The list of so-called “super apps” seems to be on the rise lately. What once was a rarity — a platform that aimed to meet all your delivery needs — is now a common goal for brands all over the world.
Wolt, the Nordic online ordering and delivery service, is a perfect example of an app that started out offering one service and has since expanded to multiple other verticals.
Founded in 2014, Wolt is headquartered in Helsinki, Finland and run by CEO Miki Kuusi — formerly of Slush. While its original business model focused primarily on the restaurant delivery space in its home city — as of early 2021, the company had expanded to 23 different markets around the world and now offers everything from pet food to flowers to grocery delivery.
But how was Wolt able to make it in such a competitive and well-funded industry? And what can you learn from this brand’s success? Let’s take a look.
Wolt’s Journey To Success
Source: Wolt Press Kit
When Wolt started out in 2015, it had just 10 partner restaurants in Helsinki and only offered a pick-up service. But, with €2.5 million in seed money, the founders of Wolt were determined to break into the world of online delivery.
By 2016, Wolt did just that, adding a delivery service to its platform and expanding to the nearby countries of Sweden and Estonia. In their Series A financing, which was led by EQT Ventures, Wolt raised another €10 million — which was used to fuel their rapid growth.
It was also during this time that Wolt experimented with “self-driving” robots in Tallinn, in partnership with Starship Technologies.
The way it worked? After an order was placed on the Wolt app, a robot provided by Starship would be loaded up with the chosen food in a secure container. The little robot would then make its way to the delivery location and the customer would open the box containing their food by clicking a link in the app.
While customers did have to go outside to retrieve the food from the robot, the idea was that robot delivery would lead to a more sustainable method of delivering goods. In their blog post, Wolt explained that they were:
“working on how robots can manoeuvre down the street and interact with humans, how to make robotics affordable and thus everything around logistics more environmental (it’s way less CO2 than a car or a scooter).”
By 2017, Wolt had expanded to Denmark, Latvia, and Lithuania and had replaced third-party tools with its own “in-house created courier apps” and logistics backend — allowing the app to function more efficiently and independently.
Wolt launched its Series B funding round, spearheaded by 83North, in 2018 and raised €27 million. This was also a time of “hypergrowth”, where the app went from 100 to 300 employees in an effort to push forward and meet its goals.
By 2019, Wolt had expanded further into Eastern Europe and partnered with South Pole to compensate for CO2 emissions on all Wolt deliveries — even those from the past. The company also entered its Series C funding round, led by ICONIQ Capital and Highland Europe, and raised another €116 million.
For Wolt, 2020 saw the beginning of the Covid pandemic, expansion into Japan and Germany, the addition of groceries and retail to the app, an official “Unicorn” status, and another €100 million in funding — a big year, to say the least.
At the end of the day, Wolt is a self-described “technology company known for (their) food delivery platform”. Although the world mainly saw Wolt operating in one vertical, the brand has since expanded into many other verticals and markets.
When asked to pinpoint Wolt’s rapid growth and success in an interview with TechCrunch, Kuusi explained:
“We started with an exclusive focus on the restaurant, as it’s the biggest local service with an underlying high-frequency use case. We quickly learnt that the magical product market fit for bringing the restaurant online was to offer a quick and predictable delivery experience from restaurants that didn’t use to be available for delivery. We do this by handling the complexity of the delivery on the restaurant’s behalf”.
However, coming from a difficult home market in the Nordics, Wolt needed to build an “optimization-heavy logistics setup for last-mile delivery” which allowed the service to operate even in “very small cities with low income disparity, limited population density and high labor costs”.
This approach allowed Wolt to operate efficiently even when met with low order volumes, which also enabled the brand to “grow and expand rapidly with much less financing than some of the other players in the market.”
By finding their niche, Wolt was able to succeed in cities and markets that rivals hadn’t yet been able to conquer.
And the ultimate goal? To become a “super app”, much like Southeast Asian competitor Grab — offering everything from pharmaceuticals to clothes to electronics and more.
Eventually, they want to launch the “Wolt Market”, which would serve as an online retailer that bridged the gap with offline retailers. In their own words, Wolt’s vision is “to build the digital world version of the shopping malls we used to frequent, this time brought to the convenience of our homes and workplaces within the half-hour or so.” A bold goal, but one they’ll likely achieve.
So, what can you learn from a brand like Wolt?
What Can You Learn From Wolt?
Source: Wolt Press Kit
When looking at Wolt’s origin, it’s somewhat surprising the brand was able to find such success. The food delivery industry is crowded and cutthroat — making it big in this market requires a certain je ne sais quoi.
Let’s look at a few things that set Wolt apart from the competition.
1. Take A “Logistics Optimization First” Approach
To be successful in a difficult market like Finland, Wolt had to rely heavily on technology to become efficient.
