Entrepreneurs

This CEO passed up Harvard Business School to make a huge bet on smartphones

Noah Glass
Source: Olo
Noah Glass

More than a decade ago, Noah Glass received an offer he couldn't refuse: turn down Harvard Business School in exchange for $500,000 in seed funding to get his big idea off the ground.

Glass took the money and ran, launching mobile ordering service Olo, and he hasn't looked back since.

"I just knew it was the right time for this idea and the right time for me," said Glass (who shares the name of a co-founder of Twitter).

Glass' "light-bulb moment" occurred during a stint in Johannesburg in 2004 while he was working for a nonprofit company. He realized that smartphones were a game changer and that he had a shot at founding the company that would integrate smartphone ordering into people's lives.

The next year, Glass launched Olo to solve a problem he first observed before he moved to Johannesburg during visits to his local Wall Street coffee shop.

"So the lines would be 20, 30, 40 people deep to get a cup of coffee. It led to me thinking there's got to be a better way than one order at a time going through the cash register," Olo's CEO said.

Olo allows customers to skip the line at restaurants by ordering and paying ahead of time. It also has a delivery option for some clients.

Mobile app for Five Guys restaurant
Source: Olo
Mobile app for Five Guys restaurant

When Olo launched in the U.S., smartphone adoption was far from widespread and customers initially called in orders via texts from their flip phones.

But iPhone's launch in 2007 proved to be a "bellwether moment" for adoption and helped propel the company.

Today, about 20,000 restaurants from about 150 brands, including Chipotle, Applebee's and Baskin-Robbins, have signed deals with the company. To date, the Olo has raised $63.25 million, and its board includes restaurant industry heavyweight Danny Meyer.

While millions of people use Olo's services, the company is still not a household name.

"We had to embrace this idea [that] we would be behind the scenes and a technology powering these large brands and invisible to the consumer," he said.

Glass is now focused on recruiting more of the nation's 600,000-plus restaurants to sign up for the service.

"Our 20,000 is just a drop in the bucket," he said. "There's so much more to do in the core business."