOS pricing” on consumer demand we attempted to use an A/B test design. We didn’t realize that by curbing demand for one group of consumers, we would impact the experience of the control consumers. Because both sets of consumers share the same Dasher fleet, adding a consumer to the treatment group also affects the experience of consumers in the control group and we can not establish independence between the two groups.
We quickly learned that the network effects of our marketplace needed to be considered in our experiment design and we were able to use a switchback test to measure the efficacy of our SOS pricing product. It seems obvious in hindsight, but this learning was a critical moment for my team and highlighted the importance of investing in a robust experimentation platform — something that is at the foundation of our success as a data driven company.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
In the very early days, when we would launch DoorDash in new markets, we would rent spaces to both live and work in. That meant (much to HR’s chagrin!) that we were temporarily living and working in the same space with our colleagues, often in tight quarters, sleeping on air mattresses. I learned then that living and working in the same space every day with the same people for months on end can be challenging — and you really need to like the people around you and enjoy their company! Even on the tough days, I always believed in what we were building, and have always had an internal drive to give 110%. That’s what kept me going then, and still keeps me going, today!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Peter Tseng was an early engineer at DoorDash, and now, a good friend of mine. Years ago, as I became more involved in data science, I needed to uplevel my technical skills and put them to use on the job. Peter was kind enough to tutor me in Python for data analysis on the weekends — and this gave me both the hard skills and the added confidence I needed to step into a leadership role. I’ll always be grateful for the hours he spent as a volunteer teacher, and think it’s incredibly important to surround yourself with people who want to help, teach, and challenge you throughout your career.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love John Steinbeck’s quote: “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” I found it’s something I really live by.
Whether it’s stepping away from a heat-of-the-moment response or a problem I’m grappling with, I’ve learned over the years that signing off and going to bed can make all the difference. If there’s a tense issue I’m struggling to address, I’ll write down my thoughts in the moment, then step away, and reread them the next day to ensure I still agree with my initial response. And if I’m stuck on a tough problem, I’ve found that revisiting it after a night of sleep brings new perspective and clarity — and often a solution. Sleep really can solve so many problems!
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Our mission at DoorDash is to grow and empower local economies. We do that by connecting people with all the best in their communities — including food delivery, but within a number of other verticals as well, including grocery, convenience, pet, flowers, and more. We’ve built the DoorDash Marketplace and logistics Platform to transform the way local merchants do business and enrich the communities in which they operate. And for the 1 million+ Dashers using our platform at any given time, we provide flexible opportunities to earn and achieve their goals.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think DoorDash is unique in just how data-driven we are, across the company, in every action and decision we make. We measure everything we can and use data to inform decisions whenever possible. We believe that by quantifying the things we do, we can best evaluate trade-offs and maximize our impact. If we had $100 to spend, would it be better to spend it to lower delivery times or to acquire a new consumer? By quantifying the levers within our business, we better understand our investment options and ROI — which empowers us to make better decisions, quickly and effectively, and create the best product for our customers.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My priority is building out our analytics teams to: 1. Support new verticals for the DoorDash business and 2. Scale within our existing functions. As DoorDash continues to expand our fulfillment of delivery and pickup across categories like grocery, convenience, pet goods, and alcohol, it’s my job to also build out our data science capabilities to partner with each of these new verticals. At the same time, we need to continue investing in a scalable data infrastructure and building out our data platform so that we can execute quickly and precisely as the company continues growing and entering new markets.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I fundamentally believe that we need more strong women leaders. There are some, of course, but not enough. To me, success as a woman in tech comes from being a voice in the room and a decision maker who can help impact the course of a business. My goal is to be a strong leader at DoorDash, who happens to be a woman — and by being a strong leader, help elevate other women in leadership, too.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
I believe we all need to be an active participant in our own career. A “standstill” is not always a bad thing. If you want to prioritize time with your family or optimize for financial independence, a moment of stagnancy in your career may be the right decision. But if you are looking for growth and to challenge yourself, I believe you have to seek out those opportunities for yourself, not wait for them to come along or have someone present them to you. You should be your own best advocate!
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
My team runs over 200 live experiments every day to measure the impact of product features, test the performance of new algorithms, and inform quicker strategic decision-making that impacts our merchant, Dasher, and consumer audiences. One area of focus is the impact of defects — whether that’s a missing item, a late delivery, or an experience that falls short of consumers’ expectations. As we assess these ‘defects,’ we dig into a number of variables so we can quantify them in detail, and then take action based on our findings.
For example, we identify the root cause of the defect to develop new product solutions or processes to decrease the likelihood of that defect occurring again. However, when analyzing defects, it’s important to consider both the frequency of the defect as well as the impact to the customer experience. If an issue happens only 0.5% of the time but is a truly terrible experience, it may be more impactful to fix than something that happens 10x more often, but barely impacts the customer experience. If you can quantify the long-term effects of defects, you can ensure you are addressing the most painful customer issues first.