As “second generation providers”, aka the ones who bring the food from restaurants to customers, Wolt sees itself as “first and foremost as a logistics optimization company”. In order to conquer such a market, Wolt needed to constantly optimize its technological solutions.
What did that mean? Kuusi explained that it’s all about “mathematical and technological improvements to make the delivery business more efficient for all parties.” Though the customer would never know, Wolt employs 180 product developers who are constantly working to improve their offerings and app.
The takeaway? If your brand relies on technology to function, make sure you’re setting aside enough time and resources to really push the envelope.
Focusing on how you can increase efficiency and better the user experience will inevitably lead to higher customer satisfaction.
2. Have A Clear, Specific Focus
In his interview with Food Service, Kuusi explained that, as a guiding principle to Wolt’s success, he believes in focus. What does that mean, exactly?
In his own words, “you should focus on one thing and work to become the best in the world at it.” For Wolt, this meant that they don’t partner with restaurants that also deliver themselves — they focus on those who need them.
Why? Because the only way they can “guarantee a fast and consistent customer experience at an affordable price is with (their) setup and technology.” And, admittedly, individual restaurants can “never make delivery as efficient and affordable as a highly specialized technology company”.
Following this approach, Wolt has a clear, highly specified focus that isn’t slowed down or cluttered up by trying to overstretch themselves. They’ve identified their niche and are working to become the best.
The takeaway? Find your niche and conquer it. Don’t try to overexert your brand — especially in the early days. Many a promising brand has failed because they tried to do too much too soon. Having a clear focus helps brands grow sustainably.
3. Be An International Company and A Local Business
While Wolt is most definitely an international company, they place a great deal of focus on also being a local business.
Each country has its own team running the day-to-day operations and on their app, all content is translated and localized.
When it comes to operations and marketing, Wolt made sure to hire “local talent” who are able to help the app “resonate with the country’s and city’s culture in an authentic way.” Furthermore, they provide local customer support to be able to help and connect with customers in their native language.
By ensuring that each branch of Wolt has an authentic, local feel, this app has been able to rapidly and successfully expand to over 23 countries.
Our tip? If you’re looking to grow your own brand and expand to new cities or countries, keep this point in mind: if you’re going to be accepted and embraced by locals, you need to speak their language and understand their culture.
While Wolt started out small, they’ve grown to be one of the most successful delivery apps in the world. But for Wolt, it’s about more than just financial success — they’re “building new infrastructure” to “make our cities a better place to live.”
By optimizing its logistics and ensuring a localized approach to all new markets, Wolt has been able to expand rapidly. Over the last year or so, Wolt has remained focused on growth, increasing revenue, and investing new funds into its “people, technology, and markets”.
For brands looking to follow in their footsteps, keep our above tips in mind. Plus, it’s always a good idea to use brand monitoring to gain a better understanding of how consumers view your brand — after all, how consumers feel about your brand is incredibly important to overall success.
2022 Update: Wolt & DoorDash Join Forces
Source: Wolt Press Kit
Back in November 2021, it was announced that Wolt and DoorDash would be joining forces, with the latter company planning to acquire Wolt Enterprises OY in an all-stock transaction. In Wolt’s official press release announcing the coming merger, the brand shared that it expected “this partnership to accelerate our progress towards our common goals.”
From Wolt’s perspective, their “combination of technological innovation, operational expertise, and intense focus on the consumer experience are characteristics” that will make it possible for the combined companies “to build a leading local commerce platform and drive substantial growth for many years.”
As of June 1st, 2022, Wolt was officially acquired by DoorDash in the aforementioned all-stock transaction — making Wolt’s CEO Miki Kuusi the new head of DoorDash International, a position that will report to DoorDash CEO Tony Xu.
This acquisition expands DoorDash’s reach to a total of 27 countries — helping the brand to further solidify its place as a global market leader. However, Wolt won’t just disappear into the DoorDash universe. According to Wolt’s official press release:
“Under Miki's leadership, DoorDash aims to accelerate its international growth through faster product development and improved investment efficiency. The Wolt consumer app will continue to run separately, supported by the resources of a global technology company. Wolt plans to maintain operations in all of the markets where it currently operates.”
In fact, both DoorDash CEO Tony Xu and Wolt CEO Miki Kuusi see this merger as an opportunity to improve their combined brands. In the press release, Kuusi shared:
“Today marks the beginning of a new chapter for Wolt. By joining forces with DoorDash, we have an even greater ability to build delightful products and services across continents. Our two companies share a strong vision for local commerce, and working side by side, we can accomplish more for all our stakeholders.”
We’ll be interested to see how this acquisition impacts the combined companies' success — and will, thus, be keeping our eyes open for any forthcoming announcements.
Updated by: Cory Schröder on 31.10.22