New York City has had a long and well-documented love affair with pizza. In fact, the first pizzeria in the US is said have been founded in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi, who sold pizzas from his grocery store on Spring Street. 115 years later and the demand for pizza is stronger than ever, with each person having their own opinion on where to get the best pizza. Slice is the end-to-end ordering and marketing platform that helps local pizzerias enable and build their digital and online presence. Slice’s platform includes website development, digital marketing, online ordering, and payment processing. The platform is easy to use, allowing local pizzerias (normally not the most tech-savvy) to compete directly with international pizza chains and food delivery apps. Unlike these apps, Slice takes a nominal, flat fee for orders rather than a percentage-based commission from orders on its consumer app; allowing pizzerias to retain a healthy and sustainable margin. Across the country, there are already over 12,000 independent pizzerias on Slice’s platform in more than 3000 cities.
AlleyWatch sat d0wn with CEO and Founder Ilir Sela to learn more about Slice, the company’s origin from his own experience managing his family’s pizzerias, and Slice’s lastest funding led by KKR. Slice has now raised a total of $82M across four rounds. In response to COVID-19, Sela also tells us more about the Pizza vs. Pandemic initiative to help feed front line care workers and help local pizzerias.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
Tell us about the product or service that Slice offers.
Slice is an all-in-one ordering and marketing tech platform that provides online ordering and full support for local pizzerias in more than 3,000 cities, all at a low fixed cost per order. Our mission is to help local owners bring their businesses online and embrace the rapid evolution of how consumers find and order food, which is more important than ever given the sustained surge in demand for pickup and delivery.
Slice has a long-term growth plan centered around the principle of amplifying the scale and reach of small businesses/independent pizzerias. By activating a network of small businesses, we’re allowing them to compete against Big Food, while preserving their role as creators and makers, and the cornerstones of their communities.
What inspired the start of Slice?
I grew up in Staten Island helping run my family’s pizzerias. I witnessed firsthand the challenges of keeping up with an increasingly digital marketplace. After earning a degree in Computer Science and selling my first company, Nerd Force, I combined my passion for technology with my deep experience in the pizza industry to tackle the biggest threat to independent pizzerias — big chains who were moving faster with mobile and online ordering technology.
I created Slice to empower local restaurants with the technology and tools to grow their businesses, while simultaneously providing a frictionless mobile and web ordering experience for consumers.
What market does Slice target and how big is it?
We’re targeting the U.S. pizza market, which is a $46B industry, and see the $155B global market as a long-term opportunity. Our platform of services currently benefits more than 12,000 independent restaurants across all 50 states.
What’s your business model?
Our business model is fundamentally different from other online ordering technology platforms, as we take a holistic approach to serving small businesses. We give independent pizzerias the specialized technology, data insights, loyalty marketing, and shared services they need to serve today’s digitally minded customers. Online ordering is just a part of that. By driving their customers to order online from these shops, we see increased loyalty and larger order values. It’s a huge advantage for a local shop to be digitally enabled.
Our pricing model strategy was influenced and determined by our restaurant partners. We consider them part of our family, and our mission is to support small businesses. We charge a flat fee per order, which incentivizes us over time and allows us to pass the benefits of the transaction to the business.
How has the business changed as a result of COVID-19?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant surge in demand across our platform and we have been focusing on providing our pizzeria partners with the resources they need to access online sales channels at a time when in-restaurant demand has reduced significantly.
As well, to help support both small businesses and our heroes on the frontlines, we partnered with Slice Out Hunger and Pizza to the Polls to launch the Pizza vs. Pandemic initiative. This program feeds front line care workers with coordinated large orders from local pizzerias. Since March 21st, the program has raised over $480K, fed an estimated 140K care workers, and supported over 700 pizzerias.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Our platform activates a network of small businesses to allow them to compete against Big Food, while preserving their role as creators and makers and the cornerstones of their communities, and KKR and our existing investors’ investments demonstrate confidence in our model and our mission.
We are excited to welcome KKR as a new investor and look forward to working alongside their team who brings decades of experience building leading global companies and has a proven track record of investing in forward-thinking, tech solution, oriented companies.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
Our focus is on making a lasting positive impact on our small business partners and continuing to serve our customers nationwide for years to come. We believe there’s no better time for us to double down on our strategy and this funding round will help us accelerate our efforts.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
For us, the answer was staying true to our mission — keep local thriving. This really resonated with our investors and their investment goals aligned perfectly. We’re proud to have them as our partners in continuing to help support local businesses.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
We’re accelerating our business in a box model with investments in product and marketing. This will enable our small business partners to grow faster and earn larger profits while we continue to expand the nation’s largest network of pizza restaurants.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
There are too many to pick one! I’ll give you two from my home of Staten Island. Joe and Pat’s — it’s hard to beat their classic cheese slice. It’s been a longtime favorite. Pizza Mia — this is the first shop that we’ve transformed as part of our By Slice Project. From overhauling their branding to driving online ordering, we’ve completely changed their operation with astounding results.