Back in 2013, Tony Xu was looking into ideas for a business school project when he hit on a problem affecting most restaurants: delivery. For most establishments, the costs of delivering food from their door to the customers made it unviable. Chinese and pizza restaurants could build it into their business models, but that was about the extent of it. Spotting a gap in the market, Xu and his fellow Stanford classmates, Stanley Tang, Andy Fang, and Evan Moore, set out to fill it. The result was DoorDash, a company that’s grown from tiny beginnings into the US’s leading third-party food delivery provider. Now estimated to be worth close to $16 billion, DoorDash has made names of its founders, not least Xu, who currently presides over the company as its CEO. Find out more as we take you through ten things you didn’t know about Tony Xu.
1. He changed his name when he was five
Xu was born in China but moved to the US with his family when he was 4. A year later, he decided he’d had enough of trying to teach his classmates and teachers how to pronounce his name. So, naturally enough, he decided to change it. He eventually settled on Tony after actor Tony Danza, who at the time was starring in Xu’s favorite TV show, “Who’s the Boss?”
2. He founded DoorDash at Stanford
After finishing high school, Xu studied industrial engineering at UC Berkeley. After graduating, he spent several years working in tech with the likes of McKinsey and eBay. Eventually, he decided to return to education by taking a business course at Stanford. And it was fortunate he did – while studying at the university, he met and made friends with Andy Fang, Stanley Tang and Evan Moore. The friendship would later take on a professional bent when they joined forces to found DoorDash in 2013.
3. He loves running
The life of a CEO might be a constant whirlwind of meetings and conference calls, but Xu makes sure to schedule some regular downtime to relax. So, what’s his favorite way to clear his mind? Pulling on a pair of sneakers and hitting the pavements. “I run in the mornings two or three times during the week, and both days on the weekend,” he tells sequoiacap.com. “I’ll usually go to the Marin Headlands or somewhere in nature. It helps me regulate my mind and body, which I think is why the habit stuck. I feel noticeably better when I run.”
4. His mother was the inspiration for DoorDash
Xu’s family moved to the US after his father won a place on an engineering course at the University of Illinois. Prior to the move, Xu’s mother had practiced medicine. Unfortunately, her medical license wasn’t recognized in the US and she was forced to give up her career to work in a restaurant instead. It’s her story that provided the inspiration for Xu’s decision to launch DoorDash. “We started the company to really help small businesses, people like my mom,” he’s explained to vox.com. “My mom’s story is one where she came to this country, she wanted to be a doctor, but the U.S. didn’t recognize her license because we immigrated from China. It was a different license, and we only had $250 in the bank, so we couldn’t put her through school. So, she had to work three different jobs, one of which was at a restaurant, to save up enough money to open up a medical clinic, which she did after 12 years, and she now still runs in her 19th year. So, we started the company wanting to help people like her.”
5. He worked at Dominos
When the idea for Doordash was still in its infancy, Xu and his fellow founders were eager to learn as much about the food delivery business as possible. To get the insight scoop, Xu decided to take a job as a delivery driver with Domino’s Pizza. The experience proved invaluable, as he later discussed with davidsnotes.substack.com. “We learned a couple of interesting observations,” he said. “It was really hard for a small business to know how many drivers they need. They couldn’t deal with special events like a football game or Valentine’s Day.”
6. He’s been named to Fortune’s 40 under 40
Xu has crammed a lot into an incredibly short space of time. Over the past decade, he’s gone from being a student to becoming the head of one of the fastest-growing companies in the US. Even more astonishingly, he’s still only 35 years old. That kind of thing doesn’t go unnoticed, as Xu himself learned when he earned a place on Fortune’s prestigious ’40 under 40′, an annual round-up of the most influential people under the age of 40.
7. His motto is to have fun and no regrets
Back in 2018, Xu took part in a question/ answer session at Quora (https://www.quora.com/profile/Tony-Xu). Among the questions asked was an inquiry into what advice he’d offer young entrepreneurs looking to begin their own startups. His answer revealed the personal philosophy that drives his success. “My motto when making any decision—in work or life—is to have the most fun and least regrets,” he shared. “This explains why I feel so lucky doing what I do every day.”
8. He has a date night with his wife every Friday
Xu married his wife Patti shortly after launching DoorDash. The couple, who met in church, share a two-year-old daughter named Olivia. Despite the pressure of running DoorDash, Xu’s priority is clearly his family. Regardless of what’s happening at work, he always makes sure to clear a space in his calendar on a Friday evening to enjoy a ‘date night’ with his wife.
9. He’s a ruthless leader
According to his colleagues, Xu’s leadership style can be ‘ruthless’ – although as ft.com notes, unlike certain other ‘notorious disrupters’ in Silicon Valley, he never fails to be fair. “Ruthless doesn’t mean demeaning people or disrespecting them,” says Andrew Munday, one of DoorDash’s first full-time employees. “It just means a really, really high standard. If you don’t know your numbers, he’s going to ask you the same question five times in a row.”
10. He hates doing laundry
If Xu was forced to name his least favorite thing, it wouldn’t be boring meetings or never-ending conference calls. It would be the same household chore that’s a bugbear for the rest of us. “My least favorite thing to do is the laundry,” he tells lifehacker.com. “The only reason I have clean clothes is that I trade chores with my wife: I do the dishes, and she does the laundry.”