by Avery Holmes
7/13/2016 Update from GiftAMeal’s Andrew Glantz: “On May 16th, 31 Greater St. Louis Applebee’s locations joined the GiftAMeal program. In just 7 weeks, over 1,000 meals have been provided to those in need due to customers using the GiftAMeal mobile app at these locations.”
The buzz about GiftAMeal continues, with two wins at the RECESS Pitch Competition in Los Angeles: the Audience Choice Award and an award for best explanation video. The startup also locked in its first major corporate deal, and is now being featured at 32 Applebee’s locations in the region.
Aidan Folbe and WashU senior, Andrew Glantz founded GiftAMeal, originally FoodShare. The old app had similar features, but operated as a point reward system spread over the participating restaurants.
Philanthropy was important to the founders since the beginning, as they pledged to donate a portion of their profits to fight hunger. Then, in June 2015, the founders decided to bring the meal donation out of the periphery and made their buy-one-give-one model central. They partnered with Operation Food Search and changed their name to GiftAMeal.
During this time, they added Jacob Mohrmann, now a WashU graduate, to the team as Chief Marketing Officer.
I recently sat down with Mohrmann for a conversation about GiftAMeal.
GiftAMeal is simple: download the app, go to a registered restaurant, take a photo of your food, and GiftAMeal funds the distribution of a meal to someone in need through Operation Food Search. You can provide an extra meal by sharing your photo on Facebook or Instagram, or through referring friends to download the app using your invite code. The app hopes to tap into the vast amount of social media users and turn the collective tiny efforts involved in downloading and sharing into a driving force behind the fight against hunger.
Mohrmann said, “Unfortunately, sometimes sharing something on Facebook does not really do anything for the person in the video. With GiftAMeal, sharing a photo directly helps someone in need.”
For the person with the app, the simple interface allows an easy and cost-free way to support fighting hunger. Operation Food Search gains a donation and the restaurants gain a socially conscious brand boost.
GiftAMeal also strives to make signing up easy on the restaurant. Mohrmann said: “We want to make it as easy as possible for them because restaurants do not have a lot of time. And that is part of the app, we want it to be mostly work on our side. Restaurants can sign up and people can just go in and it does not require a lot from them . . . It is not something restaurants have to set up on their own.”
On Their Early Success
GiftAMeal attributed the level of success that they have had thus far to “putting in a lot of time, and being able to adjust to restaurants and users. . . Just being able to adjust to make things better. Also, the idea still excites us, and it shows when we talk about it,” Mohrmann said.
“Random people sometimes are interested in what we are doing. We have had a lot of support from WashU. All of our parents have been very supportive. I think that is one thing that’s not to be overlooked, the support . . . We have built a large support network of people and that is definitively a huge portion of our success. . . There is, I think, a larger team supporting everything we do.”
Mohrmann spoke specifically to WashU’s role, “WashU has been a huge supporter of what we are doing. They obviously have the Skandalaris Center whose whole mission is to support startups and make people aware of entrepreneurial opportunities.
“I actually started as an intern for GiftAMeal through the Skandalaris Center. I knew Andrew was in the Hatchery class. He had already started making the business but took the Hatchery class to help give him some new ideas. Cliff Holekamp and Emre Toker are both mentors of the company. There has definitely been a huge WashU presence to support what we are doing.”
Mohrmann and the GiftAMeal team keep their significant startup competitions success in perspective.
“Winning some of these competitions is nice and it is nice to have a little extra money, but that really does not mean a whole lot as far as the success of the business goes, it is a nice validation but it does not directly translate.”
Mohrmann said the real benefits of the competitions are the connections and getting their name out. The team is cautious not to fall under the assumption that winning a competition equates to a guaranteed success in business. Instead, GiftAMeal knows that “focusing on where we need to be is an easy way not to get caught up in what we have been successful doing.”
Now GiftAMeal is looking to further solidify its St. Louis base as well as assembling a team to expand into Chicago.
“Very long term we want to be a major presence as a company. We want to be able to make a bigger dent; a thousand meals is exciting, but a million meals is so much more exciting,” Mohrmann said.
The vision for the company goes well beyond St. Louis, to make a network of partner restaurants around the nation. Making connections with chain restaurants like Applebee’s is a big foot in the door with making that goal a reality. Though the desire is to have a national presence, the founders have said that they want GiftAMeal to remain a St. Louis company.