A Founder’s Story: Niklas Östberg, CEO at Delivery Hero
With Delivery Hero entering the DAX* in August 2020, Niklas Östberg has officially become one of the most coveted CEOs in Germany. To everyone who meets him, it becomes clear that he is not your typical formal businessman. Let’s get into the head of a founder who brought his vision to life, but is still hungry for more.
Over the past nine years, you have achieved some impressive milestones with Delivery Hero. But what’s been on everyone’s minds and lips recently is your entry into the DAX. In this context, Delivery Hero has been labeled by many as “atypical”. How do you feel about these comments?
I completely agree! Most of the companies in the DAX are very established, much older and usually rather traditional when it comes to their organization and processes. In that sense, I am convinced that we are bringing a breath of fresh air to the DAX. We are a young, dynamic, diverse, and an extremely international company.
I think that people can be the best version of themselves when you leave them their freedom. As soon as you start giving too many directions or restrictions, people lose their creativity and passion.
The skepticism around our DAX entry is understandable. It is one of the downsides of breaking with traditions and norms. We already faced this situation when the company was first founded, and I had to convince investors that we could make this business work. Even some of the largest companies in the world have gone through that type of critique: Google, Amazon, Tesla, you name it. As an entrepreneur, you always get headwinds when you dare to try something new.
At the end of the day, all these comments are only pushing us forward and making us hungry to prove that we – and tech companies in general – belong in the DAX. This has been long overdue.
You come from Sweden and currently live in Zurich. Do you still feel part of the Berlin startup scene?
I have a lot of respect for other Berlin startup founders and deem myself close to entrepreneurs from Zalando, HelloFresh, GetyourGuide, Outfittery, Omio, etc. Whenever I am in Berlin, we try to meet and discuss all types of topics. At the moment, there are obviously a lot of conversations happening around the global pandemic, how this impacts our people and business.
As an entrepreneur, you always get headwinds when you dare to try something new.
While I definitely learn a lot from these galvanizing founders, my main source of inspiration remains our very own Delivery Hero team members. Each member of the management team still teaches me a lot on a daily basis, and I am also very close to our local leaders.
Speaking of the local teams, how does the local/global collaboration work?
I have an enormous trust and belief in entrepreneurial organizations. I think that people can be the best version of themselves when you leave them their freedom. As soon as you start giving too many directions or restrictions, people lose their creativity and passion.
We want to support the local brands that we acquire to grow even further and become part of a network of entrepreneurs that is bigger than the sum of its parts.
Delivery Hero has grown tremendously over the past years, and so have your teams (27,000 employees globally today). How would you describe yourself as a leader?
I am a fairly relaxed person in general, and tend to remain calm even in stressful situations. It is essential for me to take the time to quietly analyse situations and think things through before forming an opinion and making decisions.
When I trust people, I give them a lot of freedom and autonomy and try not to stand in their way. We have worked on building an organization in which there are as little bottlenecks as possible. This means that there are only a few decisions that come directly from above. Instead, we empower our employees to launch their own initiatives and execute their strategies, because only then can we make everyone feel part of our success and growth journey.
You have built a very large company in just a few years. Was there a moment where you lost your motivation?
Obviously – and this is something that each and every founder goes through at some point. For me, there were several times when everything seemed unbearable, especially in the first five or six years.
The IPO in 2017 turned out to be a great moment because we were no longer stuck between investors. Since then, I have sometimes asked myself how long I will keep doing this or whether I should do something else.
We have worked on building an organization in which there are as little bottlenecks as possible. This means that there are only a few decisions that come directly from above.
At some point, it clicked: I love the people I work with, we have full trust from shareholders and we have the ability to build the company of our dreams. What else can one ask for? I’m very proud of the culture we have built and what we have achieved to date, but I still believe there is so much more to come.
What are your goals and personal vision for the company?
In my mind, we are still a small company and a challenger in our field. I sometimes get a little bit shocked when I look at our growth history and realize how fast we scaled. We are actually not that small any longer. But we are still hungry to keep improving. Moving fast is still in our genes.
When it comes to my vision, I want our customers to love using our services and that our offer is experienced in a seamless way. But it does not stop with the customer. My goal is also to build a company that I and others enjoy working at. People should want to be a part of Delivery Hero. At the end of the day, I want my children and the next generation to look back at what we have accomplished with a sense of pride and go “Wow, my dad helped to build that company”.
*the leading stock market index in Germany, consisting of the 30 largest companies by market capitalization and trading volume, listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange