In a previous post, I wrote that I’d be sharing what I learned building these other projects and this is the first part of a multi-part series about one of those businesses – $5 Meal Plan.
$5 Meal Plan is a meal plan service that emails you a weekly meal plan and shopping list every Friday. The service has a free trial and then it costs $5 a month, less if you pay for six or twelve months up front after the trial.
We’ll discuss the origins of the idea, why I chose to do it, how I found Erin, as well as what’s next in the series.
Let’s be honest – meal plans are not new.
A meal plan based on affordable meals is not new.
The inspiration to start a meal plan service was another meal plan service. Jason, semi-formerly of Paleo Plan, told me about his experience (episode 5) building a meal plan service and I thought it sounded like fun.
The big difference? Jason had the benefit of building a plan around a diet that was brand new, Paleo. Jason’s also a smart guy, which is why he thought of such a great idea, so he was able to quickly build it to be the market leader.
What was going to be $5 Meal Plan’s competitive advantage? There was no clear leader when it came to a meal plan focused on inexpensive, easy-to-make meals that was an affordable as ours. Emeals is the market leader and their budget-friendly plan is priced at $5 – $10, depending on the length of the payment plan.
Also, I believe that a singular idea is great but it cannot win without strong execution. I don’t consider $5 Meal Plan to be a novel idea, but I feel that it’s a good business that can excel if executed well and it solves a problem that lacks a perfect solution.
Why I chose to do $5 Meal Plan
I’ve always wanted to start a membership site and I thought that by starting a business with a low membership fee, $5 a month, I’d cut my teeth on something “easy” while learning skills I could apply to something “harder” (more expensive).
Somewhere, my surrogate Asian father Ramit Sethi is shaking his head right now.
I also thought the business would be easier because I wouldn’t have to worry about the core product – meal plans. It was technologically very straightforward and I could find a partner who had demonstrated years of proficiency.
When I approached Erin about it, I didn’t know she was already giving away meal plans each week. They weren’t formatted as nicely as $5 Meal Plan is today but they cost nothing. That meant there was an audience out there who was used to using her meal plans and we could convert some of them to the paid service.
How I found a co-founder
Speaking of Erin, I only did $5 Meal Plan because I knew Erin ahead of time. I like to work with folks with whom I get along with but they must also possess a set of applicable and complementary skills.
From an execution standpoint, I knew that Erin had the recipe database to support a weekly meal plan service, the meals were on $5 Dinners. I knew that she had the audience that was receptive to meal plans, since she’d been giving them away weekly and selling Costco plans on her site, and she had always wanted to do something like this. All the pieces were there.
If I didn’t know Erin, I wouldn’t have been as bullish on the idea in the first place. Meal plan services are a dime a dozen and the moat is small.
The appeal of $5 Meal Plan is that it’s affordable, both the plan and the cost of the meals, but it’s also because of Erin. When you sell 150,000 books, at least a couple of them are going to be fans of you. 🙂
What I think I bring
In addition to looking for a co-founder with complementary skills, I felt like I needed to understand what I brought to the table. I knew I’d be learning a lot but my strength is conversion optimization testing, copywriting, and handling all the technology behind the scenes gave me confidence I could be a good partner in the business.
I think what’s key to a good partnership is when all partners are doing what they’re good at and when the two skillsets cover the whole range of tasks. Erin’s role is to get folks to the site, then I get them in the door, settled, and using the plans she creates every single week by hand. Then I make sure the technology is as friction-less as possible.
And the process isn’t like handing off a baton. It’s more like hiking a trail when sometimes I’m in the front and sometimes Erin is the front in terms of guiding responsibility.
Throughout the hike, we’re communicating from our own perspectives and experiences so we’re most likely to succeed. We may have complementary skills but we also complementary and often overlapping domain expertise that’s invaluable.
A prime example of this domain expertise example was in our payment systems. I knew we would set up Stripe, which effectively takes every single credit and debit card out there. I wasn’t sure if we wanted Paypal because you hear tons of horror stories about Paypal and integration was going to be a minor annoyance..
Erin insisted that we have Paypal, I deferred to her judgment and set it up. The result shocked me.
32.7% of our payments have been through Paypal.
While we could’ve gotten some of those sales if we only offered Stripe, 32.7% is a much bigger number than I would’ve guessed. (my guess was ~10%, but that’s not based on any data which is about as useful as a fistful of snow in the Arctic)
(Incidentally, Erin’s domain expertise from selling Costco plans told her that a significant number of sales comes from Paypal – data always wins)
If you’re interested in how we launched the membership site, stay tuned because next up I’ll share how we beta launched the service to 300+ beta testers. How we convinced them to try us out and how they would have a major impact on how the service looked on Day 1.