March 27, 2023

Episode 211: Dante DiCicco, Founder & CEO of Zitti

Dante DiCicco is the Founder and CEO of Zitti, a company on a mission to level the playing field and transform food industry operations by giving small-to-medium-sized restaurants and food service providers the same advantages experienced by larger chains.

Dante has invested in 20+ companies as an angel investor.

He’s a passionate leader and operator who previously spent nearly 7 years at Snap leading teams, building mobile-first content experiences, and driving international revenue growth. Prior to his time at Snap, Dante was an Associate at BlackRock within their Financial Institutions Group, overseeing over $40 billion in global Assets Under Management.

He holds a B.S. from Stanford University and currently resides in Los Angeles, CA. When he's not working you can find him golfing, exploring local cuisine, or cheering on his favorite sports teams.

Julian: Hey everyone. Thankyou so much for joining the Behind Company Lines podcast. Today we have DanteDiCicco, founder and CEO of Zitti. Zitti is on a mission to be the technologylayer that empowers and empowers the food service industry, building the FinTechthat restaurants actually need. Dante, so exciting to chat with you and notonly because about your, your background and your experience and the companiesyou've worked at, who you've been involved.

But also what you're doing in the foodservice industry space. I mentioned before the show, I was talking with somefriends and thinking about the, the layers of technology still need to beintegrated in a lot of those spaces, but obviously there's some challenges thatwe don't know, but thankfully we have you to kind of illuminate us on, on whatthat means, what you're looking at, what you're working on and, and howessentially technology is in your industry.

But before we get into Zitti and allthat good stuff, what were you doing before you started the company?  

Dante: Well, first off,thanks Julian. Really appreciate you having me and talk about this veryimportant topic of democratizing technologies for the food service industry.Before starting Zitti, I was working at Snapchat.

I was here in LA as well. Was an earlyemployed Snapchat on the business side of things. Was there for approximatelyseven years. Just a, just a hair under seven years and was an investment bankerfor four years before that.  

Julian: What got you intoinvestment banking and then technology, especially Snapchat where it's, it'scompletely opposite of, of, well, I don't wanna say completely opposite, butit's very much more geared towards this high, rapid consumer digestiblecontent.

What was that transition like and whatwas particularly exciting about joining the company at Snapchat at thattime?  

Dante: Yeah. The transitionwas really exciting. It was I started Snap in early 2015. Snap was at a bit ofa crossroads at that. We had just raised at a 10 billion valuation, but Snapwas essentially pre-revenue.

Yeah. So we had a lot of work to do onthe business side of the company. Vast majority of the company was product andengineering and the eventual goal was to go public. And so Snap had hired achief strategy officer that was the former global head of tech banking atcredit. To essentially build out the business of Snap and take them public.

I was one of his first hires, so I kindof started out in a, wanted folks with investment banking backgrounds, thatanalytical skill set to help approach all the different things that the companywas working on and really trying to build several different functionsthroughout the company.

So over my time at Snap I built severaldifferent teams. Started out building out an ops. and my last role at SNAP wasleading international growth for our ad business and did a lot of things inbetween.  

Julian: Yeah, man, it'sincredible to think about all of the infrastructure that was built after kindof gaining the users, having the product out in market, having, a lot of theinterface comp not completed, but enough to where we recognize the app when werejoin it.

And thinking about, that experience. Andnow, I wouldn't say building backwards, but thinking about the operational sidekind of pro, I guess retroactively, as the company raised money, did thatinfluence how. Operated and structured Zitti in, in how the company is now, wasthere a level of maturity that you brought to the company because of thatexperience or, or was that kind of a whole different life?

Dante: No, a absolutely, Ithink they're very, very interconnected. I mean, a, a big part of my time atSnap was spent essentially starting many teams across the company and so. Therewere countless times over those years where I was the only person at thecompany doing a specific function, and then that function would end up being acouple more people doing it, and then that function would end up being a globalteam.

Yeah. And then, and then I would do itthe same with, with another function. So in doing that, I, I kind of felt, inretrospect, I was basically starting my own small company. Yeah. A handful ofdifferent times At the comp, at, at a, at a larger. And, and when I started atSnap, we were a little over 200 people.

When I left, we were about 7,000 people.So, they went through a lot of evolution. I started, we were a private company.I left, we were a public company, so, so many changes, evolutions all that goodstuff. Yeah. But it was a great experience.

Julian: Yeah, I, I, I, I'msure there's some, some comments and answers here, but I'm curious from yourexperience and your perspective, how does a company structure, culture and, andall that kind of change as it grows and scales to say, become a public company?

Because those are two extremely separateideas, private to public. It's a huge transition. What are some ways that yousee companies evolve and how was Snapchat, I guess, unique in that sense, in,in the way they were building?  

