Marco Zappacosta Transcript

Clint Betts

Marco, thank you so much for coming on, talking to us, sharing your wisdom, your journey with the CEO.com community. First things first, you were born in 1985. I only bring that up because so was I, and you've done so much more than I have. It's wild, man. I want to start with, you went to Columbia, you got a bachelor's degree in political science. Then you go to Washington, DC, as I understand it, and you direct the students for Saving Social Security. I'm wondering, man, in 2007, what I was doing and what you were doing, completely different.

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah.

Clint Betts

That is quite the thing.

Marco Zappacosta

The one I think about in that vein, LeBron James was also born our year, and-

Clint Betts

I know.

Marco Zappacosta

... he's winning.

Clint Betts

He's got us beat for sure. That's for sure. But tell me about Students for Saving Social Security. What drove you to do that? I find that fascinating.

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah. Look, getting into pension reform as a 20-year-old is not normal, and I recognize that. But the story is basically, I went to college thinking I was going to be a research scientist, a neuroscientist. I studied it. I went to work in a lab, and then I realized that it was not the life for me. The subject was super interesting, but the work was not. So I was a little adrift in some sense, or the story I told myself was no longer true. So I just pursued random passions.

One of them, admittedly, was Social Security reform, and I wrote some op-eds for my student newspaper about it, which I admit a little sheepishly. Because of that, I was connected with who became my future co-founder. It turns out he was almost even more nerdy about this because he had started this student advocacy group that then I joined, and we both took some time off from college to build.

That's where we came to appreciate how fun it is to build something out of nothing and rally people around a shared dream. So from there, we said, "Let's do it again."

But at that point, we realized that the political world was not the one we wanted to be in. You have no agency. The forces are much bigger than any one person or org. Instead, if we built a technology company, we could have a similar impact but have much more agency and control in getting there. So that's what we went out to do.

Clint Betts

What did you learn in your time in Washington, DC, and working in the political world? Because, like you said, my experience with that as well, that's completely different. You can work for three years on something, and then somebody makes a decision that you didn't even know existed, and that three years is no longer relevant.

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah.

Clint Betts

It just goes in a different direction. It's really fascinating how slow it goes and how quickly it can change at the same time. But I'm wondering what your experience is with Social Security, how you think you shaped the debate, and where do you think we're at even currently.

Marco Zappacosta

I don't know where things are at this point, but look, my takeaway was twofold. One, it was what you mentioned, that it's a world where you really have no agency unless you have a whole lot of power, which is pretty rare. Then two, and maybe, I think, more importantly was that our intuition was right, and we signed up 13,000 students across the country. When we talked to people originally, nobody thought that there was going to be any interest in this among young people.

Our perspective was like, "Why? Aren't they actually the most important constituency here that retirees are going to be taken care of?" And so whether we amend things to be better or worse will be born by young people today and future people in the future. So with that intuition, we went forth, and that worked, and it resonated.

So I think that was something that, I think, we've made it an explicit takeaway, but I think it gave us confidence to go lean into that again.

Clint Betts

Obviously, you met your co-founder through the Students for Saving Social Security, but what led you to spin off, or not really spin off, but create an online marketplace company?

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah. So look, the motivation after our college adventure in DC was to start a technology business. The motivation was to solve the biggest problem we could find and, maybe most importantly, solve something that felt like it was inevitably going to be solved. There are a lot of things out there that are big problems that are way out of our capability or humanity's capability to fix. So we didn't bother with those, and it was much more basic, like, "Hey, what's something broken today that feels like technology's going to inevitably solve?" And this was a time in 2007, 2008, where e-commerce had already become prominent.

Especially being young, you're like, "Of course, I'm going to shop for all this stuff online. It's better, it's easier, it's faster." When you went to observe our category, the local service industry, hiring a painter, a plumber, or a carpenter, you realized that that experience was still stuck in the 20th century.

So this dissonance between how much better shopping for things had gotten versus how antiquated hiring people still felt like something that was going to inevitably be solved. That motivated us, especially because it's something that applied very broadly. You're talking about something that every busy homeowner has felt, that most local pros feel. If we could solve these problems for them, we could make a big impact and build a big business. That's what we went after.

