MealPro founder Andy Sartori leads a thoroughly modern company that redefines meal preparation in the digital economy. As a “vertically integrated meal prep service,” the company sells and makes the product, and allows users to “customize their meals for optimal nutrition.” After that, they “cook, portion and deliver” to customers across the United States.
Before MealPro, Andy Sartori used to work in the marketing department of Check Point Software Technologies. The company is also the “largest network cyber security vendor” in the world. Customers can use the company’s “industry-leading solutions and protecting customers from cyberattacks.” Likewise, the company also boasts reaching an “unmatched catch rate of malware and other types of threats.”
At MealPro, Andy Sartori leads a company that he founded “based on a desire to help others.” Through his company, he wants to make healthy eating easier for his customers. In the process, his company “might just inspire millions to become the best, healthiest versions of themselves.”
Andy Sartori runs a “meal prep services that specializes in healthy meals made with natural ingredients” that caters to everybody who wants accessible healthy food. Anyone can avail of healthy food from the company, “whether you’re a marathoner, a busy professional or a parent looking to get more out of your time.” The company offers diverse “customizable menu options” that give you “optimal nutrition without the fuss of cooking.”
I realized that restaurants are too standard, but people are very much unique. Andy Sartori, MealPro
Jerome Knyszewski: 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?
Andy Sartori: I have always been a food and fitness enthusiast, since I became a competitive tennis player and I joined the Varsity team in my high school in Cupertino, CA. Later, in college, I developed a deep interest for web development and online marketing.
After graduation I thought: “What if I can combine my digital skills with my passion for food and fitness, on my own terms, as my own boss?” So, I decided to leave my career in enterprise and take the plunge in entrepreneurship. My first venture — commodity food and beverage products distribution — was actually a “learning experience”, to put it mildly. The market was difficult because its low barriers to entry allowed in a multitude of competitors and stymied growth potential. There was little technology leverage, and logistics was a nightmare. So, I came up with its polar opposite: an online meal catering service with customized offering, extensive use of digital technology, and automated operations. My initial venture gave me a glimpse on the tastes of a significant sample of professionals in my area, and allowed me to build the first menu — small, but appealing.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Andy Sartori: I was out with friends to grab a bite. While eating, I noticed two of my colleagues ordered the same meal. Both were on a diet but differed in a lot of ways — gender, lifestyle, body type and much more. My female friend was eating a little too much for her diet, while my male friend was eating too little.
I realized that restaurants are too standard, but people are very much unique. For this reason, I started MealPro.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Andy Sartori: I invested all my savings — and then some — to retrofit our new facility, a former donut shop, with the necessary equipment to be able to serve Customers with adherence to strict quality guidelines. For the first few weeks however, orders just trickled in way below the break-even level and I watched my cash slowly evaporate. Why was the market not responding? I reviewed our digital marketing approach over and over again, fine-tuned it, but still nothing seemed to happen. Then, new business started coming in, the first few Customers reordered, and my bank account received some much needed relief. I had learned that there is a delay between my actions and the market response, and my financial means were just barely enough to bridge that gap.
I was still uncertain if I had picked the right path for my career, and my former boss was beckoning me to come back to her team. Friends and family were shocked that I had taken so many risks, I was tempted to give up, but I remembered why I started, kept going through the rough patch, and here I am.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Andy Sartori: Today, MealPro operates out of a 10,000 square foot commercial kitchen and warehouse facility. We employ 20+ people and produce 2k+ meals per day.
When you are capital-efficient from day one you’ll find there is a lot more room to grow.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Andy Sartori: I started with very little working capital (a little over $30k) — and it nearly killed us. I was concerned I would run out of cash just before we turned the corner to a profitability.
In hind-sight (and since we made it) not having huge cash reserves was probably a blessing. When we hit a problem we could not just throw cash at it — but we really had to think outside the box to find a solution that did not require an outlay of money. Frequently the solution was improving the product (adding zero calorie spices to create different flavor profiles), improving customer service, improving the UI on the website — all elements that have low cost but high impact with our customers.
Overall, being low on cash helped us improve the business model and we were profitable almost from month one. When you are capital-efficient from day one you’ll find there is a lot more room to grow.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Andy Sartori: HotJar. It tracks what you visitor did on your web pages, where he clicked, how long he spent on any given feature. This is a dramatic insight into the Customer’s mind.
I always tell my team to focus on making our customers successful. Andy Sartori
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Andy Sartori: I always tell my team to focus on making our customers successful. Then, when customers come back they make us successful. Short term profit is secondary. We do not lock our customers into a subscription like many of our competitors and we are quick to make our wrongs right even if it includes issuing a refund or re-sending an order. I think our customers appreciate our approach and over time we have gained the reputation of being a trusted brand.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Enlist support. Build a network of people you can call upon for advice. A product expert in each category e.g. (Designer, Web Developer, Accountant…) that you can approach for very technical advice.
- Build a product that other people want to buy. Listen to feedback, see what is working and let the desire to make your customers happy drive the product development roadmap.
- Be paranoid about listening to the market. The next trend is out there already, be the first to recognize it.
- Focus on creating value long term. Any time I come to a fork in the road, I choose to prioritize the long term benefits over instant gratification. This is critical to financial investments as it is to strategic decisions.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Andy Sartori: Follow me and MealPro on:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!