If you haven’t already heard the name Rafael Ilishayev, you soon will. As the founder of goPuff, he’s sat at the helm of a $3.9 billion company that’s captured the market in super-fast food delivery. Whether you’re craving ice cream at 1am, beer at 11pm, or some organic seaweed chips at 4pm, goPuff promise to deliver what you want, when you need it most. Ilishayev co-founded the business in 2013 with the help of his college buddy, Yakir Gola. 7 years later, the two are among a growing number of young entrepreneurs taking the world by storm. Find out more with these ten things you didn’t know about Rafael Ilishayev.
1. He started goPuff from his college dorm room
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only former student with a talent for creating big things from his dorm room. Ilishayev might come from an entrepreneurial family, but it was his experiences as a freshman at Drexel University in Philadelphia that gave him the push to start his own business. When Ilishayev met Yakir Gola on the first day of their Business 101 class, history was made. Within the year, the pair had started goPuff out of their college dorm room.
2. He was the first goPuff delivery boy
He may be the CEO of one of America’s most successful start-ups now, but when Ilishayev founded goPuff, he was happy enough to serve as the company’s primary delivery boy. “For the first four months of the business, it was just Yakir and I making deliveries seven days a week, every day until four in the morning to anyone in our delivery zone in Philadelphia,” Ilishayev has since reminisced to technical.ly. At the time, their main customer base was the students of Philly’s three central universities, a group who can always be relied upon to hanker after beer and ice-cream at 1am in the morning.
3. He flipped furniture to fund goPuff
The inspiration for goPuff stemmed from Ilishayev’s frustrations with everyday c-stores. “[The stores] left a lot to be desired,” he’s since said. “On-demand was essentially on-availability. They weren’t built for millennials. We thought, ‘There has to be a better way to do this.” And apparently, there was. The light bulb moment came, and with it, goPuff was born. But it wasn’t a straight ride to the top. Although the business quickly found an audience with students, it would be a while before the late-night snack cravings of college kids started to translate into cold hard cash. To fund the business in the interim, its founders took to flipping office furniture on eBay and Craigslist. They proved master flippers, and had soon managed to bring in over $50 thousand – all that was needed, it transpired, to give goPuff the kick start it needed to start its journey from the minor leagues to the fastest growing delivery service in the US.
4. He skipped class for deliveries
As goPuff started to hit the accelerator on its expansion plans, Ilishayev began to struggle to balance the needs of the business with the needs of his university studies. Money also began to become a drain – the money they’d made flipping furniture was enough to jump start the business, but not enough to grant them a cushy lifestyle. “Expanding through the first three cities was difficult because we were bootstrapped,” he since recalled to NBC News. “We had no money to do anything but the bare minimum operations. We slept in the warehouses to save money that would have been spent on hotels.” With both students putting 16-hour days, seven days a week into the business, their studies started taking the hit. “Everything else was secondary. We would have to leave class sometimes to make deliveries,” Ilishayev has said. Gola eventually got tired of spreading himself so thin and quit college to concentrate on the business. Ilishayev persevered; by the time he graduated in 2015, he had both a degree in legal studies and a rapidly growing business to his name.
5. He’s a popular CEO
A business doesn’t necessarily need their CEO to be popular in order to succeed, but it’s at least going to do wonders for staff morale. To say Ilishayev is a popular CEO would be an understatement. According to comparably.com, Ilishayev has an approval rating of 88%, putting him in the top five of all CEO’s in the country. Better start working on that job application…
6. He’s been named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30″
Ilishayev might only be 27 years old, but he’s proved age is no barrier to success. Since goPuff started making news, its two founders have been thrust into the spotlight, earning accolades, news coverage, and a very special mention on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in the “Retail & Ecommerce” category. Other honors received by Ilishayev and Gola include Target Magazine’s Marketer of the Year Award in 2017, Drexel University Founders Award in 2019, recognition from Valley Youth House as Emerging Leaders, and earlier this year, a mention on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list, an annual list of breakthrough companies that are revolutionizing the economy from the ground up.
7. He’s into philanthropy
Ilishayev’s success can be traced back to his student days at Drexel University. He’s clearly got fond memories of his time there, and remains closely involved with the university via his activities with the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship and Drexel Chabad. His contributions to his old alma mater haven’t been unappreciated, at least if the Drexel University Founders Award he received from them in 2019 is anything to go by. Neither have his other philanthropic activities gone unnoticed, including as they do committing $1 million in orders to health care professionals working in the front-line through the COVID pandemic via the Health Care Support Initiative, and agreeing to match up to $1 million in donations to the Boys & Girls Clubs COVID-19 Relief Funds.
8. He speaks Russian
According to his LinkedIn profile, English isn’t the only language Ilishayev speaks. Russian is also listed as a language – although just how proficient he is… well, your guess is as good as ours (although considering his family are of Russian decent, it’s probably better than ours).
9. He intended the company name to create curiosity
goPuff doesn’t sell cigarettes. Neither does it sell rolling tobacco. No matter how bad your late-night craving for a smoke, it can’t and won’t help. Which makes it slightly intriguing as to why its founders deliberately picked a company name that conjures up an image of a hookah pipe. According to Ilishayev, that was the exact intention. Generating curiosity was the primary goal of Ilishayev and Gola’s ‘what’s a good name for a business’ conversation, and the main reason behind the edgy descriptions each of their products comes with. Grab them with the name, then stun them with the delivery… and according to Ilishayev, “Millennials love it.”
10. His best piece of advice is to work hard
Ilishayev hasn’t got to where he is today by being a slacker. At the start of goPuff, he was working 24/7… something that may have been hard at the time, but he’s reaping the benefits now. Speaking to NBC, he advises other budding entrepreneurs to do the same. “Execute and work hard,” he says. “Also, don’t think about the end game. Focus on today, do everything you can to move the company forward and the rest will follow.”