Seamless aims to be the Netflix of food delivery

April 20, 2012

The firm was acquired by Aramark in 2006, and spun off as an independent entity in 2011, (with Spectrum Equity as the majority shareholder and Aramark retaining some ownership). But now, as Seamless VP of Marketing Ryan Scott says, “This is as startupy as it gets. We have a bullpen style office space and a leadership bench where all of the management team sits. Everything is about transparency and unfettered creativity.”

Such innovation led to Seamless processing more than 1 million mobile orders in 2011. And the firm is on track to grow that number to more than 3 million mobile and tablet orders in 2012.

This process is being fueled by Seamless' free new iPad app, which saw more than 30,000 downloads in the week following its release. Scott notes that the average order on the iPad is already higher than those on mobiles, as the iPad app lends itself naturally to ordering for groups.

Scott says, “You go back 24 months ago, and we're talking about a business that had 1% of its transactions through mobile. This past weekend, it was upwards of 33% of consumer orders on mobile. We started out with a mobile website, and then we launched our iPhone app, followed by Droid. Every time we've launched a new product, we see an increase in ordering behavior, and frequency. That's also true for our Blackberry app that mainly serves our corporate customers.”

Scott (pictured showing off his company's app on an iPad) says he's convinced that tablets will play a major role in Seamless' future success.

“Tablets are about discovery. Period. Full stop," he says. "It's about giving a customer an explorative experience. It allows them to sit down and interact and engage with a device.”

On the new Seamless app, customers can “like” specific foods, access high quality food photography, detour from the app over to Foodspotting (and then ideally return again!), while also accessing details of one's past orders.

“When you have that discovery relationship with a consumer, you have something special," Scott adds. "What Netflix is for movies, iTunes is for music, we want to be that for food.”

Seamless developed an iPad app that creates discoverability that in turn leads to people buying more as they become more engaged when they see the full breadth of each menu. The iPad app features smart search functionality that allows customers to find food on the local level, on the restaurant level, based on deals, and more.

The app was fully developed in-house at Seamless. The user interface and user experience, front end, and back end are all proprietary. “We have a strong belief that we need to be predictors of the future in terms of what consumer wants in mobile and tablet products," says Scott. "There's a lot of brand experience integrated into this app that would be lost if it was outsourced.”

In terms of customer reviews that are integrated into its platform, Seamless sees itself in a league other than Yelp, Zagat, or menupages (which is also owned by Seamless), because Seamless reviews answer questions like: Was the container leaking? Was the food hot? Was the portion size apropos? Was the beverage fruity? Was anything surprising about this delivery?

Asked if new payment forms like Google Wallet, Square, or Dwolla will affect the company, Scott says, “The payments guys can fight it out. We're not a payments company. If all of them win, then we'll take all of them. Right now, we don't see any clear winner.”

And in an age where data rules, Scott says that Seamless is “moving in the direction of providing more loyalty data to restaurants, because “people are more time-starved than ever and they operate on four screens: mobile, tablet, desktop, and TV. I don't think of mobile and tablet as the same.”

Down the road, Scott views Seamless as a predominantly mobile business that also has a website, hoping that it will become the marquee household brand name for ordering food in every top metro area in America. He concludes, “We have one goal: To make hungry people happy."

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