Clint Betts

Yeah. How would you go about doing that in 2007? Was it like Craigslist? You'd just go to Craigslist and try to find people, maybe a local. Here in the state of Utah, there's this local news station that has classifieds and stuff.

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah.

Clint Betts

I imagine that's how you did it back then.

Marco Zappacosta

You got it. They were directories and classified sites. Both of those were inspired by offline products, the classifieds in the newspaper, the Yellow Pages, and better because they were online, but they hadn't been reinvented or reimagined for what could now be built. So that was our original motivation. It's like, "Hey, let's build something that was impossible to build in the previous analog world, not just the online version of that old thing." And that really focused us on the importance and challenge of matchmaking. We were and are motivated by helping customers find and hire the right pro for whatever they need done.

That active matchmaking is something that we've spent a decade plus working on, perfecting, and delivering because, at the end of the day, that's what our customers and pros need from us. Customers have wants, they have needs, they have money to spend on it. They simply don't know who to hire or the best person for that job.

On the flip side, we've got a bunch of pros who are incredibly talented but have schedules that aren't completely full. They're motivated to meet new customers so that they can grow their business. We saw ourselves as the first truly digital and technology-driven matchmaker solution for that. We've been building there ever since.

Clint Betts

What did the first version of the product look like?

Marco Zappacosta

It exists in the wayback machine, or it did at one point I saw it. Look, I think you'd get it. You'd see a different logo, you'd see a different color scheme. It's more orange back then. It had more skew morphism to the UI. But what you would see in it is this core idea of helping homeowners and customers find and hire pros, and on the flip side, help pros gain exposure, meet more customers, and grow their business.

That has been core to us from the get-go. There's a quote that supposedly is attributed to Jeff Bezos, which I really like, where he says, "We're stubborn on vision and flexible on strategy." And I think you've seen us do that, in that the vision or the aspiration has been there from the very beginning, how we've solved it, the strategy we've pursued to deliver for our customers, and when in this market has evolved tremendously as it needed to, as times changed, and also as we just learned how to do this.

Clint Betts

Yeah. Were you or your co-founder technical, or did you go hire a tech team?

Marco Zappacosta

Yep.

Clint Betts

So do you guys coded the first product?

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah, one of our co-founders was very technical. He's The perfect person from day one because he could do everything. I led more of the product side, and he led more of the engineering side, and that's how we got it to market.

Clint Betts

Sorry for focusing so much on the early days, but I'm fascinated by direct-to- consumer sites like yourself. There's a different component to that than that, and how you gain traction, how you gain credibility, and how you just drive traffic to the site at that time. Now everyone knows, you're like, "Yeah, just go to Thumbtack."

But that wasn't true back then. How did you build that? I think a lot of people would find that fascinating.

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah, the question gets asked a lot of different ways, but it's this chicken or the egg problem.

Clint Betts

Yeah.

Marco Zappacosta

If you had something, people would come, but you don't have something, so people aren't going to come. But to build something to get your pros to show up there, you need customers. So it's like, "Where do you get going?" And what you see is, marketplaces typically start with the supply side, as did we. The reason there is that pros and suppliers are more motivated to find new customers. It's what they do all day there at work. So they're more willing to try new things.

Then we employed a strategy which we called helping these pros find network-independent value. The idea being is, we didn't have a network from day one, but we wanted to attract them to the platform. So what could we offer them that was valuable without being this network?

What we came up with was a tool for pros to repost their ad on Craigslist because Craigslist made it annoying. On any classified site, the content expires, it constantly gets refreshed. So you, as a small business, have to constantly go re-put your post up, which is laborious and annoying. So we made that super easy, and we made it easy for them to post a HTML version with pictures and reviews and all the good- looking stuff. Through that, we were able to attract pros to the platform.

Not surprisingly, we attracted pros who we saw were already on Craigslist, and this was an easier way of doing what they were already doing. In signing up, what they helped us with was create the best profiles on the internet for these businesses because directories had a lot of static, thin content.

These folks often didn't have websites. So we became kind of the best content on the internet for these types of pros, these sorts of small service professionals, and service companies. Because of that content, we then began to attract eyeballs and visitors via organic search. Over time, as the consumer experience became better and better, we leveraged that to build a direct relationship with these consumers.

