Sramana Mitra: What happened to that company?
Stefania Mallett: That worked really well. We had multiple clients. Then we sold the company to SILKNET Software, who merged with Kana Systems in California. It was a merger of two public companies. I think Kana has since changed its name to Kana Software. Honestly, my product disappeared. It was one tool in the toolbox of what SILKNET sold. In the end, it turned into more of an aqui-hire situation.
Sramana Mitra: Very common.
Stefania Mallett: Right.
Sramana Mitra: What year does that bring us up to?
Stefania Mallett: We made it to 2000 or 2001 when the bubble burst. I have a very good story about the bubble bursting. I graduated in the mid-70s. In early 2001, I was not a spring chicken anymore. Just before the bubble burst, I had sold my company. Then we merged with Kana. Then I was ostensibly a Vice President at Kana but the source of power had moved to California.
Because of my family situation, I wasn’t going to move to California. I left and I went looking for another job. I actually had someone say to me literally these words, “I don’t know. You’re probably too old to work in Internet.” This was a recruiter. Then the bubble burst. That happened very fast. There was a six to eight week period where there was a staggering loss of value for a lot of companies.
Less than eight weeks after that phone call, I had a conversation with a recruiter. The recruiter said, “I was told to reach to you because you would really be able to help this company. We’re looking for people with some gravitas.” I just lost a lot of money based on my stock option in Kana. I suddenly became employable again. I went from being too old to work in this to gravitas. It was really a great lesson of “Wait a little and the wind will shift”.
Sramana Mitra: Those were very crazy times. My professional career started at the beginning of the Internet. I really leveraged that and accelerated my career greatly. I started three companies early on at the beginning of the Internet. Those kinds of things are not easy to do unless you are in a huge continuity.
Stefania Mallett: For a couple of years, it was fashionable to say, “That was the era of silliness.” At that time, I would say, “Stop it. You had a blast. Stop pretending that you saw it and that it was era of silliness.”
Sramana Mitra: What did you do?
Stefania Mallett: Once you start your own company, you’re ruined for life. It’s hard to go back and go and work for a big company again. I had come to understand a few things that had really mattered to me. One was the creativity and the fast pace of the early stage companies. The second is the element of building the culture. When you get involved in something early enough, you can significantly affect and deliberately build the culture of that company so that you can create jobs that people want to have.
I know this sounds too idealistic but I am a huge capitalist but I think work is ennobling. Everybody would like to do something that has meaning. They all have meaning if you do them well. If you take them seriously, they all have meaning. I care about creating jobs that people feel are important to do well.
Between that and liking the creativity and pace of early stage companies, I knew that I should be involved in early stage companies. I got into other people’s companies and helped them when they plateaued. I’ve helped co-found a couple of companies. The most recent one is the one I’m currently in, which we actually started 10 years ago. We have had quite a lot of success in the last four to five years particularly. The first five years were a good long slog.