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Start-up Sessions: Hell Pizza

14 Feb 12

When you think pizza, it’s unlikely technology is the first thing that comes to mind. Unless, of course, your name is Stu McMullin and you are a director of Hell Pizza. 

In Stu’s case, when he thinks technology, pizza invariably comes to mind.  Or rather, how he can use the former to sell the latter. So far, it’s a policy that has not let him down, proving that a little courage and a spot of lateral thinking can take a business from start up to international sensation

"When the business was founded in 1996, by Callum Davies, it was the first food delivery company to have mobile EFTPOS,” McMullin tells Start Up. 

"In some spots you almost had to climb on the roof to get the machine to work and on occasion a customer would have to be driven to the local ATM to get cash. Technology has come a long way since then.”

The popular pizza chain went on to be the first food company to offer online ordering – something that caught immediate media attention. 

"It was a lead story on One News at the time.”

With its success with both pizza and technology growing, the innovative company welcomed in the 21st century - and were caught out by a little bug. The Y2K bug. 

"We switched everything on and nothing happened,” McMullin says with a laugh before adding they were possibly the only company to actually be hit by the phenomenon. "So we threw everything out the window and started again.”

Rather than simply reinvent the wheel – or the pizza if you prefer – the team wanted to completely reinvent the pizza business and they knew they needed to do something new and a little different. 

"We were looking for a new angle – technology was it.”

Real time online ordering was installed along with a POS system written in Flash; McMullin admits that people thought they were mad.

"But it worked. Every shop in the country could see what the other shops were doing within five seconds and we soon had them competing with each other in Pizza Wars.”

In 2006 Davies and McMullin sold the business, only to buy it back in 2009, and begin reinventing again. 

With the advances being made in the new media space, being relevant has become a key differentiator for companies like Hell, and the team were ready to take on the challenge. 

In the last 20 months they have developed :

- Deliver Me to Hell, an interactive video adventure that's become the 10th-most-subscribed YouTube channel in New Zealand 

- a Facebook presence with over 42,000 visitors with whom they engage weekly

- an email opt-in database of well over 100,000

- an iPhone app that works in tandem with a show on TVNZ on Demand, asking the user to scan a QR code from a midget’s forehead. 

"The game [Deliver Me to Hell] has been really popular. You have to deliver pizza across, of all places, Christchurch,” McMullin says – hastening to add the game was released before the earthquakes – "but you have to avoid being infected by zombies.”

In fact, the game has been so successful overseas, Hell found themselves sponsoring zombie shows in the United States and South America. 

The iPhone app had over 5,000 downloads in the first month, without the company promoting its release. 

With over 2,000,000 orders taken since 2004 and a reduction in their error rate of 25% due to online ordering, McMullin sees no reason to shift their focus from using technology to retain their space in the market.

"It’s full steam ahead. We have opened three shops in South Korea in the last six months and have another two due to open before April. South Korea is ideal because they are heavy technology users.  80% of South Koreans use a smart phone and they are power bloggers – especially with food – and they are already increasing talk about us in social communities.”

With a solid experience to draw on and a model that works, the team at Hell Pizza have proved that even the least technical part of our lives can be helped with the right technology - and that the result can be astounding.

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