As more and more people heard of us, saw us, used us, had friends use us, then more people came directly. That's something that we've been really fighting towards because, you're right, you need to jumpstart as your consumer business. Typically, you need to jumpstart it off of something bigger. That's critical to get going. But if you just stay focused on that, then you end up building for this partner rather than the customer. So at some point you have to say, "Hey, we are going to get past this and build a direct relationship." Which is very hard, but something we've been very dedicated to for a long time now.

Clint Betts

How did you come up with the name?

Marco Zappacosta

I married well. My wife named the company, the children, and, I think, anything of importance that we do. So if any of you have named anything that it's hard, you have to be very deliberate. So we had spreadsheets full of names, then you have to go see if you can buy them or how much it might cost, what they sound like when they're pronounced by people who maybe aren't native English speakers, all the various things that go into naming.

So we just had lists and lists of names, and she came up with Thumbtack, and we loved it. Thankfully, it was available, so we jumped on it.

Clint Betts

At what point did you start thinking about raising money?

Marco Zappacosta

From the very beginning, I think venture capital, in some sense, exists to fund businesses like ours, which have long lead times. They have big fixed costs, investments required to begin to get to scale, and through that, earn returns.

So growing up in Silicon Valley, being exposed to all that, I think, was very fortunate because it meant that we could take advantage of it and raise from that community from the get-go. So day one, it's just friends and family money. They say friends, families, and fools, and those are people who know you and believe in you and for whom the vision resonates. But at the end of the day, they're just betting on the people they know.

So we raised a little bit of money that way and then began to expand out, first to professional angels, then to professional seed investors, then your institutional series A investors, and beyond.

Clint Betts

I believe it wasn't one of your first angels, Jason Calacanis. I think people probably know him now as the all-in podcast moderator guy or one of those four folks.

Marco Zappacosta

Oh, yeah. I am proud to have Jason as an investor, and actually, I'll give him a lot of credit. So this is now 2010. This is pre-angel environment we have today, where angel investment has become a hobby sport in Silicon Valley. It was a time where there were some angel forums, but they often charged startups to get into.

The Keiretsu forum was one of those, and Jason was off about that. He was like, "Hey, this is stupid. Why are we charging these companies $1,000 to come pitch? It's insulting. We should curate a great list of angels. I'll take applications to get a great list of founders, and we're going to have a great night."

And to his credit, he did. It was called the Open Angel Forum, and he invested in Uber out of that and Thumbtack. To his credit, both of those being angel rounds were done at a $6 million post.

Clint Betts

That's crazy.

Marco Zappacosta

That is crazy. So he's just super savvy, and I think he saw this opportunity for a more democratized angel sector market than most. I'm very thankful. It really helped catapult Thumbtack. Because of that meeting, Jason invested, Joshua Schachter, I believe, was there and invested, Scott and Cyan Banister invested, Naval Ravikant, invested all out of that initial little spark.

Clint Betts

Yeah.

Marco Zappacosta

Then with that—

Clint Betts

Wow, Naval. That's incredible. That's very cool.

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah. So thanks, Jayco.

Clint Betts

How helpful were they? That's an incredible list of angels that you just listed. Were you able to lean on them a lot, or was it just one of many investments that they were doing? Because angel investing is a little bit different, they normally don't take board seats. They normally don't get too in depth. They're just like, "Let us know if it works out." Type of a thing. But I wonder—

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah.

Clint Betts

... the names that you just named, they had a strong network back then. They were super engaged in that community. Jason was doing events, Naval was thinking about AngelList, if he hadn't already started the first version of it. How helpful were they there?

Marco Zappacosta

It's huge. They're not in the business with you helping you build it.

Clint Betts

Yeah.

Marco Zappacosta

But what they do is, A, provide validation because, early-stage companies, it's hard to know from the outside. Is this thing legit, or is it fake? And when serious people put their stamp of approval on it, then everybody else takes notice and says, "Oh, I should pay attention to this. Oh, I should take the meeting. Oh, I should listen to what they have to say."

