Every entrepreneurial endeavor starts with a brainstorm, and usually ends soon thereafter with the proverbial “I can’t afford it” or “this will never work.” Jeff Leach and Randy Crochet, co-founders of Naked Pizza, should serve as reminders to every would-be startup that anything is possible. Naked Pizza started out as a one-shop operation in New Orleans called “World’s Healthiest Pizza.” Six years later, the company has 23 restaurants in four countries, and will soon expand to Canada and Australia. Leach and Crochet are examples of how perseverance will ultimately pay if you believe in your product.

Humble Beginnings

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the entire Gulf Coast in August of 2005 and forced many residents to leave the area. This did not deter Leach and Crochet, who started their business in a flood-damaged building. Leach, who is also an anthropologist, incorporated his studies of ancient eating habits to develop the menu. Their pizzas feature whole-grain crusts, all-natural ingredients, no sugar or trans fats, and probiotic bacteria which aids in digestion. Despite getting a great-tasting, healthy meal, customers were turned off by long wait times for delivery. The owners experimented with a full-service pizzeria in an attempt to address long delivery times, but high overhead caused them to close it and return to their original idea of a small take out and delivery shop.

Mark CubanRe-Branding and Help From a Maverick

The franchise made $500,000 in 2008 which prompted a few changes. They renamed it “Naked Pizza” to convey a natural, simple aura around the franchise and established Twitter and Facebook accounts to attract more customers. The company started thinking bigger when profits continued to grow and social media followers demanded Naked Pizza restaurants in their neighborhoods. They had a vision similar to that of Brian Ferdinand, Liquid Holdings president, who once turned a one-man securities firm into a $100 million multi-unit powerhouse. Leach and Crochet got the opportunity they’d been waiting for in 2009.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who similarly turned his small dot com business into a multi-million dollar company, announced his “Cuban Stimulus Package” that year. He allowed prospective entrepreneurs to post on his website their startup or business expansion ideas, hoping to nurture the next great businessman. Thousands of people presented ideas, but Cuban chose only two winnersone was Naked Pizza. Cuban introduced Naked Pizza to several other investors, including Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. Kraft and Cuban ultimately put their own money into the business and the rest, as they say, is history.

Naked Pizza Today

Naked Pizza’s has 19,846 Twitter followers as of mid-February, including President Barack Obama. Its Facebook account, which has over 12,000 “likes,” has photos not only of pizzas, but Naked cookies and other guilt-free desserts. The owners, to this day, still say they are running a social media operation that just happens to sell pizza. Whether its a healthy pizza joint or an internet phenomenon, there is no questioning the commitment and drive of the owners.