Dante: Yeah, so I think whatSnapchat. a very good job of, for a long period of time, was maintaining acreative and innovative culture.

Yeah. With the folks they brought in.Part of it is, is a bit self-fulfilling because Snap Leadership really gavetheir employees the autonomy to hire the additional folks. So, creative andinnovative people hire more creative and innovative people. Sure. I think beinga tech company a company that really pioneered the LA tech ecosystem, right?

Yeah. I mean, Snapchat was like thefirst major private startup to start and then go all the way to i p o and stuffbased in la So in, in, in being that we were this kind of hub for a lot of thetalent in the LA tech and media ecosystem. So we attracted a lot of that, whichwas, which was really.

But it, it's kind of, it's kind of nuts.Like, I remember when I started, like I said, we were a little over 200 peopleand our goal was to be over a thousand people by the end of the year. So we'relike, we were gonna five x our size in nine months. And so when you're doingthat, I mean, maintaining a culture of connective tissue is tough.

I, I think part of it though was a lotof those hires were in other offices. Yeah. So we were like starting our NewYork office, starting our Chicago office, starting our Dallas office,eventually starting our London office. Right? Yeah. So you, because there areall these like satellite offices. , they are really, really trying to replicatethe culture that was in hq, which was in Venice, like Venice Beach.

Yeah. Two of these other, these otherplaces. Yeah. And so I feel like if we were five x in the size of our LAoffice, it may have been a little bit different because Sure. It's a, it's allin the same place, but you kind of have this clearly defined culture in, in Venicethat we were then replicating and really trying to have the folks live andbreathe in the other offices.

Julian: Yeah. How do youreinforce that culture in other offices?

Dante: Well, I think, atleast from my experience at a company like Snapchat, I think a big, animportant part is everyone using the product. Sure. Right. I mean, at the endof the day, like we are, we are a consumer product. We're a communications app.

I, I kind of joke that I, I didn't startusing Slack. Snap had been public for like four years. , we communicated onSnap, like that, that's how like all the early employees, and that was in, inmy view a telltale sign of us becoming a bigger public, more corporate company.Is everyone's using Slack, right?

We're, and it we're, we're where's more?And it was like, no. Literally like you're, you're snapping your boss, you'resnapping your people on your team or snapping your colleagues. It was veryinter. But because of that, we were all power users of our own product. Mm-hmm.. So no matter if your role was engineering, or if your role was sales, or ifyour role was accounting, you were communicating with your coworkers.

You were power user of our core product,which may be very passionate about it. And we were all just the bestevangelists of the Snap product were, were its employees. That was a very cool,special special time.  

Julian: That's amazing. And,and what was the catalyst behind Zitti? You had been working at Snapchat, you,I'm sure you, you got involved with a few different startups in, in, in beingin not only New York, but also in, in Los Angeles as well, kind of being in thecommunity.

What was the, the catalyst, what was theinspiration behind Zitti and, and, and what kind of got you. Reinvigorated inthis passion behind restaurants and food service and technology and enablingkind of, not a pre, not, not a, not a old industry, but one that's just, hadhad such a legacy technology, I'm sure built into it.

Dante: Yeah, absolutely. SoI, I think part of it I think starting a company takes, like, especially ifyou're if you're, if you're the founder, right? And you're not just one of thefirst few employees, you're the one who. There's really two main things thathave to occur. One, you have to decide for yourself that you wanna start acompany and then actually act on it, right?

And, and then two know the problem thatyou wanna solve. So the first one of deciding you're gonna start a company andact on it. I was fortunate to have a lot of like friends and mentors fr largelyfrom Snap and some from my Stanford days as. Who had started their owncompanies in the past.

Some were early in the journey ofstarting their companies. Others had started and successfully sold or took ortook their companies public. So having these influences I think early on in mycareer, yeah. I, I never really saw myself as, as someone who would start myown company. Sure. I always thought that I would be a leader at a largercompany, but then as, as I'm going and, and learning more about it, it.

Felt more and more like that's the nextstep in my career that I wanted to take post in a post snap life. Sure. Andthen in terms of the problem I wanna solve, as I was thinking through this froma career perspective, I was in the process of opening my own restaurant. And aspart of that process I'm third generation restaurant owner in my family myfather's family are Italian immigrants.

Own and operate Italian restaurantsthroughout Central California since 1956, so nearly 70 years in in thebusiness. My grandpa and his three brothers started it. My dad, his brother,and their first cousins all are running them. Today there's probably like 20restaurants total in our entire extended family most of which are all in centralCalifornia.

So I very much grew up in therestaurant. Yeah. But. I decided there hadn't been a new restaurant open inabout 25 years in, in our family. A lot of the third generation folks, a lot ofthe grandkids like myself, there's probably like 60 or some grandkids,something crazy number. We were kind of the first generation to do otherthings, right?

