In a market of pizza sales that were expected to reach $45 billion in the U.S. alone last year, Slice operates a website and an app that lets people search for pizzerias in their area — over 6,000 nationwide — and place an order online. The pizzerias handle deliveries themselves and pay a flat fee of $1.95 per order to Slice, no matter the size, whereas many other online ordering services charge a percentage of the sale. With Slice, customers don’t pay anything extra.
Slice was founded by Ilir Sela, an Albanian by birth, grown up on Staten Island. Most of friends and family of Ilir own and operate pizzerias in the greater New York City area and his grandparents owned a pizzeria in Manhattan in the 70s.
Ilir Sela has been featured many times on various tech medias including ReCode and TechCrunch, however while we didn’t talk to him directly we got the chance to talk with the General Manager of the BackOffice of Slice in Macedonia – Slice Macedonia, Alban Osmani who’s been leading a large and growing team in the city of Ohrid, Macedonia.
Alban was born and raised in Chicago, but now lives and works in Ohrid. Both of his parents are from Ohrid and Diber, respectively, and he’s always had a deeply rooted desire to live in Ohrid. He was constantly following-up about the latest developments around the Balkan region until he found the right opportunity to join Slice and help grow and expand the company.
How did all of this start? What was the trigger?
Slice was started by Ilir Sela, Albanian by birth from Debar, Macedonia, which is part of the reason he entered the industry. Most of Ilir’s relatives and friends owned pizzerias in NYC, and his family owned a pizzeria in Manhattan in the 70’s
Ilir has a degree in computer science and previously owned an IT company, and became the tech support expert for pizzerias his friends owned. Around 2009 he noticed that more and more pizzeria owners would bug Ilir to build a website with online ordering.
Sela began to research the pizza industry and found that it was a billion-dollar industry that was largely dominated by independent pizzerias, but with 90% of online orders going to chains.
To level the playing field Sela launched Slice, a website where users could log on to and place orders at their local pizza instead of calling them in over the phone.
During that time, he contacted Butrint Sela in Diber to handle the small amount of backend work needed to support the orders that needed to be handled. It was a win-win for Slice. The company was able to find highly qualified individuals but at a lower rate compared to the US salaries. Butrint gathered a small team and they started the company with a total of 4 employees, and now Slice employs 260 individuals in Ohrid, Debar, and in the heart of NYC.
Why did you decide to come back to Macedonia? What are the reasons?
Back in 2014, my brother Betim Osmani and I, having spent a large majority of our lives in Chicago, USA decided to come back to Macedonia, our homeland. We believed that there was an opportunity in the Balkans to use the talent that others didn’t see. There was a regular outflow of people from Macedonia to other countries in the West and we simply didn’t know why. We figured that if you worked hard the results would follow, and that should be true for any country you are in. We gave Macedonia a shot and flew one way in the summer of 2014.
At the time, we joined Butrint and the company’s 40 employees, and together Betim, Butrint, and I was able to implement the things we learned in America to the culture of the company. It allowed us to view the business in a different way and helped expand the business to Ohrid. We were able to scale the business at a faster pace and helped organize it in a way that would be similar to companies in the USA and it was welcomed by the talented individuals in Ohrid and Diber who saw it as something special and unique in the region.
“There is also a huge amount of talented individuals who are not being challenged”.
What are the benefits of having a company in Macedonia and serving clients to the world?
First and foremost, the most important thing to any and all businesses – cost. Simply put, building a team in Macedonia has a lower cost and it allows for companies to focus their resources on marketing, thus expanding their client base.
However, that is a very small part of the formula. There is also a huge amount of talented individuals who are not being challenged. We saw a lot of individuals who spoke different languages and who were very motivated, passionate, and hard-working, willing to break through any barrier and simply make something happen.
I cannot overstate how passionate people in the Balkans are. There have been many instances when technology failed us, but we would come together in the Slice office and simply work through the backlog of issues, and I feel that only passionate people who care about a business’ vision and mission can do that. You cannot find this passion and motivation to succeed anywhere else – you simply need to challenge the existing individuals in these regions.
What does Slice do in Macedonia?
We are responsible for managing the back end. We have all of our support teams in Macedonia from Customer Support to Account Management, data entry, market research, and everything needed to support Slice. A large majority of our calls are inbound requests to support our restaurant partners and customers.
“We are not a call center as the region knows call centers, we are a business that has opportunities for career advancement similar to those in every other company and business”.
