Growing up in Boston, Mary Mazzio was obsessed with the Olympics. And although she dreamed of participating in the Games someday, she didn't have a lot of luck in athletics early on.
“I was cut from nearly every team I tried out for," Mazzio says. "I had no hand-eye coordination.”
Her true athletic talent would not be revealed until her freshman year at Mount Holyoke College, when a rowing coach encouraged her to try out for the team. She rowed all four years, went to law school and, at 30 years old, competed with the U.S. Rowing Team in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, placing 11th in the doubles race.
Upon her return to the States, she quit her job in law and founded 50 Eggs, an independent film production company. Today, her Boston-based business is going strong and producing several award-winning films, most of which are documentaries on social issues.
We sat down with Mazzio to discuss how she transitioned from Olympic athlete to successful entrepreneur.
OPEN Forum: What made you want to leave law and become a filmmaker?
Mary Mazzio: I was a lawyer working at a fabulous law firm before I went to the Olympics, but when I came back it took me a while to adjust back to my life. I realized that it was time for me to make a decision. I could continue living a fabulously yuppified life or quit and do something that would give back to the community as a whole. I was interested in film and politics. I choose film.
OF: Did you have the skills to start a film company at the time?
MM: No, so I went to film school while working at the law firm. No one knew about it. Although it sounds like a lot for one person to do, I was used to holding a job with an Olympic training schedule, so it wasn’t a big deal for me.
OF: When did you start 50 Eggs?
MM: We started working on our first film, A Hero for Daisy, which was about Title IX, in 1996, and incorporated the company in 2000.
OF: How did you get funding?
MM: My husband and I made the first film with our savings. We thought we’d have people wanting to write us checks, but without any experience, that didn’t happen. In 1999 we sent a rough cut of the film to a few companies and they ended up giving us enough money to finish the film.
OF: What was the reception of your first film?
MM: Overwhelming. A few weeks after releasing it, we got press in the Sunday New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Boston Globe and NPR. It was really incredible.
OF: Other than funding, what challenges did you face starting out?
MM: It was a pretty big shock to go from a law firm where you have people tasked with making copies for you to bootstrapping a company and doing everything yourself. The early days of 50 Eggs were ugly—lean, mean and full of sweat. If I had known how hard it was going to be, I’m not sure I would have done it.
OF: How are things going now?
MM: Really well. We are structured like a production company and are project based with a small core team that mushrooms when we are busy. I’d say we do one or two big films per year. Right now we are filming one about an entrepreneur. It should come out this fall.
OF: What is one lesson you’ve translated from the Olympics into the workplace?
MM: The power of concentration. My athletic career was littered with failure and I really learned not to be dissuaded by it and to concentrate, which has helped in business.
OF: What advice can you give to budding entrepreneurs?
MM: Get a good adviser, someone who knows the space you are in. Be prepared to work harder than anyone else. And dream and believe that you will make it.
Photo courtesy of 50 Eggs