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How the Cofounder of ClassPass and MealPal Keeps Everyone Happy

Mary Biggins, cofounder of MealPal

Serial Startup

It was at a Whole Foods in Miami that Mary Biggins had an epiphany. She saw the grocery store was doing brisk business in packaged lunch items and asked herself, “What if your regular small business restaurant had the ability to have that efficiency?”

Biggins answered that question with MealPass, which recently changed its name to MealPal, a subscription service for affordable lunches from local restaurants.

Biggins was familiar with connecting small business to customers. She is a cofounder of ClassPass, a startup that offers members boutique fitness classes at studios with open class space.

Biggins left her day-to-day role at ClassPass in 2015 and was eager to start a new project. “I love building; I love solving problems and challenges that I’ve had or other people have and coming up with solutions, and I also love partnering with small businesses,” she said.

In some ways, MealPal operates in much the same way as ClassPass. Rather than workout classes, for about $6 a meal, MealPal members in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and Washington DC can choose from lunches from restaurant partners.

Both ClassPass and MealPal operate as a two-sided marketplace, said Biggins. “It’s so important to build a product that consumers love and that small businesses and merchants really love,” said Biggins. “A two-sided marketplace will only work if you have happiness on both sides.”

But working with restaurants is trickier than fitness studios, said Biggins. Restaurants are operating on thin margins and many aren’t tech savvy. While most fitness studios have online signups already, MealPal uses email and even fax to get lunch orders to some restaurants.

Some restaurants were skittish about working with a startup. They’d been burned by food startups promising lucrative partnership before. Biggins had to prove that her model made sense for a restaurant’s bottom line.

By offering one lunch per day at each restaurant and requiring members to order ahead of time, restaurants can work more efficiently while keeping their existing production line, said Biggins.

Another aspect that differentiates MealPal from other startups: they’re shunning delivery. Delivery startups have had trouble scaling and creating a business model that’s affordable to customers and restaurants.

“There’s so many things you can have brought to you on demand, but it’s not really affordable and sustainable for an everyday transaction,” said Biggins. “We also think there’s something that’s pretty healthy about getting up walking around and stretching your legs.”

While MealPal won’t deliver your lunch, they can predict what you might like. The company has recently added “Pal” to their app, which Biggins describes as “a smart bot that uses artificial intelligence to make reserving lunch easier and more personalized.” It was a natural progression for the company as they added more and more restaurants making it harder for customers to browse through them all.

Now if a member hates beets, they’ll never be shown a dish with beets again, and if a member liked a meal, Pal can help determine what ingredients and flavor profiles appealed to them. MealPal shares the data with their restaurant partners so Pal can help guide restaurants on their lunch choices by determining which ingredients are popular in a certain neighborhood.

“While we want to have as many options for consumers as possible, we really want to have as many relevant options as possible,” said Biggins. “Food is incredibly personal.”

Learn more about MealPal here.

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