How Naked Pizza Grew from 1 to 450 Stores in 18 Months

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Eighteen months ago, World’s Healthiest Pizza was a tiny pizza shop operating out of 496 square feet of space in a part of New Orleans that was largely submerged after Hurricane Katrina.

Today, just a year and a half later, it’s a multi-national company with more than 450 franchises sold under the name of Naked Pizza, including a flagship shop in Dubai. It’s on a mission not just to build a giant business, but to prove that healthful and profitable can go in hand in hand.

And it all kicked into high-gear when co-founder and chairman of New Orleans venture marketing company TrumpetRobbie Vitrano, teamed with the original owners, changed the name to Naked Pizza and swapped its sign out for one that asked people to follow Naked Pizza on twitter.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Vitrano last month and, true to the naked name, he was incredibly transparent about how the team has been able to accomplish an astonishing business transformation and growth rate and what drives them beyond building a cool business.

What follows in an in-depth look at one of the most inspiring conscious business success stories in modern history…

Jonathan Fields: Your personal story is a pretty cool story, as is what you’re doing with Naked Pizza right now so I want to explore both of those things. So let’s step a couple of years back with you. You right now a major figure in this company called Naked Pizza, which is beyond a company, it’s more of a movement. But this isn’t what you’ve been doing for the better part of your life. Take me back to your prior career and tell me what you were up to.

Robbie Vitrano: Yeah. So the — it’s a bit of an iteration. You know, maybe that’s being too kind. It’s kind of stumbling forward through this advertising career that I’ve been involved with for a better part of my life, about thirty years.

So I started as a copywriter, started, you know, wanting to write the next great print ad and television spot and so you spend your time essentially in trying to apply innovation. I mean that’s essentially what people employ you to do and of course this great big ego fest associated with that or you’re trying to sort of create this issue from everyone. And I think in the process there’s all this great talent and all this great business building and all these great ideas being discussed.

But oftentimes, you get removed from the actual process of building businesses that maybe deserve to be built and perhaps have something to contribute to society that are maybe more considerate of their cause and effect. That maybe the only thing they exist for is not to create wealth or create jobs, but also to have some kind of positive social impact. So you sort of mash that up that it’s sitting in the back of your head and you go into this career and then you get a little bit older, you have children, maybe you each start to sniff around the midlife crisis.

And you start to say, you know, how I can use all these things that have accumulated, this different way of working, these smart people that I’ve had a chance to work with in a way that accomplishes the things that I love about advertising, which is innovation, ideas, use of media, art, words, language. And apply it towards building companies that are actually improving the world, like their core substantial social contribution. And that was something that was sitting on my shoulder for a while. And then and I’m from New Orleans so what I joke about is that, you know, oftentimes in popular conversations, they’ll say, you know, XYZ is having his Katrina moment, well my Katrina moment was Katrina, right.

So you go through that experience and all those things that seem a little far off get a little closer and you start to say if not now, when?

So coming back from Katrina, having an agency of about 45 people, we made some very specific decisions that we were going to work with the people that mattered to us, and in particular those organizations or those companies that were going to be involved in restarting New Orleans. And there’s a whole lot of back-story to that, but essentially, the people who came back were committed to that idea of saying, okay, our city really needs to be reexamined.

This is an opportunity to confront, deal with some of those problems and really ask ourselves what’s our contribution going to be. And my area is business and so if your job is to build businesses, it would be great to build businesses that are going to contribute to not only the recovery of the city, but perhaps in terms of that more macro conversation about whether a business should behave in a more responsible way.

So I got involved with a number of businesses that were involved in recovery, a number of organizations, raised a little bit of money that we can invest in some of those companies. But the sort of the dirty little secret of advertising is that we’re hopeless optimists so we think we can solve any problem with a creative idea, you know, a well termed phrase and you realize actually you need a little bit more than that to start up a company.

