Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage
Comment of the Day

May 18 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage

This article by Ranjan Roy for themargins is a wonderful story of life imitating art. Here is a section:

But he brought up another problem - the prices were off. He was frustrated that customers were seeing incorrectly low prices. A pizza that he charged $24 for was listed as $16 by Doordash.

My first thought: I wondered if Doordash is artificially lowering prices for customer acquisition purposes.

My second thought: I knew Doordash scraped restaurant websites. After we discussed it more, it was clear that the way his menu was set up on his website, Doordash had mistakenly taken the price for a plain cheese pizza and applied it to a 'specialty' pizza with a bunch of toppings.

My third thought: Cue the Wall Street trader in me…..ARBITRAGE!!!!

If someone could pay Doordash $16 a pizza, and Doordash would pay his restaurant $24 a pizza, then he should clearly just order pizzas himself via Doordash, all day long. You'd net a clean $8 profit per pizza [insert nerdy economics joke about there is such a thing as a free lunch].

He thought this was a stupid idea. "A business as successful a Doordash and worth billions of dollars would clearly not just give away money like this." But I pushed back that, given their recent obscene fundraise, they would weirdly enough be happy to lose that money. Some regional director would be able to show top-line revenue growth while some accounting line-item, somewhere, would not match up, but the company was already losing hundreds of millions of dollars. I imagined their systems might even be built to discourage catching these mistakes because it would detract, or at a minimum distract, from top-line revenue.

So we put in the first order for 10 pizzas.

Eoin Treacy's view

I had to smile when I read this article because it is almost the exact plot line from an episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley Mrs. Treacy and I watched over the weekend but from two years ago. Start-ups lighting money on fire is about as clear a sign of bubbly activity one might wish for.

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