I think my father's generation we're alllike, some of them were born Italy and came over and they were young. Otherones were born in the United States, but born to parents that didn't even speakEnglish. Yeah. So my dad's generation really is a form of survival. They had towork in the restaurant and, and grow it and expand it.

My generation was the first one wherepeople are become like, my brother's a lawyer. I have a cousin who's studyingto become a dentist. Right. You have people doing different things, which isreally. , but I didn't want the restaurant legacy to be lost. Right. Sure. AndI also thought that, my hometown of Fresno is rapidly growing.

It's only about a half million peopleright now in Central California had an explosion of population during Covid.Yeah. So I really thought there, there was an opportunity to, to open a newlocation of our family's core brand called Dec Chico's but reimagine it a bit,have the exact same. But a more modern vibe inside, kind of have it, have itfeel like you're in you're on Akini in Venice or you're in Santana Rope in SanJose.

Yeah. That, that kind of feel on theinside, although the food is, and the menu is identical to the other familylocations. Yeah. And we built the building as well, so it was a dirt lot fromdirt lot to open functioning restaurant. And I decided to take this project on.I was the sole financer of the project and, and working with my family membersto develop.

And my, my my father was involvedheavily involved as a consultant on the project. My uncle's, the generalmanager running it every single day, aunt and uncle, and they do a great job.But throughout this entire process, I'm seeing yeah, how antiquated the systemsare, how antiquated the processes are.

Yeah. And most importantly, cause Ialways say it's just solving antiquated processes isn't actually the coreproblem. The core problem is that independent re. Are getting absolutelycrushed when it comes to food costs. Yeah. And food costs is the single mostimpart important part that could make or break your profitability, right?

If you don't have an eye on how muchyou're paying for food, your unit economics are thrown off. Your costs of goodsold are thrown off, and it truly is something in the restaurant's control ifthey have the tools to wrap their arms around it. So as I'm kind of goingthrough and making these observ. I, was at that point over five years under mytime at Snap, I was thinking about the next days of my career, couldpotentially starting a company, and then I'm on a daily, daily basis.

My, my family members will tell you,frustrated with these processes, in this new restaurant that I'm involved inopening. Yeah. And then it just became crystal clear to me that it becameactually very obvious that this was the problem I wanted to solve and dedicatethe next probably decade plus of my life to, to solve.

And it's been really cool becausehonestly fast forward to right now year over year, we've saved my, my parents'restaurant over 5% on their food costs year over year, over the last 60. Sothat's a very cool thing too, where like, you see, my parents' restaurant isthe ultimate pilot beta customer, and we're having that tangible impact that Iwanted the company to have.

So quickly, which is really cool.  

Julian: Yeah. And what, whatis the biggest issue with kind of food cost? Is it not being able to trackwhere you're getting, what vendors are, are giving you at what price forcertain types of products, whether it's meat or, VE vegetables or, what, whathave you?

Or is it. Or is it the analysis of thattracking system? Is it all done on Excel and you can't really see the changesover time? What in particular did you see were the, the gaps that, thattechnology needed to essentially, whether it was reframe, recategorize, orrepurpose that information? What in particular, or I guess back to my originalquestion, sorry, there's so many here.

First is, is what was the issue withtracking food prior and how has it gotten better through technology?  

Dante: Yeah. So the firstone, the first thing I'll say is Excel spreadsheets. If you're lucky, ,probably paper and panning a lot of that too. So, so really to break down,let's start by breaking down the food supply chain.

Yeah. You have restaurants, which arethe, we'll call it the demand side. They're the buyers of food. Then you havethe supply side. And to summarize, the supply side is broken out between endsuppliers like. You're really manufacturers of meat, of chicken, of fish, ofproduce, of, of any type of food. And then you have your distributors in themiddle.

And the distributors are ultimately alogistics companies. They're buying food from the supplier and they're sellingfood to the restaurant, and they're capturing the arbitrage. As part of that.So the, I would say the manufacturers one example of the manufacturer could belike Nestle or Tyson.

But another example of manufacturer couldbe like a mom and pop like farmer of, of dairy, right? So, so, so it reallycould be a lot of different things, but the distributors are these much larger,more sophisticated. Companies and probably half of the food distributorbusiness in the United States is controlled by about four or five players, andthe other half is incredibly fragmented with probably like 15,000 players.

Yeah. So it's a very centralized at thetop and then very fragmented at the bottom. Right. So when you put yourself inthe shoes of like my family's restaurant to make it like personal, you'rebuying mostly from distributors, right? Well, distributor. Have full discretionwhere to price the products at.

Sure. Com complete discretion. Yeah. Soa distributor can say to you, like, Julian, if you own a, a pizza spot, right.Your main parts of your product mix are probably gonna be meats and cheesesand, and flour. Cause fr from the dough. Yeah. Right. But then you may have alot of other costs, like maybe like chicken breasts, maybe you serve salad andhave all those other things on.

