PODCAST 33: How to Grow and Scale a Company in the Digital Age w/ Ilir Sela

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we interview Ilir Sela, the Founder and CEO of Slice, one of the fastest growing companies focused on the small business space in the US.  

Slice helps pizzerias compete with Big Pizza and transforms the way they manage their business.  Slice is a team of over 400 folks spread across New York, Macedonia, and Ireland and Ilir walks us through how he thinks about growing and scaling a company that is fundamentally about helping small business owners survive and thrive in the digital age.

If you missed episode 32, check it out here: PODCAST 32: Why Curiosity and Passion are Superpowers For Sales Leaders w/ Scott Schnaars

What You’ll Learn

  • Understanding more about the $45B pizza industry
  • Taking a company from a self-funded bootstrap all the way to massive growth
  • Using storytelling to differentiate yourself in sales
  • The important values that help you grow and scale a company as a CEO
  • Understanding the unit economics of a business and why 16:1 is exceptional
  • Building a business that serves the community in positive ways

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [0:10]
  2. About Ilir Sela: An Introduction [3:28]
  3. The Magnitude of an American Staple [11:28]
  4. Why Slice Won’t Push New Technology [16:59]
  5. Ilir on Growing a Bootstrap Business [24:50]
  6. Taking the Model International and Inter-industry [31:24]
  7. Leadership Principles from the Pizza Industry [36:37]
  8. Sam’s Corner [43:54]

Sales Hacker Podcast—Sponsored by Aircall and Outreach

Sam Jacobs:  Hey everybody. This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we’re really excited to have CEO and founder of one of the fastest growing businesses serving small businesses in the country. It’s a business called Slice that was originally My Pizza. Slice is essentially a platform to provide a full suite of marketing services and customer generation services back to the independent and small pizzeria community all over the world.

lir Sela, the founder, actually bootstrapped the business all the way up to 2015 before taking a dime of capital. And at that point they already had over 3,000 different pizzerias on the platform. It’s a great story and Ilir’s just really a very logical, very compassionate, very empathetic founder and CEO.

We want to thank our sponsors before we get into the interview itself. First Aircall, it’s a phone system designed for the modern sales team. Aircall seamlessly integrates into your CRM, eliminating data entry for your reps and providing you with greater visibility into your team’s performance through advanced reporting.

Our second sponsor is Outreach. That’s Outreach.io, the leading sales engagement platform. Outreach triples the productivity of sales teams and empowers them to drive predictable and measurable revenue growth by prioritizing the right activities and scale in customer engagement with intelligent automation. Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Ilir Sela, founder and CEO of Slice.

About Ilir Sela: An Introduction

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody and welcome back. We’ve got the CEO of one of the fastest growing businesses in New York. Ilir Sela is an entrepreneur who seeks to improve communities by bridging the digital divide between local establishments and corporations.

Since 2010, he has served as the founder and CEO of Slice, which used to be known as My Pizza, a mobile and online service that enables people to easily order from authentic pizzerias in their neighborhood. Ilir, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for joining us.

Ilir Sela: Thank you, Sam. Really excited to be here obviously.

Sam Jacobs: It’s my pleasure. Tell us about Slice.

Ilir Sela: We work with small businesses, so we’re talking the massive pizza industry. Having a tech background, tons of family and friends approached me for help with not only publishing their menu and putting together a website for their small business, but helping them with digital ordering. So what we do is we empower these local small business pizzerias with all the technology, marketing, and data really required for them to digitize their businesses. And we do it with this vertical approach. So Slice is a brand. Our goal is to champion what we call the micro-brands. So we champion the Joe’s Pizzas and Motorino’s and Billy’s Pizza in Brooklyn and so forth. So we’ve partnered with over 10,000 locations. Our job is to continue to shift and help these small businesses transition their business from an offline business to a digital one.

The Magnitude of an American Staple

Sam Jacobs: When did it occur to you how dominant and how big the pizza industry was?

Ilir Sela: It was around 2008, 2009, I started getting a lot of these family and friends that were asking for some help in terms of websites and online ordering. I just realized that the requests were all the same. It was a little bit of an “aha” moment and took the time to really study the category in the industry as a whole and was blown away by a handful of things.

  1. Sheer magnitude – it’s a 45 billion dollar industry.
  2. It’s an American staple – over 60% of Americans have pizza at least once a week and over 90% once a month.

Why Slice Won’t Push New Technology

Sam Jacobs: So let’s focus on how you pitch, do they have to pay a subscription? Or are you just taking a percentage of every sale and you’re providing an order management system and some kind of logistic service in the background? How does that work?

Ilir Sela: We basically just ask them to commit to being part of Slice. We don’t push any technology on them from day one. We believe in graduating them through this ladder of value. So once we show some value and the rewarding aspect of being part of Slice, that is when we start introducing technology on their side. What we really want to do is have them feel no pressure or have them feel that they’re not having to change anything about their existing habit in order to join Slice.

