-Written by Ben Sun
Ilir Sela’s journey, and that of his startup Slice, is a true New York success story, centered around one thing all New Yorkers can agree on: the love of pizza. His story was covered this week in a spectacular profile on Eater. Hailing from Staten Island, home to one of the greatest concentrations of independent pizzerias in the country, and with multiple relatives having run their own pizzerias, Ilir too has sauce coursing through his veins.
It was no surprise, then, that after graduating from college with a computer science degree, Ilir dedicated himself to helping independent pizzeria owners post their menus and process online orders on one central website, which has since grown and matured into the powerful Slice platform. Through sheer hustle, Ilir was able to sign up an impressive 3,000 pizzerias and process over $40 million in annual pizza orders by the time we met him in early 2015 - without ever having raised a cent of outside capital!
These are numbers that would have any investor scratching his head in amazement - and they were more than enough to convince us that we wanted to be a part of this growing empire when we invested in Slice’s seed round and later led its $3 million Series A. After all, we now live in a Seamless Grubhub world - seemingly the dominant player in the online food ordering. But that’s a fairly narrow view of the market; aggregators like Grubhub, UberEats and Eat24 are effective platforms in large, dense markets with diverse restaurant offerings, but less so in areas with limited options. Outside of major urban centers, the leading delivery option is pizza, which now accounts for almost 60% of the $11 billion online food delivery market.
Globally, Domino’s surpasses Grubhub as the No. 1 online food ordering destination, with Pizza Hut and Papa John’s coming in directly behind Grubhub. These dominant pizza brands have continued to flourish in large part because of the online ordering platforms they’ve adopted, effectively eliminating friction between the customer and the steaming hot pie at their front door. Independent pizzerias, which make up over 62% of the U.S. pizza ecosystem, often lack the resources to bring their businesses online, which is exactly where Slice comes in. The platform levels the playing field by offering the small guys the convenience of Big Pizza technology and enabling them to stay true to their deliciously traditional roots. Since raising its Series A in October 2016, Slice has scaled quickly and now serves a growing base of over 6,000 pizzerias in 49 states.
While Grubhub represents the first wave of change in online food ordering, having the largest impact on dense, urban markets, it’s left broad swaths of territory untouched - namely the smaller cities and towns that dominate the rest of the country. As customers continue to demand greater levels of convenience and automation, Slice represents Online Food Ordering 2.0, allowing mom and pop shops in geographically untapped markets to flourish under the wing of innovation.