So a classic tactic that a fooddistributor could take is say, Hey Julian, I wanna win your business. I'll giveyou the best price on pepperoni that anyone's gonna give you to, to sign upwith me. But then you don't realize you're getting just screwed on all theother costs Yeah. That you're paying for.

Right. And so, so it all e evens out tobeing, you're actually a very high margin customer for them. And, and actuallyat, at corporate with these distributors, their highest margin customer. Arethe independent restaurants that's kind of like their, their, their goldengoose, their sacred cow, which is really messed up because those are thebusinesses that are struggling the most.

Sure. So it, it's actually quitepredatory. The businesses that are struggling the most, that are, that areoperate on paper and pen that don't have sophisticated tools, there areunbeknownst to them paying so much more for the food products more than what,what I would consider market.

And then you also have the fact. , theexact same product from the same manufacturer, if carried by two differentdistributors, could vary wildly in price. Yeah. Right. And that's before youstart talking about like interpersonal relationships play a big role, etcetera. So really what that means is that if you're one restaurant and you'rebeholden to one distributor, you have no idea what you're, what you're paying relativeto what you could be paying.

Right? Yeah. And that's ultimatelywhere. savings, you're able to claw back on food, goes directly into therestaurant owner's pocket. Yeah. Now, in order to achieve that, you do need todigitize some processes, right? Because if it's hard to pull in data when it'sall on paper, right? So yeah. , so Ziggy's first step was building a paymentsplatform, and that is so we can own the transaction between buyer and supplier.

Restaurants are using us to pay alltheir food suppliers and distributor. Yeah. And we've made it as easy as payingyour friends on Venmo. You could do it on mobile. It contains all your invoicesthere. Everything's based on the cloud. UI is really good. Very, very easy touse. And we like, and it's easy to use because we battle tested this onrestaurant owners.

Yeah. Constantly before launching everyfeature. Well, now that we own payments, we own all the food transaction datafor that restaurant, we know a lot. Everything they're buying, what they'repaying for it, who they're buying it for, what the frequency is, et cetera. Sonow what we do is we line up all their food products side by side.

And then we actually pull in pricingacross the various network of distributors at restaurants working with, and werun it and we show a side by side comparison in the form of a Zitti orderguide. So the restaurant can say, okay, mozzarella cheese, well, $2 and 10cents a pound from distributor one.

Yeah, it's $2 and 20 cents a pound fromdistributor two, and it's $2 and 80 cents a pound from distributor three. Andso maybe distributor three is telling me that I have the best pricingstructure, but for mozzarella cheese, you're gouging me 70 cents. Yeah. A poundon this. And so without Zitti, the restaurant could very easily just blanket byeverything.

And my parents' re. , right? They'respending around $80,000 a month in food costs. That's, yeah, that's a lot.Where you, you're buying so many cases that and because food is perishable ithas to be delivered multiple days a week. Yeah. You, you, you may havedeliveries coming in every day of the week.

Yeah. So, you can't just, it's not likea retail store. You can like, hold inventory till it sells. It's like, yeah.You're, you're constantly turning this. And prices are constantly fluctuating.So it's actually a quite complex equation to, to keep track of. And if youdon't have the tools to do that, you can just get lost.

And, and I do think a lot of the reasonswhy restaurants fail is that they may be doing well on the sales side and havea lot of customers coming in the door. Yeah. But they don't have a handle oncosts in the back of house. And that could, that could unfortunately. Yeah,lead to not a great result.

And, and Zitti is here to try to solve thatproblem.  

Julian: It's fascinating tothink about the amount of, of just the amount of ownership that a, that a, thata restaurant owner can have now with their purchase ability. And, and even incollaboration, I'm sure as you grow the product, you have more data, moredistributors, more information on how people are getting the food that they'regetting and where they're getting it from.

And I guess outta just curiosity, , hasthere been anything surprising about the distribution of food where people aregetting it, where it's being purchased, the purchase price of it? What have youseen that has been illuminating in terms of the experience that most restaurantowners have purchasing the food that we all kind of eat and, and, and, enjoy.

Dante: The, the biggestsurprise, I would say there's two. One is even large restaurant groups that dotens of millions of dollars in sales a year don't necessarily have a handle onthis. Yeah. And, and we like to say that we are your virtual head of supplychain, right? Like Chipotle has 3000 or so units and they have like a hundredperson supply.

In Chipotle's menu is not even thatcomplex. Right. Anyone who's been there, it's a pretty simple menu that is ahundred people whose sole job is to optimize cost, optimize price, right? Yeah.So Chipotle has a hundred person supply chain team and a successful wrestlinggroup has a zero person supply chain team, and, and it's a combination of chefsand kitchen managers and the owners all doing it without technology.

