The virtual pizza party startup that staged a major revival during the pandemic shutdowns

March 14, 2021, 11:00 AM UTC

This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.

Pizzatime, a pizza catering service tailored for virtual parties and meetings, originally launched and shuttered in 2019, only to come back online in 2020 after COVID-19 hit and customers started asking what had happened with the service.

Today, with an average of 175 virtual pizza parties booked a month, and projected revenue of $1.5 million for 2021, Pizzatime proves timing is everything. The startup has catered to major corporate customers, including teams at Nike, Spotify, Adobe, Casper, Amazon, IBM, HBO, Walmart, and more.

Businesses and work teams are not the only Pizzatime customers. Birthday parties and family gatherings have become a solid customer source, and the company recently added bonus “toppings” options, such as trivia hosts, stand-up comedians, DJs, group yoga, and more. The startup also launched a sister company serving remote coffee breaks, aptly named Coffeetime.

Fortune recently spoke with founder Josh Gross to learn more about the business, the lessons learned, the hurdles overcome, as well as plans for the new year.

Josh Gross, founder of Pizzatime
Courtesy of Pizzatime

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Fortune: Could you share a bit about your background and what you were doing professionally prior to launching Pizzatime?

I founded, ran, and still run a digital agency called Planetary. I’ve been the managing partner at the agency for its entire existence, which is over eight years now. Prior to that, I was a freelance web designer and developer.

What inspired you to launch Pizzatime? What is the Pizzatime experience like?

At the agency, our team has always been distributed from day one, which was way back in the halcyon days of 2013. Part of running a distributed team, especially as we grew, was finding ways to bring the team “together” in fun, interactive, non-work-centric ways.

One of the experiments we did, starting a number of years ago, was hosting a pizza party for the team. In person, this is easy—order a dozen pizzas to the office—but remotely, it was a lot more difficult. The times that we had these parties, I actually went and personally ordered pizza for each one of our team members (it was only four to five folks), but it took ages.

Eventually, it clicked that I could automate a lot of this experience with a bit of work, and thought it might be a fun experience for other companies, especially as remote work was “growing” back in 2019.

The experience itself, from the customer’s end, is really simple: sign up, pick your favorite pizza, and on the day of the party, just join your Zoom—or whatever—meeting. Pizza shows up like magic.

Pizzatime says the average number of guests attending its virtual pizza parties runs between 50 and 99.
Courtesy of Pizzatime

Pizzatime first launched but also shuttered in 2019—only to come back in 2020 amid the pandemic shutdowns. Can you describe what that time was like for your business? What did it take to revive the service?

It’s funny, we launched Pizzatime in 2019 with the intention of it being a sort of “launched by Planetary” side project we’d run. It had some success and got some attention, but things slowed down by the holidays that year, and we decided to wind it down after a six-month run.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. I thought there would be more interest in something like this than what we were seeing. That being said, I’ve started and shuttered so many different things over the years, I just chalked it up to another experiment.

Then, in 2020, we started getting emails asking what had happened to Pizzatime and why it was shut down. At first, it was just one or two folks inquiring, then it became several emails every day. So I figured we’d bring it back since it seemed like it’d be nice for folks to use during the pandemic.

We rehired a couple of the part-time folks we had originally brought on to help run the service, and put the website back up. Immediately, we started seeing orders for parties of 10, 20, 30 people, and the number of parties per month basically increased 100% month over month all of last year.

Courtesy of Pizzatime

What has fundraising been like, before and since the start of the pandemic?

Believe it or not, we’ve never fundraised. We’ve built this into a seven-figure annual business by bootstrapping from within the agency. Our team has always been super scrappy and knows how to execute on a limited budget; we took this idea and ran with it while being as capital-efficient as we possibly could. Being self-capitalized also has given us the freedom to experiment with our offerings without worrying as much about our bottom line.

That said, we’ve started to consider raising our first round now that we have some proven product-market fit. We’ve been seeing such robust month-over-month growth that we’re not rushing to bring in outside funds, but we’d love to supercharge our growth with some enhanced marketing efforts.

Courtesy of Pizzatime

Pizzatime’s sweet spot is catering to virtual parties. But when people start to congregate in real life again, what is the company’s plan for life after the pandemic?

At this point, remote teams are here to stay. More companies than ever are offering remote positions or going remote entirely so we’ll have plenty of teams that want to use us in the months and years ahead.

Even with some folks returning to office work, there have always been teams that have been spread out across the world, especially for multinational companies. We’ve had companies with teams still in-office use us to deliver pizzas to multiple office locations. We’re able to handle multiple pies per office so even with some folks returning to offices, we’ve found that Pizzatime—and Coffeetime—have remained very useful.

Beyond that, though, we’ve found that our product has been exceptionally valuable to sales and product teams that host webinars and to companies hosting virtual conferences. Both of these have been occurring well before the pandemic, and we certainly expect them to continue long afterwards. And Pizzatime really shines in closing a deal from a webinar or making a virtual conference feel more memorable. Plus, families and friends will always be spread out so virtual celebrations—while they felt more urgent as a result of the pandemic—are here to stay.

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