So that's enormously valuable. They also give you access to investors. So JCal invests in us and turns around and introduces me to Roelof at Sequoia and Marc Andreessen at Andreessen Horowitz. I didn't have access to those two people, but because of Jason, he introduced me, and then I can take the relationship from there.

Then the last thing that I think they do that's really valuable is not just invest investor intros but executive and talent intros. Hadi and Ali Partovi, also early angel investors in Thumbtack. I remember, through Ali, I met an early executive that we hired, and she was a total killer. She started as a category management leader, became our head of marketing, then went on to be CEO of her own business. I don't know if I would've met her had it not been for this angel who said, "Hey, I know this great, talented exec. They're starting to look. I told them they got to talk to you. And they set up the meeting. So intros, access, and validation is ultimately what you get, and why it's so valuable to get premium investors.

Clint Betts

At what point did you realize, "Hey, Thumbtack is a thing. This is working. We've landed on something. We're seeing some progress. We're seeing some momentum." Because, as you know probably better than anyone, in those early days, nobody cares what you're working on. It's lonely.

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah.

Clint Betts

Should I even be doing this? This is a question that's coming up a lot. At what point did you turn that corner and you're like, "Yeah, this is something"?

Marco Zappacosta

I can cite various moments where it felt like we leveled up. I think that angel round in 2010, I felt like, "Oh, we leveled up." When Sequoia invested, I think we leveled up. When we hired our first crop of truly experienced executives, like, "Oh, we leveled up." But I'll tell you, I have not gotten to the point where I feel like, "Yeah, we've made it or done it."

Clint Betts

Oh, wow.

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah. On the one hand, I appreciate how far we've gotten, and I'm proud and recognize that there are a lot of accomplishments in that. But Thumbtack was founded in the same 6- to 12-month period that spawned Uber and Airbnb. That has always shown me how big and how impactful these businesses can get when you truly get it right, when you truly solve that problem in that magical way.

Look, I happen to believe it happened first in those sectors for a reason. I don't want to say they're less fragmented than local services, but I think the same thing is going to happen in our world. So that's still what motivates me. I hear people say, "Hey, just get an Uber. Uber it." I would like Thumbtack to be a verb. I want people—

Clint Betts

Yeah, Thumbtack it.

Marco Zappacosta

... to say Thumbtack it when they need to hire or they're talking about caring for their home and the best way to do that. So not done yet.

Clint Betts

At what point did you broaden into education and coaching because you can go on there? In fact, I've done this. I've actually hired a guitar teacher on Thumbtack for my son. At what point did you expand beyond home services and things like that?

Marco Zappacosta

Interestingly, we started more broadly than we are today.

Clint Betts

Oh, interesting.

Marco Zappacosta

We were very inspired by eBay early on, and eBay is famous for this infinitely long tail, originally unstructured catalog. It was just whatever. The magic of that is, it gives you access and opens you to the enormous diversity of this industry.

And that was critical to spurring our early growth because it let us build up our pro-base in places that others hadn't focused on. But over time, what we came to appreciate in some sense why Amazon won and eBay lost was to deliver that effortless and modern customer experience and modern buying experience.

That only comes from really structuring not just the data but the experience. By having a more structured experience, you take work out for the customer, you help them do more faster, and ultimately, you help them shop in the way that they want to shop.So that has been really a guiding principle for us for a long time. We realized we couldn't be this open-ended, unstructured marketplace that was Craigslist or that was just open search.

But for Thumbtack, we wanted to be the best place to hire. To do that, we had to structure the experience. That meant imposing coordination and standardizing things. That is tricky and hard, especially when you cover as many verticals as we do. But that's really what motivated us to focus in.

Today, we do support a wide range of services, but our focus is on homeowners and helping them hire home service professionals.

Clint Betts

A company like yours, once it starts growing, it starts growing so quickly, you have to start hiring so fast, you start recruiting. I wonder what lessons you learned from it, like, "Hey, I know everybody in this company. We're small. We're all in it together." To, "Now we need to expand and really grow this team and start recruiting people. Maybe we don't know that." That type of stuff.