So we took a couple of baby companies in, we built out a space in a part of town that had flooded about a 12,000 square foot — a former ice house. And we’re going to use both our physical footprint to catalyze recovery in that area because the place is about — well it’s still about 60% recovered in terms of evacuees coming back into this area, but at the time it was right about 20%.

And then we’d also say, let’s use our talents to contribute to those businesses that are good ideas, but probably need to be further examined, further vetted, and maybe more focused in terms of how they would actually build this business and even scale it.

And it was through that process that I got involved with the original founders of Naked Pizza, which was then called the World’s Healthiest Pizza.

And it was through that kind of energy in the community, myself and a lot of other organizations, an organization I co-founded called Idea Village was involved. It’s kind of a non-profit businesses. And collectively in a very kind of barn-raising way, got involved with the World’s Healthiest Pizza and through about a year and a half of more professional affiliation, we decided to say let’s really do this.

So, let’s form a company, let’s go out and acquire some investors, let’s build a franchising company because we think that’s the right way for us to scale quickly. And so in a little building about 500 square feet that took about six feet of water in Katrina, we launched this idea of saying let’s take one of the world’s most popular and unhealthy fast foods and make it a recipe based on both actualizing ancient diets and also some of the way in nutritional science.

So to make this pizza logically correct and then take a billion dollar business model, the carry-out delivery pizza business model and use it as a Trojan horse to demonstrate that fast food can be part of the solution, and the overall academic of obesity and chronic disease that’s related to diet. And so that sort of brings me to the present.

Jonathan Fields: Right. And it’s really about showing that it’s possible to build business around conscious living, around health and have them be profitable and successful and roll that out; have that have a bigger impact.

Robbie Vitrano: From the very beginning things were a bit odd sized, maybe a little naïve. But it was essentially recognizing that from the very beginning it wasn’t — you know, let’s not go out and add to the confusion or the misinformation around what people have a bit of overinvestment in, the silver bullets that kind of solve the problem with diet and health. But let’s sort of focus on using this kind of very accessible metaphor as a way to reacquaint people with really a biological common sense.

It’s a 200,000-year-old nutritional blueprint that we’ve been following as a human species. And, you know, no one tells a deer how to eat, no one tells a bear how to eat. And so, you would think that the most so-called highly evolved animal you’d think would have some sort of common sense approach to what they should eat and not make themselves sicker or less healthy. But, you know, through a combination of things industrialization, food policy group, dollars and cents, you know, big agriculture, we’ve kind of changed that whole equation to actually create kind of this ocean of food and food like products, as Michael Pollan would call it, that are entirely misaligned with the foods that we’re supposed to eat.

So the idea was if you could use this highly accessible model and this highly accessible food, and demonstrate that you could take this one product and render it in a way that’s much more aligned with the way that anybody is supposed to eat. So a diversity of whole food ingredients, a diversity of fiber sources that feed both the human cells as well as this microbial system that has a lot to say about this nutrition and how vulnerable you are to infection. If you could create that and make that possible with pizza then maybe you could demonstrate that other producers of food and other suppliers of food could do the same and perhaps should be obligated to do the same.

So, we wanted to kind of puncture that myth that I think is perpetuated by people who are probably asking too few questions and maybe a bit too interested in their bottom line about offering products that ultimately harm instead of help in the name of creating so called jobs for capitalists. We think you can do both. Profit and scalability and mission and purpose are all inseparable in our mind. So we did a lot of little bon mots for that. You know, you can’t save the whales unless you can afford the boat, but the come on is that you’re trying to demonstrate this as a viable model.

And we also think maybe a third or more, that the world doesn’t necessarily need another Whole Foods for lack of a better example to sort of preach to the choir. What is kind of missing from the overall equation is outside of that 5% that’s jobs at Whole Foods and some really wonderful companies that are providing that, you know, whether it be Organic Movement or Alice Waters or whomever, there’s a whole host of people both in the US and around the world that really just want access to products, that are convenient, that are affordable that are tasty, but also healthy. So, we figured that not only can we offer this product as a tangible example of it, but we can also use it as an example to create greater engagement, greater activity and hopefully ultimately hold people more accountable than plow the plate.

