On the Tech Trail: Walks with Strategic Leaders

3. Your People Are Your Power - Stefania Mallett & Corey Thomas

June 18, 2020 MassTLC & Matter Season 1 Episode 3
On the Tech Trail: Walks with Strategic Leaders
3. Your People Are Your Power - Stefania Mallett & Corey Thomas
Show Notes Transcript

A conversation with Stefania Mallett (CEO & Co-Founder, ezCater) and Corey Thomas (Chairman & CEO, Rapid7).

Impacting our new business (3:03)

How we treat our partners and customers (4:32)

Getting Board Support on Decisions (7:29)

Controlling your Reactions (9:30)

The single biggest change (11:55)

How to Keep your People Motivated (13:58)

Tom Hopcroft (00:00):

Hi, thanks for joining us. As we take a journey on the tech trail, I'm STLC CEO, Tom Hopcroft, and this podcast series takes you inside the minds of remarkable leaders to better understand their journeys and to gain insights from their strategic decision making to help us along our journeys. In today's episode, we're On the Tech Trail with Stefania Mallet and Corey Thomas.

Corey Thomas (00:27):

Well, I have the pleasure today of having Stefania Mallet from ezCater with us. Hey, thank you, Corey. It's great to be here. Another one of these virtual interactions, but Hey, we'll get used to them some day. By the time I got used to this way back in our offices, it will be wonderful.

Stefania Mallet (00:41):

I have to say I am one of the people who really respect sort of like the doctors and safety and I'm staying socially quarantine, but I'm craving to actually get back together with people at some point in time. So I look forward to that when we can. I like to give our listeners a little bit of context. So my first talking about how you got to where you are as we come into 2020, because we came to 2020 this year. How'd you get here and what's the story from a 50,000 foot level. So people can actually catch up and find out about the incredible work and the incredible business that you've actually built over your career.

Corey Thomas (01:12):

Thank you. In 2007, my cofounder and I started a business in literally my house and we decided what we wanted to do was help people find food for business meetings. Initially, we had one vertical in mind, but we discovered that this is a huge problem. This is a 25 point $4 billion problem across the United States, or at least it wasn't until the virus hit. And now we think it might even be much bigger though, somewhat different in the way that it will happen. So we launched in my house, we milled it and built it and built it. We moved downtown lymph square in the center of Boston and really great to have, you know, our office. There we are now the world's largest marketplace for business catering. I mean, literally in the world, we have over 80,000 restaurants and caterers who are working on our platform and we've served 125 million people since we started, we were crushing it at the beginning of 2020. We had a lot of pieces lined up. We thought 20, 21 was likely to be our IPO year. And then this little invisible virus thing showed up and hit your company, my company, and everybody else on the planet.

Stefania Mallet (02:21):

It's fascinating because I know the impact that it's actually had on so many people. And I remember just looking at the growth of your company with absolute wonder about sort of like how you actually built something in an industry that you don't expect innovation in as much and yet, and still you built something highly, highly innovative. You all were known for having an amazing culture. I remember one of my favorite baristas went to go work for the company and he was just gushing. Every time I talked to him, can you talk a little bit about what changed for you and how COVID-19 impacted you and your organization?

Corey Thomas (02:56):

That's really nice to hear that story. I hope I know who your is friend is, but I hope we didn't lay him or her off. We had had quite a lot of impact to the business. So we help businesses find food for meetings. And all of a sudden we discovered that the business of having business meetings was one that in many areas was actually like illegal. There were all these regulations saying, yeah, no, you can't have business meetings. You can't even go into your office or to your workplace use. They shut down construction. They shut down. I mean, every kind of workplace and we'd been feeding every kind of workplace. So we had a massive drop in business and we sent everybody home all the same week. We didn't know how hard this was going to hit, how long it was going to last, how deep it was going to go. We were lucky in that our bandaid got ripped off really fast. What's happening since that week is that people are starting to slowly go back and more businesses have figured out ways to feed their employees and need us more businesses are having meetings or are having sales calls in creative ways, but they're using us. So we feel like unlike some other businesses which are struggling and seeing their revenue erode, we got it all at once and then have been on the way back

Stefania Mallet (04:09):

as you think about what it means to be hit all in once. You know, I can imagine trying to balance so many different constituencies and needs all at once. Can you just talk to me about like how you personally approach all the different constituencies that you actually have to think about during this difficult period?