What did you learn in that growth period of recruiting? And then what have you learned since now that your last evaluation was $3.2 billion, that at least that I could find, and you're trying to recruit executives and stuff like that? How has recruiting changed for you over the course of this?

Marco Zappacosta

So we have grown a lot. I just saw this number. We were 20 people 10 years ago, and we're 1,000 now, which is basically 50% compounded growth for 10 years.

Clint Betts

Incredible.

Marco Zappacosta

So we have seen a lot of it. Look, I think my big lesson is the importance of values and how critical those are to an organization to define how it operates, to define how it makes trade-offs, to orient people, and then to use recruiting as a way to bring in more people who are really aligned with those values and that mission.

Because I think I didn't appreciate early on how critical that alignment was. At first, my mental model was to just find the most talented humans possible. Nothing else mattered. We hired a lot of very talented people, but not all of them were a success. You start thinking about why. They're smart, they're hardworking, they're a good human. It's not like we hired any bad people, but it didn't fit. They just didn't click. It didn't succeed as well as some other people.

What you come to appreciate is, what it takes to work is not just the talent and the expertise to do the job well, but that is obviously critical, it's also the alignment with the organization. I mean that very broadly. So alignment in terms of ambition, alignment in terms of work style, collaboration, values, or not, those things actually really help things go fast and move effectively because you're all singing from the same song sheet.

Not only do you hopefully have a shared vision of what success looks like, but you have a shared guidebook for how to operate, how to make decisions, and make trade-offs. Through that, it makes it really easy to navigate inside the organization and to work with whomever on whatever. So that's something that became more obvious over time. It wasn't obvious early on, and it's something that I've really leaned into both in terms of setting the values, living the values, but then also recruiting against those values and ensuring that the people we bring in aren't just hyper-talented, but they're aligned with how we work and how we operate.

Clint Betts

How soon, on average, as you've seen, as you've been growing, do you realize, "Hey, this person isn't a good fit." Because obviously, when you first hire them, you're like, "We want them on the team. They're a good fit." And then you learn, "Hey, maybe they're not a good fit."

What is your sense for how long it takes to know that? A lot of people talk about hiring slow, firing fast. What's your take on all of that?

Marco Zappacosta

So over the years, I've come to trust my gut less when it comes to assessing technical talent, executive talent, talent in any domain. Because ideally, I'm hiring people who know much more than me, so in some sense, shouldn't be hard to impress me. What I look to is more the market validation of that talent. What did their career look like for the last 10, 15, 20 years? What did they accomplish? What do their peers say about them?

It's really hard to fake a career. I think careers do evidence talent ultimately. So I use that as a lens into who is or is not talented. Then I think about my role as less like, is this person talented or not, but more, are they talented in the critical way that we need for this role to be maximally successful? And then two, are they a fit with our values?

So again, I trust my gut less on the pure talent assessment, the skills assessment, but I trust my gut more on the fit assessment, and I try to be ruthless about that in the interview process. I've just seen it play out where maybe I'll say, "Hey, the fit is good enough, but the skills are so good, the experience is so good, let's take that bet." And it doesn't work. You need both. So I just hold that bar up front, and I think you know very quickly, and the question is just whether you act on it. So I try to act on it before it even starts, in some sense.

Clint Betts

I know you're based in Silicon Valley, and you have satellite offices. I know you have one in Utah, for example. What's the decision to stay in Silicon Valley? Obviously, that's been a big topic over the past few years. Should you exit Silicon Valley? Should you stay? What's your take on that?

Marco Zappacosta

I think I have two answers for you. One is the personal answer. It's my home. I'm from here. I love it here. My family is here. So it's home. So it's where I want to be. It has some problems, like everywhere, but it's only going to get fixed if I think people who care about it invest in it.

So that's number one. Then two, from a business standpoint, we have evolved to be a virtual first organization. That has been incredible because it's given us access to talent all around the country. So that's not something that's going to change. We're going to keep leaning into that. We invest in events to bring people together and teams together to collaborate. So it's not virtual only.

But one thing I would highlight is, despite having gone virtual, there is still a disproportionate concentration of technical talent here in the Bay Area. It is simply the world's deepest talent base for technology businesses. I don't see that changing.

