Beyond Meat (BYND), a food company that manufactures, markets, and sells plant-based meat products in the US and internationally, went public last week and tripled its issue price of $25 on its first day. Despite being unprofitable, BYND continues to attract investors with its speed and scale of distribution (already in ~15,000 grocery stores and ~12,000 restaurants), rapid revenue growth (170% YoY) and demonstrated economies of scale (20% gross margin). Beyond Meat S-1 Document
Consumer appetite for plant-based products has been on the rise and there are no signs of it slowing down. Already, approximately 120 million Americans identify as either vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, and 60% of Millennials have already at some point consumed plant-based meats. The impact of this phenomenon has been most notable in the dairy category, where growing popularity for milk alternatives like oat milk and other nut-based milks has resulted in a significant decline in dairy sales and has even forced some dairy farmers to begin plant-based milk production (92-yr old dairy plant pivots).
I’ve been excited about plant-based products for some time now, and have tried everything from meats to cheese to milk and even seafood! I’ve synthesized my insights on this growing market and compiled some of the most interesting companies producing plant-based products for consumers below.
As consumers increasingly demand healthy alternatives, and ingredient technology advances, plant-based proteins will displace traditional ingredients to create a new generation of products.
Success of new products with consumers will rely on: Taste, Texture, Comparable Appearance, Price, Brand and Distribution
We created Menagerie to make it easy for modern couples to confidently choose their wedding vendors. We envisioned a future where every couple would be able to receive personalized virtual wedding assistance and was equipped to seamlessly discover high quality vendors that fit their budget, style and vision.
Along the way, we grew our team, launched a MVP, joined an accelerator and received funding, pitched at Demo Day on both coasts, and worked very hard to deliver our vision to our couples. While there was much success to be celebrated along the way and our second launch in November showed promising initial traction, we eventually discovered that we were struggling with product-market fit.
Last week, after a year and half, our team made the difficult decision to shut down Menagerie. In this reflection, I want to summarize and share our biggest learnings, and express gratitude to all those who inspired and supported us along the way. I hope this can not only become a valuable read for existing and future founders, but also motivation knowing that regardless of the outcome, you will have helped people and/or businesses along the way and that this startup journey will forever be one of the most rewarding experiences and greatest learning opportunities of your life.
Menagerie was part of a new wave of wedding startups that offered chat-based wedding planning services and personalized vendor recommendations. Our predecessors and incumbents were primarily content platforms and vendor directories that published content on wedding ideas/ trends/general advice, and made money from vendor listing fees. Our opportunity was also these content platforms’ biggest problem — expensive vendor listing fees resulted in high vendor churn because of low ROI, which led to stale vendor listings/data that inhibited their ability to provide personalized vendor recommendations and eventually facilitate transactions.
Our empathy for the wedding vendor’s struggle with discoverability and profitability enabled us to quickly grow a community in New York, and work with vendors to build a comprehensive database of their business information, services, pricing and images of their works. We did all of this with just typeform, dropbox and excel. Four months later, equipped with our growing vendor community and database, we were confident that couples would come to us and start requesting vendors because we were free, offered transparency on vendor pricing and services, and guaranteed high quality via curation. Wrong. We had only a few requests and most people came to just look at pictures.
Lesson Learned: Modern marketplaces require more than transparency, beautiful design and a curated supply base to establish trust with users and achieve liquidity. A superior, differentiated user experience is necessary.
In an effort to better understand the hesitation and needs of those who were coming to us, and engage couples with more hand-holding, we launched Irene, our chat-based virtual wedding assistant. Leveraging Chatra, we were able to launch her in less than a week. She was a hit, people loved Irene and we instantly began having real conversations with users, receiving requests for vendors, and started sending personalized vendor recommendations via email. Looking back, we should have doubled down on Irene and stayed focus on how we could increasingly deliver value to couples through her. At the time, Loverly, Lady Marry, Joy and many others had not yet even introduced virtual wedding assistance. So why didn’t we?
Lesson Learned: Focus on scaling something that is working.
