It’s time for another installment of my ongoing series of executive interviews that take a bit of a left turn. Next up is Stefania Nappi Mallett, CEO of Boston-based online food-ordering company ezCater.
Her company’s industry has gotten crowded over the past several years, particularly among mobile app startups that deliver food to individuals. But ezCater went in a different direction and focused on serving businesses, enabling them to order food on the Web from thousands of caterers and restaurants located around the country.
Since Mallett co-founded the company in 2007, it has served more than 12.2 million people across more than 22,700 cities, ezCater says. Some of the companies it helps feed include Verizon, Google, and Firestone.
EzCater has grown to 160 workers, Mallett says, with plans to hire another 130 or more by the end of 2017. She says the company isn’t profitable, opting to pour its nearly $35 million in venture capital into growing as fast as it can. But ezCater has roughly tripled sales in each of the past three years, she adds, which can help offset all the money ezCater is spending on expansion.
I reached out to Mallett to learn a bit more about fast-growing ezCater and its top executive. Our chat, conducted over e-mail, revealed her philosophy on technology and business, her easy sense of humor, her admiration for Archimedes, and some fun facts (she knew comedian Louis C.K. when he was young). Here are some highlights of our exchange:
Xconomy: You co-founded ezCater back in 2007, but didn’t take outside capital for four years. How did the business do during those first four years, and why did you decide to raise VC when you did?
Stefania Nappi Mallett: They don’t call me the Cheap Executive Officer for nothing. On short money, we figured out the critical pieces: how to be insanely helpful, what a world-class user experience entailed, how to create a national network of restaurants and caterers. Once we had those, plus clear proof of product/market fit—a fancy way of saying that people clamored for our offering—then we were ready for rocket fuel.
X: What was the turning point for ezCater?
SNP: Our turning point came the minute our network of restaurants and caterers spanned the entire country. Nationwide coverage meant entire companies could adopt ezCater as their single tool for feeding every meeting, everywhere. And it meant that no matter where you were, you could tell your friends about ezCater, no matter where they were. The impact on ezCater was dramatic.
X: In your 25-plus year career, you’ve worked in companies across a broad swath of industries: marketing technology, computer systems, transportation services, food sales, financial services, manufacturing, and office automation systems. What’s the common thread between those companies?
SNP: The common thread is technology-enabled business processes. You’ve heard the line that any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic? My goal has always been to bring that magic to business processes, to make them—and the lives of the people who execute those processes—better.
X: As a kid, what was your dream job?
SNP: I can’t say I had one, to be honest. I was always pretty industrious, but I didn’t have any sense of where to apply that.
X: Where are you most productive?
SNP: Trains and planes give me one kind of productivity. Especially on longer trips, I pull out my embroidery and go to a Zen place where my thoughts, figuratively, stitch together into something cohesive.
There’s another kind of productivity that comes from the opposite setting. I’m most creative when I’m surrounded by the ezCater team beavering away in our open-plan office, with six conversations going on simultaneously.
X: If you could go back in time and get five minutes with any well-known person, who would it be, and what would you say?
SNP: Do I have to pick just one? I love Archimedes saying, “Give me a long enough lever and a place to stand, and I can move the Earth.” Remember, in his day that was a completely bonkers idea. I would say to him, “Where did you get the clarity and the courage to say something so earth-shaking (pun intended!)?”
X: You’re stranded on a desert island. Your iPhone battery just died. Now what?
SNP: Ha. I’m up for this retro challenge. First, rub two sticks together and send up smoke signals. Then, line up the shells on the beach to spell out, “Please deliver food.” Lastly, I’d turn my useless charger cord and antenna into a fishing line and hook.
X: Who makes you laugh?
X: How did you know Louis C.K.?
SNP: I worked with his mom (Mary Székely, which you pronounce as “C-K”—it’s Hungarian). She had her three daughters and Louis, the one son. They’d moved to Boston from Mexico a couple of years before that. He was pretty dang precocious, I can tell you that.