Jonathan Fields: So I want to kind of deconstruct this a little bit because it’s pretty fascinating what you’re up to.

Robbie Vitrano: Sure.

Jonathan Fields: And so let’s back up a little bit and I want to talk about the business side of it, but also I want to talk about the human side of it. From the business side of it, you come into this thing and right now it’s called Naked Pizza and it’s a franchise model, which is a whole interesting conversation in itself. I don’t know if you want to actually go down that road.

Robbie Vitrano: [Chuckles] Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: But —

Robbie Vitrano: Happy to but, yeah, it’s full of glory and things.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. I’ve actually been in that role very briefly with the last company that I owned so…

Robbie Vitrano: But we can commiserate.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. It’s an interesting place. But it starts out as something called World’s Healthiest Pizza. Now, you’re a guy who’s in the world of marketing, communications, advertising, branding and what’s this name saying to you and tell me why has it evolved to Naked Pizza?

Robbie Vitrano: Well, the original guy, the archeologist and his partner, my partner now who comes from a real estate background, basically said let’s call it what it is. You know, it’s — we essentially made the world’s healthiest pizza so we should call it World’s Healthiest Pizza and the world will beat a path to our door. And what they did right was really focus on making sure there is integrity in the product and that they were able to really make something that delivered a truthful benefit.

What they probably were maybe missing a bit at that time was it was a little too preachy. And so, strike one was that people don’t particularly want to be preached to aggressively. And then secondly was that there’s a bit of a gag reflex associated with health and pizza if it’s too overt.

So you immediately raise a bit of a defense on the part of the customer that they say well if it’s a healthy pizza then it must really taste like shit, so, you know, or a cardboard, would be kind of. But the problem there is that you’re isolating so much of the market that really would dig and really enjoy a healthier pizza if it didn’t feel too medicinal. And the concern in all things like that is that, you know, is the tradeoff just too much.

You know, you’re asking me to abandon too much of what I like and it’s too risky especially if I’m a mother bringing a pizza into the house or bringing one over to my husband or whomever. So it ends up getting kind of pigeon holed as maybe too much of a female product, too much of a different sort of product that you’re making a compromise on taste.

So the thought was, you know, let’s take the good, which is the product really works and you’ve got a ton of attitude, it’s fun and we’re thinking about doing things in a big way. And let’s lower the bar of access a bit without losing the integrity of it. Let’s make it a little more fun, let’s make it a little more accessible. So let’s keep the good and just provide a little bit more of a easy, friendly handshake on the way to helping people understand what’s really important about not only product, but also the relationship with this company. So it took quite a while to get everybody comfortable with this idea of the name change, but I think once we did, it made perfect sense. So, you know, everybody had to come to it in their own time.

Jonathan Fields: Right. And which is interesting because the company is what, about a year or so old at that point?

Robbie Vitrano: Yeah. It was about two years old at that time.

Jonathan Fields: And was it one location or more than one location?

Robbie Vitrano: Yeah. Actually, they tried a couple of different thoughts there ranging from restaurants to a carryout idea to even playing around with a couple of different products. But the — so that was, you know, the wandering in the wilderness stage, the necessary exploration so were very much part of kind of the laboratory stage. And we still refer to the original location as the lab.

But, yeah, it’s at a time when, you know, you start with a product and then you start thinking, a bit about the business model. But probably we really hadn’t got past the product that we can actually give with a customer at the end stage.

Jonathan Fields: Right. And it’s interesting too because now you know if we flash forward, really it’s not that long ago that we’re talking about that.

Robbie Vitrano: No.

Jonathan Fields: — you were having these conversations. But the growth has been kind of interesting. You come from a much bigger world and probably your perspective is much bigger and much broader. So the notion of changing a name when it’s in one location or two locations or something like that is not a huge deal.

Robbie Vitrano: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: You’re still pretty early in the business cycle. But I’m guessing the guys who started this thing were saying, whoa.

