Before recently, I hadn’t had the chance to meet any computer whizzes at Brown–or, for that matter, anywhere else–so I don’t quite know what to expect when I venture into the CIT for the first time to meet Graham Carling. He takes me up to the 5th floor of the building and as we walk past old computers on display he tells me, “It’s usually pretty deserted up here.” And he’s right: the two top floors feel like a ghost town. I find myself wondering whether I should have chosen a concentration with its own swipe-access-only building. This place is like a goddamn personal library.
I’ve reached out to Graham to hear more about an app he’s been a part of for close to two years, Push For Pizza – an iPhone application that streamlines the process of ordering pizza. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Push for Pizza went viral last fall with an awesome video [above] that the team made for the launch of the app. The video and the app caught the attention of Forbes, New York Times, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post–for Christ’s sake, it featured on Steve Harvey. It was everywhere. But don’t Google “Push for Pizza” and expect Graham’s face to pop up. He’s not on the public side of the app. Instead, he’s busy developing it – building and maintaining the complicated code that makes the app function.
“It’s not that simple,” Graham says as he explains some of the intricacies of how the app actually goes about ordering pizza for a customer. “We first thought about writing a code that went onto Dominos.com and just filled out forms…we could’ve done that. But that would’ve been boring.” Without getting too specific, Push For Pizza version 1.0 worked by sending a customer’s information to Ordr.in, where the order was processed, confirmed and then routed to the pizzeria. “It was extremely janky and so inconsistent…it was not good,” Graham says. Still, the Push for Pizza team released the app to the public in August of 2014 with phenomenal media success. “Then the VCs started to get involved.”
For those of you who have your head under a rock, VC stands for Venture Capitalist–a.k.a, the people with the money. Once those guys showed up, things got going quickly. Some team-members, all college-aged, decided to take time off from school to work on the app full time. A new system for sending the orders directly to the pizzerias instead of through a third-party was worked out. It took an immense amount of work to begin reaching out to pizzerias, starting with restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn, a task that was accomplished by one of the public faces of the app, Cyrus Summerlin. Now that Version 2.0, updated with a new interface and a new ordering system, is available, “the fun can begin.”
Obviously, the alliteration of Push for Pizza lends the name a pleasant ring, but I can’t help but believe that there’s more to the wording than that. Touch for Pizza, Press for Pizza, Click for Pizza–none of these alternatives are as satisfying as push. People like pushing shit: big buttons, little buttons, red buttons, blue buttons. It seems to be a satisfying action to humans; just think of the Staples “Easy” button, which people actually buy just to have. I ask Graham about this idea of pushing for something, especially as the first version of the app had a big red button in the middle that would begin the ordering process for a user. “The idea of the one-button-push was cool,” Graham starts, “but it’s not as functional as it sounds. Toppings become a nightmare…we thought about doing a single-button app where a single cheese pizza was delivered to the costumer’s location and they paid in cash…but it wasn’t going to be as good as we wanted it to be…someone also suggested we go full vertical and make the pizzas ourselves.” I take a second to imagine Graham flipping pizza dough through the air. “It’s all about functionality,” he stresses.
But Graham’s also aware of the importance of the app’s schtick. The target demographic couldn’t be clearer: hungry (and perhaps a little high) college kids. “The guy who started CollegeHumor reached out at one point to tell us how much he loved it…it’s obviously an app designed for young people which is funny because the guys investing in us are these guys worth tens of millions of dollars and they’re investing in this stoner app. But they love it and that’s awesome for us.” Graham’s vision for users doesn’t stop at blazed college kids though. He notes that in a couple years moms could be using the app to order for birthday parties or for larger events in general.
When I ask Graham about his favorite type of pizza, he takes a moment to consider. “Bacon,” he says finally, “Bacon Chicken Ranch.” I note that that style of pizza is not yet available in Push for Pizza. Graham nods and looks forlornly at the floor, “This is actually one of the saddest things that’s happened to me.” I agree. I think Graham sees the pain in my eyes and further explains, “we actually had to take bacon out of the app because not enough pizzerias had it as a topping; a lot of kosher places don’t carry it as an option.” But that’s not to say bacon won’t ever make it into the app: “Ideally, we’d be in a place to say, if you don’t have bacon, then were not gonna work with you.” Anything that gets bacon on the menu, man. But in the meantime, Push For Pizza is up and running in Providence.
The app is free (the pizza isn’t) and can be downloaded here.