Slice team members process orders, build relationships, implement marketing strategies and support thousands of Pizzerias and millions of customers across the United States. We are not a call center as the region knows call centers, we are a business that has opportunities for career advancement similar to those in every other company and business.
What has been the greatest challenge to date?
The beginning. It was very tough to convince people that we were an actual American company functioning in Macedonia and that we weren’t a call center but a full blown business that did the same backend work in Macedonia as you would in the USA.
People didn’t apply, they didn’t trust us, didn’t believe that something this different actually existed here. To this day, we still have to convince people that we are still hiring; we get individuals asking us, “but you hired 10 people this month, how much more do you need?”
It’s very tough to convince others that we are ALWAYS hiring amazing talent.
Our biggest challenge is to find individuals who are able to work at the quality that is expected in the US and the West. For the most part, we are able to train individuals on their English skills and help them develop additional ones, but training and development take time, and it is difficult to hire people quickly. At times it just so happens that we need people, a lot of people, right away, and we’ve had to prepare in advance to hire individuals so that we can train them and make sure that they are the quality that is needed in about 3 months’ time.
Eventually, we figured out both challenges and have a huge Training and Development team and a Recruiting team to overcome these challenges.
What are some of the latest exciting news around Slice?
Most recently, we received a $15 Million investment from GGV capital and have been featured on Tech Crunch, Business Insider, Recode and other big news outlets. To think that a company that had its roots in Debar, Macedonia is now on Tech Crunch is just amazing.
The received funds are going to be used to expand Slice at a faster pace and make sure that we can continue to grow and scale. This means that for us this is just the beginning. We will also invest in our team to make sure that we continue to support their growth and development. The more our team grows and develops the better we work, the happier we are, and the better we perform; it ends up being beneficial to all parties involved.
What are the next plans for Slice? Expanding, Investment, Exciting?
We want to expand into Kosovo, or Albania, depending on the need and where it makes the most sense for us.
We are looking at all options from Prishtina, to Tirana, to smaller cities like Prizren, and others. We want to continue finding amazing individuals who want to be a part of Slice and advance their careers and not look at Slice as just another job.
So keep an eye out for Slice near you by the end of the year and if you are interested in joining us shoot us a message with your skills and talents and how you can help the company. We are always looking for special individuals who are talented and are waiting to be challenged.
“We are looking at all options from Prishtina, to Tirana, to smaller cities like Prizren, and others.”
What would you suggest to an investor looking into opportunities around the region?
If you simply take the time to look at the potential opportunity it is very difficult to miss it. The technological infrastructure has improved greatly over the years, and now there are opportunities for outsourcing back-end processes very easily.
There is also a very large amount of talented individuals that are not programmers. A majority of our employees have Master’s degrees and speak English fluently. Opportunities to cut your costs by a significant amount are there, it just takes a bit of time to look into what the options actually are.
Similarly, there are tools to overcome the challenges of working remotely or having an office in another country. In today’s tech-driven society, you have software that allows you to communicate more efficiently without missing a beat, track data and employee progress as if they were working on a floor below you in the same office building.
Finally, it’s important to look at the work that you are currently doing and ask yourself if that particular task needs to be done specifically next to you. What I’m trying to say is that we email each other files and discuss things through Slack even though we are in the same office, it’s just as easy to email and speak to Slack someone that is further away. Again, there are challenges, but nothing that cannot be overcome with the proper management and the adequate tools.
Anything else you want to share with our readers?
The thing that is most surprising for us is how talented and amazing our employees are, you simply can’t find people like this anywhere in the world, and all of their contributions have helped Slice get to where it needs to be. But at the same time, we constantly see how, as a group, the young talented individuals of the Balkans are sometimes very demotivated, and are always seeking for a way to leave the country or city that they are in for a better opportunity in the West.
What they do not consider is that things are tough and there are challenges in the West as well; they may be different, and maybe not as difficult to overcome, but that is a matter of perspective. There are vast opportunities here, and a better future, you just have to push on a regular basis. You have to start low, work your way through it, power through challenges, always be at your best, and use every single day as another opportunity.
At the end of the day, the West is the West because they simply don’t say ‘no’ for a reason. When Americans were hit hard by the financial crisis in the US they didn’t have an America 2.0 to emigrate to, you simply need to work hard to get through difficulties. I just hope that the young individuals in the Balkan region give it their 110% before looking at other options.
There is an opportunity here, you can be just as successful, and there are feelings and thoughts and a general mindset that it is impossible, but that is far from true. None of what happened to Slice happened by chance, it was a team coming together and working very hard, and absolutely nothing else.