[Interview] Narek Verdian, CTO, Glovo: Understanding our users is at the heart of our development process

Narek Verdian is the Chief Technology Officer at Glovo, an on-demand delivery platform founded in Barcelona in 2015. The startup currently operates in Southwest Europe, Eastern Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa

What does it mean to be a CTO?

I’m Chief Technology Officer at Glovo, one of the world’s pioneering multi-category apps. It is my responsibility to help drive our ambitious tech strategy and expand the engineering team. What I really care about is the power of technology and the meaningful impact it has on people’s lives. 

When it comes to delivering an effective tech strategy at Glovo, my aim is to create a world-class engineering organisation where passionate and creative humans work together, and use technology and insights to solve problems and create a shared value for all participants of our marketplace. The team focuses relentlessly on operational excellence; from engineering metrics to the availability and reliability of our platforms.

As CTO, it’s also my role to keep the company’s impact at the heart of everything we do. I’ve focused on ensuring that my team has the ability to experiment, fail, learn, measure impact, reduce wasteful activities, and overall simply assess the type of impact we can have. This allows for the tech team to continuously focus on improving the platform that supports our business, preparing it to effectively scale — especially for a business that grows as fast as we do at Glovo.

Lastly, I’m passionate about supercharging our marketplace by operating as an innovator, always seeking to develop and launch new verticals, new areas of the businesses, and ultimately new opportunities

Some key milestones and challenges in the journey of a CTO?

As a CTO, leading Engineering, Data, Security and IT I have to wear different hats all the time. On one side, my focus is expanding our engineering team by driving the acceleration of our tech hubs in Spain, Poland, and most recently Ukraine. On the other, it is scaling and modularising the Glovo technical platform to support the growth and expansion of our services across the vast number of diverse countries we operate in. 

Will there be a recruitment of tech teams in the Kenyan market to be part of the global Glovo tech team?

Since starting at Glovo over a year ago my focus has been on expanding our engineering team. I have been driving the acceleration of our tech hubs across different markets and I’m thrilled that we’ve made  significant progress, having hired well over 200 engineers since. Currently, I am in Kenya to learn about Glovo’s operations here, the specific nuances of all sides of our marketplace using Glovo. I am also engaging with the local tech community and startups. Just this week I had the pleasure of talking to a number of CEOs, CTOs and engaging with engineering students. In Kenya and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a huge opportunity to grow, mentor, and coach students/graduates into choosing software engineering as a career to fill the vast number of roles that go unfilled every year. 

How has Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the tech industry or reshaped its future?

At Glovo, the pandemic made us aware of the value that our platform could bring to society, as we naturally shifted our focus towards delivering essential goods to our customers. Another thing Glovo has learned during this crisis is how important the platform has become for our restaurant partners, which were forced to close their physical locations in most of the 26 countries where we operate. For many, Glovo became and as they stated in their own words, ‘a lifeline’, to maintain their business. 

Has the number of on-demand deliveries been affected during the pandemic?

As a consequence, we have seen a growing interest from new restaurants and shops to join Glovo as a way of safeguarding the continuation of their businesses. The crisis also accelerated the digitalisation of other sectors that were deprived of their physical operations, from local shops and newspaper kiosks to supermarkets and electronic stores. Their integration was facilitated by the way Glovo was designed as a multi-category delivery app right from day one. The pandemic accelerated the migration towards ordering online due to the convenience and the speed of delivery. 

What are the platform’s scope of operations in Kenya and future plans for this market?

One of our priorities is to be relevant in the markets we operate in, which means providing hyper-local experiences, the best and most relevant local players, payment methods, and many more things.

What are the key highlights that have emerged from your assessment of Kenya’s tech space? 

One of the main highlights for me is the need to localise our product to fit market needs. We are in the process of evaluating this, in order to provide the best experience to users, couriers and partners that meet their needs. 

Similar platforms such as Glovo are cropping up. How do you remain competitive and innovative?

Listening and understanding our users, couriers, and partners is at the heart of our development process and R&D plans. We have seen ever-changing consumer behaviours accelerated by the pandemic and it is crucial that these key elements are also  taken into consideration.  I believe this is what allows us to stay ahead of the competition and leaves room for innovation. 

Should we expect the tech industry to be disruptive in the next five years?

We are living through a truly exciting time in history for technology. With the emergence of deep neural networks, brain-computer-interfaces, nano-drones, organic transistors, and DNA-based storage, we will soon be in a world where it’s simply impossible to predict how it will evolve. The ‘geek’ in me can’t wait to start experimenting with those technologies. At Glovo, we work across a three-sided marketplace and so we need to be mindful of the changes in latest trends, preferences, and behaviours.  

What should we expect from Glovo in the next two years, tech wise? 

Our primary focus is indeed on our customers, couriers and partners. Our team is a creative group of people who collaborate in an inclusive environment, using insights and maximizing the use of technology and automation to solve complex problems.

The biggest differentiator and feature that brings added value to our business and a state-of-the-art experience in the app is that it offers multi-category purchases. In technical terms, we have many challenges we need to address with a multi-category app, as the purchase path of the modern consumer is complex. Especially when it comes to user preferences, as, unlike other food delivery apps, Glovo extends way beyond food. This means that we have to constantly balance the needs our partners, couriers, and customers have with the best possible user experience and to act fast, to adjust within a very short period of time. And all while still maintaining as simple an interface as possible because this is what we know they all appreciate. 

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