SeamlessWeb, a New York City born, internationally embraced food ordering delivery and takeout service dropped “Web” and is now just “Seamless” as of last Friday. Last month, it also broke away from its parent company ARAMARK corporation. Then just over the weekend, the company launched its shiny new site (screenshots and video demo below!). With all the excitement, we thought it was high time to catch up with Seamless’ CEO Jonathan Zabusky for a chat.
CBM: When did you come onboard Seamless? When you were first applying, what attracted to you to the company?
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Jonathan Zabusky: I joined Seamless’ (then, SeamlessWeb) Executive Team in 2008 as Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Development and became President/CEO in 2009. At that time, consumers were starting to adopt digital food ordering and Seamless had a tremendous opportunity to expand on its market leadership position, not just in the B2B space but also serving the needs of consumers for personal ordering.
Disrupting the paradigm, so to speak, has always felt like the right challenge; Seamless and the digital food ordering industry was exciting to me (and still is) because the challenge was to show people that the era of the paper menu and ordering by phone was over. Similar to the way the travel industry moved online (nobody buys an airline ticket over the phone anymore), I saw that the opportunity for web and mobile food ordering to become deeply intertwined into the lives of time-starved urbanites. To help shape and lead this significant change in behavior and work to infuse convenience and fun into people’s lives was very appealing.
CBM: Since you joined what changes have you seen at the company? In the way it’s structured, its ethos and in employees’ personality?
JZ: We are squarely focused on innovation and growing our business right now, all toward the objective of serving the rapidly evolving needs of our clients, customers and restaurant partners. Our people, even the newest to join our team or the most junior, come to work every day recognizing that their sense of pride and ownership for what we are trying to accomplish is what has been driving our position as market leader. My job is to lead this company and shape its direction, but it’s the dedication and decision making from the front lines that is propelling innovation, deepening customer, client and restaurant partner relationships, and moving our business forward. The Seamless team has embraced our mission of making hungry people happy and has translated that concept into our internal working environment (after all, we’re hungry consumers too!). Everything we do from how we interact with each other, to how our space looks, to how we prioritize, is all thought of in relation to our mission.
CBM: Tell me a little bit about how you’ve grown over the years.
JZ: I have always been one to fully embrace opportunities to learn and to gain exposure to new experiences. I have been fortunate that the Seamless team has given me the platform in which I have been able to embrace challenges, take risks and learn from others. Together, we’ve launched our mobile platforms (completely non-existent a year ago, it’s now representing 20% of our order volume on weekends), a new brand experience, and have taken on Spectrum Equity Investors as a minority investment partner in our new, independently structured company. As a result of my experiences (successes and failures) here, I’m more comfortable pushing the envelope, but I’m also more patient and accepting. These are traits and qualities that have come from working with a great team of people dedicated to focusing on our constituents and serving the needs of the marketplace.
CBM: Tell me about the new features! What’s your favorite and what’s most exciting?
JZ: As we made the decision to drop the “web” and become Seamless, we wanted our brand to be reflective of the passion and excitement our members already feel about our brand. Changing our logo and introducing rich food imagery was just the first step—what we really wanted to do was give customers a better way to find exactly the food they’re looking for.
So, of course I love the way the site looks, but I’m excited to introduce the new smart search, sort and filter features to our website and mobile apps. If I know exactly what I want, I can search for food items, restaurants, and/or cuisines directly from our homepage. We streamline the ordering and checkout experience, so you get your food faster. If I don’t know what I want to eat, I can lean on Seamless’ tools to help me leverage a wealth of data and content to help me decide. We’ve always given our members great options but now we’re enabling them to use our sort and filter tools to narrow down their choices to show exactly the restaurants and menu items that they’re looking for. If I want to find restaurants that have low estimated delivery times, 5 stars, and chocolate milkshakes, I can. If I’m looking to pick up my dinner from a local Thai restaurant with a medium price point that has Mee Krob on the menu, I can do that too.
The new site design and features are really a function of our members’ feedback. We’re committed to continuous innovation and platform growth. We’ve also remained focused on providing our restaurant partners with the ability to better market themselves to customers through our platform. Over 90% of our partners are local mom-n-pop businesses and the new search, sort and filter tools not only benefit our members, but they make our restaurants more accessible. We truly want to help facilitate the discovery of new restaurants, to the benefit of our consumers and restaurant partners, and now we’ve taken the first (of many more) steps in providing food happiness to the marketplace. You can expect Seamless to continue to define the digital food ordering landscape through innovation in the future.
CBM: What are your plans for the future of Seamless?
JZ: I want Seamless to be the leading local marketing platform for restaurants and the single most trusted partner to those restaurants in order to help them accelerate customer acquisition and build loyalty, engagement and brand advocacy. Our restaurant partners excel at making delicious food; our responsibility is to help them reach customers and provide the best end-to-end experience in food ordering. From finding a restaurant for delivery or takeout, to deciding what to order, to getting the food they want delivered, we want to make that a satisfying, happy experience for everyone involved. If they should have a hiccup, our customer care team is there to help. For our clients and members, Seamless aims to be the clear expert on all things restaurant-related in their local neighborhoods—what’s hot, what fits their mood, what’s easiest and most convenient—we want to solve for any member need. And whether that’s at a computer or on the-go via our iPhone, Android and BlackBerry apps (and soon via iPad), we want our web and mobile experiences to reach beyond their expectations.
CBM: When you think about the future of the company, who inspires you and do you have any favorite quotes?
JZ: I’m inspired by any company that’s forward thinking and innovative. It’s not enough to become the market leader and be comfortable in your space. The best companies of today are always thinking three steps ahead. They’re engaging in customer conversations and taking ideas and feedback to the next level so that the output is greater and more innovative than people can imagine. We want to shape the market rather than react to it. Apple may be a commonly cited example, but they’ve done a great job at defining what innovation is. They’re not afraid to change the rules of the game, even if it doesn’t make sense to conventional wisdom, and they truly understand the marketplace, maybe even better than the marketplace understands itself.
Thomas Edison said “There ain’t no rules around here. We’re trying to accomplish somep’n!” I’d like to continue to challenge the Seamless team and the industry to go further and push harder. Innovation comes by developing a continuous funnel of creative ideas, most of which will ultimately not be viable. However, that one idea that changes the market and fills a need that people cannot identify beforehand, is the one Seamless is striving for. We’re already the market leader with over $400 million in sales expected in 2011, but that’s not where we stop. We’ll continue to define the digital food ordering space through customer engagement, a transformative product, and being the place where the best people want to work.
CBM: Where’s your favorite restaurant to order from on Seamless?
JZ: Honestly, I don’t have a specific favorite. The great thing about Seamless is the variety of options and the ability to discover new cuisines, restaurants and foods. This fall, Seamless will be moving to a new space, close to Bryant Park, in order to fit our rapidly growing team. I can’t wait to explore a new set of delivery and takeout options when we move in.
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