Robbie Vitrano: Yeah. It’s — I mean I think the idea of going big and introducing scale into it was a part of those conversations. I mean again if you sort of take on this notion that, you start with that very open ended question, what if pizza was good for you, it does provoke you to dream big and think big. So almost by definition, if you’re going to go through that door, you tend to start thinking. If you are thinking about the social implications, you start to think big about this then you start to pay attention to things like that there are billions and billions of dollars of pizza sold, that it is one of the single most popular foods in the world that translates and transcends cultures.

So early on, I guess that reality was in our mind, although, you know, a fairly removed reality given what the company was comprised of and what we’re dealing with at the time, but it did happen in a very quick way. I mean once the ball started rolling and we started to get real focused on what the potential was… And I was excited about the company just because I really just thought, it was a great idea and it was very attractive because it was an opportunity to fly some of the things that I believed to be true. And oftentimes I had a difficult time convincing clients or, you know, the traditional role between ad agency and client convincing those dynamics to move where you’re able to impact all aspects of the business, not just the marketing.

You come in again. So, if you sort of fast-forward to where we are now, now you’re… About 18 months ago was when the idea was saying, okay, what kind of money do we need, what kind of infrastructure do we need to make this thing work. And so it focused on the idea of raising money, of starting to document sort of a business infrastructure, the franchise model, what sort of things did we need in the way of processes, documenting them. And again mechanically, you know, like most you’re not really sure what you don’t know at that stage. And you probably lurched a bit, over rely on advice because there’s always an expert that if we had a nickel for every time somebody came on and said, you know, here’s what you need to do.

But it was through the process of working through that, working with the different individuals involved in this and working through the process of thinking about what it is we wanted it to be and what were the right first steps that again about 18 months ago, we had a pretty clear idea that with a fairly small amount of money, we could articulate the key aspects of this company, focusing in on the carry-out and delivery model, about a thousand square foot box that’s surrounded by about 20,000 homes that you have the ability to deliver pizza to in about 30 minutes.

So, we studied the things that people like Domino’s do very well and we hacked into that model. I mean pure and simple, we didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or we didn’t need to. But the point was that we were making a different promise to people and we are able to keep promise with a product that actually did what it said, it didn’t hurt you, it actually helped you. And so you can get some — you can move very quickly by paying attention to the things that work and not being too eager to reinvent the wheel, and also it’s fairly thrifty.

And then the other piece to that which has, you know, received a fair amount of attention has been the use of social media.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Robbie Vitrano: And again, social media wasn’t seen as sort of this magic elixir for communication and it wasn’t seen as being, oh, it’s free. What social media was that it represented basically the form of communication and interaction and engagement that was the perfect complement to this sort of business idea. And as you know, we’ve spoken to and I think a lot of other really smart people understand, that businesses that are built from the beginning with an expressed sense of social responsibility that are willing to be more authentic and a little more real and are willing to let go with the brand, are able to and rewarded with engagement that makes social media not only a great way for telling your story and getting it to a lot of people, but it also keeps you honest, which I think is equally important. You know, the social media basically, is the irrefutable truth that comes back at you and says, you know, wow that’s a really great idea or man are you full of shit.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah.

Robbie Vitrano: And give the evidence. That you have an opportunity to correct those things as you iterate the business model ultimately towards building a better relationship with a customer, which is the Holy Grail by any definition.

Jonathan Fields: And it’s funny you say it really keeps you honest. I’ve had the experience of speaking at a conference where the tweet stream or a particular session are being streamed live on a screen next to you. Talk about keeping you honest in real time.

