Many dream of starting their own company someday, and it’s an amazing accomplishment to do just that. Building a company from the ground up is hard work, and it’s an incredible lifelong achievement. Mary Biggins hasn’t just put in the time and effort to start a new company, though — she’s done it TWICE. As co-founder of both ClassPass and MealPal, the thriving entrepreneur knows her way around the business world. We chatted with Mary to discuss her super cool businesses, her team of employees, and the one word that inspired her career forever.
Name: Mary Biggins, Co-founder + CEO at MealPal
Location: Somewhere between Miami and New York! (I live in Miami, but the MealPal headquarters is in NYC).
Education: BA in Government and Religious Studies from Colby College. Suffice to say, not incredibly relevant to what I am doing now. But, going to a liberal arts college, I learned to be a critical thinker and a problem-solver — both requirements for an entrepreneur.
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
My first job was as an Assistant Program Manager at the Danbury Mint, a direct mail company based in Connecticut. They recruited on campus my senior year. I could not have asked for a better first job – I learned a ton and was given more and more responsibility over time. At MBI, I managed the product lifecycle from the conception of a product to development, testing, and scaling. It was a great way to learn product management and direct marketing.
It would be impressive if you’d have founded just one company, but you’ve founded TWO: ClassPass and MealPal. Have you always had such strong entrepreneurial drive?
I grew up in a big family, and was influenced by my parents’ entrepreneurial mindset. (My Dad’s an entrepreneur, and my Mom is a creator – she makes everything from prom dresses and birthday poems to world-famous apple pies.) My parents were constantly inventing games and activities to keep 7 kids active and entertained. I guess some of the desire to create rubbed off on me — I ran babysitting summer camps in middle school, started a vintage art auction in high school, and sold t-shirts to make money in college. That being said, I always thought I would have a more traditional career working for a big company and doing things with numbers.
What did you enjoy about working in product management and marketing?
I love driving results. In many organizations, product management and marketing are at the center of driving the business forward. When I worked at Vistaprint, there was a guiding principle to “test before you invest.” This applied to everything – new product categories, media buys, and marketing campaigns. The mentality to figure out fast and inexpensive ways to test new things can be challenging, but is really fun.
Did lessons you learned working in those fields transfer over to your life as an entrepreneur?
Absolutely. I love creating, building, and testing. While I had the opportunity to create and test within larger companies early in my career, I wasn’t always solving problems that I cared about. With both ClassPass and MealPal, I’ve been able to solve problems or pain points that I’ve personally experienced. I love the motivation that comes from creating solutions to everyday problems.
The mentality to figure out fast and inexpensive ways to test new things can be challenging, but is really fun.
Tell us about the process of creating ClassPass. We LOVE the company, and we can’t believe we ever lived without it!
It wasn’t a straight path to the ClassPass concept – it came from a few pivots. My co-founder had started a company called Classtivity, which was an a la carte booking platform for all kinds of classes – some art classes, dance classes, cooking classes, and fitness classes. That concept didn’t catch on with consumers – I think there was too much friction in booking one-off experiences. In the fall of 2012, we created a “Passport” product as a marketing test that let consumers try 10 fitness classes at studios they had never been to. Consumers loved the experience, but the process was not quite right for studios. We spent the following months talking to studios and taking a TON of fitness classes. In June of 2013, we launched the first version of the ClassPass product. After that, we started to see traction and knew we were on to something!
After the success of ClassPass, you also co-founded MealPal. Tell us how you came up with the idea.
Prior to MealPal, I struggled to get a good workday lunch. I’m impatient and cost-conscious, so I always found delivery expensive and waiting in line for food inefficient. MealPal solves both of those problems by making weekday lunches affordable and efficient to pick up.
How did the process of creating MealPal differ from the process of ClassPass?
We were much more focused when creating MealPal. One of the learnings with ClassPass was that until you have product market fit, nothing else really matters. With MealPal, once we had the idea, we wanted to launch as quickly as possible to figure out if there was product market fit. My co-founder and I set clear requirements for what was absolutely necessary for the MVP and cut what we could live without. We also set specific dates and deadlines, with multiple milestones in most weeks.
The focus on prioritization and milestones enabled us to stay focused while executing. We launched in January 2016, after spending about 6 weeks onboarding merchants and building the site with an offshore team. The first version of the site was fairly embarrassing, but getting to market quickly was more valuable than spending more time perfecting an unproven product. You don’t really start learning until you are getting feedback from real users.
Stop worrying. It’s just not productive.
What should more people know about the process of creating a business?
It’s messy. What you think is the greatest idea one day will be the worst idea a few days later. You have to trust your gut and be comfortable with a degree of uncertainty as you are trying to find and optimize product market fit. There are so many ups and downs in creating a business. It’s helpful to have someone experiencing many of the same highs and lows who you can celebrate and commiserate with – whether that is a co-founder, mentor, or another entrepreneur.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
“Go!” — written on a sticky note from a mentor at my first job. I’d been at my first job for almost 4 years and was debating accepting a role at Vistaprint. I was scared of the risk of going somewhere new (and not being successful). In hindsight, going to Vistaprint was one of the best decisions of my career, as scary as it seemed at the time. I still have that sticky note and use it as a reminder to embrace change and risk.
What advice would you give to your 23 year old self?
Stop worrying. It’s just not productive.