Sramana Mitra: What year does that bring us up to?
Stefania Mallett: That was 1989.
Sramana Mitra: That’s still pre-Internet.
Stefania Mallett: It was still pre-Internet. I worked there until 1993. Then in 1993, I decided that it was time to try consulting. I had always worked for companies. I had never done any consulting. I think of consulting as sleeping around. I decided that it was time to sleep around. I was tired of being in these companies where I had been married to them. I went to work for a management consulting firm called Symmetrix. It was one of the boutique firms.
We were always in all the reports of very cool management consulting firms. We were there with Mercer and McKinsey. I left there after three years in 1997 because I’m actually the marrying kind. I didn’t like the consulting. In Spring of 1997, it was the very early days of the Internet, I was the founding CEO of a company taking advantage of this Internet that was coming up.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do with it?
Stefania Mallett: The idea came from the people who started the company. One was Glen Urban who was the Dean of MIT Sloan School at that time, and Don Little who was an Institute Professor at MIT, and another fellow Jeff whose company was bought by Oracle. The three have worked together in various contexts.
They had the idea to create, using software, a virtual sales advisor to help people make decisions on this new platform called the web. That’s the history of my life actually. Since then, I’ve started multiple companies but I’m never the idea person. I’m the operating executive. I follow ideas around. They had the idea. None of them wanted to quit their day jobs to go and do this. I was willing to quit my day job and implement their idea. They put in the first bootstrapped dollars. We did this, literally, in my kitchen.
I think I had seven people working out of my house at the point where we finally had enough success with clients that we scraped up more money from outside angel investors. I remember my last offer letter to the last person before we raised that money, “You better accept soon because if we hire someone else before you, your office will be out of my deck.” We built these virtual sales advisors. They worked really well. We were improving people’s conversion rates.
In the early days, I remember advising Circuit City and CompUSA. These are brand names that don’t even exist anymore. Circuit City was like BestBuy. CompUSA is a brand that disappeared. All you did there was buy computers. They had stores and they were all moving into the web. I remember advising them that if they got as much business from their website as they did in a single brick-and-mortar location, they’d be doing a good job. That’s pretty laughable in today’s world.