Andy Niemeier

Master of Business Administration, Class of 2016

Co-CEO, Azzip Pizza

Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Owen?

I graduated in 2016 from Vanderbilt with concentrations in Strategy and Human and Organizational Performance. My brother started Azzip back in 2014 so he was a couple years into it at that point but after graduating I started helping with HR and Finance. We had 4 stores at the time and we now have 10 stores. A couple years ago I moved into a Co-CEO role alongside my brother. We share the duties but I pretty much own the HR and Finance. I have certainly enjoyed the path I have taken post-Vanderbilt. As an entrepreneur you have a little bit more freedom and a closer tie to the impact your decisions have on the outcome of the business and it can be difficult at times, but it’s also very rewarding. Being willing to take those risks and grow something that wasn’t there before is very rewarding.

What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?

Azzip is a personal pizza company. We have 8 inch and 11 inch as our primary sizes offered. We don’t do family size or shared pizza sizes, it’s all personal size and build your own. We are known for some of our specialty pizzas as well. 

My brother started it after undergrad. He was a student at Purdue with a hospitality and tourism major. He loved Chipotle and he loved pizza. Azzip was his idea to put the two together. He entered the idea into a business pitch competition at Purdue and won $20,000 to go towards starting his business. The judges saw the simplicity of it and the need in the market. Winning that competition sparked the start of Azzip and he opened the first restaurant a couple of years later. Since opening it we have slowly tried to add 1-2 stores a year.

What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?

There’s multiple challenges for sure. I think one of them is being patient. It is very challenging to stay patient and focused on whatever the core part of your business is. There are so many opportunities that come up. For us it’s new locations, new products, new delivery methods or however we’re going to serve customers.

I’d also say the growing pains of adding a store. Everything is much easier at one store and then you get two stores and you can’t be hands on in the stores. Each step you take there’s growing pains especially early on and there’s so much you have to learn and adapt from. What worked from the start isn’t going to work forever. As we’ve continued to grow, trying to pace that growth and what’s the right kind of pacing has been a challenge. The biggest thing that we try to do to overcome some of that is having a strong team that works together really well to solve these problems and all are on the same page trying to work towards the same goal. Also, having good advisors and a support network around us that we can use to bounce ideas off of and try to learn how they have overcome some of these challenges.

What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?

One of the biggest things is being able to build a strong team around you. Being able to find and have people with multiple skill sets. When each person brings something different to the table the team is going to be stronger. You have to know that you don’t have the best skill set in every area and that others are going to have better ideas and skills that are going to help the company as a whole succeed. A lot of times entrepreneurs are going to have that spark for the idea. My brother had the spark for what became Azzip, but bringing that to life has required efforts and professional input from a lot of other people. We have been able to build that strong team and extend that out then to our team in the stores and throughout the organization.

What are you most proud of about your business?

One of the things that I am most proud of at Azzip is that we have been patient and been committed to building the business for the long run and not been focused on short term wins or short term sales. We invested a lot in building really strong teams in the stores. That means paying them more to recruit better team members and rewarding them for all their hard work. If our teams aren’t happy, if we’re not delivering good experiences to customers and they’re not coming back that’s not going to help us in the long run. Investing in ensuring everyone that comes into the store has a great experience and same kind of thing with investing in the community.

A big part of our brand is that we give to a program that supports local non-profits in the community. We’ve realized that those relationships matter and that they’ve supported us a lot and we need to figure out how we can support them. It goes back to trying to do things the right way and for the long term. It means slower growth, but it’s allowed us to stay true to what we want and to keep that long term approach of how we want to run our business. Being patient and the fact that we’ve been able to do that so far is what I’m most proud of.

What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?

One thing I do like to share sometimes with students is that I wasn’t the one who had the idea for Azzip and I’ve taken it on as my own. I view myself as an entrepreneur even though it wasn’t my original idea. Being willing to be a part of others ideas is just as rewarding as being the one who had that original creation or idea. I think that’s sometimes an overlooked part of entrepreneurship. I think for a new idea to succeed they need people to take on that idea as their own and really help grow it.

I would also say being willing to adapt and learn from successes and failures whenever they might happen. Sometimes those failures might happen early on and it might be not getting the funding that you want or not landing that customer but learning from those setbacks and being willing to adapt and change from that feedback. It’s being willing to be critical of your product and processes and business plan and be willing to learn from those successes and failures.

For resources, a lot are sector dependent. I think one of the things that we’re really getting into more is making sure whatever tools we have can work together and that they aren’t too siloed. A lot of times we want those tools and pieces to be able to talk to each other or to get any kind of useful insights. Making sure as much as possible that those different data sources or whatever tools that we’re using can interact or integrate with each other or that there’s processes that combine those together is important.

What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?

I’d say all of us really prioritize trying to live a balanced life. There’s times that may require extra hours but we all have young families so we try to prioritize that balanced life. I have a 3 and a 5 year old, my brother has a 2 and 4 year old and our other partners have young kids as well. For us part of not forcing that growth has been so that we can maintain that balance and that’s important to us. We understand the tradeoffs that come along with that and are very content. It goes back to being patient and building the business for the long term.

As far as what I do outside of work, and my three and five year old being a pretty big part of that because they fill up a lot of free time, I run a lot. That’s my escape every morning before they get up. I try to get out, get a run in and listen to some podcasts. It’s always a good way to start my day. I like golfing and woodworking as well.