Matt Howard dishes on EatStreet’s success

At the upcoming Icons in Business event, co-founder Howard will discuss how the company grew from a dorm-room idea to a national powerhouse, and why the Madison company almost had to move to the West Coast.

When Matt Howard, CEO and co-founder of EatStreet, takes the stage at the next IB Icons in Business breakfast on March 15, he knows he’ll be speaking to a room full of people who are already quite familiar with his company.

Madison-based EatStreet has been around since 2010 and has grown into one of the largest independent online and mobile food ordering and delivery services in the U.S. Today, EatStreet serves over 250 cities, connecting its more than 2 million active customers to over 15,000 restaurants.

Additionally, its co-founders, Howard and Chief Technology Officer Alex Wyler, are both active in the tech startup community in the Midwest, and were recently named to the prestigious roster of Forbes 30 Under 30 for 2018 in the Consumer Technology category. It’s safe to say EatStreet is well known locally.

What Howard, a 2011 UW–Madison graduate, plans to share during his presentation is a more personal insight into the company’s monumental growth from a tech startup to an industry leader, while acknowledging the challenges and opportunities facing the company.

“Growing a startup is always going to come with its challenges,” notes Howard. “We pride ourselves in staying true to our mission and creating the best diner experience in each city we operate in. If we continue to focus on having the best service for our customers, we know that EatStreet will be able to navigate any challenges that come its way.”

Early on, however, EatStreet’s challenges nearly altered the course of the company’s history.

“Many people do not know the troubles we faced with raising capital in the early days of EatStreet,” explains Howard. “I was nearly forced to move the company from Madison to the West Coast in order to raise the capital needed to scale the company.” Instead, EatStreet persevered, and the company has raised more than $38.5 in venture capital.

A company meeting at EatStreet.

Howard says as the company has scaled across the country, it’s been very important to him to find the right people to join the team, which now consists of 175 employees at the company’s headquarters and another 1,500 delivery drivers across the country. Being part of a fast-growing startup can be difficult for many because the company is constantly changing, he notes. “It’s very important to find the right people with the same drive and motivation as I have to make EatStreet successful. Nothing is better as a founder of a company than having a talented team of passionate and hard-working individuals who strive every day to make your company successful. I have been very lucky to create the team that we have today.

“EatStreet strives to have the best customer experience in each market it operates in,” Howard continues. “This means having the best restaurant partners, the most consistent and reliable delivery times, and the best drivers. Much of our competition focuses their efforts on large cities such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. With our continued focus on smaller cities such as Madison, we have a unique advantage to ensure we beat our competition in the quality of our offering.”

To that end, Howard isn’t concerned about what the competition is doing in markets EatStreet doesn’t currently operate in. For example, a late 2018 article from the technology review website Digital Trends ranking its top food-delivery apps for 2019 didn’t include EatStreet. Was he bothered that EatStreet didn’t make that list?

“The great thing about this industry is that it is hyper local,” says Howard. “The list you mentioned was done through research in New York City, a city that EatStreet does not deliver in today. If the same research was done for Madison or Lawrence, Kansas, I am confident we would not only make the list, but also top it. We do not let articles like this discourage us from our objective of having the best service in each market we operate in.”

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Of course, that doesn’t mean EatStreet hasn’t had to adapt during its growth from an idea in a dorm room to a national player in the food delivery world.

Matt Howard with one of his favorite office dogs, Beau.

“One of the best things about starting a company is being your own boss,” Howard wrote in a guest blog post for IB. “You set the attitude, and you set the stage for things like dress code, work ethic, company parties — you know, all the little things that make up that thing we all love to talk about: company culture.

“But startups evolve and so do their cultures. Here’s what we’ve learned: Don’t try to prevent culture from evolving. Just be self-aware, so you can help it along in a way that keeps it true to your mission and vision, while ensuring the team is happy, too.

EatStreet employees enjoy an in-office game of Ping-Pong.

“When EatStreet was 20 employees, the company was a heck of a lot different than when we got over 100 people. For starters, we were generally younger, fresh out of school, and with very little need for any type of corporate structure. We were too busy busting our asses to stay alive to think, at least consciously, about it too much. Culture just happened.

“But as you grow, structure and scale are inevitable. It’s not a bad thing. Instead, adapt. The best way to do that is to listen to your employees. Then take action.

“For instance, we used to throw big company parties where we’d rent a bar and push the fun into the wee hours after excruciatingly long workweeks. Now, our staff prefers to go do a brewery tour or maybe mini-golfing. That’s a small example but it goes back to listening. Do that and your culture will thrive.”

Howard’s Icons in Business presentation will take place Friday, March 15 from 8–9:30 a.m. at The Madison Concourse Hotel. Tickets are still available at IBMadison.com/Icons.

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