You could really fall behind. Yeah. On,on that side of things. So the biggest, I think one big surprise in learningwas how unresourced most restaurant groups are in this very important criticalYeah. Function. And then the second biggest learning is just the, the fullextent of how the much the cost can vary was surprising.

Yeah. Because you may say like, okay,we're, we're having. Stannis lost tomatoes. Three different distributorscarried the exact same thing as Stanis lost tomatoes. How much could they vary?Really? Right? Yeah. And in reality it, the answer is a lot. And for myfamily's restaurant, we did an optimization analysis.

We looked at all their products andsaid, if you bought the lowest of price for every product, this is your foodcost. If you bought the highest of price for everything, this is your foodcost. The difference was over 25%. . That's crazy. 25%. That's crazy. And thatis, that is just, that is just wild. And so, but, but for us, it actuallyweirdly makes our job easy.

Yeah. Because like we can veryconfidently say that we can help you. Yeah. Right. And, and that's, and that'smore of it's a very straightforward value prop to the restaurant.  

Julian: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Andit's, and so fascinating to think about it, what, what it does from the, andhow it changes the distributors in, in their experience overall.

Now they have previous customers and I'msure changing their purchasing patterns and how, how have you seen, or have youseen yet, or what is your prediction about how distributors are gonna changethe relationship between them and, and the com and, and the restaurants thatthey're supplying?

Dante: Yeah, so I think it'smore of this is all yet to play. Because we're, we're so early. Right. And Ithink that sure. I'll in a public forum can only say so much. But, but I, but Ican say that we are really out to help and improve the entire ecosystem. Yeah.And we think that more transparency in prices for restaurants is good foreverybody because one, it's helping keep the restaurant businesses healthy.

It's helping to keep them staying inbusiness. It's, it's helping to keep them buying. It's also creating morecompetition on the supply side. Yeah. Which overall is a good thing because thefolks with the best price on the best quality will win. Right? Yeah. If you cansee, it's, it's like Zi D'S goal is not to take sales away from distributors isactually quite the opposite.

We want to, if you're a distributor andyou know that you're. Have competitive prices and high quality products. Maybeyou're not getting the visibility that you wish you were getting and not enoughpeople know about your incredible value prop. Well, with Zitti, now, they'llknow, and that's really exciting.

Julian: Yeah. Yeah, it'sincredible to think about what that kind of opens up in in your future. And nowthat you've been at it for a year, tell us a little bit about the traction.You've, you've beta tested it with not only your restaurant, but your, yourfamily's restaurant. Tell us a little bit about the traction you've gainedsince then, and also what particularly excited about this next year and whatyou're looking forward to.

Dante: Yeah, absolutely. Solast year was a lot of, lot of testing and learning. A lot of trial and error.I mean, we crazy to think that. It wasn't a little over a year ago where it wasjust just me. Right now we have a full team, right? So I think that bringing onsuch a great and talented team has been really exciting.

Our engineering team is phenomenal. Oursales team our, our, some of the hardest workers I know our first employee,parent, or head of product design is, is a rockstar. And, and really across downthe line, Joni, our head of growth, right? Everyone has just been working soclosely. In tandem. So if that's been cool to kind of build a team cultureright there as well.

Yeah. Last year we were giving theproduct away for free really to get more data, more customers, more testing.And we didn't even launch the order guide until December, so the end of, end oflast year. And so starting in January is when we started charging for ourproduct, charging a SaaS fee. And it's very simple.

We charge $150 per restaurant locationper. And, and we're saying we will save you far more than that in food costs ona monthly basis. Yeah. You'll get a very clear ROI from using Zitti like on onmonth one which is really cool. Right now we have our customers are in thehundreds. We've a couple, hundreds of customers.

Yeah. Right now we are start outgeographically concentrated throughout probably the southern half ofCalifornia, starting in Fresno, then down to LA and down to Orange County on.Chicago is a big market for us, Austin, Texas, and Denver. And now the nextkind of two markets that.

starting to get some traction. Our, ourkind of the South Florida area in New York. Yeah. So very exciting to kind ofsee us open up those, those new markets and, and go and we, we continue to growthe team methodically yeah. Throughout the year too.  

Julian: Cool. Yeah, it'sfascinating. I mean, it's impressive to not only see.

What you've done in, in a short amountof time, but also thinking about the ROI in just a month of using a productwhen, a lot of times you have to wait and you have to really kind of analyzewhat the functions are. Do a lot of testing, but it's, it's fairly clear if,if, if there's no.

A structured incumbent before that, onceyou introduce this technology, this level of organization, you can see and, andmaybe even, maybe even to their surprise, I'm sure, see that where their costsavings can accrue. And it's so exciting to see that that kind of those resultscoming so fast and it, but it does make me think about just because of whetherit's external factors or internal factors, what are some of the biggestchallenges that Zitti faces today?