Now, what remote work lets us do is build a presence now in Toronto, in New York, LA, in Seattle, in Austin very quickly, where there is also a bunch of technical talent, and I'm glad that we get in all sorts of talent, but in particular, technical talent, and I'm happy to get it, but the disproportionate chair is still here in the Bay Area. So we are virtual, and that is, I think, the best way for us to be. But you're still going to see talent concentrated in various places around the world.

Clint Betts

Yeah.

Marco Zappacosta

The Bay Area, it's going to be one for a long time.

Clint Betts

Yeah, for sure. What spurred the virtual work-from-home mindset? Was that COVID, or were you doing that pre-COVID? What spurred you into that?

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah, it was all COVID. I was skeptical, admittedly, coming into that. I thought you went to work to do work. You put pants on and put your shoes on, you go to work. I was not very sympathetic to those who said that they worked better at home or on their own. COVID really taught me to reassess that.

What I came to appreciate, actually, was that per unit hour worked, we were more effective working virtually than in the office. Virtual work is, on one hand, more transactional, but the upshot of that is, it's more efficient, and there's real power in that efficiency and not having to commute. So I saw productivity go up, not down. I think that reflects a bit of things about our culture that play well in a virtual environment, being very deliberate, being very written, being very explicit. I think that helps a lot, and it's critical.

But I think the best version of us includes or is built on a virtual-first standpoint. Now the tension is that, in being more transactional, the work is also more isolating. It doesn't engender that trust, community, and connection that in-person work naturally does. So we've tried to solve for that by getting people together, a leadership team to do planning, a broader organization to do some department- wide activities.

What you find is, if you do that deliberately and do that proactively, you can create really strong connection and cohesion in two, three days together for a quarter of a month for some teams. That takes you through the whole year. Most of the time, you get to benefit from the increased speed and increased efficiency of virtual work. So I think that my hypothesis would be that the most effective companies at some scale, call it 500 plus employees and beyond, will be virtual first, ultimately.

Clint Betts

Yeah, I think you're probably right. There certainly seems to be trending in that direction. I wonder. It sounds like you're obvious that you're still super engaged, passionate about this business, wanting to grow it. You said earlier, you still are not completely satisfied. Again, in 2021, you had a $3.2 billion evaluation. So to have somebody like you saying, "Hey, there's more to build, there's more to do." All that type of stuff is really fascinating. I wonder what you think about public markets, IPO-ing.

Obviously, I'm not asking you to announce anything, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on going public versus staying private, what those discussions are with investors. Obviously, the current market conditions probably don't make a lot of sense, but overall, how are you thinking about an IPO versus staying private?

Marco Zappacosta

Look, we assume that at some point it'll be the right thing to do, which will reflect us feeling ready. Ready, not like operationally could we do it, but much more do we feel like we have put the pieces together that gives us what we want to be a successful public company.

Then two, obviously, it's the market too. You want to go out in a time where investors are interested in looking for these kinds of investment opportunities, which now is very much not one of them. So I don't know exactly when that changes and evolves.

I'll tell you, I'm glad we're not public right now. I think there's good benefits to us being able to stay focused on the long term and really invest and do the right things. Though we do take real lessons from the public markets, I think, really, all companies should. I think what they're saying and saying very clearly is, what matters isn't growth at all costs. It is profitable growth and businesses that create positive returns and do so in a way that can be compounded for the long term and can be scalable and scalably cost-efficiently. So in some sense, the meat and potato stuff, there's no surprise in what they're looking for. It's bread and butter, good business. So I think that's healthy.

I think Silicon Valley had gotten unhealthy in its pursuit of growth, and not just growth. It became past that into just hype and vanity over and above substantive value that had been created for customers and then ultimately for shareholders. So I think this is great. I think it's the way it, by and large, should be and always is. There's a reckoning because of that. Because the world three, four years ago was telling people to do something very different.

Clint Betts

What about your own future? And again, you're super engaged, super passionate. It seemed to be all in on this, but you've been doing it for more than a decade. Is there ever a point where you're like, "Man, let's go do something else. Let's stop doing this.” How do you feel about that?