Over the summer, we started prototyping new ideas on how we could begin facilitating the next phase of the wedding decision making process. Why? Because we were eager to extend our relationship with couples beyond chat and facilitate their full decision making process when choosing a wedding vendor. We got distracted by features that might work rather than focusing on what was working.
We began bringing couples into our office for interviews and prototype testing. We collected their wedding planning assets — spreadsheets, research, vendor communications, and more. We met with dozens of couples, we listened, we took notes…but we heard feedback, not intent. The consequence of this inaccurate user research was a roadmap that directed us to build our couples’ assumptions and introduce features to respond to “I would need to do this to use your product”.
Feedback misled us to focus on improving their existing wedding vendor research methods — collecting vendor information and entering it into excel spreadsheets — instead of focusing on delivering quality recommendations and building trust to eliminate the reliance on their extensive research process (that had ultimately evolved from a mistrust of existing wedding products and lack of personalized solutions). We thought we were building with our users, aligning with their existing behavior and delivering exactly what they needed. But instead we ended up designing an alternative experience rather than optimizing for what our couples needed.
Lesson Learned: Separate user Feedback from Intent because users often assume what they want and don’t actually know what they need, which is no different than founder assumptions.
The night before Demo Day, our team ambitiously attended a New York bridal expo to do a soft launch of Menagerie. Couples lined up to sign up for Irene and expressed excitement about a personalized budget and vendor recommendations. Our messaging resonated strongly with couples. That night, many couples logged back in to chat with Irene and visit their dashboard. Things were looking up. The next two months we had more than 500 New York couples signing up.
As we were celebrating new couples joining Menagerie, we began to notice an increasing decline in retention. We thought maybe these couples needed a reminder to stay on top of their planning and that this behavior was natural; so we increased our email campaigns to draw users back in the following weeks after they signed up. But it didn’t help, because ultimately, they didn’t have a need for many of the features we offered, and as a result, most couples concluded that Menagerie wasn’t for them.
Over the last year and a half, our team invested a lot into building our vision and persevered through many startup challenges. While this was not the outcome we had anticipated, this journey was filled with many accomplishments and presented the learning opportunity of a lifetime. Menagerie enabled me to grow as a female leader, uncover and eliminate my fears, improve as a product/project manager, develop tremendous empathy for founders, customers & investors, and finally, discover gratitude for every opportunity and person in my life.
Starting Menagerie was never just about the opportunity, it was about the people that would be a part of this journey and the shared experience of crafting a vision, building our ideas, and celebrating once-in-a-lifetime milestones.
Thank you Harlan, Jeff, Dino, David, Moni, John, Sushma, Scott, Abby and Jenn for your belief in Menagerie, your hard work and the fierce energy you brought to the team every day.
Thank you to all of our wedding vendors that joined our community and brought so much excitement to Menagerie. Thank you to all of our couples who allowed us to be a part of your once-in-a-lifetime wedding experience.
Thank you Matter Ventures for investing in our vision and supporting us along the way. You never forget those who believed in you from the very beginning.
Following an unprecedented election that left Americans divided and displaced, the media in battle over facts with the Trump administration, and the security of every individual uncertain and threatened, we are now witnessing an explosion of organizations and startups focused on uniting people and leveraging the power of collaboration to collect data and build technology to secure our freedom and future.
Fears of government defunding data collection, manipulating data sets and mis-communicating politically inconvenient research have inspired the founding of organizations like Data Refuge, a distributed, grassroots effort around the United States in which scientists, researchers, hackers, students, librarians and other volunteers are collecting government data to preserve it and keep it publicly accessible. Their focus on climate and environmental data is in defense of the White House removing climate data from the EPA website and screening scientific research. Others, like Open Context are helping preserve, annotate and share archeology data.
Find out what other government data is being removed from the Internet at Sunlight Foundation, where they are actively tracking the removal or changes to data sets.
Collaborative research platforms will emerge in every industry to not only aggregate and maintain integrity of data sets but also enable individuals to accelerate the development of solutions independent of government funding and policies.
This is Wikipedia on steroids and much more. Data.world is a social network exclusively for people who want to find and collaborate on building data sets. Similarly, ResearchGate provides a professional network for the scientific community to connect, collaborate, share results and drive progress. Already, more than 11 million scientists and researchers use it and are uploading more than 2.5 million publications each month.
