Seizing opportunity by dismantling the conventional

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Free Radicals

Seizing opportunity by dismantling the conventional

If there are prophets of vision and values, there are also outliers who look at the rules of a category or business and then set about to break as many rules as they can. Let’s meet the Free Radicals.

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Open-sourcing the talent pool

Imagine trying to recruit top tech developers against the likes of Google, Apple Inc., and Facebook. Automattic, the lean-but-mighty web development company behind bloggers’ favorite platform WordPress, found itself in that predicament.

Instead of competing on better foosball table benefits, Automattic rethought its whole hiring process around its mission to “democratize publishing.” Matt Mullenweg, Automattic Founder and CEO, broke out of physical boundaries to open-source his talent to the world’s entire developer pool.

As part of this radical approach, Automattic forgoes the traditional interviewing process. Instead, the CEO reviews resumes and invites promising applicants to chat via Skype. Next comes a paid trial period that allows applicants a chance to test their mettle working on a real company project. Automattic pays the trial applicant US$25/hour and sets no deadline, leaving applicants free to set their own hours for the project so they can work around their current jobs. Prospects who succeed in the trial are referred back to the CEO for a final conversation. Typically, an offer is made without the applicant ever having a face-to-face conversation with his or her direct manager.

The Automattic ethos is built on trust in autonomy. For the company’s leadership, it’s trust that its talent will deliver the stellar work expected of them, no matter where they reside. And for employees, it’s trust that they are indeed a critical part of the team, rather than disenfranchised remote workers. Automattic gives each employee a US$2,500 budget to build out their home office, plus any technology they need.i

Communication is almost entirely conducted through chat rooms—Skype, Google Hangouts, or Automattic blogs. Face-to-face meetings do occur occasionally—often in exotic locations, thanks to a travel budget that is made possible by the company’s minimal real estate expenses.ii

Turning conventions inside-out

Where you put your focus matters. “Let’s order in” has typically referred to ordering food from a restaurant, assuming the restaurant has delivery options. Pizza chains notwithstanding, delivery operations at most restaurants are secondary business models—an add-on to accommodate those who don’t want to dine in.

Not so at Maple, a Manhattan-based food service that has built its entire focus and process exclusively on nailing the delivery experience.

Restaurants that are set up to do in-person dining tack on delivery because it’s an additional revenue stream, but it ends up really distracting from what they do well. We started from an entirely blank slate—what would a restaurant look like if it was only going to do delivery?

- Caleb Merkl, CEO, Maple

Now, thanks to the one-year-old food and tech company, Manhattanites can just open the Maple app, choose from a handful of daily entrées, and have fresh food—ingredients you’d expect from a farm-to-table restaurant—delivered to their door within 30 minutes. Tax and tip are included, making the payment process as quick and smooth as an Uber ride.

But what’s remarkable is Maple’s operational set-up, a combination of kitchen locations, agile staff members, and “bundling algorithms” to execute on this food-first delivery experience. Maple’s kitchens—each roughly 3,000 square feet—are placed strategically throughout the city to optimize delivery runs. While kitchen staff is lean, with around 20 people in each, Maple stocks up on bike couriers to ensure that meals are delivered promptly.

The company’s entire process is seamless and app-driven, from customers placing the orders to cooks fulfilling them to couriers delivering them. Insights gleaned from the data are used to coordinate wait times and identify the optimal routes for delivery, taking into account factors like the number of couriers at each kitchen, chef speed, daily demand, average run time, and more. Today, the company is one of New York’s hottest dining tickets—proving that consumers are hungry for Free Radical brands that deliver a taste of the unconventional.

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