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.”
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!