Robbie Vitrano: Yeah, exactly. It calls you on it quickly. But it’s refreshing. It’s an interesting way to build a business and I think it’s the way that, you know, people sort of want to but feel like they can’t or felt like they couldn’t build a business in years past. But now, people are again rewarded for doing it this way. And I think there’s a lot of really smart people that are now getting into business that maybe didn’t before because these new tools exist and maybe they needed to get in business before.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And it’s really interesting because you can get a level of not only engagement but feedback about what’s working and what’s not working at a speed and I think on a level of honesty and integrity that was — it was so difficult just a couple of years ago. If you polled a bunch of people in a room and take them a little bit–

Robbie Vitrano: Yeah, I call them the feedback. And always the old way the focused group.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Robbie Vitrano: And whether focus groups were right or wrong or whether the survey that the researcher put together for you with your end size sample was right wrong, it never felt real, you know? It’s like you’ve got this phonebook size report back that said that 65% of people like blue.

And you just never felt it, you know. I mean you look at it and think that’s not giving me any inspiration to create something interesting. But when you get a response be it Twitter or Facebook and people tell you a little bit more about it, you can follow up with a direct conversation, which we’ll do often. I find that much more inspiring to do better work. You know, it just feels more real. So again, I think it’s often just to me is the ultimate competitive edge and I believe it is. And if it’s what helps you kind of get up in the morning a little bit earlier and work a little bit later because sometimes you need to, I like that social media sort of mainlines that mentality in a way that I think is again good for good ideas.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And it’s interesting too because a lot of the concern for people especially entrepreneurs or not even so much entrepreneurs but larger brands that are concerned about entering the whole world of social media is the loss of control of their message.

Robbie Vitrano: Right.

Jonathan Fields: And there is a fear and that is a reality. You have to do it and put it out there and let it go and morph in sort of be spread the way it’s spread. But what you’re talking about is the really the flipside of that which is you get so much back if you’re willing to engage in the conversation and listen and respond.

Robbie Vitrano: Right. And I think, you know, to that too, we’ve thought about that quite a bit and I think, which you also have to be honest about is whereas we make a lot of speeches about the brand isn’t what we say it is, it’s what the customer says it is and it’s a consumer controlled media platform. But I think what really makes business ideas work and what makes social media work is that you’re able to express your point view in a clear way. So you’re still compelled to put forth your point of view. It’s not like you’re just sitting there like some kind of Gumby marketer or a business developer.

And just waiting for somebody to tell you what to do. In fact, there’ll be no respect in that anyway. So you still are compelled to sort of demonstrate why you deserve to exist.

So, it’s always peculiar to me. I get it because of the bureaucracy that exists in larger companies and more traditional companies. But I don’t think we’re dealing with any more vulnerability today than they did ten years ago. I just think it’s just a little more confounding to them. And maybe also at the root of it is, you know, a lot of the people that are intimated by social media are people that work really hard to trivialize it and although, it’s funny to trivialize, don’t throw the baby out of the bath wall, I think is the point that they’re missing so…

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. So let’s circle back to what’s actually happened with the company over the last two years or so. Tell me about what’s happening growth-wise. Where did you start, where are you at now and where are you going?

Robbie Vitrano: Well, so 18 months ago, actually about 12 or 10 months ago, we were still a single location business. One it’s not even 500 square feet, it’s 496 square foot, cinder block building that had a big chunk of glass missing out of the front window. But out in front, we took down the sign that said Naked Pizza and replaced it with a sign that said, Follow Us on

Twitter. Did that in the later part of 2009 and that was kind of our first volley across the, or at least our first shot across the bow kind of picked by TechCrunch and Mashable and really kind of set us going and really kind of opened our eyes to the possibilities.

Shortly after that, you had people like Mark Cuban get involved and the Kraft family, not Kraft Foods, but the family that owns the New England Patriots. Both are bona fide billionaires for what that’s worth. But they put a very small amount of money into this, this has largely been a bootstrap operation, but what they did was validate it, they credentialized the idea. And, you know, Mark Cuban is not a sentimental guy, but I think they all liked the idea that this — you know, and crack on the wall.

And so from there, we were up and running. We got enough money to go out and put basically, a franchise document together so we could qualify to issue franchises throughout the United States.

