Two-sided marketplaces are perpetually difficult to build and scale. EZCater is approaching a billion dollars in gross marketplace value of transactions. Learn more from Stefania about working through the chicken and egg challenge.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Stefania Mallett: I was born in Boston. My parents had come to United States after the war. They came from Europe and there wasn’t much left of Europe after World War 2. I consider myself an American. I’m very happy to be born in Boston because when I got out of college, I fell into this thing called the software industry. The software industry was basically in its early days and doing nothing but climbing up. I always say it’s better to be lucky than smart. I happened to fall in an industry that was on its way up.
Sramana Mitra: You were also rather smart. You went to MIT from what I understand.
Stefania Mallett: I did. I went to MIT. I was a girl interested in science, math, and engineering. I’m interested in how things work and what makes things tick. Software was a new idea at that time and newly being applied to solving business problems. I studied Computer Science and Electrical Engineering but, pretty rapidly, I turned into a business person because I cared about how this stuff was used.
I cared about the interaction between people and these tools which seemed almost magical to us then. Most of the other programmers were not interested in talking to human beings. These were the very early days of software engineering. I couldn’t help it. I showered everyday. The programmer said, “Go out there and talk to these people because we sure don’t want to.” I was happy to do that and it turns out I was pretty good at it. I went to where I could clearly make a very big difference.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you go out of MIT?
Stefania Mallett: I worked for a couple of companies that my father had but I worked my first real job in the computer field for a then small company called Digital Equipment Corporation. Digital went from Ken Olson’s backyard to, by the time I got there, half a billion dollars. When I left, they are aiming for that to be the first billion-dollar year. This was in the ’70s. It was funny because it felt that Digital Equipment was just an extension of MIT.
I learned a few things there about the difference between hardware and software and about the importance of making the technology have real-world applications. After I left there, I went to a series of small and large companies – local startups and early-stage companies and then big companies like General Electric. Along the way, I accumulated knowledge about how to do the work in every area of a software engineering vendor. I ran customer service, marketing, product management, support, sales, and even the accounting.
My first gig was in 1989. I was the COO of a software company. By the time I took that role, I was able to say that everything in that company, I’d either done it, I had it reporting to me, or both. I became the General Manager, who I feel is the glue that makes all the parts work together.