The Grocery Game

by | May 21, 2024 | Alumni Achievers, Food, Summer 2024, Technology

An idea that was sparked as a student at UC Davis has since become a powerhouse grocery delivery company.

Founded and led by Larry Liu, M.B.A. ’08, Weee! specializes in delivering seven ethnic foods — Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indian and Mexican — to your door. The company now delivers about 1 million orders per month.

When he moved to California from his native China, he discovered that the foods he loved were sometimes only available at stores a great distance away.

“The closest place was in South Sacramento, 40 minutes away,” Liu said. “It was a Vietnamese supermarket, and we are Chinese, so it still wasn’t ideal. So I understood the problem very early on, but I never thought I would solve it.”

Founded in 2015, Weee! has raised more than $800 million in funding to date. Dry products ship nationwide, with facilities in seven states. Fresh and frozen products are available in more than 20 metropolitan areas.

The road to UC Davis

Liu, originally from Wuhan, China, attended Shanghai Jiao Tong University, earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After graduation, he got a job at Intel and a year later, the company sent him to the U.S., working in Folsom.

In his free time, he sold electronics on eBay.

“That hobby got me hooked into online retail. I like the fast pace,” he said. “It was much more interesting than sitting in front of a huge machine to write programs.”

Meanwhile, his wife was earning her Ph.D. in statistics at UC Davis. He learned about the Graduate School of Management, applied and got in.

“My two years at UC Davis gave me that solid foundation about everything about business,” he said. “It was the first time I knew accounting, finance, marketing.”

But he hadn’t quite decided what he would do next.

“When I was at UC Davis I had my first child, and after that, I really started thinking about what I want to do for my life. I started to ponder that question a lot.”

After graduation, he worked in finance for companies in the Bay Area thinking about what to do next. “I was able to connect the dots and realize that maybe my calling is to be an entrepreneur.”

Screenshot from Punnett Farms

Weee! delivers foods nationwide. (Courtesy)

Weee! takes off

Inspired by the problem he had accessing the foods he loved, Liu founded Weee! in 2015.

People he knew had come up with solutions on their own — using the messaging app WeChat to coordinate group buys for hard-to-find food items they loved. If they pooled their resources, they could get vendors to deliver their foods directly. But there were still drawbacks.

“Previously you had to text back and forth and state how much you want, and wait a week to get the product,” Liu explained. “Then you’d have to drive to neighbor’s garage to pick it up, and usually you have to wait in line.”

The first step for Weee! was making group buys easier. But, Liu said, this was still not a complete solution.

In 2017, the business pivoted to offer a wide selection focused on Chinese food in the Bay Area. Two years later, it expanded to a second city: Seattle.

And then the pandemic hit. Many more people began looking for grocery delivery services. Liu said sales increased five times in 2020.

“Demand just skyrocketed, and we launched multiple cities,” Liu said.

Though exciting, he said that time period was also quite challenging.

“When the demand skyrocketed, labor was hard to find,” he said. “I think we just had to be resourceful and try harder. There is no silver bullet. Every day we tried to find solutions to a lot of problems.”

In 2021, the company expanded the types of foods it offered, and now sells seven different ethnic cuisines.

And four years after the COVID outbreak, Weee! continues to enjoy success.

“We are growing about 50 percent year over year,” Liu said. “The reason is that we are serving underserved communities. People bought from us not because they liked shopping online — it’s because they are not served. So this service is very essential for our customers.”

Over these past few years, Liu has also had personal celebrations as well. He and his wife now have three kids. And in 2019, he became a U.S. citizen.

And in his career, he said he’s now happy to focus on one thing and doing it well.

“I think we are at the very beginning of our journey,” he said. “When I look at what we are trying to do, it’s going to be a huge thing.”