Corey Thomas (04:24):

One of the things that your barista friend observed is the culture, which is one of respect, one of insane helpfulness. We are insanely helpful to each other, to our restaurant partners, to our customers, to our vendors. I mean to the landlord, right? I mean to everybody and we respect each other and we respect all the other parties as well. So we stood there and going, Oh my God, our business has dropped. And that means the restaurants are not getting any business, right? We were not sending them anywhere near the volume of orders we used to send. So we wanted to help them as best we could for an entire month for all the orders that we did get. We didn't take any commission. We get paid by a commission from the restaurants and we said, we need to keep our restaurant partners in business. I had cash in the bank and I knew that most restaurants don't, I mean, most companies don't by luck of timing.

Corey Thomas (05:15):

And by running our operation frugally, we still had a bunch of money in the bank. So we wanted to pay it forward. We went for an entire month without taking any revenue from our restaurant partners. We couldn't continue with no revenue on our side, but we reduced a bunch of fees and we made a bunch of other concessions. And then for our customers, we went into high gear on an initiative that we had already started of making it possible for you to get food for a group, but have all of the food individually packaged. And we made it immediately clear on our website that if you ordered food from us, you could get it individually packaged. There are people who are desperately trying to keep their business afloat and trying to support us like the front line. We launched something called feed the frontline, easy cater.com/feed the frontline. We don't make any money off of this, but you place an order there. All of the value of the money that you put in, go straight to the restaurant. We did the most we could to help them. I mean, we just talked all the time about what's going on being as transparent, as real about what we saw and at the point where we had to lay off, we laid off 45% of our staff, more than 400 people. Everybody knew it was coming. Everybody saw that this was the only alternative we have.

Stefania Mallet (06:29):

I find that just so incredibly impressive that you can actually demonstrate this period of generousness to actually really think about what are the needs of your core partners and the restaurants at the same time, as you're having to contemplate at some point layoffs, how did you actually not just do it yourself? Because I know the type of leader you are, but how did you get that done through your board and through the rest of the leadership team,

Corey Thomas (06:51):

those are two different constituents. You spoke about our senior managers, our entire company was part of all the decisions. I'm sure we didn't have unanimity at all times, but we have a very strong, disagree and commit culture. So we would have all the hard conversations about what are we doing. And then people would say, but I would really rather we did this or, or that, or, and in the end, we'd reach a decision or we would disagree if we had to, but we'd commit like the decision, for example, to take no revenue for a month, we all felt that was the right thing to do. And we all, without too much trouble internally agreed to do it. The board was like, wait, what?

Corey Thomas (07:28):

We have a long history of making decisions that they by and large have supported. And when we said, look, it, you have to believe us. This is the right trade off because we're in this for the long game. And aren't you too, you know, you ask your board like, are you in this for the long game? There's kind of too embarrassed to say no, and they've been wonderful. They were like, okay, if you guys think this is the right decision, we will support you. And I recommend to every entrepreneur, that's how you should treat your board, do not get them involved in the operations. Do not even let them into the operation, just use them for the thing that they are the best suited for, which is strategy.

Stefania Mallet (08:04):

So, you know, it's interesting cause you talked about the board being strategic. And I think one of the things that is being forced all over the world, the result of the pandemic is people are trying to think about what's the value that they provide. And you said something area that caught my attention as you thought that it may be even more demand. Talk to me a little bit about how, when you're under the amount of pressure and distress, you bring your team together to actually navigate, to actually figure out how you become more relevant. Because I think so few people can actually get to a place where they're not in distress and they can get to a place where they're okay. Enough to actually really say, okay, what am I going to do about this? How do we plan? But yet it sounds like you actually relatively rapidly navigate your team to a place where they could do that. How did that process go? Like what was that? Like?

Corey Thomas (08:47):

We have a wonderful group. And I think every company actually has wonderful employees. Many companies don't allow the wonderfulness to come out. If you have treated your employees like mushrooms, where you throw it on them and you keep them in the dark, or if you treat them like children we'll make the decisions. We'll let you know. Both of those, put you in a situation where at the point where something bad happens, suddenly you're carrying all the weight on your shoulders. As the leader, you can't possibly do that. Right? And you have made your employees. You've trained them to expect more from you than any human can deliver. And you have trained them to not look inside at what they can bring. We've never done that. We've always said, come on. You're awesome. Bring something. The first meeting. I remember that I said, we cannot control what has happened to us, but we can control how each of us reacts to it.

Corey Thomas (09:36):

And we can control as a company, as a group, as a business, as a community, how we easy cater will react to it. So I just go back to basics like we're human beings. You can't stop the bad things from happening, but you can control how you deal with it. And by tapping into this for all of us, everybody already at easy cater feels like they bring their real selves to work. They bring their best selves. They're allowed to be their best selves. We encourage it. We ask for it. We require it. I didn't do much. I tapped into it with everybody.

