Ilir Sela | Crain's Nashville

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ilir Sela

Background:  

Founded in 2010, Slice has quickly become the easiest way to connect hungry pizza lovers with independent pizzerias in their area. The New York-based company has since seen enormous growth, with a team of 350 individuals partnering with more than 8,000 local pizza shops in 2,100 cities nationwide.

The Mistake:

For me looking back, I don't know if I would call it a mistake or just a missed opportunity. I decided to bootstrap the business for nearly six years, and although we accomplished a lot with a really small team and not a ton of investments behind us, really what it did was it basically kept me working alone on this problem.

In business, you have sort of this bootstrap approach which means that you don't have a ton of – or really any – outside investors or resources to hire and pay the best people possible to help you solve the challenges.

I would have picked up my head a little bit sooner and sought out not only investments in terms of capital, but also people to really take on this challenge as a team. I look at the incredible progress that we've made just in the last year, having scaled the team and recruited and partnered with some incredibly smart industry leaders.

I've been able to learn a lot, but also we now have the ability to move so much quicker and get closer to our vision.

In early 2015, I made the decision to exit bootstrap mode. That's when I met Pete, my chief operating officer. We raised a small seed round, and really that's when things started accelerating at a much faster rate.

It's not something I could have ever accomplished alone or even with a small team.

The Lesson:

I learned to surround myself with people that are just as smart or if not smarter and who bring a ton of experience to the table. In hindsight, I really underestimated the value of that. Now that we're going in that direction, I think it's been a game-changer for us.

We're able to help small businesses now much faster and in a more impactful way. The team now has gone from a small team of three people in 2014, to now about 350 people. The number of restaurants that we work with has scaled up; we work with 8,000 pizza restaurants today across 2,100 cities and towns. It's not something I could have ever accomplished alone or even with a small team.

For example, we launched in Nashville in a really concentrated way. That is intelligence and experience coming from one of our team members, Ryan Scott, the longtime former chief marketing officer at GrubHub and Seamless. We learned to hyper-focus in a given market so we could unite local pizza in a much more impactful way.

In Nashville, we've been able to accelerate growth on the consumer side and on the restaurant side by strictly having this united front. I don't think that's something I would have figured out on my own.

Pictured: Ilir Sela | Photo courtesy of Slice 

Follow Ilir on Twitter at @IlirSela 

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