Tech Startup Slice Helps Local Pizzerias Connect and Fight Domino’s

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Ilir Sela likes to call himself “third generation pizza”. A 38-year-old Albanian immigrant, his extended family owns so many pizzerias that he has trouble counting them all. So when he started a business in 2010 to give independent pizzerias the technology to compete with Domino’s, Little Caesars, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut, the first thing he did was register his brother-in-law, his cousins ​​and his friends.

Among them was Blerim Marku, the manager of the Pizza Club in Edgewater, New Jersey, and a third cousin of Sela who grew up with him in the New York area. At the time, Pizza Club was doing its take-out and delivery business over the phone, the old-fashioned way, although it knew that “Papa John’s and Domino’s were making a killing ordering online,” says Marku. The problem was, small pizzerias weren’t tech-savvy enough to create custom online ordering systems, and digital aggregators like Grubhub and Seamless were way too expensive.

When Sela offered his cousin an inexpensive way to take orders digitally – a service he called MyPizza – Marku enlisted. Result: sales of the Pizza Club, warm, reheated and Slice Now helps the store make around $ 1 million a year, which is the typical location of a Domino’s. “We needed it,” says Marku.

Today, Pizza Club is one of more than 8,200 pizzerias in 2,200 towns and cities across states across the country that use Sela’s now renamed Slice pizza ordering platform. Backed by $ 20 million in funding, New York-based Slice is growing rapidly. It processed around $ 100 million in deliveries last year. Forbes estimates that with expected orders of $ 250 million this year, Slice is expected to generate $ 25 million in revenue.


He has the potential to get much bigger. Pizza, after all, is a $ 45 billion market in the United States. But as chains have grown digitally, local pizzerias have fallen behind. Domino’s, in particular, has been credited with reinventing itself as a tech company, increasing online sales to more than half of total sales in the United States. While independent pizzerias represent 55% of the country’s 75,000 pizzerias, they represent a 41% drop in sales, according to the trade publication PMQ Pizza Magazine. Still, Sela believes consumers have given up on local stores, even those with fresher ingredients, better flavors, and connections to their communities, mainly because they don’t have the ability to take mobile orders. “The vision,” says Sela, “was how to unite local pizza to deliver technology and convenience. Papa John’s and Domino’s and Big Pizza are sort of eating their lunch. “

Sela’s family comes from a small town called Debar on the Macedonian-Albanian border that is crazy about pizza. It has about five pizzerias for just 15,000 people, and its expatriates have opened at least 50 pizzerias in the United States. When the Selas arrived in the 1970s they moved to Staten Island, where they also started opening pizzerias and where ethnic Albanians, many of them immigrated to the United States via Italy, have long held an important place in the New York pizza community. “My grandfather, uncle, and dad ran Charlie’s Pizza at 75th and 3rd in the 1970s, and then they opened John Anthony’s, now Slice of Brooklyn,” he says. “It’s a pretty small community, and they were part of the original pioneers.”

As much as Sela loved pizza, so much he decided to study technology. In 2003, after graduating with a computer science degree from the City University of New York-College of Staten Island, he started Nerd Force, a web design company that grew into a technology services company that sent computer scientists in yellow vehicles. In 2008, he sold Nerd Force for $ 500,000.

Sela used the money to launch MyPizza, giving local stores two benefits. First, digital selling increases order size as customers tend to add cost-effective items like mozzarella sticks or a 2-liter soda. Sela says her customers’ average order size has dropped from $ 18 over the phone to $ 30 with the platform. Second, online sales come with data, helping local stores better serve and target customers with loyalty programs and discounts.

At first, the company was just Sela and an engineer working on the website. He didn’t have much of a marketing budget, so he wrapped banners around a car and parked it outside the stores he was hoping to recruit. “I would make sure the owner sees the car,” he says. “It gave us credibility, and they thought we were bigger than we were.” Guerrilla marketing helped Slice expand to over 80 restaurants in the New York City area without outside funding and with minimal staff. He kept costs low by setting up a back office in his hometown in Macedonia, where he now has 300 employees, mainly responsible for data entry and account management.

Slice’s selling point over larger, non-pizza-specific ordering platforms starts with price: it charges $ 1.95 per order (plus a small percentage to cover credit card fees) regardless of the size of the order, which is well below 12%. at 35% off that Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates, Uber Eats and other services take. “Pizza is a valuable product,” says Sela. “In order to pay a 25% commission, [local shops] need to increase the price of a large pizza from $ 12 to $ 16. But that, says Sela, “is forcing more people to buy Domino’s and Papa John’s.” “

Fees were one of the main reasons Matthew Porter, co-owner of Sofia Pizza Shoppe in New York City, signed up. While Porter also used Seamless, he worked to move his customers to Slice by putting stickers on his boxes and offering discounts on Slice orders. “Financially, it made sense,” he says. Additionally, while Grubhub and other ordering systems bundle as many restaurants together as possible and then charge them an additional fee to display prominently on the site, Slice doesn’t encourage customers to try new restaurants or different cuisines.

Sela was already having $ 40 million in pizza orders in 2015 when, seeking funds and expertise to grow the business, he secured his first seed funding. Then last spring, Sela and Ryan Scott, Marketing Director of Slice and former Grubhub and Seamless Executive, convinced Jeff Richards, Managing Partner of GGV Capital, to fly out of Silicon Valley to meet them at the International Pizza Expo. from Las Vegas.

Sela, an outgoing and energetic salesperson, presented the opportunity to start a business that could rival Big Pizza by bringing together tens of thousands of mom-and-pop stores. He also sees opportunities for Slice to help customers get better prices on boxes and menus, and to expand outside of the United States. try to learn. He was a guy from the industry, who grew up with red sauce in his veins, and who knew there was a huge problem. And huge problems, Richards and Sela know, create huge opportunities.

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