Ilir Sela is the founding CEO of Slice, a tech platform that aims to take on the digital dominance of bigger brands by connecting consumers with neighborhood pizzerias. Since launching in 2010, Slice has grown exponentially, and now partners with over 14,000 pizza stores across the US. Following a recent announcement that it had raised $40 million in Series C funding, that growth is only set to continue. To find out more about the man behind Slice's success, here are ten things you didn't know about Ilir Sela.
1. He was born in Macedonia
Sela was born in a tiny town in Macedonia to an Albanian family. According to Sela, the town was so small, it didn't have a single traffic light to its name. When Sela was ten years old, the family decided to exchange their tiny home town for the bright lights of New York.
He's since said in interviews that seeing the lights of the city spread beneath him as the plane descended is one of his most memorable moments from childhood. For the first few years after arriving in the US, the family lived with relatives on Staten Island.
2. He was inspired by his father
According to alejandrocremades.com, the biggest influence on Sela as a child was his father. After arriving in New York, Sela Sr. worked tirelessly to make ends meet. During the day, he worked in a pizzeria in Manhattan. At night, he would come home and work until two in the morning developing his own business.
His father's work ethic proved infectious, and by the time he was 13, Sela was working four hours a day, seven days a week at a local deli. He may only have been earning $2 an hour, but the experience gave him the drive and determination he'd need to eventually turn his dreams of being a business owner into a reality.
3. He studied computer science
When Sela's older brother started college, their parents bought the family its first computer. Sela was immediately hooked: inspired by the possibilities offered by the new technology, he immediately knew he wanted to study it further. When the time came for him to go to college himself, enrolling in a computer science course was the obvious choice.
While he was at university, he and several of his classmates started offering their services to small businesses in need of computer repair and maintenance. As their individual knowledge was far less than their collective experience, Sela began an email chain so that they could collaborate.
4. He launched his first company in 2003
Fresh out of university, Sela decided that working for someone else wasn't part of his master plan and started his own company instead. Launched in 2003, Nerd Force grew from a small collection of friends working together into a workforce of over 30.
Within next to no time, it was drawing serious attention - the New York Daily News went so far as to name it one of the breakout companies of the decade. By 2008, Nerd Force was operating from 124 locations across the country. But by that time, Sela was ready to move on. When another company offered him an acquisition deal, he accepted.
5. His pizza journey started with MyPizzza.com
A year and a half after selling Nerd Force, Sela was ready for his next challenge. This time around, he was keen to combine his passion for technology with the experience of the pizza trade he'd acquired from his family. He started by buying the domain name of MyPizzza.com for $15 thousand.
After discovering that 75 percent of the pizza industry consisted of Mom and Pop businesses, he decided to grow his own business by simultaneously growing theirs. As smaller brands lacked the technology and online capabilities of bigger brands, Sela attempted to address the balance. It worked... but it wasn't enough for Sela. When he spotted the opportunity to create a business-to-customer model, he did so. And thus, Slice was born.
6. He's breaking the mold
Nether pizza companies nor delivery services are new, but Slice, which Sela describes as a 'hybrid,' is cutting its own path. As protocol.com notes, while most of its competitors employ drivers, Slice doesn't. What it does instead is provide the technology and software solutions independent pizzerias need to take online orders, along with an app for consumers that pairs them with local pizzerias.
7. Pizza runs in the family
When Sela was a kid, his father worked and then owned a pizzeria in Manhattan. As it turns out, so do most of the rest of his family. Speaking to Business Insider India about his typical weekend, Sela explained how most of his free time gets eating up by chatting to his many, many relatives about their experiences of using Slice.
"On Saturdays I try to go to pizza restaurants and talk to owners. I have about 32 relatives who own pizzerias that are on Slice. Every single weekend, whenever I'm around, I'll try and visit their pizza restaurants, " he says. "I try to stay in touch with the challenges that they're facing and how Slice is solving their problems, but also learn what they don't like about Slice so that we can continue to improve."
8. He raised $2.3 million in Series A funding
If there's one thing that Sela is very, very good at, it's convincing investors to give him their money. According to Crunchbase, he managed to raise a substantial $2.3 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Blume Ventures. Subsequent funding rounds proved equally successful, and by 2020, the company had raised $31M in funding over 7 rounds.
9. He's the head of an empire
Slice may work on a very new, very different kind of business model, but it's clearly working. Since launching the business, Sela has grown Slice phenomenally. According to its website, it now partners with over 14,000 independent pizzerias in 50 states and has filled over 12 million orders in the last decade. It also boasts the most popular app that caters to local pizza shops.
10. He's planing further growth
On April 14 this year, it was reported that Slice had closed $40 million in a funding round led by Cross Creek. Additional investors included KKR, GGV Capital, Primary Ventures, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and 01 Advisors managing partner, Adam Bain.
Speaking about his decision to invest, Bain explained “Slice has emerged as the leader in powering these types of small businesses that have been serving our communities for decades.” Following the announcement, Sela confirmed that he would be utilizing the funds to expand Slice's range of products and services, as well as further developing Slice Accelerate, a program designed to help neighborhood pizzerias with digital serves.
You can also read:
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee