We talked to David Lin of Duffl about delivering snacks to college students and the impacts of COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
David Lin: We are doing good. My family is in Peru. The country is locked down, and I am surviving here in LA.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Duffl.
David Lin: I founded Duffl in my Sophomore year of college. I am passionate about electric vehicles, and my co-founder Brian and I met while hacking Bird scooters. Together, we built a website and started delivering college essentials to our friends. Soon, we grew very quickly and got accepted to Y-Combinator. Since then, we’ve raised a seed round and are working towards dominating every college campus in California.
How does Duffl innovate?
David Lin: We innovate by reasoning from first principles. When we are confronted with a difficult problem, we try to boil down the problem into its fundamental constituents. From there, we determine the core axioms that we believe to be true. In Duffl’s case, we believe customers will always want faster deliveries, lower prices, and better selection. With that in mind, we will brainstorm ideas to tackle these goals and use data to verify and iterate on the ideas over time.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
David Lin: We are doing well despite the COVID pandemic. Since April, we’ve more than 500x our revenue and are now doing over a million dollars in annual run-rate. In fact, we think COVID is what will enable us to grow at unprecedented speeds. It has been, in fact, a blessing in disguise.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
David Lin: We made many difficult choices, but perhaps the most difficult was deciding to double down on our business despite the difficult problems and global pandemic. I personally learned that I need to have faith in myself and not second guess my instincts. Inexplicably, my gut decisions are often right.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Duffl in the future?
David Lin: Stress and anxiety are inevitable parts of running a startup. I have internalized this and learned to enjoy the journey regardless of the destination. When you can accept the probability of outcomes, you are effectively freed from pointless worrying. It doesn’t matter if I fail, as long as I tried my best and learned something. In that world, there is no losing, and so, there is no point in stressing. However, I must qualify this statement by saying that there are good forms of stress. A healthy level of paranoia about your product, your customers, and your team is good.
I see myself and my company creating a strong presence in every college campus in California by the end of 2021. I believe that we are uniquely positioned to take over colleges across the country and build a massive business along the way. All in all, I look forward to working hard, having fun, and learning from my friends and co-workers.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
David Lin: GoPuff and 7NOW are our competitors. We plan to stay in the game by winning the game. Like previously mentioned, customers will always want a faster, cheaper, and better selection, and we have built something that is 10x better from the ground up. Our average delivery time is 8 minutes because we have made strategic tradeoffs that prevent anyone from imitating us effectively. With that being said, we understand the only way to survive in this market is to never stop innovating.
Your final thoughts?
David Lin: We believe that the secret to the most compelling delivery experience is proximity, but proximity brings with it many inherent limitations. Luckily, data is the gold of the 21st century, and with it, we are able to do more with less. Better speeds, better pricing, and better selection — anything you need in 10 minutes.