20 Questions

This Successful Entrepreneur Shares the Simple Mantra That Helps Her Take Big Risks

MealPal CEO and co-founder Mary Biggins says her support system is what allows her to take those major leaps.
This Successful Entrepreneur Shares the Simple Mantra That Helps Her Take Big Risks
Image credit: Courtesy of Mary Biggins
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
11 min read

Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's "20 Questions" series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.

To get through the day and make the right choices, you need to stay on track -- and you need the proper fuel. With her two-year-old startup MealPal, co-founder and CEO Mary Biggins want to help busy people make delicious choices while helping local restaurants bring in new customers.

It works like this: A person joins the subscription service for around $5.99 per order for 20 meals over the course of a month, or $6.39 per meal for 12 meals.

When their food is ready, MealPal users then get into their dedicated line, avoiding any long wait times and saving roughly 40 percent a month on food from top restaurants in their neighborhood.

Since launching in 2016, Biggins, who also co-founded ClassPass, has grown her company to have a global presence. MealPal is now available in 16 cities: Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Denver, London, Manchester, Melbourne, Miami, New York City, Paris, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Sydney, Toronto and Washington, D.C.

To date, the business has raised more than $35 million, served more than 8 million lunches and worked with 4,000 restaurant partners.

We caught up with Biggins to ask her 20 questions and find out what makes her tick.

Related: Health and Beauty Mogul Bobbi Brown Shares The Biggest Time Sucker -- and What You Can Do About It

1. How do you start your day?
I'm definitely a morning person. I do my best thinking in the mornings, and it is when I'm really thinking about bigger-picture things and stuff that I've been stuck on that I don't really have time to think about during the day.

2. How do you end your day?
I almost always have English breakfast tea with milk and a pretty healthy amount of sugar. Caffeine doesn't really keep me up, and I love the routine of having something warm at the end of the day and being away from my laptop for a little bit. I find the routine to be very relaxing.

3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
The Ideal Team Player by Patrick M. Lencioni. It really influenced how I thought about hiring and the type of people that we want on the MealPal team. The book focuses on hiring people who are hungry, humble and smart, and I think some of those words can feel at odds with each other. I think the book did a really good job of explaining the value of all three of those qualities and really how important it is to have each of those in each person.

Related: Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran Explains Why You Must Make Time in Your Schedule For Fun

4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?

Oh, Were They Ever Happy! by Peter Spier. It is not in print anymore, but you can still get copies of it. I have probably 10 copies of it on my own. It is about these kids whose parents go away for the day and the kids repaint the house. It looks really terrible, but they don't notice that and are really proud of what they did. I think it highlights the fun and excitement that comes from building. It it's one of the stories that my mom read to me hundreds of times as a kid, and I still love the message.

5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
I like to make decisions fast. I think that it's easy to get bogged down in small decisions and spend too much time thinking about one thing. If you can decide and commit, it is going to help you stayed focused on what matters. You have to recognize that you're not going to get every decision right, but not making a decision is really a decision in and of itself. And usually it's the wrong decision.

6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
I wanted to be a teacher. I think I actually would have been a really terrible teacher. The idea of being able to lead and help people was really appealing, but I think I'm probably better off trying to do that in the technology space rather than in the classroom.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
It’s really challenging to work with people who are not super motivated. An unmotivated manager has the potential to really kill the motivation of an entire team. You have to know that every day how you show up is going to impact everyone else around you.

8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My grandfather. When I was going into high school, I had a bet with my dad, and it was based around running. He'd been a cross-country runner, and he wanted to encourage me to be a runner. So we set up a bet where I would get $5 every day that I ran during the summer. It was great. I made a lot of money -- or what felt like a lot of money at the time -- while running, which I really didn't mind. Then there was the first day toward the end of the summer where I didn't run. My grandfather was very disappointed in me. He said, "You worked so hard; why are you wasting a day now? Don't get lazy on me now." I hated that feeling of disappointing him and disappointing myself. That really influenced me to always think that even when it's really hard, and you think you've given it everything, you got to stay really focused and keep working.