And the other thing that started happening around that time, we started to receive not only some major media play. Well, “The New York Times” was the first major article. We’re covered in Rob Walker’s “Consumed” column. But a number of other major publications and media started to cover us in addition to a number of blogs and online media sources. And that contributed to literally thousands of inquiries about investment and franchising. Now, that number is up to six thousand inquiries, which is a heavy level of interest. And the most important part at that point again, you know, to sort of making it up as we go was vending properly. We wanted the right people in the floor.

And, you know, it’s clear that our money wasn’t the same. And what was extraordinary, remember this was the middle of the recession, right. Although, I guess it ended, but we didn’t know about it yet. But here we were in the time where there was not capital available through traditional lending sources and small businesses were drying up, unemployment was at or above 10%. And what you found is there was a ton of money parked on the sidelines by really smart people and they were very interested in finding a way to use their money in a way that had more of a social contribution.

And the other thing that most of these people who came in the door had their personal experience. They stories about family members who either were suffering from obesity or type II diabetes mellitus or digestive diseases like Crohn’s. So, they had these personal stories that they really wanted to do something about. So we started to select as best as we could through the vending process people that we thought would be great partners for us that had the combination of dollars and understanding of social media and the heart to help us to start to bring this concept out of the garage.

The first stores started to open around the summer of 2010. So in a little bit less than a year, we started to open up the doors in our first stores. The first store that opened was in Miami at South Beach right in the heart of South Beach. We had developer there, somebody had a lot of experience in multi-unit and what that did was that brought people literally from all over the world to come check out the space.

And from there, we started to really dial in as to what type of people we want to do business with. By the end of 2010, we had about 450 stores under contract. Meaning 450 stores had been claimed by paying a franchise fee by developers to secure territory rights for stores. And now, they’re on a schedule that obligated them to open stores in a specific amount of time. So, that’s all very contractually documented.

Around that time, we also had, the gentleman’s name was Ian Ohan, hopped on a jet in Dubai, fly to Houston, jumped on a motorcycle in Houston and rode to New Orleans and tried to convince us that Dubai was the perfect place for our first international store. And furthermore, tried to convince us that international — we should move into international right away, which seemed absolutely perfectly absurd at the time.

So in August of 2010, we flew to Dubai the first time for all us. And what we found there, I mean in addition to 120-degree temperature was a place that although was reeling from the recession, which truly was, you know, basically this marketplace for business development in a part of the world that’s about 80% ex-pats. Essentially people are there to do business. So there was this crush of money and business development and interests, just capitalism on steroids was there. And so that unleashed another huge round of invested, or interested investors from the international stage. So, from the point, we agreed that we would do something in Dubai. Dubai is the way Emirate Airlines speaks to it. It’s about 6 hours away from 4 billion people, which makes it pretty attractive.

Not the least of which being, you know, the major markets of India and China, and India being one of the hottest markets for growth. And incidentally, in both Dubai as well as in parts of India that are experiencing, rapid growth, now they’re being afflicted by the same issues you see in the States in fact to a greater degree. So congratulations, our modern society is inflicting the Western diet upon the developing world as well to where obesity rates are now exceeding the US, type II diabetes rates are exceeding per capita the US. Dubai has a number two per capita.

So the brand fit well there. So while we were opening up brands throughout the US over the last year, we ended 2010 with about 12 stores open.

And we opened in January of 2011 our first store in Dubai in the Dubai Marina. And what was extraordinary about the experience was that the opening of that store coincided with the first revolts of protests that were happening across the Middle East initially in Algeria but in Egypt it was starting to kind of rock and roll and then spread throughout Syria and Yemen and throughout. What was interesting to see was that, our company, which was largely social media based at a time when these revolts which were all being fueled by social media, that sort of notion of politics and culture and commerce. You know, that social media was transcending these issues amongst the population that was primarily young, very interested in voice and participation.

So, what — you know, not in a validated way but in a way that seems pretty obvious to us was that our brand represented a brand that that newly engaged population could own. They loved that they could play with the brand and touch it. So we went out to the community in Dubai and we reached out to the entrepreneurial community, the tech community, the social media community. We even showed up as keynotes at health fairs, which featured doctors and medical professionals and then some pizza guys, you know, talking about the holistic response to health issues in society.

