Hangry: A Startup Journey

Mike Evans wanted a pizza, but getting a pizza was a pain in the neck. Insightful and hilarious, HANGRY candidly follows Mike’s personal journey from the excitement of creating something new, to the satisfaction of changing the way America eats, and then ultimately, to the horror of seeing GrubHub turn from its roots to become a byword for exploitation in the restaurant industry. Increasingly suffering from anger and frustration, Mike rage quits the company he started, leaving it all behind to ride a bike across the United States in a longshot attempt to regain his sanity and find a new purpose. 


Prologue

I’m done.

All-day meetings. All-night coding sessions. Midnight outages. Software bugs. Patent lawyers. Employees. Investors. Thousands of angry customers. Millions of happy ones. And pizza. So. Much. Pizza.

I’m done with all of it.

This fills me with equal parts relief and outrage. I say it out loud: “I’m actually done.” I’d been trying, quite unsuccessfully, to quit the company I started for a solid three years. I finally managed it (hence my relief). Unfortunately, they slammed the door so hard it hit me in the ass on the way out (hence my outrage). 

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. 

So here I am, in Virginia Beach, sitting gingerly on the threadbare paisley covers of a too-small bed, in America’s shittiest motel room. Lights from the parking lot shine weakly through beige curtains, so faded that it’s impossible to tell if they share the same pattern as the bedspread. The bottom of the “door” sports a four-inch gap. This muddies the distinction between whether this room is indoors, or just a partially obstructed partition of outside. Every few seconds, a car passes by on the busy road just past the parking lot, the headlights sweeping in and all over the walls of the room. The room smells strongly of cleaning products and cigarette smoke. Underneath that is a miasma that permeates all of Virginia Beach: a hint of salt spray and diesel fumes.

I’m not here because I’m broke. Quite the opposite. GrubHub, the company that I founded twelve years ago at my dining room table, just had its IPO. I could have paid for a suite in one of the waterfront hotels. Hell, I could have bought one of the waterfront hotels. But that would be missing the point of this ill-begun adventure. I’m trying to get grounded. Learn patience. Find the smile that I lost along the way. And figure out how to fix some of the damage I caused.

Turns out, I might have created a Frankenstein. 

It started small. I just wanted a pizza. Did that. Yum.

Then, I wanted to quit my job. Yep. Did that too. Nice.

Then I wanted to pay off a crushing pile of school debt. Job done. Woohoo!

After that, I just wanted to make it bigger. So, it grew. It got big. Too big. It got away from me. Now, I worry that Wall Street’s insatiable appetite for profit will turn the company I founded into a trap. Will GrubHub stay true to its roots? Or will it become a necessary evil for restaurants? Will it level the playing field for mom-and-pop restaurants against the big chains, or will it become just another vendor, trying to take a piece of the pie?

Whether it becomes a Frankenstein or not, it was a grand success for a lot of people, including me. An IPO, so I’ve been told, is the dream of every entrepreneur. 

Like I said, be careful what you ask for. You just might get it. 

So. Now what?

I’m going for a ride. A long one. I’m going to ride my bike over four thousand miles, right across the United States, Atlantic Ocean to Pacific. I’m going to unwind the twelve years of insane work that almost killed my marriage and left me utterly spent. Now free, I plan on passing three glorious months meeting amazing people, drinking in sweeping vistas of this grand country, and, maybe, learning how to smile again.

Ironically, now that I am free of thinking about pizza all day long, my stomach won’t let me stop. I’m desperate for the one that I ordered to get here. Now that all the board meetings and fancy Wall Street dinners and hobnobbing at Michelin-starred restaurants are done, I can get back to eating comfort food again (especially since I can spare the calories on this bike ride!). It’s funny that now that I don’t need to entertain investment bankers, my GrubHub order is late. But I don’t laugh. I’m hangry. And getting hangrier by the second.

As I sit in this crappy motel room, I feel like quitting this adventure before I even start it. I worry that I will discover that this is not the shittiest motel in America. (Turns out I’ll be right about that.) I miss my wife, Christine, in our Chicago home, probably reading a book in our infinitely more comfortable bed, snuggled up with our dog, in a house where the doors go all the way down. Back home, there is food in the refrigerator. Or, if not, at least there, pizzas arrive in less than two frickin’ hours. 

But I’m not at home. I’m here, hungry, lonely, and not quite so sure I’ve made great life decisions lately. This trip sounded like a positive way to start a new chapter of my life.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Finally, there’s a knock on the too-short door and the long-awaited pizza arrives.

My grindingly empty stomach doesn’t allow the luxury of waiting for the ‘za to cool. I don’t even slow down to add the pepper flakes. About half the still-melty cheese from the first piece remains stubbornly stuck to the pie as I pull it off too quick and take a bite.

Glory! Tastebuds erupt. Saliva flows. Angels sing.

This might be best slice of pizza I have ever had!

Oh! How the mighty have fallen!

Most people think a Chicago-style pizza is a monstrous, two-inch-thick wheel of cheese, embedded in a thick cornmeal crust, more akin to a birthday cake than a pizza. But most people are wrong. “Chicago-style” has nothing to do with the thickness of the cheese. Any true Chicagoan knows that giardiniera is the key to a great pie. It’s an unassuming ingredient: pickled peppers or vegetables in oil–spicy or mild, as you like it. This Virginia Beach-style pizza is sadly devoid of spicy pickled peppers. But necessity being the mother of invention, I have substituted bell peppers and garlic. So, really, it’s not too bad. But “best pizza ever.” Pshaw! Hardly!

Still, I eat.

And eat.

And eat some more.

As I eat, I’m interrupted by an incoming text.

“Your pizza is about to leave the restaurant,” it reads.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Seriously?

I presume they’re referring to the mostly eaten pizza sitting here on my crappy motel bed. Clearly, the system I patented at GrubHub four years ago, the one that is supposed to increase the accuracy of these texts, still hasn’t been implemented correctly. A decade of habit has me opening my email to write a feisty note to the product team about it . . . and then I remember.

I quit today. It’s over. It’s not my problem anymore.

Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it!

I put down my phone and work through the final delicious garlicky piece. I stuff a towel into the gap between the door and the floor. I lay down, too excited about what comes tomorrow to settle. But before long, the pizza in my belly drags me down into a food coma and I sleep. When I wake up, I will leave my old life behind and ride west.


My memoir Hangry is about this whole “Create a billion dollar startup, and then punt it to go for a bike ride” thing.

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My memoir Hangry is about this whole “Create a billion dollar startup, and then punt it to go for a bike ride” thing.

Sign up here to get my monthly updates on my publishing journey.

My memoir Hangry is about this whole “Create a billion dollar startup, and then punt it to go for a bike ride” thing.

Sign up here to get my monthly updates on my publishing journey.