“We are taking our customers’ experience to a new level” - Insights from Val Liborski, HelloFresh CTO

HelloFresh wouldn’t be able to deliver its food solutions to 18 markets without our global tech team. HelloTech, HelloFresh’s product and engineering organization, not only continuously optimizes the customer experience and makes it seamless, it also coordinates all operations and drives efficiency and innovation from marketing to menu planning to supply chain, logistics and operations. With more than 1,000 engineers, designers, data engineers, scientists, product managers and analysts working from six global HelloTech hubs, HelloTech is one of the fastest growing teams at HelloFresh. 

Our HelloFresh CTO Val Liborski joined the company two years ago and shared insights on his journey and what we can expect from HelloTech in 2024 and beyond. 

Val, tell us about your personal journey before you joined HelloFresh.

I grew up in Ukraine and my real start with computers was in college when I  was writing production code as an intern in a petroleum company. Right after college I had a lot of fun working as an engineer in the Silicon Valley startup, WebTV Networks, right during the 'dot-com boom’ time. My shift to a large company happened when Microsoft acquired our startup. At Microsoft, I learned engineering best practices and what it means to scale products and services to hundreds of millions of customers.  I was proud to ship ‘Microsoft TV’, Windows Server and data services in the Online Service division. Next, I joined Amazon and built high availability foundational services for AWS. Later on, I delivered new features and services for Amazon International Retail customers - from Supply Chain Fulfillment network to Search optimization.

My experience in a startup and leading technology companies continues to help me  shape up the approach of how to build highly available and scalable services for millions of our customers, yet stay ‘scrappy’, experiment fast, and build incrementally.

Looking back on the past two years since you joined as CTO: What are you particularly proud of?

I’m very proud of the team we’ve been able to build. We increased the density of talent in our team, we grew and hired great leaders. Many of them are industry wide experts in their respective space, whether it is Infrastructure, Supply Chain Technology or Data Science. 

Thanks to that team, we've been able to offer a lot of great customer value while at the same time, improving our engineering posture. We made our services and products  available to more customers by bringing Factor to Europe, launching HelloFresh in Spain and Ireland, and GreenChef in the Netherlands. We built new offerings for our customers (not just humans!) by launching Pets Table. HelloTech enhanced the entire customer journey by elevating our user experience and making discovery of our product simpler, by refining our menu and recipes  as well as  improving speed and quality of our delivery. Our investments in AI/ML power most of the steps in the customer journey - from supply chain optimization to personalization of the menu to our customers. At the same time we improved our availability, reduced latency and decreased the number of incidents in a significant way. I’m really excited to see how fast teams are making progress.

What are the biggest challenges about managing a global tech team like HelloTech?

We are pleasing customers in 18 countries with 8 brands that offer different products. This requires a sophisticated and diverse technology stack to enable the broad range of technologies we develop in-house. We need to scale a complex food supply chain with a lot of perishable goods, maintain a reliable infrastructure for all of our markets and brands as well as  an intuitive and low latency customer experience on multiple client platforms.

At the same time we need to balance the duality of being a global company while staying flexible and fast. We are building a global business at scale, yet we have to be able to react quickly to customers’ feedback at a market-level or sometimes even sub-market level. I would love us to continue to be 'scrappy' so we could receive feedback from our customers as early as possible.

HelloTech just finished its yearly planning process. Tell us a bit about the yearly planning process. What can we expect in 2024 and beyond?

We introduced the yearly planning process in mid-2022 and this is our second time going through this exercise. It is a transparent mechanism that helps us define our long-term vision, align all teams across the company towards the vision and enables us to innovate in a scalable way. After we agree on the plan, all  teams move to execution of deliverables for our customers in a decentralized and iterative way, reducing cost on coordination ‘tax’. 

In 2024 we’ll take our customers’ experience to a new level. We will work on  the expansion of our ready-to-eat segment while enabling assortment and variety improvements across all brands. We’ll further drive the globalization of our supply chain including demand planning, inventory management, network planning and logistics optimization. As we  increase assortment, improve speed of delivery and reduce the cost of our products we can  pass the savings to our customers. Additionally we’ll further invest into incentives and rewards for our loyal customers while personalizing the product experience with the help of AI. We are enhancing the journey for our existing and prospective customers while scaling our offerings. 

What general tech trends do you see for next year?

Ultra personalization is a growing trend and will continue to become even more relevant for the customers.

Generative AI will scale rapidly in some domains like Developers’ productivity, Content Generation and Customer Care.  And it creates higher demand for scientists and ML engineers. Companies are also increasingly making use of embeddings, which we’ve done ourselves  for recipes and taste profiles, to improve their understanding of customers and improve existing model performance.

Another area is fast experimentation. It is critical to experiment to find the best solution to delight the customers. Our company jumped on this wagon in our early days with our Experimentation Kitchen, and we see industry reports that our company is running 10x more experiments compared to the companies with similar profiles and size. This trend might indicate the evolution of engineering roles- in addition to DevOps and DevOps+Sec there is growing demand for DevOps+Sec+Exp.

More companies are building internal developer platforms or developer experience teams. We’ve been doing this ourselves for the past few years and have made significant improvements to making it easier to build software for engineers within HelloTech, including unifying our design system, making it easier to use progressive delivery, and reducing the barriers to non-data-engineers for building data products.

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