13:43 PM

Silicon Valley's Changing Role as Brazil's iFood Shows How To Innovate Anywhere

Silicon Valley knows how to scale innovation -- it doesn't need to be the source.

Brazil’s iFood is a great example of a highly innovative company that is very much a product of Silicon Valley even though it is founded and funded largely by Brazilians (and South Africans) and has raised nearly $600 million and swiftly built a giant business. It is one of Brazil’s nine unicorns today. 

I came across iFood earlier this year at the well-attended BayBrazil conference in Silicon Valley where Fabricio Bloisi founder and CEO of Movile (photo:below), a Brazilian mobile apps and investment firm, was the keynote speaker. Bloisi is a colorful personality and he’s funny and humble considering all the success he’s had in business. 






Bloisi spoke about coming to Silicon Valley many years ago and the lessons he learned and took back with him to use in his many investments — Movile is one of the biggest shareholders in iFood. He said there were just 30 employees at iFood when Movile first invested. And he helped iFood apply the chief lesson he learned from his time in Silicon Valley: think big and develop a mission to improve the lives of more than a billion people.

Armed with that philosophy iFood has become a giant and the clear market leader in Latin American food delivery with more than 21.5 million monthly orders processed and 116,200 restaurants registered in 822 cities. 

According to a September Frost & Sullivan report on the worldwide online food delivery market, iFood had 86 percent market share in Brazil last year. The global consulting firm forecasts that Brazil will surpass $1.5 billion in online food delivery sales in 2019 and the value of the global market will soon be $200 billion. 

Bloisi predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will eventually make it possible for iFood-delivered meals to be cheaper than buying and cooking food at home. That’s a great example of setting big ideas — and then developing the innovation needed to get there. 

AI is at the core of iFood but not just in an elite inner-circle group of AI developers — the company this week announced that all employees of iFood and Movile — more than 3,000 — will undergo mandatory training in AI during 2020 beginning with what is AI, how to use it, what to use it for, and progressing to more advanced training. 

“Everyone is either directly or indirectly affected by AI,” said Carlos Moyses, iFood CEO. "If you’re on the sales team, AI is helping direct you to the best prospects. If you’re a member of the customer experience team, AI helps further augment the customer experience.” 

Because of this fundamental reliance on AI, the executive team decided it was "absolutely critical to be the first Brazilian company to help educate all of its employees to be experts in AI."

A newly formed group within the company called the AI Academy (an R&D lab) that was launched in April is now staffed with about 100 data scientists and related experts to develop AI technologies and work closely with various business units to solve the biggest problems and drive more rapid growth and market share. . 

In addition to AI-trained staff, here are several other current and planned innovative initiatives at iFood such as:

— The use of autonomous robots to help with food deliveries within large buildings or large campus-like areas. It’s a partnership with Brazil-based Synkar that will kick off early next year. 

— iFood has created its own digital maps which it uses to determine food-preparation times to improve its delivery predictions and to map out more efficient routes for its delivery partners. .

— It is the first in Latin America to use Amazon’s Alexa to select from menus and order food.

— It is able to monitor delivery partners and reward those that keep to posted speed limits.

— It has plans to use drone delivery but not to displace delivery partners, but to move food from kitchen to iFood hubs that can cut up to 12 minutes off current delivery times.

— It has set up internal, cross-functional teams to quickly find solutions to work-process inefficiencies and to develop new services.

iFood thinks of itself as a tech company: Brazil’s first foodtech giant..

Fabricio Bloisi’s focus on food is a genius move in terms of thinking hugely big. Food is intensely important to every person alive and is needed several times a day.  Food is core to our health and to maintaining the civil functioning of society. And it includes a vast populace of producers and consumers. It’s an opportunity to make an enormous impact in what is the world’s largest target market — the entire population of the world.

Fast growing startups are found in many parts of the world but that doesn’t mean Silicon Valley is going away.. Silicon Valley is where innovation comes to be scaled. It has the capital and it has the people with the right expertise to build startups into global giants. Manny of Silicon Valley's lessons can be applied by anyone anywhere but it's hard to replicate the culture of its venture capital community and its high tolerance for risk.