Sam Jacobs: What is the first phase, if there’s no technology that’s required?

Ilir Sela: It’s all about making sure that the owner’s bought in on the value of digital. It’s really about transitioning an offline business to a digital business, and all of the benefits that come with that. There’s just a number of efficiencies that come into play once the owner’s fully bought in. So that initial conversation is really about these benefits.

Ilir on Growing a Bootstrap Business

Sam Jacobs: You’ve been building this business, walk us through your perspective on growth, what’s your perspective on venture capital, and what’s your perspective on how to grow the company at the right rate for what you want to achieve?

Ilir Sela: That’s a great question. During the bootstrap phase, it was just about scaling and being focused on what we knew best–partnering with local pizzerias and becoming their core partner in terms of digital and online ordering. I was operating the business out of a Starbucks in Staten Island, New York, which is kind of funny looking back now.

My focus was “I need to really surround myself with some of the best people in the industry.” I reached out to the founding team of Seamless. My goal was to really bring them on board and tap into their network and help me scale the team, which then would eventually help scale the business. So they led my first round of funding, which was about a million dollars. That was in 2015. But that had nothing to do with capital.

It was all about getting them involved in the business.

If I were to do it over again, I probably would have picked my head up a little bit sooner to bring these partners into the business sooner. There’s some amazing benefits to having partners like that involved and obviously capital buying the business that allows you to invest faster and more than what you’re bringing in. But the timing was really magical in a way because we didn’t raise capital as an idea and we didn’t raise capital when we only had five customers. By the time we raised our million dollars, we had 3,000 small business partners on the platform.

RELATED: Why Growth Hacking Doesn’t Scale, And How To Plan For Growth Instead

Taking the Model International and Inter-industry

Sam Jacobs: A lot of folks say that they’re always in sort of the first inning, where do you think you are? Is there an end state? Are there specific milestones along the way that are gonna be proof points to you that you’re on the right journey?

Ilir Sela: Our growth opportunities are in two areas. One is obviously we continue to stay focused on the pizza vertical. There’s a lot of growth there. So we can grow 5X in terms of number of locations from this point on. And that means you’re capturing significant chunk, call it 90% of the industry in terms of locations. Our focus will be on depth, not just width.

And then you have opportunities to activate the same ecosystem in other markets that are international. Or you can do this and step and repeat the model for the next logical vertical. But it doesn’t have to be limited to food.

It’s all about empowering offline small business markets and digitizing them and unifying them on their brand.

Leadership Principles from the Pizza Industry

Sam Jacobs: You’re an engineer by trade, you come from the pizza industry. So those are all well developed skills and capabilities, but something that’s not always intuitive to people is the ability to lead and the ability to grow and manage. What are your principles for management or leadership that we, as listeners, can take away and ruminate on?

Ilir Sela:

  1. Transparency.
  2. Have a vision, communicate it and rally people around that vision.
  3. Partnership mentality. I don’t consider my team as people who work for me, we work together. They work with me. And we grow together.
  4. Ownership mentality. I’m not a micromanager. I believe in bringing the best people possible to come solve a problem and letting them own the problem, almost as a business within the business.
  5. Be a support layer for your business. How can I support this partner in my business to succeed?
  6. Flexibility and being coachable. Founders and entrepreneurs always look for team members who are coachable, but my question to them is are you coachable?
  7. Come in every single day with a learning mentality. If I’m not learning every single day then I don’t think we’re doing a good job as a team.

Sam Jacobs: Well, Ilir, thank you so much for participating. Congrats on all the growth. It’s been a great conversation and I hope to see you in person soon.

Ilir Sela: Thank you so much Sam, and congrats as well and excited to continue our relationship and we’ll definitely speak soon.

Sam’s Corner

Sam Jacobs: Hey folks. This is Sam’s Corner. Really good conversation with Ilir Sela, the founder and CEO of Slice. It’s really a very special company. Just listen to how he thinks about the business, how it’s really about value and partnership. Partnership both with the people that he works with, so his executive team, but also partnership with those pizzerias. Helping them improve their business. And really transforming their business where they can increase average order value and they can lower their costs, but it’s really been a special journey and it’s one of the companies that a lot of folks in New York know about because the way he’s building and running the company. Which is intelligently, proportionately, and thoughtfully.

Don’t Miss Episode 34

Finally we want to thank of course, as always, our sponsors. That’s Aircall, your advanced call center software, complete business phone and contact center, 100% natively integrated into any CRM. And, Outreach, a customer engagement platform that efficiently and effectively gauges prospects to drive more pipeline and close more deals.

If you wanna find me or check out the show notes, see upcoming guests or play more episodes from our incredible line up of sales leaders, visit gtmnow.com/listen/. You can also find the Sales Hacker podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. If you want to get in touch with me, find my social handles in my bio below.

Thank you so much for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.

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