And that was rather extraordinary just to see the response and the success of that store in Dubai, the second one is opening next week and to see the response and reaction. We even documented that in a video piece that we produced that captures the story in other people’s words. We used the direct words from social media. And not highly curated lift on them. You know, we sort of took the innovation, just published it and it’s rather really long.

So, this year in 2011, we’ll open about five stores per month through the remainder of this year. So we’ll end the year somewhere between 60 and 70 stores open between the US and Dubai. We have several new markets that are coming on right now in addition to the 450. So we’ll be somewhere around 500 or 600 stores under contract. Philadelphia is coming on, Kansas City. We’ll be opening up in Manhattan in June. We have letters of intent for India, Australia, Japan, a few other countries.

So right now, it’s the process of focusing on, on the operational issues and the training and inculcating this culture with our partners in the franchise world. And we’re also going to be doing a couple of interesting projects. In particular, we’ll be the operator of stores in Phoenix. Phoenix, which you may or may not know is one of the more prolific and successful delivery pizza markets. And in fact we have a real, on view as we say for hot deserty places. But Phoenix sort of works out as the place that fits the model nicely.

We also kind of like the fact that they were spanked pretty hard by the recession as well so we’re making a pretty significant investment. We’re going to open up five or six stores right off the bat over the next couple of months. We’re going to put a training facility there. And we’re starting to reach out to the social media community, the technology community, the entrepreneurial community and we’re starting to get a really great response.

So much like Dubai, over a two or three-month period by the time we open up the store, we expect that we’ll have a great group of sort of advocates and like minds, not necessarily customers but people that help us do what we do and that we enjoy engaging with and learning from. And then we’ll start to you know focus more on the customers around individual stores. And through that network, we’ll start to do the things that we do pretty well, which is again start to take our product, which basically does what it says it’s going to do, but also is meant to be an example of some things that you can do a bit differently even in the terms of the questions you ask for business or the products that you consume.

Jonathan Fields: I mean it’s a pretty incredible journey in a remarkably short period of time and I’m blown away by what you guys have accomplished. I love businesses where people step up and say, you know what, we want to really do good, but for us to be able to do good on the level we want to do good, we also have to do well, and then we have to prove to other people that they can do well at the same time.

So the way you’re going about it, it just really strikes a chord with me and I’m back there saying go, go, go. I think it’s an amazing model also not just for what you’re doing, but you’re setting an example business model wise for a whole bunch of different entrepreneurs and the potential people who are on the front lines to step and say, you know, maybe I can go in with my money and do well and do good at the same time.

Robbie Vitrano: Yeah. It’s cool. But you can demonstrate that. I think there’s some great — I mean, you know, I was listening recently that corporate profits are at an all time high and there’s so much money that’s pent up right now that it’s being stopped in terms of how it’s being deployed whether it’s hiring within companies or investing. It is because there’s still just a lot of fear out there. And I think by demonstrating what the new marketplace looks like and maybe helping to redefine how people are successful in it. And there are so many companies that I think that are doing similar things and helping to demonstrate that if you can prove that it’s not just a — you know, it’s not a feel-good, it’s not a soft business idea, but that it can be accountable to the bottom line, but also create the kind of world that you like to bring your kids up in then there’s not a lack of capital out there.

There’s probably a lack of belief and will. So, yeah. I mean the stuff that I talked about with Alex in his show it was fun to see how he’s applying his advertising background to create a profit brand around ideas that need the attention and need the care and the customization. I think in the advertising industry alone as I spoke on a panel about this a few years ago when I introduced Naked Pizza to a New York audience was really amongst that small group at the time that I think it’s continuing to grow.

Advertising people are kind of in the middle of the action. You know, it’s up to them to maybe speak the truth, you know, the power while they’re in that position or that situation. But if you recognize what the market wants and you can demonstrate that it’s a viable business idea, I think there’s just enormous resources out there that could be deployed in a very, very different way than the past, but a very successful way nonetheless and really kind of fit the reality of this post recession, post mass media world.