9. What’s a trip that changed you?
In February of 2017 I went to London for the launch of MealPal. It was our first international market. And it went really well. It changed my mentality around what we were building at MealPal. It really highlighted for me that we had this massive opportunity to change how people eat around the world.

Related: Use This Successful Entrepreneur's Scheduling Secret to Have Your Most Productive Day

10. What inspires you?
Being able to change the status quo is really inspiring. I love that at MealPal we are solving everyday problems, making lunch more efficient and helping people save money. I think it is certainly motivating to know that you are able to have an impact on consumers and restaurants.

11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
When I was in college, I was a huge Red Sox fan, and it was 2004 that the Red Sox finally won. And the team that year had a great cast of characters, and they had this rally cry, "The time is now to cowboy up." They had these red T-shirts they wore. So, I created clones of those T-shirts and sold them on campus and made enough money for me and a friend to go to one of the playoff games. It was my first entrepreneurial endeavor.

12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
At my first job out of college, I learned to check my work carefully. I was working for a direct marketing company, and they would use Excel to make all our marketing plans. I would make some careless mistakes, especially my first few months there. It always very embarrassing to find out you had a formula wrong or a misspelled word, and so it created a whole process around how to check my work. I really learned the importance of stepping back, reviewing your work and making sure it's right.

13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
From a young age, my dad has given me the advice: Always remember what you know for sure. The answer is that my parents and family love me and support me no matter what. I think that's really empowered me to take risks. Even if I start something and it's a terrible idea, nobody likes it and it doesn't work out, I still have the support and the love of my family. Having that in my back pocket has helped me feel comfortable taking risks.

14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Many companies have that traditional approach where you're in a role for x amount of time and then you're eligible for a promotion. I knew when I was starting MealPal that I wanted to create an environment that would really reward high performers and people who are really driven and motivated. I didn't want to have what felt like artificial timelines. Instead I wanted to make sure that it was a place where people who were doing really great work would be empowered to keep doing really great work.

Related: The Founders of Celeb-Favorite Shoe Brand Allbirds Explain Why Being Told to Raise Money Was the Worst Advice They Ever Received

15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Getting a good night's sleep. I'm not one of those people who can sleep for four hours and still be productive. I go to bed pretty early, and I wake up really early. I don't like to deviate from that. If I do, I'm not productive the following day.

16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I love listening to music while I work. But I take a bit of a different approach to it, and I listen to songs on repeat a lot. The most common playlist I use is called the ‘threepeat playlist,’ and it has only three songs on it. Those three are usually about 10 minutes long, and so every 10 minutes, it's like a check-in, because the first song will start again. It’s a reminder to think about what I accomplished in 10 minutes.

17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
For me, I really love to work. And so when people speak about this work-life balance, I feel like work is my life, and I love it. I certainly find time to do the things that I value -- spend time with my friends and my family -- but usually, one way or another, work will end up coming up in those conversation or be a part of what I'm doing.

18. How do you prevent burnout?
I really like to change my setting. The MealPal headquarters is in New York, and I spend a lot of time there, but I actually live in Miami and that's where I really get a lot of my thinking done. It's really the perfect change of pace from New York, because it's quieter, and I'm able to not have meetings all the time. It's really a good spot for me to think, recharge and to have a different frame of the world.

19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I like to look at data to come up with ideas. I think whenever we're facing a problem or challenge that we don't understand, I'll try to find data to understand the consumer journey and be able to come up with ideas that could optimize the data.

20. What are you learning now?
I'm really trying to learn how to support and motivate people who are smarter than me and know things that I really don't know anything about. I think one of the challenges of being a CEO is you are managing people in a variety of different functions but that you really might not have any experience in. But being able to still be a coach and a mentor to those people and to help them find the solutions that they need is important as the business grows and evolves.

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