Dante: I would say thebiggest challenge is that it's it's an industry full of very hard workers,folks that are on their feet 24 7, right? And so for us getting getting intouch with the customer, . Right? It sounds simple, right? But getting in touchwith that decision maker at the restaurant group, that's not an easy task.

Yeah. I think there are, a lot, a lot offolks ask me, they're like you're, you're building a tech company. You couldbuild anything, you could build anything for any customer group. Whyrestaurants? Like, why subject yourself to that? Right. And I'm more like,because I care. Yeah. Because I care.

Like if I didn't care. Yeah, of course.It's of course, it's hard, right? It's. Any B2B is hard selling B2B to, toindependent businesses is also hard too, but it's also so much more rewarding.And I think that that like, that kind of like question of like, why subjectyourself to this leaves out the part that, how rewarding is it when you're ableto actually help these, these businesses?

Yeah. And so, I think that's been,that's been a really cool part as well. But I would say the single biggestchallenge is getting in front of the right customer. I, I think that,traditional. digital marketing efforts that work really well for DTC companiesor consumer businesses and stuff aren't as effective with with restaurantowners.

Right. Like restaurant owners aren'tnecessarily Google searching, how could I save money on my food cost? Yeah.Even though that's what they really need. Right? Right. So, so how do you, howdo you reach them? And it involves a lot of hand-to-hand combat. Like field salesis very important. It involves things like trade shows, right?

Where there are concentrated and captivea. And it involves things by leveraging the network effect, right? I thinkrestaurant owners the most credible voice to restaurant owners is anotherrestaurant owner. And, and I, and I like to, to joke in other industries,people care a lot about influencers, right?

But I consider right now, like my, myrelatives, Won't listen. If Wolfgang Pucks says something, my relatives won'tcare. But if the guy across the street says something, my relatives will care.. Right. So it's it's more like it's this very grassroots level Yeah. Ofcredibility you need to gain. And that's why being more geographicallyconcentrated in a few different cities is really exciting too.

Cause you can start building thatdensity.  

Julian: Yeah. Yeah. It seemslike the network effect, and it can be contagious. Once you know, you, yousatisfy a customer one, and then they have a network of individuals that theycollaborate with. And that's what all founders want, right, is you, you do goodwork for one customer and, and then that kind of expands and that networkeffect really comes into play.

And, and then timing is then the onlything you're worried about is when is the right time to implement thetechnology and things like that. If everything goes well, what's the long termvision for Zitti.  

Dante: Long term vision. Youcan never, never predict the future. But I'll, I'll just say that coming from acompany before this Snapchat that Turned down acquisition offers every chanceit got because it believed in its mission and it had a long-term goal.

Being an in staying an independentcompany Zitti very much has that DNA as well. Yeah, yeah. And and I do haveevery intention of going all the way with this and, and, and remainingindependent as long as we can.  

Julian: Yeah, I love that. Ilove this next question or next section too. I call it my founder faq.

So I'm gonna hit you with some rapidfire questions and then we'll see where we get. First question is, what'sparticularly hard about your job?  

Dante: What is particularlyhard about my job is juggling. I, I, I kind of think it's, you're almost likethe, the Harlem Globetrotters where you got a basketball spinning on both bothfingertips your head everywhere, right?

You're just like holding all in. I thinkyou've got. You've got your product development efforts, you've got your salesefforts, you've got your investor facing efforts, you've got your like, companyoperations efforts and just managing personalities three dimensions basically,right?

So I think just the the juggling aspectof the day-to-day life of a founder is, is probably the most challenging, butalso the most rewarding.

Julian: Yeah. What's somethingthat you spend, a, a decent amount of time on, but but you would like to spendmore time doing other things. Is there anything that comes to mind?

Dante: Oh, interesting.Interesting question. I think that there's a lot of time. , overcommunicating.Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Both internally and externally. Yeah. Because I think thatthat's where and look, I'm, I'm also an active angel investor as well. And forme, like there's, there's nothing worse than a founder that doesn't communicateor articulate what's going on.

Right. Good, good, bad, or indifferent,like founders that just go dark. . That's not the way to run a long termsuccessful business, in my opinion. Yeah. And, and, and you also can't havefolks help you and lean in if you don't communicate. Yeah. So thoughtfulcommunication is important, but thoughtful communication takes a lot of time.

Real world example, this Silicon Valleybank situation, right? Like we banked with Silicon Valley Bank, there was a alot of communication that I had to. To our investors, to our team, to all thesedifferent parties, to ensure that everyone was on the same page. Everyone knewthat I was all over it, that my team was all over it, and that we were gonnanavigate through this no matter what happened and come out just fine.

