Sramana Mitra: How did you get involved with EZCater?
Stefania Mallett: In early 2000 when people were looking for someone with gravitas, the investors of a company called BuzzPad reached out to me and asked me if I would come in as someone with gravitas to help the younger entrepreneurs who had founded that company.
One of the two co-founders there is a fellow named Briscoe Rogers. The co-founders and I have worked together to try to put BuzzPad on a more profitable path. We didn’t succeed in saving that company, but I was impressed with how Briscoe handled the shutdown. He evidently thought that I added value. Briscoe was one of these idea guys. When he had his next idea, he said, “I need an operating exec.”
He reached out to me. For quite a while, I said, “I’m not interested.” Finally I thought, “This is silly. This is a really good environment where I could create a company. It certainly has the right people in it – all of whom I had introduced Briscoe to.” That company, for three and a half years, helped sales reps get in front of their clients. It was a marketing and scheduling company. In the course of doing that, we had several clients say to us, “Can you make the food appear for this meeting?”
We kept thinking that that was nutty but started to understand that that was a big need. When we had to shut that company down because we ran out of funding before we got to profitability, we shut it down on a Thursday and started this next company to make food appear for corporate events the following Monday.
Sramana Mitra: This was the same group of people?
Stefania Mallett: We had 20 or something at the first company, but Briscoe and I asked three other employees to come with us but we didn’t have any money. They were not in a position to be able to function without money. We were bootstrapping this again in my kitchen. We were back to the kitchen mode. We operated on almost no money. Briscoe and I were able to function for some number of months without cash coming in because of the way our lives had worked out.
We like to keep the team together but we just couldn’t afford to do it and they couldn’t afford to participate. They ended up having to get other jobs. In Fall of 2007, we got the first order for our tiny marketplace from a business professional. The food was to be delivered in a medical office in North Carolina. We were off to the races.
Sramana Mitra: Why did you settle on this particular idea?
Stefania Mallett: Because so many people had asked us for it. I have built successful companies and I have worked for very big companies that have built products that we then convince people to buy. This was the only time where I’ve had people ask me to make this happen. If there’s ever market research, that would be it.
Sramana Mitra: These are very good conditions under which to found a company.
Stefania Mallett: Yes, I didn’t understand marketplaces anywhere near as well then as I do now. It had the attributes that any marketplace has. If you do a marketplace well, it turns into an engine where you build systems to make all of its components work well with each other. You can scale at web speed. We saw that that would all be wonderful. It would be appealing intellectually and, also, meet a need for real people. Thousands of orders were placed. We understood how a lot of that was happening.