Silicon Valley's changing role as Brazil's iFood shows how to innovate anywhere

Innovative startups can be found all across the world, but Silicon Valley isn't going away.

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Fabricio Bloisi CEO of Movile -- chief shareholder in iFood.

Brazil's iFood is a great example of a highly innovative company that is very much a product of Silicon Valley -- even though it is founded and funded largely by Brazilians (and South Africans). It has raised nearly $600 million and has swiftly built a giant business. It is one of Brazil's nine unicorns today. 

I came across iFood earlier this year at the well-attended BayBrazil conference in Silicon Valley, where Fabricio Bloisi, founder and CEO of Movile, a Brazilian mobile apps and investment firm, was the keynote speaker. Bloisi is a colorful personality, and he's funny and humble considering all the success he's had in business. 

SILICON VALLEY LESSONS

Bloisi spoke about coming to Silicon Valley many years ago and the lessons he learned and took back with him to use in his many investments. Movile is one of the biggest shareholders in iFood. He said there were just 30 employees at iFood when Movile first invested. And he helped iFood apply the chief lesson he learned from his time in Silicon Valley: Think big and develop a mission to improve the lives of more than a billion people.

Armed with that philosophy. iFood has become a giant and the clear market leader in Latin American food delivery, with more than 21.5 million monthly orders processed and 116,200  restaurants registered in 822 cities. 

According to a September Frost & Sullivan report on the worldwide online food delivery market, iFood had 86% market share in Brazil last year. The global consulting firm forecasts that Brazil will surpass $1.5 billion in online food delivery sales in 2019, and the value of the global market will soon be $200 billion.  

Bloisi predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will eventually make it possible for iFood-delivered meals to be cheaper than buying and cooking food at home. It's a great example of setting big ideas -- and then developing the innovation needed to get there. 

AI FOR ALL

AI is at the core of iFood, but not just for an elite inner-circle group of AI developers. The company this week announced that all employees of iFood and Movile -- more than 3,000 -- will undergo mandatory training in AI during 2020 beginning with what is AI, how to use it, what to use it for, and progressing to more advanced training. 

"Everyone is either directly or indirectly affected by AI," said Carlos Moyses, iFood CEO. "If you're on the sales team, AI is helping direct you to the best prospects. If you're a member of the customer experience team, AI helps further augment the customer experience." 

Because of this fundamental reliance on AI, the executive team decided it was "absolutely critical to be the first Brazilian company to help educate all of its employees to be experts in AI."

A newly formed group within the company, called the AI Academy, is an R&D lab that was launched in April. It is now staffed with about 100 data scientists and related experts to develop AI technologies and work closely with various business units to solve their biggest problems and drive market share. 

BRAZILIAN INNOVATION 

In addition to AI-trained staff, there are several current and planned innovative initiatives at iFood, such as:

  • The use of autonomous robots to help with food deliveries within large buildings or large campus-like areas. It's a partnership with Brazil-based Synkar that will kick off early next year. 
  • iFood has created its own digital maps, which it uses to determine food-preparation times to improve its delivery predictions and to map out more efficient routes for its delivery partners. 
  • It is the first in Latin America to use Amazon's Alexa to select from menus and order food.
  • It can monitor delivery partners and reward those that keep to posted speed limits.
  • It has plans to use drone delivery but not to displace delivery partners, but to move food from the kitchen to iFood hubs that can cut up to 12 minutes off current delivery times.
  • It has set up internal, cross-functional teams to quickly find solutions to problems and to develop new services.

iFood thinks of itself as a tech company; Brazil's first food tech giant.

FOOD FOR ALL

Fabricio Bloisi's focus on food is a genius move in terms of thinking hugely big. Food is intensely important to every person alive and is needed several times a day.  Food is core to our health and to maintaining the civil functioning of society. And it includes a vast economy of producers and consumers. 

Food is where there's an opportunity to make an enormous impact on what is the largest target market: The entire population of the world. 

SILICON VALLEY'S FUTURE

Fast-growing startups are found in many parts of the world, but that doesn't mean Silicon Valley is going away. Silicon Valley is where innovation from elsewhere comes to be scaled. Only Silicon Valley has the amounts of investment capital, tolerance of risk, and most importantly: The people with the right expertise to build startups into global giants.