Deep understanding of your customer. I would recommend going in and speaking with your early adopters to see what issues they’re facing in your space, what they think of your solution, and what problems they wish your solution would solve. Also, talk to the customers who drop your service and see what they didn’t like about it. Look to always improve based on the customers’ needs.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Glantz.
Andrew Glantz is the founder and CEO of GiftAMeal. GiftAMeal is a socially conscious dining app that partners with local restaurants to help feed community members in need. For each photo a user takes on the app at a partner location, GiftAMeal makes a donation to a local food bank.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I founded GiftAMeal when I was a student at Washington University in St. Louis. I had a background in non-profits, as I was the co-owner of a non-profit storefront on WashU’s campus and was co-president of a children’s charity that raised 300,000 dollars for children in need.
I came up with the idea of GiftAMeal as a mixture of marketing and giving back for restaurants while I was on a lunch break during my summer internship at a venture capital firm. The concept of the app is that for each photo taken at a partner restaurant, we donate a meal to someone in need. I founded GiftAMeal as a for-profit company with the idea that a company could do well while doing good. Our motto is “profits with a purpose.” We now have 250+ partner restaurants, 40,000 app users, and have donated over 675,000 meals to community members in need.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I was talking with another intern about how people discover restaurants and how millennials especially look to make purchases at companies that align with their values. We also discussed how restaurants need to acquire new customers, but are getting squeezed at their margins with discounts and coupons.
Our question became, “What if we could leverage the socially-conscious incentive and the food-photo trend to drive traffic to restaurants?” From there, we realized that all those food photos we knew people were taking could help make a difference in the community.
That led to the “Take a photo, gift a meal” concept of the GiftAMeal app. Restaurants pay a monthly subscription to be on the app to drive traffic to them and give back to the community. The app is free for the users to discover local restaurants and post their food photos. At the end of each month, we make a monetary donation to a local food bank on behalf of our users and restaurants for each photo taken — so far, we have been able to donate upwards of 20,000 meals each month.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
There were a lot of people that helped along the way. From my entrepreneurship professor, Cliff Holekamp, to my friends and family, to a bunch of other entrepreneurs, GiftAMeal wouldn’t be where it is today without the people who supported and mentored me. This group provided me with essential knowledge and wise advice from the start — I learned how to create a pitch deck, utilize the lean start-up methodology, and so much more.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
First, we’ve been able to grow to 250 partner restaurants during a pandemic. This is because we are doing something that’s supporting their businesses while giving back to the community. Also, as a startup that is a for-profit company, we’ve provided more than 675,000 meals to those in need, which is something we’re really proud of.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We’ve reached a point where we donate over 20,000 meals each month to help those in need in our community. I also give back as much as I can to support other entrepreneurs and spread the lessons that I’ve learned along the way.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- High integrity
Being an entrepreneur with high integrity, especially in a social venture, shows people that you’re doing things the right way. In turn, people are much more willing to help you. When I first tried to get restaurants to join the program, it was difficult to communicate the value of our app with such a small user base and no other partner restaurants. I asked restaurant owners for advice, rather than selling, to see how GiftAMeal could better meet their needs. By approaching restaurants with integrity and honesty, we were able to gain our initial clients.
Resiliency is critical for riding the ups-and-downs off a start-up. During the pandemic, many restaurants dropped the program and we had to completely rethink our business model. We re-designed the GiftAMeal app to allow users to take photos of their take-out food. Now, this has become an exciting part of our program that we still offer our restaurants and users even after the pandemic. Many obstacles have appeared and will appear along the way, but I’ve learned that you can’t get too excited about anything or too down about anything. No matter what happens, it’s important keep on staying driven towards the goal.
Self-awareness is important for an entrepreneur to make sure that you don’t burnout. You want to make sure that you are putting yourself in the best position to be there for your start-up and lead successfully.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Early on, a lot of people would tell me that we needed to get thousands of app users before we could acquire restaurants. They pushed me to invest in digital marketing to get users, but that ended up being relatively ineffective. Instead, I should have figured out how we could acquire users in a better way to keep them active.