Marco Zappacosta

Maybe I'll have that thought at some point. I can't say that every single day has been easy, fun, and lighthearted. There's been some obviously very hard moments in very challenging times. But I am ultimately motivated by the impact that we can have, like, how big can we get? How many customers can we serve? How many pros can we help? How much of this market can we help facilitate in a better way?

So that, to me, is still motivating. Maybe at some point something else will come along, but I don't think so. One of the things that, early on, got me and us very excited about this idea was its unlimited potential, in some sense, in helping customers find and hire pros, in mediating the exchange of time for money. This is one of the core things that happens in society, and yet it's something that historically has had very little to no technology underpinning it.

It's been very analog, very antiquated, and I still believe that's going to totally change. We're going to look back on that and say, "Wow, those were the stone ages." I couldn't easily find and access all the amazing people in my community and all their talents to make my life richer and their lives richer at the click of a button. What a poor, worse world to be part of. So I'm still excited to bring that future forward and make that a reality. If and when it does happen, we'll maybe think about something else. But I don't have a good answer otherwise.

Clint Betts

How has and how will artificial intelligence affect your business?

Marco Zappacosta

So I think it's worth talking about what artificial intelligence is and what has changed over this last little period. I think folks who are not aware of what computer engineering is or computer science are sometimes surprised to learn that computers are programmed with just a text file and basically a foreign language that is really explicit and verbose to tell the computer what to do.

Really, you're saying, "If this then that. If this happens, then do that. If not, do this other thing." It's historically incredibly explicit. You can create an incredibly rich system that way, but you, the programmer, are telling the computer and the system what to do.

What this first machine learning and now AI world has changed is that you don't tell the computer what to do. You create a way for it to learn what to do. In learning, you can create smart systems intelligence, wisdom in a way that simply having us codify everything would be impossible.

So you now have systems that are extracting wisdom, knowledge, and intelligence from the world around them and then able to apply that back. That's magical. That's world-changing. I think it'll touch everything. The question is not when and how. It'll be everywhere. The simple way I think about it is, if I could apply more intelligence, more thoughtfulness, more wisdom, what could I make better? Man, you can make a list a mile long for any company.

It's like all these things have been hard-coded, or all these things we're doing in a fairly assembly-line way, where now we can leverage something that's much more flexible and much more intelligent. So everywhere. Whether it's customer interacting with us, whether it's us thinking about our own data and the insights inside of that, whether it's how we think about helping our pros, there's a long, long list.

I think the answer is everywhere. This will be everywhere, like anywhere there's a smart human today at the company working to solve a problem for our customers and pros, is likely a place where AI could make a difference.

Clint Betts

Marco, you've been so generous with your time. Thank you so much for coming on. We end every interview with the same question. At CEO.com, we believe the chances that we give are just as important as the chances we take. Obviously, you took a huge chance starting Thumbtack. I wonder if there's anyone in your life, as you think back or over your career, who gave you a chance.

Marco Zappacosta

Yeah, I was very lucky. You know the name Bill Campbell —

Clint Betts

Oh, yeah.

Marco Zappacosta

The trillion-dollar coach? He was a coach to a lot of execs across Silicon Valley, and he was a football coach at Columbia. Prior to that, he was also, in his spare time, an eighth grade flag football coach, and he was my eighth grade flag football coach.

Clint Betts

Oh, wow.

Marco Zappacosta

He's someone that I stayed in touch with, and I then went to Columbia, his alma mater and where he had been a coach. Through that, I remember I called him really early in this whole thing. It could have been 2008, it might have been even before we'd formally started. I remember giving him the pitch, and I, at the time, described it as an eBay for services. We're going back and forth, and it was probably a 15- minute to 20-minute phone call.

He was being nice, and he ends, he's like, "Hey look, I wasn't sure what you were going to pitch me on today. I honestly wasn't expecting it to be something that I thought could be exciting, but you should hear this. I think this could be something. If you can get this to work, I believe it could be something."

And having somebody who knows what they're talking about and has seen greatness and seen success call that out early on was very lucky and obviously very memorable. So I feel lucky about having people like that who gave me a word of encouragement early on.

Clint Betts

That's incredible. Marco, thank you so much for taking the time. Seriously, congrats on everything you've built and good luck in the future.

Marco Zappacosta

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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