I was also at South by Southwest at theexact same time, and I was speaking and I had a lot of meetings and I had allthis stuff going on, right? So I would've liked to just made a couple phonecalls and call it a day Sure. And not spend all this. Crafting emails andmessaging and, and, and, and hearing people's concerns and stuff, but that's,that's part of the founder that, that two-way open communication is, iscritical.

Julian: Yeah. And I love thatyou mentioned kind of, what kind of your, your thoughts on, on, on what makes asuccessful company a successful business, and being that you do angel investingand you've been through successful companies through IPOs, you're working onone now. If you think about a company as a machine, a small machine, if youlook inside of that machine, what components does it have?

For it to be one that runs successfully?Is it, tight operations? Is it having the right team and talent? Is it having,the best products for the best, product market fit? What in particular have youseen successful companies have as a, almost like as components to them to besuccessful?

Anything that other founders canimplement in their businesses that they might not have right now?  

Dante: Yeah, so I think itultimately the the founding team is critical. , but it's not all about thefounding team because if the founding team can't attract talent you can only goso far. Right? Yeah. So I think with the, with the founding team I typicallylook at one genuine passion for the problem you're solving.

Yeah. There are a lot of companies outthere that are founded based on fads. They're founded based on what's flavor ofthe moment, like right now. . I, I don't, I don't recall every other companywanting to talk about AI and their investor deck two years ago. But now all Iknow is talking about is ai, right?

And it's kinda one of those things like,well, for the folks that have like a, a, a good friend of mine from college isa he's a venture capitalist, works for an AI specific focus fund, and he's beendoing this his entire career. Yeah. He is genuinely passionate about AI and,and investing in companies that will solve problems in the space.

Yeah. would take his guidance on what AIcompanies to invest in, but over, just companies popping up just so they can,drive right off the momentum. So I think that genuine passion for the problemthat you're solving, I is probably the first thing I look for actually. Yeah.And then the, and then the next one is, the most important qualities I look forin a founder are not product.

Not strategy, not team building. It'sgrit. Yeah. And grit is, is, I think it's undervalued in the venture capitalcommunity. But if a founder does not have grit, nothing else matters. Yeah.Because you're, it is, being a founder can be lonely. It can involve a lot ofhighs and lows, ups and downs, interpersonal dynamic.

Continued conviction, a combination ofconviction on the problem you're solving, but also willingness to change andadapt as you get new information. And if you don't have that grit to persevere,you could be the most brilliant product mine in the world. You could be thebest team builder. You could be a strategic guru, but if you're gonna wiltunder pressure none of it really matters.

Yeah. Right. So I think that that, thatthat individual grit, right, I, I think is, is critical. I, I kind of. Use touse a food analogy if you can't take the heat, then get out of the kitchen.Right, right. And I think that I, I, I look for that in in founders that, thatI wanna invest in as well.

Julian: Yeah, yeah. Well said.I always like to ask this next question cause I love how founders extractknowledge out of anything that they ingest. So if you can think about whetherit's early in your career or now, what books or people have influenced you themost?  

Dante: So I think in. , agreat book that I read over the last few months is Trillion Dollar Coach.

Mm-hmm. . Yeah, it is. A book about thethe executive coach for Larry and Sergey Google. Yeah. And kind of talkingabout their, their early days and how they navigated through all theirsituations. I thought that was that was absolutely awesome. In terms of peoplewho have, who have impacted me, there's been so many.

I think that a first one that comes tomind is a gentleman named John Blum. He was one of the first people. Took a beton me early in my career. He was a trustee at Stanford, but also a a managingdirector at Citigroup in New York. And that was my first job at a college. Andhaving to have someone who is that senior at a, at a large investment bank likethat.

And I'm just an 18, or not, probably not18, probably 22 year old kid coming outta college. and to have that guidanceand mentorship was, was absolutely critical. And he's since become a, a friendas well. And and then I think another integral figure in my career was one ofmy former boss at Snapchat gentleman named Jeff Lucas, and Jeff was the globalhead of sales at Snapchat.

Before that, he was the global head ofsales at Viacom. But when you, you spend time with him and you're with. Younever get the sense that he's selling anything, right? Yeah. He, he's just,he's building trusted relationships at the highest levels at all theseincredible companies he is working with, but then also incredibly approachableto the most junior person at his own company.

Yeah. And is, is has that le leadershipstyle. . You, you can be fair and firm, but you're also just have a big heartand really care about your people. And, and I think that being able to like seethat witness that he's also like in his late fifties and on a plane constantly.

So then I'm almost like, well, if he'sgot the energy for it, what am I talking about that I'm tired? So I thinkhaving I think those two individuals played, played indigo roles. In my lifeand journey to date, I think in on the Zitti side specifically, I've reallysought a handful of industry, experts, folks that have operated largerestaurant groups and stuff in the past and, and really leaned on those folksfor their areas of expertise as well.

