How DoorDash is Scaling its Merchant Engineering Teams to Meet New Challenges

How DoorDash is Scaling its Merchant Engineering Teams to Meet New Challenges

On the front lines of addressing Stay-At-Home orders caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, DoorDash’s Merchant team has been busy ensuring that merchants have what they need to offer delivery, get onboarded onto the platform and that everything is scaled to maximize reliability. In this interview we sat down with Varsha Dudani, an engineering manager in the Merchant Organization to talk about the challenges she and her teams are tackling, how they are helping merchants and how everything is scaling with this huge increase in demand.

Varsha Dudani, Engineering manager for the DoorDash Merchant team
Varsha Dudani, Engineering manager for the DoorDash Merchant team

1)  Tell us a little about what teams you lead, and why DoorDash?

A little bit about me, I am a Sr. Engineering Manager with almost 20 yrs of experience in the industry and about 10 years in engineering management. I have been with DoorDash for more than 2.5 years and in my time at DoorDash, I have led a number of teams across the Merchant organization that handles the B2B side of the business.  As part of the merchant organization, I currently manage 4 teams:  

  • The Order Platform team that creates and maintains the Order Service that routes, schedules and maintains every DoorDash order
  •  The Developer Platform team that is in charge of the developer platform and portal used by third party engineers to integrate with DoorDash for core features that DoorDash offers its merchants
  • The Merchant Selection team locates the best merchants in every local market and works with the sales team to help bring them onto the platform
  • The Merchant Finance team that ensures that every merchant gets paid and can clearly see the value that DoorDash brings to their business.

When I think “why DoorDash” the answer is rooted in the company’s mission and the impact I and my teams can create to achieve it. DoorDash’s mission is to help local economies succeed and I feel passionately and positively about being a part of that.  I have always found that getting things done is essential to one’s success. As a female engineering manager, I have felt extra pressure to prove myself but rarely have I been in a position to make such a large impact, so fast on the business and help the merchants my team serves. Despite the recent uncertainty caused by COVID-19, we have still been able to assist hundreds of businesses, and yet, I am even more excited about the myriad of opportunities in front of us to make an even larger impact. 

It’s not just me that feels so passionately about DoorDash and our mission. The environment at DoorDash overall has a strong sense of optimism and positivity, which I think is reflected in how we’ve seen DoorDash grow from being an underdog to the market leader in food delivery. 

2) What are some of the challenges your teams are working on?

Many of the challenging engineering problems that my teams are working on are on scaling the systems to adapt to a growing business. These are coupled with building some awesome product features that while fun and impactful, can be challenging to execute.

For us to scale effectively, we needed to implement the correct Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) that would allow for quick iterative development. The Merchant organization has been focused on redoing various parts of the system since last year, while continuing to roll out new product features. The most evident challenge here is to change the brakes while the car is still running – making sure we’re making architectural changes to the system, while not slowing down the business or affecting the product. It’s always exciting to work on these types of scale and reliability challenges, which are hard engineering problems, but you end up learning a lot. 

On the product side, our main challenge is to continually offer new features and updates that will help merchants improve their businesses and make it easier for them to use the platform. We look at all our merchant initiatives with a product mindset and are committed to continuously making small improvements every day with new features and updates that aim to satisfy the needs of our wide variety of merchants, from mom and pop shops to enterprises. For example, we recently offered merchants more promotions options they could sign-up for, as well as helping small businesses create their online ordering pages more quickly and efficiently. The rapid rollout of these new initiatives plus the constant improvement of other existing features keeps us busy in our mission to empower the merchants we serve.

3)  What are the DoorDash product and engineering teams doing for Merchants to help them during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Back in March when Stay-At-Home orders first started getting rolled out, we immediately put our heads together as a team and company, and built a list of product initiatives and relief programs that could help our Merchants in these difficult times. We also recognized that for many restaurants having a digital delivery experience was now a priority and they would need access to a platform like ours to attract and retain customers.

Our first and most important task was to make our products and technology more accessible to new and existing merchant partners. We offered a free 30 day trial to new merchants onboarding onto the platform, and reduced our commission fee to 0%. Additionally, we offered a 0% commission on all pick up orders and cut our commission by 50% for all small businesses. Given that Merchant’s cash flow was impacted we changed our pay-out period from weekly payouts to daily. 

On the engineering side, our systems needed to scale, remain reliable and continue to fulfill orders in a timely and precise way. We pulled together a cross-functional team to tackle these issues, by building a plan to scale our infrastructure and resolve performance bottlenecks.

It was, and still is, amazing to see the product and engineering teams come together virtually from their homes and deliver on all of these initiatives in just a couple weeks. While we continue to iterate and improve we achieved our main agenda of pushing out the new product features to make an impact as soon as possible and ensure our systems were resilient and  ready for all  incoming traffic.

4) How have we helped merchants onboard during COVID-19?

With the world sheltering in place, and delivery being an essential service, we needed to ensure our platform was fast and easy for new merchants to join. Onboarding a merchant takes a lot of  effort and time to set-up correctly, and involves setting up the merchant’s store, uploading their menus, and gathering store data. Many merchants also require a DoorDash tablet to partner with us, and shipping these can also take some time. 

At the outset, our operations team needed help to efficiently manage the demand of merchants looking to onboard onto the platform. In true start-up style, we went all-hands-on-deck, to help the merchant operations team. We had employees from every organization within the company help create menus, which can be one of the most time consuming tasks in the onboarding process or answer support calls addressing merchant concerns and questions. I witnessed first hand the power of dividing work and multiplying success. The positivity and willingness to lean in and make things happen was electrifying.

Product and Engineering came up with solutions to onboard merchants onto the platform without a tablet. We adjusted our product to take note of a merchant’s phone number when they signed-up, this would allow them to receive orders as soon as they were set up on DoorDash via phone while they waited for a tablet to arrive. Our engineering team really showed a bias for action, one of our core company values, and I am super proud to be a part of this team. 

5) What are some future challenges the Merchant team will face post-COVID-19?

Off-premise is here to stay, and I’m excited for the future opportunities for DoorDash. Here’s a few examples of areas that I believe the teams will be focusing on in the future, including the ones we have started work on already:

  • Build Scalable and Reliable systems: Reliability is our #1 feature. As I already mentioned, we have started the journey to build the correct SOA at DoorDash. We need to finish this work with scalable and reliable microservices.
  • Bring in the best selection in record time: We hope to use more analytics and ML to find which merchants will give DoorDash the best selection and work to get them on the platform. The dream is that a merchant who wishes to onboard with DoorDash can do so within an hour with the best self serve products possible. 
  • Empower Merchants: We wish to empower our Merchants by providing them with great products and technology solutions that lets them grow their business and operations more efficiently. We are consistently working on new initiatives to improve the merchant experience: white labeling solutions, merchant promotions, more customer engagement control and visibility, clarifying reports and financial numbers, and providing a world class developer platform and portal for them to systematically integrate with DoorDash. 
  • Empower Merchant Operations Team at DoorDash: We wish to empower our internal Sales and Ops Teams by providing them with easy to use products and tools to do their job. The scale of operations is growing and it’s important to understand how technology can ease the increasing workload on our ops teams and help them out with the best tech solutions. 

I am looking for talented frontend and backend engineers who feed off challenging engineering problems, who are owners, doers, leaders and learners and believe in team spirit. If you think that you’ve got what it takes to build the next world class company, then come join me on this exciting journey. To learn more about Varsha and her experience leading innovative engineering teams click here