Toby Skilton and Elise Hilliam met seven years ago when they were students in Dunedin. Frustrated with being stuck in a food rut every Sunday, earlier this year the couple started working on a new business idea – MenuAid.
Still in its development stage, MenuAid is a subscription service that will provide Kiwis with a weekly meal plan, recipes and a list of ingredients. MenuAid came third in Soda’s recent Seed Grant, winning $1,000 to help grow their business.
We asked MenuAid co-founder and nutrition specialist, Elise Hilliam, a few questions about what it’s been like to start a new business from scratch.
How did the idea for MenuAid come about?
We have always been passionate about food and love creating fresh, exciting, and nutritious meals. Living busy lives, we soon found ourselves in a food rut where we kept looping back to a few select favourites or opting for takeaways. Each Sunday we would sit down and spend hours flicking through cookbooks and online recipes to plan our menu for the week. We finally concluded that there must be a way to enjoy the fun of cooking without the hassle of planning out our weekly menu.
We also always wanted to have our own project to work on collectively, especially something around nutrition (which I have a University degree in) and so it made sense to begin tackling the problem we were faced with every Sunday.
When did you first start working on the business concept?
At the start of this year, we started to pull together recipes and try to draft menus up. We quickly realised that we needed a chef on board. We did some initial market validation with people we knew who used meal kit delivery providers to understand the motivation to use these services but also to understand what they did not like about them. Once we had this validation, we began building out a couple of key use cases and realised there was a huge opportunity here and that there was currently a gap in the market. We then pulled together a talented team of professional chefs, experienced food experts and digital gurus to begin creating a platform that makes mealtimes simple, more convenient, and enjoyable.
Tell us about MenuAid...
MenuAid is a cheaper, more flexible, and more sustainable alternative to meal kit providers. We offer a subscription service that provides Kiwis with a weekly meal plan, complete with recipes, nutritional information and a list of ingredients that can either be self-shopped, collected or delivered from your favourite supermarkets. It can be hard to find the time to make new and exciting meals while juggling work, sporting commitments, taking care of the kids and family activities. MenuAid makes mealtimes more convenient, more enjoyable, and ultimately less expensive by getting exciting food on the table every week without the stress.
What stage is your business currently at?
We are still pre-launch as the platform is still in the development stage. We have completed our first round of Beta testing with our MVP which gave us some invaluable insights. We are now gearing up for a second round of Beta testing which will give our early adopters the chance to use a much more polished version of the platform whilst providing us with more insights into the pros and cons of the user experience.
What has been your biggest challenge so far in terms of building a new business?
MenuAid has been a super enjoyable and exciting experience for us but perhaps our biggest challenge has been deciding who we want to cater MenuAid to. MenuAid is going to be such a huge asset to an incredibly diverse range of people, but we knew that we had to filter down who our initial target audience was, and absolutely nail that market. We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin to start and compromise our offering as when you are offering everything to everyone you end up offering nothing to know one.
How did you overcome this challenge?
Our team got together and had a strategy session where we all drew out who we pictured in our head to be the ideal ‘MenuAid’ customer. Thankfully we were all aligned on who this ideal customer was, and we were then able to really cater our offering to meet their needs. We have now created some guidelines and requirements that all our recipes, comms and digital content need to follow to ensure that we are speaking to our target audience and that the offering is clear.
What has been your biggest learning on this journey?
It sounds cliché, but I am constantly learning every single day. I am so grateful to have Toby who has recently been through all of this and is a wealth of knowledge. But for me the biggest learning has been to just back yourself, have confidence in your idea and you’re offering and know that no-one knows this better than you are so back your team and go get it!
What advice would you give other start-ups?
To surround yourself with good people who have been through similar situations and are willing to help. Our team brings a wealth of knowledge that Toby and I do not have. This means that we can nail almost every aspect of our product and get a good understanding of what we need to do. It is also important to try things and learn quickly. With a new idea you can get bogged down in the “what about this, what about that” but, the best way to grow is to get your product in the hands of your customers and use their feedback to fuel your assumptions.
What will you use the Seed Grant winnings for?
We will use this money to work with a food stylist and photographer to help us get our first few months of backlogged recipes created and loaded onto the platform. Currently, the meals are being cooked, styled and photographed by Toby and I which is not either of our skill sets.
What is your goal for MenuAid?
Our goal for MenuAid is to be Spotify for food as we want it to be a part of people’s everyday life. We want people to be looking forward to receiving their weekly recipes and shopping lists and for it to be taking the stress away from mealtime and inspiring people to cook and enjoy delicious healthy meals. In five years’ time I see us having multiple menu options that cater to anyone who needs it and for MenuAid to be a household name that people love and trust.