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July 27, 2015
ezCater Technologists Are Flying the Rocket Ship to the Billion Dollar Mark

It’s happening folks. The quietest rocket ship known to mankind lifted off years ago in Boston and is well on its way to coveted space – the land of Unicorns. 

I’m talking about ezCater, the only nationwide online food ordering service for businesses. For Businesses! 

This isn’t Foodler or GrubHub. In fact, ezCater’s customer base is mainly made up of sales professionals, event planners, and executive admins who need to cater meetings and small events. With roughly 40,000 caterers and restaurants nationwide covering more than 20,000 cities and towns, the ezCater marketplace makes it easier than ever to find a local caterer on demand. 

In November of last year I sat down with ezCater Co-Founder and CEO, Stefania Mallett, who bluntly said to me, “We’re going to be a billion dollar company.” Mallet even pulled out some financial docs to prove that rocket ship growth – you know, the up-and-to-the-right pattern all startups show potential investors. Well ezCater’s is real. It’s in motion. 

Since that time, the company raised $11.7 million, moved into a new office at 101 Arch Street and added nearly 30 employees. I’m told another 30 are on the way before 2015 closes out. 

  ezCater Boston

Mallett talked passionately about her team back in November. “The human component,” she said, was the driving force behind the success and crazy growth. 

Last week I stopped into the new space and met more of those people, this time the technologists behind the product, to see how these folks are conquering the ‘scaling challenge.’ 

Both Mallett and Co-Founder Briscoe Rogers are engineers by trade, something that sets ezCater apart from other startups and an element many developers find appealing. 

“Engineers struggle with operators and managers who don’t understand the work that’s actually being done. That’s not the case here. Our two co-founders have built software companies and are true engineers. They get it and our dev team appreciates that,” Jason Squatrito, VP of Engineering, told me. 

While Boston is a hotbed of talent, the battle for such in our startup world is competitive as ever. In the thick of that competition is ezCater, who, I’m told, will be announcing a major tech talent addition soon. They differ, however, in a few key areas: 

A unique scaling challenge – a marketplace startup with little direct competition experiencing extremely rapid growth. 

Culture – their rigorous hiring process (every candidate is approved by the founders) ensures everyone is not only a top talent, but also a cultural fit. So, know you’re well-respected and in good company once you’re in. 

Opportunity – get in now before that rocket ship lands. Think of being a developer solving the scaling challenges for Wayfair ten years ago.

Now, I’m not a technical guy - I don’t really know the difference between a rail, a stack and a script. But I wanted to hit on the technology side of ezCater as I see them being a pillar for Boston’s tech community for years to come. Yet, they’re not getting the type of public attention around here as they should. The growth they’re experiencing (not expecting, but actually going through) is directly enabled by technology (in their case, Ruby on Rails – I got schooled, so more on that to come) so I wanted to highlight that side of the business. 

To do so, we’ve hit up a few members of the team and asked them, in their own (technical) words to explain what they’ve been working on, some specific challenges they’ve faced and what the journey on this rocket ship has been like.

Briscoe Rogers ezCater 

Briscoe Rodgers – CTO and Co-Founder 

ezCater is a rocket ship right now. How does working at a company that is growing like that impact your day to day responsibilities and overall career? 

The high growth means we’re always solving new problems. Is our caterer payment system about to buckle? How do we re-architect it to operate at 20X the volume? How do we re-double new customer flow? Crack houses figured out they can order catering via ezCater…Seriously? That was an actual delivery problem we had to solve in our system. Every business faces challenges, but at ezCater, they’re arriving constantly from every direction. It keeps things interesting.


What are some of the unique technical challenges you have faced while working at ezCater? 

We have over 40,000 caterers on the site. Each with their own complicated set of delivery areas and fees. When you enter a delivery address into our search page, we need to calculate which caterers can deliver to that precise address, preferably in under 10 milliseconds. We figured out how to do it, but it took some thinking.

 

Knowing how selective ezCater is in the hiring process, what advice would you provide to future candidates? 

We’re looking for the top 5%. The smartest people we can find. We care about raw talent and determination, rather than specific skills. We like people whose resumes demonstrate a willingness to take risks. People who have done some unusual things. Started their own company. Taken a consulting gig in Tokyo. A Rails developer who was a top executive chef. And last but not least, we have a very strict no assholes policy.

 Jason Squartrito ezCater 
Jason Squatrito – VP of Engineering

ezCater is a rocket ship right now. How does working at a company that is growing like that impact your day to day responsibilities and overall career? 