Beyond the civic tech and education categories, this same model of empowering individuals to organize and work together to problem solve has also been successful in transportation with Waze, financial investing with Numerai, app development with GitHub, data science with Dataiku, startup solutions with ProductHunt, and many more.
Success of these platforms have initially been driven by users who are mission-driven, motivated by gamification/monetary rewards, or seeking to build an online portfolio. These platforms crossed over the chasm from passing curiosity to active and productive engagement, enabling them to truly provide more value with each user and establish a sustainable data network to help them accelerate solutions. And as these platforms grow, they will become future leaders in their industries and many will redefine our workforce.
Today’s couples are planning their own weddings. But in a world without the wedding planner and the success of their wedding contingent upon hiring the right vendors, they are spending more than 150 hours searching and emailing vendors for quotes, organizing their research in spreadsheets, and managing their wedding costs and emotions.
Content platforms, such as Pinterest, may have brought wedding inspiration to the masses but have failed to assist couples with execution — photos often redirect users to blogs and e-commerce sites that have reposted the vendors’ works for content on their own sites. Couples are victims to their wedding vision without a way to easily find the vendors they need and understand the cost of their wedding aspirations.
Current wedding tools, such as spreadsheets, complicate rather than simplify the planning process. The Knot and Weddingwire provide checklists as a primary tool for managing wedding details and tracking progress; however, checklists fall short of functionality. These tools lack the beautiful, stress-free wedding experience that they ultimately intend to deliver.
Today’s engaged couple is online. They want to be actionable and efficient with wedding planning, not just inspirational. These are the modern challenges of wedding planning.
In a perfect world, we’d be able to resolve these problems and plan our weddings seamlessly online. Well, my co-founder, Harlan, and I believe we create the world we want to live in, and so we started Menagerie.
Menagerie makes it easy for modern couples to collaborate, organize and confidently choose the right wedding professionals, all in one place.
Harlan and I are veterans of the startup community, and specifically startups that combined platform-enabled solutions with new industry business models to democratize desired products and services traditionally unaccessible and expensive to individuals. We are strong believers that many traditional industries have yet to evolve to deliver more convenience, resolve sustained pain points, and empower their workforces. Our own experiences with weddings and startups made us believe the wedding industry was finally due for this change.
From working with David’s Bridal in 2012, I knew that many of the existing wedding players were once again reaching an inflection point. Their ad-reliant business models hinder their capability and pace of delivering solutions to address the above-mentioned challenges of wedding planning; because while they search for a disruptive play, they are still being held to the existing metrics of their business. The absence of such solutions was evident in the behaviors of my engaged friends and also for Harlan when he was planning his wedding not too long ago. Additionally, from Harlan’s experiences with Work Market, Lot18 and co-founding Reonomy, it was clear to him that this was another opportunity to combine technology, data and talent to deliver a desired experience and better solution for individuals.
However, it wasn’t until we began meeting brides, grooms and vendors at wedding expos that it occurred to us that there has never been a better time than now to build Menagerie.
Most couples we met were navigating the wedding planning on their own, which reflected the recent growing popularity of wedding coordinators and partial-service or month-of wedding planners in the past five years. Couples also expressed frustration with the overwhelming amount of online content that did not ease the learning curve or decision-making process. While talking with vendors, they spewed their frustration with the high costs of visibility with more custom service vendors entering the market (i.e. $500/month to list on The Knot with no guaranteed bookings). Vendors also confessed to their high spending on branding, development and business tools.
We found ourselves at the intersection of these major business, technology and wedding trends. We discovered the vision we shared was no longer a luxury but a necessity. So we got to work.
Today, Menagerie is helping couples in New York by matching them with vendors that fit their vision, budget and preferences. At the same time, we have also helped many wedding professionals remove the high costs and barriers to gaining customers.
While we’re excited about what we’ve built today, we’re even more excited about tomorrow and those that will be joining us along the way! This summer, we are joining Matter to help us accelerate our future and achieve our wedding vision.