Good Uncle's Cerilli: 'We Could Change the Face of Franchising' | Street Fight

Good Uncle’s Cerilli: ‘We Could Change the Face of Franchising’

Good Uncle’s Cerilli: ‘We Could Change the Face of Franchising’

Chef in hotel or restaurant kitchen cooking, only hands.

Being unable to decide which local restaurant to order food from — and do you choose GrubHub, DoorDash, UberEats, or Eat24 to deliver that food? — is a new and distinctly big-city problem. For Americans not living in select neighborhoods of cities like New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, or Los Angeles, dining is pretty much the same as it’s always been. Many live in areas with few independently owned restaurants, untouched by the spread of options offered within the country’s insulated tech bubbles.

But if Good Uncle has its way, geography won’t be as limiting a factor in determining who has access to freshly prepared, gourmet food and celebrated dishes from famous chefs. Co-founders Wiley Cerilli and Matt Doumar, who recently raised $2.2 million for the venture, want to create a brand that offers a reprieve for the strings of fast casual chains found in many American communities. Good Uncle, which will launch this fall, hopes to spread the (food) wealth by setting up kitchens and delivery fleets in those smaller cities and towns and linking local populations to them with a mobile app that features small, carefully curated menus of hits from acclaimed restaurants.

Cerilli, who previously worked at Seamless and founded Single Platform before a stint at First Round Capital as an investment partner, spoke to Street Fight about what he’s learned over his eventful career and what makes this new venture different from what he’s worked on in the past.

Tell me a bit about where the idea for Good Uncle came from.
There’s a [delivery] company First Round invested in, Zoomer, that had launched in non-major U.S. cities. I remember Howard Morgan, one of the partners at First Round, saying: “This could be a billion-dollar business without ever going to any major city.” When you look at a lot of tech companies, they’re focused on working in a New York, in a San Francisco. And there’s a gap in the accessibility of good food, with an emergence of fast food, mass-produced and cheap, in non-major cities. When there’s great food in big cities and not-great food elsewhere, that’s an opportunity.

[With Good Uncle], we looked at this opportunity and then thought, well, it’s very difficult to open up a restaurant and create good food, so let’s eliminate that from the equation. It’s difficult to get good real estate and servers, so let’s eliminate those things, too. Good Uncle goes to top restaurants that have already figured out great items, without the worry of real estate and servers because it’s delivery only.

This could be public company in three, four years. It’s not an idea like Airbnb, where it was presented and people went, “What? I’m going to rent my bed to people? I’m going to sleep in some stranger’s apartment?” That was a great idea, obviously, but [Good Uncle] isn’t crazy like that. It’s just delivering really great food to places outside of major cities. This is not a completely out-there idea. Bringing that amazing pizza from New York back home is something that makes sense.

When I was working at Seamless, there was a guy downtown [in New York City] who ran a restaurant called Red Wine and Fish. He’s really the inspiration for us and Maple and all these other delivery companies. He started a delivery-only restaurant back in 2000 and served all of the law firms and banks around him. The first person I ever saw do something like that was him, and I think ten years from now the idea of a delivery-only restaurant isn’t going to be unique at all. I think we’re going to change the face of franchising. There will be the option of opening up a Domino’s, a Taco Bell, or a Good Uncle. With Good Uncle, you can order Roberta’s pizza and Corner Bistro’s burger and Westville’s vegetables. I’ll take that over Domino’s any day.

How will the app function, both on the consumer side and for the restaurant partners?
People will be able to order through the app and select their drop-off time, and there will be loyalty programs within it, but we’re not going to build too much into the app. It’ll be pretty straightforward upon launch. What we can do is go deep into content, because we’ll only have 20 items; we’re not working with 20,000 restaurants. Our menu will be a video of a chef making a burger on the Lower East Side, with a Thrillist article or a New York Magazine article talking about how it’s one of the top ten burgers. It’ll be a very visual experience that’s all about telling the stories of the brands we’ll be working with.

Good Uncle co-founders
Good Uncle’s Wiley Cerilli and Matt Doumar

How has logging time on the VC side of things informed the development of Good Uncle?
First Round is the best early-stage fund in the world, so I had access to the brightest entrepreneurs. When I’m around them, I get a lot better.

When you surround yourself with great people, whether it’s investors, other entrepreneurs, or teammates, you’re better for it. Looking at thousands of companies going through that first stage of trying to prove or disprove whatever their big hypotheses are, and seeing similar kinds of patterns stemming from really strong entrepreneurs, was really important to me — how to remain focused on solving one problem for one customer type, how to focus on building that one thing. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, move on to the next customer type and the next problem. Seeing that over and over has been super-helpful.

Were there any takeaways from Single Platform that you learned from?
If you just read some articles [about Single Platform], it looks like we were this big, successful rocket ship. But it wasn’t great all the time. It was scary as hell. I want entrepreneurs to know that I was scared. We don’t exactly know what we’re doing all the time. We’re figuring it out as we go.

I remember my mom telling me, “You may have thought as a kid that your dad and I had all the answers, but we were just older kids.” Being an entrepreneur is similar — you have this family, and you care deeply for them and you work hard for them, and they look to you. At Single Platform, I felt pressure to have the answers and be positive all the time. One of the biggest takeaways has been being realistic with what’s attainable, and not feeling that if something doesn’t work out, it’s all over. And I’m enjoying it a lot more.

Were there specific things you deliberately avoided or are doing differently this time around?
Yeah, there’s a lot. I made so many mistakes. Now I’m more confident with what I’m good at, and I also know what I’m not good at and how to delegate those things out. Matt and I are co-CEOs for a reason. Matt is super detail-oriented and great at product. He can create a plan and attack that plan with ferocious energy. I tend to be more all over the map, more of a strategic thinker. I know I’m not the product person.

In tech, there can be a tendency to despise the competition, and that’s another thing that’s different this time. One of the cool things about Good Uncle is the way we were funded — it was a coming-together of all these New York entrepreneurs, 25 or 30 different CEOs of tech companies. One of the first people I approached was Howard [Lerman] from Yext. From Single Platform’s standpoint, he was our competition, so people were confused about why I was hanging out with him. But Howard’s a great guy, and a great entrepreneur. He’s an investor, and so is Sam from MakeSpace, and the Seamless guys, and Angus from Swipely. Focusing on competition tends to be a big waste of time. It’s cool that this community of local tech people came together. We want everyone to win.

Annie Melton is Street Fight’s news editor.