The day-to-day impact comes in the form of truly unique technical challenges faced only by a handful of companies growing as fast as we are.  We've all looked at companies like Amazon, Air BnB, etc. and wondered what it was like in early days.  ezCater is providing us with a glimpse into just what those types of companies faced and had to overcome.  From a career perspective, the personal growth is truly extraordinary.  We need to (and welcome) wearing many hats at many times.  This means we are all exposed to challenges and tasks that might often fall outside the typical job role, but has the positive effect of expediting and broadening our learning. 

 

What are some of the unique technical challenges you have faced while working at ezCater? 

The catering world is quite complicated behind the scenes.  We need to manage every aspect of every caterer from core operating hours, to complex delivery zones that are hand drawn on a Google map.  I am amazed everyday at how much sophisticated technology it takes to get food from a kitchen out to an event.

  

Describe the culture in 3 words.  What makes the ezCater culture so unique? 

Trusting. Open. Empowering.  Many companies preach core values, we rarely need to.  We hire, in an extremely selective manner, only those people who fit within the ezCater model.  This allows our culture to be organic, innate to our employees, as opposed to something taught / enforced from the top down.

  

Knowing how selective ezCater is in the hiring process, what advice would you provide to future candidates? 

Bring your "A" game at all stages of the hiring process. We are truly looking for the best of the best, and only a unanimous vote will get you hired.  We are in no way elitist, in fact you'll find virtually no ego here, but we will never compromise on the caliber of people that we hire.

Ben Jackson ezCater  

Ben Jackson – Software Engineer 

ezCater is a rocket ship right now. How does working at a company that is growing like that impact your day-to-day responsibilities and overall career?  

Having a relatively small development team at a company that is growing so quickly means we get to work on all sorts of projects, all of which are extremely important. We see immediately how our work affects people. This level of exposure to the different aspects of running a growing online marketplace has been invaluable to my career and personal experience. 

 

What are some of the unique technical challenges you have faced while working at ezCater? 

I don't have an engineering background (I previously worked as a professional Chef), so nearly everything I do at ezCater is unique and challenging. I really do learn something new every day. Recently we've been working through the challenges of creating a great user experience on a mobile phone. It's been a fun and eye-opening project!

  

Describe the culture in 3 words.  What makes the ezCater culture so unique? 

Honest, engaging, empowering. The input of every employee is truly valued. You have a voice in how your team operates, how your projects are structured, and how the company grows. It's impressive. I appreciate how we've maintained our culture as we've grown.

  

Knowing how selective ezCater is in the hiring process, what advice would you provide to future candidates? 

Just be yourself! We want people who are passionate about what they do, who still love to learn, and who are good at sharing their knowledge with others. We value your cultural fit just as much as your skill set.

Joe McCormick ezCater  

Joe McCormick – Software Engineer  

ezCater is a rocket ship right now. How does working at a company that is growing like that impact your day-to-day responsibilities and overall career? 

Due to our rapid growth, any projects we work on need to be able to work at a significantly large scale. Any design choice we make today needs to be still valid in the near future when we are ten or twenty times the size. My experience at ezCater will help my career going forward as I have been able to learn the best ways to design a product that not only works well but will work well at a high scale.

  

What are some of the unique technical challenges you have faced while working at ezCater? 

One of the most unique technical experiences I have had in my time at ezCater was designing an order management system to allow our customer service team to very rapidly process orders through our system. This was a unique experience because it allowed me both to work hand in
hand with the customer service team to design a user-friendly solution, but also create a highly efficient method of determining the highest priority order for someone to work on.

  

Describe the culture in 3 words.  What makes the ezCater culture so unique? 

The three words I would describe ezCater's culture with is "Use Best Judgment". Whether this means to come into work during a snowstorm, or to determine when to escalate a problem to someone higher up, ezCater puts a lot of responsibility in its employee's hands and trusts that they will make the best decisions.

  

Knowing how selective ezCater is in the hiring process, what advice would you provide to future candidates? 

I would tell a future candidate that we are looking for someone who is a good problem solver, not someone who knows a particular tool or framework. Additionally we are looking for someone who is self-motivated and able to communicate well both with other developers as well as the rest of the company.

* Be sure to check out the ezCater BIZZpage for updates and current career opportunities!

[Rocket ship cover page photo from Shutterstock]

Josh Boyle is Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz.  You can follow him on Twitter @jb_sid
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