Photo Courtesy of Fitness Factory
People 14 October 2017
Subscription service products are practically a mainstream business model these days, but chances are you probably haven’t heard of meal subscription services like MealPal, which makes lunch-pickup from restaurants both convenient and affordable. Founded in 2016 by co-founder Mary Biggins, the unique subscription service has already garnered up to 3 million reservations, and is currently available in countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. And things are only looking brighter and better for Biggins and MealPal in 2017, as the startup has just announced a $20 million Series B investment.
But before Biggins even thought about launching MealPal, she worked in marketing roles in fairly entrepreneurial settings. This included performing marketing duties for a variety of sports collectibles at MBI, and also working on media buys and marketing campaigns for Vistaprint. These same roles ultimately influenced her future role as co- founder of the new food tech startup.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but, both of these roles gave me the opportunity to test and launch products within the safety of a larger organization,” says Biggins.
And although striking out on your own may seem difficult and frightening, Biggins found the whole start up environment exciting, as she lists creating, building, and testing as some of her strongest assets.
“While I had the opportunity to create and test within larger companies early in my career, I wasn’t always solving problems that I cared about,” she says. “With MealPal, I’ve been able to solve problems or pain points that I’ve personally experienced. I love the motivation that comes from creating solutions to everyday problems.”
Getting the MealPal startup off the ground definitely had some initial challenges, but it didn’t stop Biggins from spurring the business into action. Once she and her co-founder settled on an idea for the subscription service, the duo aimed to launch it as quickly as possible. This included launching an initially shaky version of the site, which eventually evolved in six weeks to a more clearer vision.
“The first version of the site was fairly embarrassing, but, getting it to market quickly (and with some rough edges) was way more valuable than waiting six more weeks to launch a more perfected version,” she adds. “I think you don’t really start learning until you are getting feedback from real users.” MealPal also has had great investors that have aided in the company's successes. David Beisel at NextView Ventures, for example, led the first round of MealPal funding and has been a valuable advisor to the company.
“We’ve raised $35 million since our first round with NextView, and have been lucky to add smart and thoughtful investors from firms like Haystack Ventures, Comcast Ventures, Bessemer Ventures, and, most recently, Menlo Ventures,” she says.
As MealPal continues to boom up it’s user base internationally, Biggins says that the experience has been more than rewarding, as it empowers both consumers and restaurant owners everywhere to create new and meaningful relationships.
“I love that we are working on such a big opportunity,” she says. “Food is a complicated and competitive category. We have the opportunity to fundamentally change how people are eating on a daily basis while also empowering restaurant owners to build better businesses. That’s fun.”
As an entrepreneur in tech, Biggins recognizes the challenges the industry faces, as she states that navigating your business to success is definitely an obstacle many have to overcome.
“Male or female, I think the biggest problems will always be figuring out how to navigate your business to success,” she notes. “I think all entrepreneurs benefit from having a strong support system, ideally some combination of other founders that are going through similar challenges and friends and family that are far-removed from the start-up space.”
But that same road to success often starts with the right pitch, which Biggins stresses usually is best left unscripted.
“I’ve found that pitches that don’t follow a script usually result in the best conversations,” she states. “ It used to really throw me off when people would interrupt or ask a question that I would be addressing in later slides. However, I’ve learned to embrace it -- it’s usually a sign that whoever you are pitching is interested! Some of the best pitches have ended on the second slide and turned into conversations rather than a rehearsed presentation.”
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.