Deepak Ahuja, Zipline’s New Chief Business and Chief Financial Officer, on the Opportunity Ahead
Team Zipline
September 9, 2022

It takes a lot of work to transform the way goods move, and design, manufacture and operate the world’s largest instant logistics and delivery system that serves all people equally. But with each passing day we are decarbonizing delivery, decreasing road congestion, reducing fossil fuel consumption and air pollution, and building a more equitable and resilient global supply chain. 

As we continue to scale globally, we're bringing on experienced leaders like Deepak Ahuja, who is joining Zipline as our first ever Chief Business and Chief Financial Officer, where he will oversee all of global finance and global sales excluding the Africa region. Deepak brings more than 20 years of business and financial leadership to Zipline, having previously served as the CFO of Verily and Tesla. He joins at an exciting time in our growth. 

Zipline was operating in three countries at the start of 2021. The company has since expanded to four new countries, began delivering new categories of products in the human and animal health, e-commerce, and food sectors, and doubled the size of the population that we can serve. In addition to entering new markets, Zipline has grown its business in the countries where it has operated to include new delivery categories and new locations. Today Zipline operates in three continents and completes a delivery every two minutes. We sat down with Deepak ahead of his first day to get his perspective on Zipline, instant logistics, and what’s ahead.

You have a history leading transformative companies across transportation and healthcare. What drew you to Zipline?

The last mile delivery challenge is massive everywhere. In large urban areas it is a last mile problem, while in rural or remote areas in any country, it is at least 10 or 50 mile problem of access. Solving this fundamental problem, which Zipline is working to do, can significantly impact our society by providing access to goods and services that people don’t already have, or improving the quality of access to services for others. At the same time, Zipline’s approach dramatically reduces CO2 emissions and cost from the current mainstream delivery services. All of these issues need to be urgently addressed. 

There are many use cases that could be impacted by Zipline. Imagine a world in which sick people can get medications directly without having to leave their houses, where everyone could live within 30 minutes of a health center with critical medical items, or where companies developing vaccines can easily get samples from a more representative portion of the population as they develop their tests. If we do this right, Zipline will expand access for many while setting a completely new standard for everyone. 

How do you view Zipline’s progress so far?

It’s pretty clear that an opportunity like this needs a holistic systems-based approach. This can’t be solved by hardware or software alone. A complex challenge like this needs to be met with a team that understands their customers’ problems fully and delivers a truly comprehensive solution to solve the acute problems within each use case. 

This requires many sophisticated capabilities including hardware, software, user interfaces, systems applications, and massive operational capabilities on the ground. I’m excited that Zipline is developing these capabilities. Behind Zipline’s idea sits layers of incredibly comprehensive hardware, software, customer service, fulfillment systems, and more; and those systems have only grown more sophisticated with time thus resulting in increasing reliability and safety of operations. At the end of the day, the drone is only 15% of what Zipline brings to the table. I think ultimately a holistic solution that really understands and solves our customers’ challenges will be what changes the way our world functions in this space.

Zipline has been on the path of developing all of these multidimensional capabilities. I am particularly impressed by the outstanding talent that Zipline has hired globally, including in hardware and software engineering, on-the-ground operations, and customer success.  

How has the opportunity for Zipline changed over the years? 

Any new emerging technology gets a lot of hype initially, and people expect transformational results faster than things actually pan out. Typically, the convergence of maturing technologies and the regulatory environment enables a holistic solution to be developed. Since it was founded, Zipline has focused on building solutions that can deliver massive scale at high levels of automation and integration, and at low operational cost. The team has also worked hard to ensure its solution has an amazing and seamless user experience, and creates minimal environmental noise. Zipline is therefore in a unique position to be a major force in solving this problem at scale. In fact, many executives in the healthcare and e-commerce space are beginning to appreciate a systems-based solution like the one offered by Zipline. 

There is also more noise than signal in this space. A lot of companies can build an electric go-kart, but very few companies can build an electric vehicle at scale for commercial applications. This same phenomenon is true here. Many companies are taking off-the-shelf drones that were created for completely different reasons, making some simple customizations, and claiming they can do a lot; but what they’re really building is the go-kart. Zipline is building the full solution that is scalable and commercializable. This is evident from their technological and operational achievements so far. I haven’t come across a company whose solutions offer the range, cargo capabilities and level of automation that Zipline is building, or have the same track record of operational expansion and commercial deliveries. In fact, just the engineering team at Zipline appears to be bigger than the full size of many other companies who claim to be building similar solutions. 

What will be key to scaling Zipline’s instant logistics solutions around the world?

As I mentioned earlier, solving the fundamental problems underlying the last mile or the last 10 to 50 mile delivery at scale requires a holistic systems-based approach. Getting deep into customer use cases and resolving their pain points fully is critical to success. I believe that ideas are a dime a dozen but to succeed you have to deliver exceptional execution. So Zipline will have to continue to be extremely focused on execution. I am impressed by the ongoing pace of product development at Zipline which will continue to transform the quality and cost of the instant logistics solutions.

What excites you most about joining this team?

I am passionate about the mission of Zipline. The company is on the cusp of scaling massively and is carefully thinking through what use cases make the most sense for its solution. I enjoy being at a company at this stage in its life cycle, where there is still a lot to build and execute. Zipline is currently making bold investments and establishing partnerships that require creative approaches to its business model. My combination of operational experience and finance can help those discussions and hopefully enable Zipline to succeed. 

I also feel a real synergy with this team. I have known Keller for many years and have worked with Liam O’Connor and Jo Mardall before. Zipline has many talented engineers and problem solvers. As an engineer myself, I feel a natural sense of connection with such teams and enjoy working with them. Over the course of my career in finance, I have worked closely with all operational aspects of business. All of this should serve me well at Zipline. The Zipline opportunity brings a lot of these same experiences together, with a team of people committed to addressing some of the bigger problems of our time, in a way which no one else is undertaking. I can’t wait to get started.