Two Lessons from Olo’s IPO

By David Frankel

Today Olo becomes $OLO. I’ve had the honor and privilege of being alongside Noah Glass from the get-go. Today’s IPO is a major milestone, and I want to share a couple of small reflections:

⏳ You can’t be too early
👣 You have to prepare for a long journey

There’s a saying in VC that being too early as a startup is as bad as being wrong. I think this is incorrect. Noah started Olo in 2005 — two years before the iPhone kicked off the smartphone revolution. These were the early websites:

By any rational metric, Noah was too early. Most of his customers had T9 phones. He saw the future clearly but wisely kept his product roadmap centered on Olo’s opportunities at each moment.

It was frustrating at times. He could see where the puck was headed, but few clients moved at his pace in the earliest days.

Undaunted, Noah kept building products and won deals with marquee clients like Five Guys, ShakeShack, Chili’s and Sweetgreen.

There were some costs to being early. Much of Olo’s early code had to be scrapped as the iPhone and Android transformed the mobile software paradigm. Still, a bit of technical debt is a small price to pay for years of market knowledge and customer relationships.

Noah started this company when “apps” were an item on a menu, not a form of software. The business had significant ups and downs. The inflection of the last five years was not evident in the ten that preceded it.

What was an academic hypothesis about how to order food online has become Noah’s life’s work. Noah founded Olo as a student, and today he runs it as a parent. This IPO is gratifying, but it was preceded by years of tenacity in the face of ambiguity.

Noah had help along the way. Linda Rottenberg, a true force of nature, saw Noah’s potential before he had even conceived of Olo. She recruited him to help kick-off Endeavor South Africa, which is how Noah and I first crossed paths.

During his time in Johannesburg, Noah met @andrewmurray, Olo’s extraordinary CTO, who had previously been at Internet Solutions, the ISP which I co-founded.

The addition of Danny Meyer to the Olo board team came at another critical turning point. His depth of industry knowledge, reputation as the founder of Shake Shack, and experience serving on OpenTable’s board made him an ideal internal role model and advisor for Noah.

Many think of startups as technical projects, but at their core, they’re deeply human.

Relationships are so much more important than relational databases. These kinds of connections take time and trust to develop and can’t be rushed.

As Noah tells all of us, always: “Miles to go before we sleep!”

I’m so incredibly grateful to you, Noah, for the opportunity to have played a role in your vision.

It’s truly been a (Y)Olo experience.

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