Stefania Mallet (10:07):

So that's great. So you tapped into this sort of like a underlying spirit. I think the important thing is that you did not try to build it in the crisis. You had already built it up. So what's going to be the new normal, what are we going to do differently in the future? What are we not going to do that we always did? And then what does that mean for the changes that you expect to happen in your business?

Corey Thomas (10:27):

Everybody's got their own plan, but they're all saying we got to eat. So they're turning to us and saying, what's the answer we want safe food. And one of them was just super. They came and said, we would have this idea, like where there would be multiple restaurants that we could order from each individual could place their order. And the food would come maybe subsidized by the company. Maybe not, but the food would come individually packaged with people's names on it delivered in all at once. So that there's only one person who comes into the building. You don't have to deal with a lot of traffic in the elevator. And you know, as long as they order by nine o'clock in the morning or whatever, it would all just show up at the right time. Can we have a product like that? And we said, we have that product we are going to do.

Corey Thomas (11:07):

And we were building it. We had it. And we could not believe how perfectly timed it is. So we're in the position where we could make it, whether you're doing this for a meeting, are you doing this just to feed your employees lunch in a safe way, you can use this product. I never used to think about making sure my people were safe at lunch. I used to think I was giving them time to go out and get lunch. But now I'm like, I need to take extra care for them. And so this product, this service is called relish as well as something else that we have called eaters choice, which is a way for you to order food for a meeting that it has to come at exactly a certain time. It has to be professional grade. And yet you want to make sure that every single individual's food is properly packaged. We have those things.

Stefania Mallet (11:50):

And is that the big change for you? The individually packaged? Is that going to be the single biggest change?

Corey Thomas (11:55):

That is the single biggest change. Yes. And it may do. The restaurants have to do this is very difficult for them. We are helping the restaurants figure out how to rethink their menu so that they can provide food in individual packaging. They also have to deal with getting all the packaging materials. You know, I am a restaurant. I used to have big trays and now I have to have lots of clamshell boxes or lots of sheets of something to individually wrap sandwiches. That stuff doesn't get manufactured overnight. And my menu might not be suited to that. So the restaurants are really stepping up.

Stefania Mallet (12:28):

What do you think that we're going to learn? What are you learning? That's going to endure and you're going to carry with you as you actually go forward.

Corey Thomas (12:34):

Boy, that's a lot. One thing is not virus specific. This too shall pass. I've seen a lot of bad stuff in my lifetime and I've seen a lot of good stuff in my lifetime. I guess what the good stuff passes and the bad stuff passes. So don't forget that what we're seeing now is not, what's always going to be specific lessons that they come out. I think out of this one is we're in the world together more than we might have realized. I hope that we don't forget that this is a very connected world. We're all in this.

Stefania Mallet (13:08):

Yeah. That's such a great perspective to actually have. Cause I think that people could deny that they weren't community. But the interesting thing about this pandemic is it shows us that, you know, we do live in a community together. You know, I guess my question to you is what do you want to see for people that come to you? And it looked to you as they should for advice about leadership, not just sort of having the ethos there, but what do you think leaders should be doing differently? Because of that,

Corey Thomas (13:33):

this is a horrible thing. That's happened to us. I honestly believe we're in a bigger position to help our customers more than before. How fast that will develop that. I don't know how fast will people come back to their workplace, whether it's an office or a construction site or whatever, will there be a resurgence of the virus? And then we all scurry back under our rocks before we can come back up. I don't know, but we're here to help do everything you can to not stay for your people, do everything you can to unleash the best in your people that we'll see you and them through anything that comes better than anything else you can do. Unleash your people. Don't infantilize your team. Don't control information flow. Don't control the decision making, unleash it, let it go. Let people be their strongest selves.

Stefania Mallet (14:31):

I love it. Don't leave your people. Your words are so wise and impactful. And I think that'll be the thing. If anything else that actually builds the trust in the environment that we actually need to really continue to grow and thrive and come out of this even stronger supply. And thank you so much.

Corey Thomas (14:45):

Oh my thank you so much. It's great to speak with you.

Stefania Mallet (14:49):

I can't wait to see how the story unfolds. I suspect that they're

Tom Hopcroft (14:51):

going to come out of this even stronger than ever. Thank you. Thanks for joining us today on the tech trail, we hope you've picked up some new insights to help you on your journey. Please tweet your keys, the ways with hashtag tech trail and be sure to subscribe, to get the latest episodes special. Thanks to our production partner matter. We'll be taking our next journey with Anthony Williams and Susan Hunt Stevens. I look forward to seeing you out there on the tech trail.