A Dynamic Duo
Alumni Arash Allaei and Kian Salehi brought the right ingredients to launching Bite Squad.
In classic entrepreneurial fashion, Arash Allaei (B.S. ‘04) and Kian Salehi (B.A. ‘04) saw a broken business model and figured out a way to make it so much better. They launched Bite Squad in 2012 to overcome common problems in restaurant food delivery, like slow arrival and cold food, with the macro objective of improving the overall experience for diner and restaurant.
Combining Allaei’s technology prowess and Salehi’s experience in real estate and finance, the partners have grown Minneapolis-based Bite Squad into a food delivery giant. Today, its employees serve more than 875,000 customers in 80 markets—a 19-state footprint that doubled in just the last year.
And the co-CEOs aren’t done yet. They continue to grow Bite Squad organically and through acquisition, adding and integrating more than two dozen companies. The food delivery category itself is expanding 20 percent per year, and “we’re growing faster than that,” says Salehi. “We’re experiencing rocket-ship growth in a very exciting space. Restaurants are warming up and wanting to work with us; our technology continues to improve. Every day is new.”
Bite Squad is not Salehi and Allaei’s first endeavor together. They became friends soon after starting at the University of Minnesota—Allaei from Indiana and Salehi from Shoreview, by way of Iran—but went their separate ways after graduation and amassed valuable business experience. Allaei, who majored in computer science, went out on his own developing ecommerce start-ups. Salehi, who majored in economics and management, took a job with Minnesota-based Hemisphere Companies, where he worked on real estate development and finance for hospitality and gaming projects.
The two reconnected in 2007, quickly realizing they were well matched in talent, ambition, and disposition. They formed Kasa Capital in Minneapolis and pursued their first venture, acquiring an Arizona-based company in 2008 that offered a robust e-commerce catalog of aftermarket car parts and accessories. “We’re both passionate about business and we both work seven days a week,” Salehi says. “We don’t do outside deals and we don’t take each other for granted. We might have heated debates, but he knows that I want what’s best for the business and I know that he wants what’s best for the business. It’s worked.”
From the car parts website, they launched Kasa’s e-commerce platform, self-funding it all the way. Ultimately, Kasa acquired scores of other e-commerce sites that sold a multitude of consumer-focused products from poker chips to paintball guns. Though the business was profitable, the partners didn’t like that their success relied on search engine algorithms. They went looking for something new.
They found it in 2010 in Crowd Cut, a daily deal business similar to Groupon that they launched and operated in Minneapolis and Atlanta. Though the business’s subscriber base grew to nearly 1 million, the model wasn’t sustainable, Salehi says. Customers simply didn’t stick around after buying a few vouchers. One net from Crowd Cut, though, was an established customer base that helped fuel their next business: Bite Squad.
Bite Squad’s success—Salehi and Allaei aim to continue its growth by expanding nationwide—can be attributed to a host of innovations. The service employs its own drivers; operates a fleet of eco-friendly, recognizable cars; and uses brawny technology that allows control of the delivery experience from start to finish. With its logistics backbone, Bite Squad efficiently routes drivers to make sure they stay busy and pick up food at optimal times, while allowing customers to monitor their orders.
What comes next, Salehi isn’t sure. What he does know is that he and Allaei work incredibly well together. They both get a thrill from the process of devising an idea, developing it into a company, and growing it into a successful, profitable business. These serial entrepreneurs will most likely do it all again.