Twilight of the Quick Delivery Startups

Another quick delivery startup is struggling to keep its doors open. Beijing-based Missfresh is fighting huge losses and accounting irregularities.

From a report that broke this weekend in the Financial Times:

Tiger Global-backed grocery delivery start-up Missfresh is fighting to survive as it shuts operations across China, wallows in an accounting scandal and searches for capital to sustain its business.

The upheaval marks a stark turn of fortunes for Missfresh, which pulled in more than $1bn in financing from investors such as Tiger Global and Goldman Sachs and gained a $3bn valuation in New York one year ago. Its market value has now sunk to $88mn.

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Like Gopuff, Gorillas and others, Missfresh opened warehouses of goods across cities. It promised deliveries in 30 minutes or less.

But it’s losing massive sums of money. In fact, management isn’t even sure how bad the losses are:

While Missfresh has been unable to issue audited financials or its annual report for the year to December 31, the company estimated losses last year hit Rmb3.7bn.

Missfresh isn’t the only quick delivery startup getting hammered.

Fridge No More and Buyk both shut down this spring. JOKR exited the US market and Gorillas has done huge layoffs.

Quick delivery is a notoriously difficult business. The costs of opening dark stores, acquiring customers, and paying delivery staff are staggering.

Meanwhile, the competitive market pushes companies to slash prices. The result: terrible margins.

When a startup like Missfresh charges ahead with growth at all costs, the results aren’t pretty. Even massive revenue growth doesn’t matter if the business can never make money.

Remember the old joke:

“We lose money on every sale, but we make it up in volume.”

As an angel investor, I avoid businesses like this.

Quick delivery startups are messy and hard to scale. Meanwhile, high costs and stiff competition mean razor thin margins.

I prefer a pure software business. They’re easier to scale and far more profitable.

For a quick delivery business to succeed, it must have a laser focus on unit economics. Each additional delivery must be profitable.

Otherwise, the company can never make money no matter how many deliveries it does.

Gopuff, the most successful quick delivery company in the US, is laser focused on margins.

Its gross margins, or profit on each additional delivery, are estimated at nearly 50%. That’s significantly higher than Uber’s.

The death of one quick delivery startup after another is great for Gopuff. It removes their competitors!

The carnage in this sector makes me even more attentive to unit economics in my investments. There’s no sense throwing money at business models that just don’t work.

What do you think is the future for quick delivery? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

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