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.”
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.