Another strategy we are increasingly incorporating into our product is personalization and recommendations. We’ve created personalized carousels to give users the best experience catered to their personal tastes and order preferences, and we use algorithms to surface the most relevant offers and promotions to consumers. With more than 450,000 merchants on our marketplace, it’s more important than ever to help consumers find what they are looking for. We use machine learning across our product to improve search results, advise merchants on how to optimize their menus, and provide accurate delivery estimates — all in service to giving our customers the best possible experience.
Studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Our goal is to identify the underlying drivers of churn and use that knowledge to increase retention. When I first started the team, this actually used to be one of my go-to interview questions for prospective DoorDash analytics candidates!
For my team, the first task is to understand the main drivers of churn on the platform. We’ve found that if we don’t meet consumers’ expectations across affordability, selection, and experience, they will churn. Once we quantify the impact of these drivers, we can use these analyses to improve our product and the consumer experience. Retention is one of our key success metrics for all new programs and product features.
We’d like to continue to shift the retention curve up, however, retention alone doesn’t give a complete picture. It can be okay to acquire lower-intent consumers, who will have higher churn, if it’s accretive to the platform. On the flip side, if we offered unlimited free delivery, we might see record high levels of retention, but at what cost? So while retention is an important metric for sure, it’s not the only metric we consider.
Ultimately, we believe that we can effectively improve retention by making DoorDash more affordable — through programs like our subscription membership service, DashPass. Selection is a constant focus for us, and we’re improving selection month over month. Choosing the food and groceries we buy is a personal decision, and varies by consumer. If we don’t have your favorite spot, then we haven’t met your selection threshold. We need to have the right merchants for each consumer. Finally, we must deliver a quality experience. We are only as good as our last delivery and so defect reduction remains a top priority.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Hire people willing to roll up their sleeves and do any job. Years ago at our Boston office, we all had to wear many hats. On the weekends, we would take out the trash and clean the office — as a team — because we had to. It was a group effort and I believe much of our early success came about because everyone had the characteristic “one team, one fight” DoorDash attitude.
2. Build a diverse team. I often get asked where I find the best talent from. The truth is that great people come from all over. Even though we’re surrounded by renowned tech companies in the Bay Area, we hire people across the country and from a variety of backgrounds, including consulting, think tanks, operations, engineering, academia, military, and more. We’re successful because we bring people together from a wide range of backgrounds and skill sets. We can teach each other our strengths and learn from one another, thus making us all better.
3. Hire people who you want to spend time with. Our CEO and Co-Founder, Tony, always says that you are the sum of the five people who spend the most time with, and for most of us, we spend most of our time — in-person and/or virtually — with our co-workers. With so much of our time spent at work, the days are better when you work alongside people who you respect, admire, and laugh with. We spend a lot of time choosing and investing in our friendships and personal relationships, so I think of building a team in the exact same way.
4. Resilience and resourcefulness are non-negotiables. When you’re scaling a startup, you need people who can handle change and are excited by new opportunities and challenges — not thrown off by them. People who can pivot on a dime, figure out how to solve a problem that may not have an obvious solution, and thrive amidst ambiguity are the kind to find success at DoorDash and other fast-growth companies. Having a “bias for action” is one of our team values, and I think it’s an important characteristic for anyone working in the world of tech.
5. Stand by the truth. In the world of data and analytics, it’s incredibly important to be intellectually honest. Many times, we’ll end up with data that disproves our initial hypotheses — which could lead to difficult conversations or disagreements, if we didn’t believe that data wins arguments. My team knows that it’s our job to present analysis honestly and directly. One of our core values at DoorDash is “truth-seeking” and I strongly believe that it’s the responsibility of business leaders to represent the truth, remove bias, and ensure our teams are empowered to do the same.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I think one of the most dangerous trends we’ve seen in the last several years is the rise of misinformation and the weaponization of data to warp and/or win arguments. I’ve seen behaviors ranging from omitting data that doesn’t align with the author’s point of view to citing studies that aren’t methodologically sound to a complete disregard of data. If there’s one movement I could inspire, it would be to ensure people have access to accurate, verifiable information, so they can understand the truth — without the influence of bias or agenda.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I’d love to do a group brunch with the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten, Jennifer Garner, and the late nobel laureate and theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. Ina would prepare something amazing for us all to enjoy, Jennifer brings some levity and seems like she’d be fun to talk with — perhaps about her children’s food company. Finally, I’d be fascinated to hear Richard’s perspective on the modern world, in terms we can hopefully all understand!