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13 responses

13 responses to “How Naked Pizza Grew from 1 to 450 Stores in 18 Months”

  1. Matt G says:

    When I look at the locations map on the site, it doesn’t look like there are 450 stores.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Matt, as I mentioned in the lead-in and as Robbie shared in the interview, they’ve sold more than 450 locations that are now under contract to be opened. By the end of this year, that number will likely be waaaaay higher, too. Hope that clarifies

  2. dave r. says:

    this is the best article, for me, that you have shared…thanks.

  3. Well, in writing romance, ahem, a little on the spicy side, I wonder how much the Brand Name of your store helped too. I mean, the term “naked” is pretty hard to pass up, if you catch my double meaning.

    But I found this inspirational in all the right ways, Jonathan. If you build it, they will come. If you write it, they will come.

    Good luck to these guys who proved, yet again, fresh ideas are just that.

  4. Dom says:

    hi Jonathan – really absorbing story – I clicked onto the link to the marketing company Trumpet too, and they’ve got some cool examples of their work (punchy video-clip marketing).

    I make healthy pizzas myself, using bought whole-wheat pizza bases, and I add the toppings.

    The idea of accepting that fast food is here to stay, and creating a healthy version of it, that’s a really neat idea.

  5. Sam says:

    I thought my interview with Robbie was long…wow! The guy can talk, and talk well. Great piece!

  6. Sukhi says:

    Thanks for these great insights Jonathan. I have so much respect for peeps like Robbie.

    The world is changing in so many ways and having a health and conscious promoting entrepreneurial heart I truly believe the gift of social media is that it keeps things raw, real and honest. If not, you’ll find out real quick and the universe is supporting the Enron’s of the world a lot less (or shall I say consumers).

    This interview has already got my juices flowing… Off to my journal for some Big Ideas.

  7. You can’t go wrong with pizza especially healthy pizza. And with a name like Naked Pizza it’s sure to be remembered.

  8. Zee says:

    It is hard to fathom how a business can expand rapidly in such a short amount of time.

  9. I want some. . . is there one in Asheville? If not how can we get one?

  10. Thanks for the article, Really enjoyed it. We build wood fired pizza ovens, nice to know that there is other healthy pizza folks out there.

  11. This interview is incredible. I’ve been thinking about this concept of healthy fast food for years. I’m so glad someone has paved the way. Eventually all food will be healthy as the harmful effects of industrial food begin to be recognized in the mass consciousness. I think this will have a synergistic effect on everything in our world. Can you imagine the effects on productivity and economic output when the entire world is healthy, fit, and neurologically stable? I’m quite convinced from the research i’ve done that the neurological problems and “disorders” such as ADD and Bipolar that seem to be reaching epidemic proprotions are actually just mineral/nutrient deficiencys. Our economic problems are largely a result of our unhealthy lifestyles. Just take a look at the rediculously unhealthy lifestyle of most of the workers in the american financial industry. A large percentage of them live off fast food, coffee and cocaine in order to get the energy for the punishing demands of their job. The mental state this creates is what leads to the absolutely insane short term greedy choices that created the economic meltdown. I remember I sold mattresses for a while at mattress giant and one of the guys who worked there was a 40+ year old guy who told war stories of working in the mortgage sales industry and making 15,000 a month aggressively selling people mortgages they had no business buying and how they worked with appraisers to create false valuations. The money was then spent on cocaine and strippers at the local strip club.

  12. Jake Pearce says:

    Jonathan thanks so much for making this interview public. We are teaching corporates how to do Fan Marketing/Movement Marketing…it is a superb case study. We have an office in Auckland, Holland & moving into the US.

    Thanks once again and if there are any similar case studies we’d love to know. In return we can give you access to socially driven companies in Australia/NZ. You should look into ‘sumo’ – which is about ‘stuffing your face with salad’ – healthful for a big appetite. Jake Pearce.