I would also include my father in thisone. Yeah, I mean, my father's. Restaurants for over 40 years. Right. And, andknows everything, everything you could possibly know about independentrestaurants. And he's probably uniquely qualified to force me to listen to him.Yeah. . Because there, there are, there are many times, well, I, I may get, Imay get a lot of great advice and I'm not listening to it because I that'sanother thing about being a founder is you're you could be headstrong.

Right. Right. And I think that that.Something that I could tend to be. So I think that having that person in mycorner who's a combination of an industry expert, but also who has this uniqueway to cut the noise and force me to listen is also important. So, I think I'vebeen very fortunate to be surrounded by great people throughout, for  

Julian: sure.

It's amazing. It's amazing to hear, yourrelationship with your mentors and your father and, and even people who'veworked with, and it, it, it's awesome to see, like I said, what you extractfrom that knowledge base and, and yeah, founders, it, it's almost funny becausewe have to be headstrong in a lot of ways, but there are those people thatreally do cut through the noise to help on, the journey to guide in, indifferent directions.

And it always seems that they have theright thing to say at the time when we. Or maybe they're just talking and welisten at the right time, who knows? But it's always a fun, fun dynamic. I knowwe're coming close to the end of the show here, and before you give us yourplugs on where we can find you, where we can support, is there any question Ididn't ask you that I should have or that you would've liked to answer?

Dante: That's that's that'snot a really good one. No, I, I think it was I think it was prettycomprehensive. I, I think that, , I would just probably anything that I wouldanswer would be directed to, if any of your listeners are considering startinga company. Yeah. Right. Have, have may maybe have, have always been curiousabout it.

Don't know if this is the right time.Right. I, I would say if you, if you've thought about starting a. for a certainperiod of time. If it's not, if it's not just a fleeting thought, if you'velike, thought about it for months or something like that. Yeah. I will say youwill never regret doing it. Yeah, you will, you will not.

You may regret not doing it, but you'llnever regret doing it. And yeah. Some folks I don't really view, think, I don'treally view failure as, as an outcome because. Failing and starting your owncompany is, is not failure. Yeah. The amount you will learn, the relationshipsyou'll build, what you'll be able to take those lessons into your next part ofyour journey, whether it's starting another company or working for anothercompany or whatever it is is invaluable.

And, and also I think that founding yourown company takes so much, like I said, grit and energy and dedication. There'sa reason why. Young. There's certain age demographics of start companies andcertain ones that don't, right? Because it's, it's like the, the older you get,the harder it is to just, yeah.

You have families, you have kids, youhave all these other things that make it difficult to do. And so, I think ifyou're at that stage of your life in that window where you have the time, themental energy, the the physical energy to, to put into it you'll regret not,you may regret not doing it.

You'll never regret doing. If you careenough about the problem you're solving, yeah, you will figure it out. Surroundyourself with great people. And if you ever wanna chat shoot me a note. Add meon LinkedIn. Yeah. DM me on Twitter, whatever it is. And I love chatting withother founders and aspiring founders.

Julian: Yeah. Yeah. And let usknow where we can find you. Where can we not only find Zitti if we're apotential customer, but also you? What are your LinkedIn? Give us all yourplugs, your LinkedIn, your Twitters, your, your websites. Tell us where we cansupport the product, and also you as a founder. .  

Dante: Yeah, absolutely. Soyou can support the product by going to our site If you're arestaurant group out there you can request and book a demo in on our website.So just fill out some basic information about your restaurant do it, andsomeone on our team will reach out to you shortly and walk you through theproduct and how we could potentially help help your business thrive.

In terms of our socials our socialhandles are z. So this is Z I T T I I N C across everything. So, Twitter,Instagram TikTok LinkedIn, all that good stuff. And then myself just searchDante DiCicco, my first and last name on Twitter and on LinkedIn. Andespecially, if you're interested in learning more about how we can help yourrestaurant, if you're learning more about wanna learn more entrepreneurship oranything would love.

Julian: Amazing. Dante, it'sbeen such a pleasure chatting with you. Not only learning about your earlyexperience at Snapchat and, and investment and, but also how you think aboutbuilding companies and solving problems. And honestly, how you, you kind of,you knew that you wanted to build a company. You started building a, arestaurant, and then in that culmination, this kind of, this product happened,this, this vision, and now you're a year on the.

It's exciting to see not only thetraction you've gained so far, but how you can really empower other, restaurantowners to take, take back the, the independence or, or I guess the ability toreally pay pay attention to the operating costs and be successful as anentrepreneur. So I hope you enjoyed yourself on the show today.

I know I did. And thank you so much forbeing on Behind Company Lines.  

Dante: Thanks Julian. Reallyappreciate it.  

Julian: Of course.

Other interesting podcasts