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.
As Washington continues to war over “Repeal and Replace” of the Affordable Care Act, one thing is certain: the need for affordable and accessible healthcare that is patient-centered and personalized. Millions of women, senior citizens, employees and independent business professionals will be affected by the expected changes to Obamacare, including, but not limited to, reduced health benefits and preventative services, discontinued subsidies, and rollback of Medicaid.
Waiting for sweeping government changes is not the solution, and development of innovative health solutions have already been underway. There’s no question that the future of healthcare is digital, where individuals are equipped to self diagnose, doctor communication is remote and timely, medication is on-demand, and data is empowering prevention, drug discovery and development. Concern and curiosity motivated me to explore our current healthcare progress and available solutions.
Remote care delivery will evolve to become the first point of contact for everything healthcare
There have been a number of telehealth startups that have entered the space in the last ten years, spanning doctor discovery and scheduling, remote care delivery, prescription management, patient monitoring and education, and more. However, remote care delivery proves to be a unique entry point with strong network effects that will enable it to quickly scale and evolve to offer services and products across the healthcare space.
While the barriers to entry are low, new entrants’ will face a difficult and costly uphill battle as they attempt to bring on high quality providers onto their platforms, and compete to secure employers and health plan contracts in advance of leaders like Teladoc, MDLive, American Well and Doctor on Demand, who are already expending significant costs to capture market share of these customers. A robust salesforce and brand awareness are key to penetration, but also not effective without offering ease of product implementation & interoperability, billing & claim filing, and regulatory compliance (HIPAA, NCQA). The strategy to secure employers and health plan contracts is an attempt to capture mass membership quickly and establish high switching costs as many self-insured employers (ASO) and insurers may only adopt one telehealth platform; according to a 2016 analysis released by the Congressional Budget Office, ~155 million Americans have employer-based health insurance coverage.
However, there is room for certain specialist-focused telehealth startups, such as Spruce, who is primarily focused on the dermatology market, which remains untapped by incumbents and accounts for >5% of annual visits, or 56 million visits. This type of specialist visit is recurring and typically costs higher (up to 3x – 4x the cost of a primary care visit).
The existing focus among players remains client growth, but the future indicator of market dominance will be member conversion and [recurring] utilization to drive PMPM, visit fees and secure client relationships. Achieving these future indicators will rely on management, business models, consumer-centered & mobile-optimized products, and seamless integration of concentric mergers.
Why now? – Political
This future of healthcare has been accelerated because of easing regulation on telemedicine definition, reimbursements and coverage. Already in 32 states and the District of Columbia there are parity laws that require private insurers to cover telemedicine visits the same way they cover in-person encounters, and in 49 states and District of Columbia reimbursements are now provided for video visits in Medicaid fee-for-service programs.
Additionally, more states have removed the requirement for a tele-presenter to be present during a virtual consultation. Finally, 18 states have enacted laws to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which will begin to grant crossborder licenses.
Why now? – Social
Easing regulation complements today’s consumer needs. Consumers no longer want to pay high costs for healthcare and are looking for more personalized care at a time when many of the other decisions they make on a daily basis have been empowered with technology and made more affordable, accessible and personalized (i.e. food, wealth management, online streaming, transportation, travel, shopping). Early direct-to-consumer fitness trackers and health apps invited consumers to increasingly value and invest in their health, and track their own progress and symptoms.
Telehealth will continue to gain traction especially at a time when Repeal and Replace Obamacare risks exacerbating lack of access and rising costs. Approximately 1/3 of all ambulatory care visits, or 417M, are treatable via telehealth, which would result in an annual saving of $6 billion in U.S. healthcare costs. Cost saving opportunities via telehealth are also true for other specialist services.
Big 4 Telehealth
The four largest telehealth players are Teladoc (NYSE: TDOC), MDLive, American Well, and Doctor on Demand. Despite Teadoc’s current leading market position with ~17M members, it still represents only a minority of the whole market.
Of these four, Doctor on Demand (DoD) is unique as it does not charge a “Per Member, Per Month” (PMPM) subscription fee, which typically costs $1 PMPM. Unlike the other three, DoD only charges visit fees, which they keep ~25%:
$49 for a 15 min consultation
$79 for a 25 min consultation
$119 for a 50 min consultation
$99 for a 25 min consultation
$229 for a 45 min consultation
As telehealth platforms compete for employers, DoD offers an affordable option without the PMPM fee. While DoD’s model lacks the initial recurring revenue from PMPM fees, it is able to more easily align with the cost savings and ROI incentives of employers, drawing evidence that utilization rates are below 5% with other major players; Compared to Teladoc’s 5%< utilization rate, DoD boasts a much higher utilization rate of 25%-30%.
In other words, the cost per visit with Teladoc is significantly higher than $49 when factoring in PMPM. This strategy has had promising evidence as DoD now has about 400 employers (200% increase YoY) including Comcast and Union Bank & Trust, covers more than 45 million Americans and has secured relationships with UnitedHealth, Highmark*, Humana, and a number of Blue Cross Blue Shields.
*Highmark ended $1.5M contract last year with Teladoc to switch over to DoD and American Well. Most Teladoc contracts are only 1-year old…
Adoption goes both ways.
Slack, Dropbox, LinkedIn and many others have demonstrated that adoption goes both ways. And similarly, monetizing the B2B becomes much easier to achieve if you’re able to demonstrate success with B2C. DoD has since introduced a Per Provider Subscription Fee…(I don’t have numbers around this).
This is a defining time for healthcare – the winners have yet to take all and new entrants will need to be thoughtful about their unique entry point and resourceful with acquisition.