There are more publishers than ever leveraging the performance model. The drivers are increased consumer trust in online reviews and improved distribution. The results are increased sophistication from traditional affiliate publishers, legacy publishers using affiliate tech, and new categories of products being promoted via the affiliate channel. Enter: Allison Chew. Leveraging her experience as an affiliate marketer, understanding of the meal service market and insight into how publishing is evolving, she built a tool dedicated to helping people discover the right meal service. To learn more about Alison’s journey from agency exec to entrepreneur, Martech Record conducted an interview from afar.
Q: Why did you start MealFinds.com? A: I am a working mom and meal kit fanatic. I started using meal kits when they first hit the market while living in San Francisco and realized that the only meal kits that I saw advertised were the ones that had big budgets and/or affiliate programs. I did some research and found several new meal kit companies and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if there was a place to discover all these meal kits?” Additional research revealed more meal service-related categories like prepared meals, weight loss, snack delivery, smoothies & shakes, babies and kids meals, baking kits, wine delivery, meat and seafood delivery, pet meals, and more. Also, I found that being able to find meal services that catered to specific diets, like keto or gluten-free or diabetes-friendly, were increasingly important and missing in the space. There was an opportunity for the organization.
Q: Who is the target audience?
A: Initially, I assumed people like me, working moms in their 30’s and 40’s. But when I did the research I found all sorts of people using meal services. As we added categories, the demographics would broaden (larger family, young men looking for keto snacks, pet meals, etc) and now we have something for almost everyone.
Q: What is the challenge of suddenly realizing how much opportunity there is?
A: One challenge is the prioritization of site updates and improvements. As we grow, there are so many things on the roadmap and we can’t possibly do them all right now. For example, do we expand to more categories in more countries or do we go deep into the categories that we currently have in the US, Canada, and newly added Australia? If you are bootstrapping, like we are, you have to take a step back and think about if the things we are doing will help us reach the end goal.
Another challenge we have faced is around being the first website of its kind in this space. We’ve had to create standards. For example, we named the services “meal services” because it was more encompassing than “meal kits”. We also had to normalize all of the Meal Service data to fit within the universal filters.
There is a huge opportunity in this space, which is exciting!
Q: What have you learned so far?
A: When we officially launched in March it was the start of the pandemic, so we don’t know what is the effect of the pandemic or what is a normal learning curve, but we do know there is a lot of online food and beverage options out there and that people are interested in a site that allows them to easily find what they are looking for.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a founder?
A: The balance between wanting to create a valuable website for our users and brand partners and also wanting to create a profitable business. We are passionate about creating a platform with meal services of all sizes for our users to have the best experience and are working to create a business model that reflects this.
Q: Why do you think there has to be a balance between a useful website and building a business? Do they not go hand in hand?
A: They can go hand and hand if the site benefits all three parties involved, in this case, the MealFinds users, the Meal Service brands, and MealFinds. Ideally, users will come to the MealFinds site and find a simple and effective way to find a list of Meal Services that meet their needs. This offers value to users. We will then drive these high-quality new customers to the Meal Service brands. This offers value to brands. When brands see this high-quality traffic they will want to invest more in the partnership with MealFinds. This offers value to MealFinds and helps to build a business. We hope to offer value to our users and our brand partners.
Q: What are the barriers to growth that you’ve encountered?
A: I’m not a technical founder and this limits the speed at which site updates and enhancements can be made. Luckily I had the foresight to build in the tools needed on the backend so that we can easily update a lot of what’s on the site. We are also bootstrapping, which I mentioned earlier, and with limited funds comes a more limited and strategic growth path.
Q: What advantage do you have as a non-technical founder?
A: My background in affiliate and partner marketing has helped to make the initial monetization of the site relatively a lot easier. The relationships that I have built over the past 10+ years have also helped to open so many doors. When people don’t know you, it’s’ harder to get things done. Also, being a passionate user of meal services helps. It’s tough to build content around something you don’t care about.
Q: What is growth in the affiliate industry?
A: As more and more brands learn how to measure the true ROI of the affiliate channel they will continue to pull ad spend off social, display, and other channels and invest it in affiliate. The channel will continue to grow, the tech will evolve to adapt to privacy and changing attribution strategies, and more and more brands will give affiliates a try earlier on. Affiliate marketing is simply a way for brands to work with partners and compensate them for driving the desired action. “Affiliates” come in all shapes and sizes, whether you are calling them affiliates, ambassadors, or partners, you are all working toward a common goal and they are being paid on a performance basis. It’s a win-win!
Alison Chew is the founder of MealFinds, the first and only meal service discovery and comparison platform. With over 350 meal services across 12 categories, consumers can quickly and easily use filters and reviews to find a meal service that meets their unique needs. Prior to starting MealFinds, Alison spent the past 8 years at the leading global partner marketing agency Acceleration Partners. During that time she led the client services team, developed and grew the publisher development team, and supported the growth of AP through the creation of innovative products and services. Alison serves on the board of the PMA (Performance Marketing Association) and remains passionate about forming meaningful relationships, developing creative partnership opportunities, and educating others on the benefits of affiliate marketing.