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.”
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.