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Tim MacKinnon would be the first to admit he’s not an expert in the hospitality industry, but as the managing director of eBay Australia for the last four years, he does know a thing or two about e-commerce. This will come in handy in his new role as CEO of meal delivery start-up Providoor, where his job is to help high-end restaurants grow their business online.

We recently spoke with MacKinnon about his brief stint as a kitchen hand in his younger years, and what he thinks hospitality and retail have in common.

Inside Retail: You obviously bring a lot of experience in online marketplaces to your new role at Providoor, but as far as I know, you haven’t worked in hospitality before in your career – perhaps you did at another time in your life. Do you see any similarities between hospitality and retail? 

Tim MacKinnon: I did work in hospitality when I was younger like many people do, but I don’t think I lasted 48 hours as a kitchen hand before I was fired. I lasted a little longer as a waiter, but I wasn’t a great waiter either. [Providoor founder] Shane [Delia] is a restaurateur and he understands restaurants. 

One of the similarities between retail and hospitality is the focus on the customer and the customer experience. It’s even more pronounced in restaurants where the concept of hospitality is even bigger than customer service. You can see that in the way the restaurants approach Providoor — they write handwritten notes, they have a playlist that comes with the food, they put all the little touches to make sure that people feel that hospitality, that experience and that love in the product. It does remind me of eBay sellers. A lot of them put handwritten notes in their packages, but it’s even more pronounced. 

One of the differences is that restaurants are less used to doing marketing than retailers. They generally market through PR and word-of mouth. They’re starting to build social [followings], but a lot of them don’t know how to manage email databases and do paid marketing. One of the interesting things about Providoor is that 60-70 per cent of customers have never been to the restaurant [they order from] before. People are using it to try new restaurants, so Providoor can play a role as a kind of marketing partner for restaurants. 

Logistically, it’s different because customers need their order to arrive on a particular day or night, whereas with e-commerce, they just want it to arrive as quickly as possible. The experience of getting the food is also more elevated. People spend more time looking at images, reading about dishes, and the origin of dishes before they order. And then when they receive it, it’s not like getting a package from Australia Post, they really care about the unboxing, it’s a big thing for people. When they open up the foil and see all the dishes in there, they see the playlist and the story of the restaurant, and they unpack it and put the food in their fridge — that’s actually a cool part of the experience. 

There are a lot of similarities to retail, but being a luxury experience-based product, all of the touch points are much more important, and you really need to think about the hospitality ethos that runs through restaurants and bring that online. 

IR: You’ve spent the last 10 years working at one of the biggest e-commerce companies in the world. How does it feel to be moving to a start-up?

TM: I feel really fortunate to have led the Australian [eBay] business. It’s not a huge team, it’s around 100 people, and I knew everybody. We moved really fast and were agile because we had a lot of competition, so I don’t feel like I’ve come from a really big company. I feel like I’ve been in a startup that sits in a big company, so it’s not a huge leap to go to a start-up. 

That said, there is a lot more focus [at Providoor] on building the team from the ground up, hiring new people, and [creating] new processes. It’s exciting to be at an earlier stage where you’re building something. There’s more uncertainty and a lot more testing than in my job at eBay, since it was already a well established business that we were continuing to grow. Here, we’ve got something that’s just starting out. There’s a lot more experimentation, which I’m enjoying so far. 

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