Now, we do a lot of promotion at the restaurants through table tents, posters, window decals, takeout cards, and table stickers. That gets the user to download the app and get to that “aha moment” of taking a photo and gifting a meal quickly, which is more likely to retain them to as an active user in the future.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
There were five times in our company’s history when we only had one month of money left in the bank account. We either had to close another sale, win a grant, win a pitch competition, or gain an investor to keep things going. This was difficult early on in our journey because we had no proof of the concept. The way we overcame these obstacles was to ask people for help and advice. Through this, we learned a lot and some of the restaurant owners that gave us advice became our early adopters.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
What drove me to continue during challenging times was thinking about the opportunities we had ahead to grow and make an impact in the community. Instead of seeing obstacles a negative, I looked at them as a learning opportunity and almost a self-challenge to prove to myself that I could make it through. I approached the journey one challenge at a time, always focusing on the next hurdle to complete.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Creating a support system of other entrepreneurs is something I find super helpful for riding the emotional highs and lows of being a founder. Friends and family can give support, but sometimes they don’t fully understand what it’s like to be in your shoes. I’ve found a community of entrepreneurs through the Arch Grants program as well as reaching out to entrepreneur networks and participating in events and conferences. Leaning on other entrepreneurs has been an essential part of my experience as a founder.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
I think that an entrepreneur should bootstrap at the beginning in order to validate their idea and build out a minimum viable product rather than their fully fleshed-out idea. Before going to investors, founders should look to bootstrap in a free or relatively cheap way. For example, if you have an app idea, don’t build an app right away, build a mobile website. Or try to do things manually with Google Sheets, Google Forms, and other free platforms.
From there, once they have more product validation, they can look to raise money from angel investors, venture capital firms, or do a friends and family round.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Driven and balanced team with an aligned mission
Start-up founders should look to build a team based on competencies necessary to round out your business. For example, I brought on a Chief Technology Officer to GiftAMeal because I didn’t have those types of technological proficiencies. Once I brought him on board, that made our ceiling for potential a lot higher.
In addition to competency, I hire my team based on alignment of values. That way, when we’re facing different inflection points for the business, everyone is motivated to reach the same outcomes.
2. Deep understanding of your customer
I would recommend going in and speaking with your early adopters to see what issues they’re facing in your space, what they think of your solution, and what problems they wish your solution would solve. Also, talk to the customers who drop your service and see what they didn’t like about it. Look to always improve based on the customers’ needs.
3. Repeatable sales strategy
Look to acquire customers at a reasonable price and to scale up from there. When I first started GiftAMeal, we would walk around to restaurants to sell our program, but this sales strategy was inefficient and difficult to scale. We eventually learned that the best way to acquire restaurants was to call them in the afternoons from 2:00 to 4:30 pm when they’re not serving lunch or dinner. Figuring out the core ways to reach our client was incredibly important.
4. Finding key advisors
Finding key advisors in different areas that you can lean on for support is another important aspect of a successful startup. I have advisors who I call for teambuilding and hiring, for sales methodologies, for marketing strategies and more. Knowing which people I can ask for help from and being open to asking for help is critical.
Keeping a low-ego and always being willing to learn is important for me as a founder. At a start-up, you have to realize that one of the biggest tools in your toolbox is flexibility. The best ideas can come from anybody, so you can’t be afraid to pivot if the solution isn’t what you originally thought.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
One common mistake CEOs & founders make in business is they build out their fully fleshed product right away, rather than creating a minimum viable product. This wastes a lot of time and money. Instead, they should do initial market testing and build a minimum viable product before investing in the full product.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
Yes, being a founder is a lifestyle, but you have to try to set hours when you’re on and off. During those off hours, you can check your email, but it’s important to be as present as possible for your friends and family.
I also find that it’s helpful to have an experiential activity to look forward to, whether that’s trying a new GiftAMeal restaurant with friends or even just taking a walk. It’s beneficial to take a break in an immersive way so you’re not thinking about the start-up for an hour.
Finally, it’s important to have people you can lean on for support, from friends and family to other founders.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement I would like to start is everybody always saying “yes” when people ask for help. This would look like paying it forward, giving advice and help when you can, and not expecting anything in return. This would benefit not only founders, but the global community as a whole.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
The person I would most love to dine with is Danny Meyer. While enjoying our lunch at Shake Shack, I could learn more about the amazing work he’s done on the board of the No Kid Hungry organization and how he’s grown his businesses with Union Square Hospitality Group to be very community-minded and survive the pandemic. I’m always looking to learn from talented and influential people in the food and hospitality industry like him.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!