Founder Interview #2: Will Said @ MealMe
Welcome back, MealMe friends!
In this second installment of our founder series, I've decided to draw from an awesome internal talk given by MealMe co-founder and CEO, Will Said. Will is a force to be reckoned with - the type of leader who works just as hard as (if not harder than) the rest of the team to develop, problem-solve, and execute. The combination of his unique self-discipline and genuine belief in the company's goals drives him and the rest of the team to success every single day. His story is a fascinating one, saturated with wisdom and insights on the struggles and successes of a young founder.
MealMe started off as a social media for food app, an idea first dreamed up in 16 year old Matt Bauchner(now co-founder and company president)'s mind. Will met Matt during his first year in college.
"When I got to college," Will begins, "I took all the money I had and bought a Mac so that I could make Xcode apps, where I wrote all of my code for my first app in one view control file. That was the extent of my programming knowledge when I met Matt, but I told him that I was the best developer at Georgia Tech."
Despite having practically no coding experience, Will set out to bring Matt's vision to life along with a few projects of his own.
"I learned how to code by building MealMe. By the time I was 19, I had built several apps and was making six figures off of my own business. I worked at Apple as well, and was making money there. Interestingly, however, I had yet to make a dime off of MealMe."
It may seem odd that someone who was finding so much success in his other pursuits would continue to put so much effort into a seemingly unprofitable endeavor.
"This is one thing you'll run into as I tell my story: a theme of massive success outside of MealMe, but then it's like 'what is going on with MealMe?' For many years, it didn't have any money, any users, any investment. I never saw MealMe as a money-making thing; it was not until August of 2020 that I even saw that as a possibility."
When prompted to reflect on his motivation in spite of relative failure, he attributes it to an intentional over-confidence in his abilities.
"If it wasn't for my arrogance in thinking that I could do something that was quite possibly actually impossible, I would never have even attempted to build MealMe."
This level of internal drive has been a pattern in Will's life, and has been the means by which he's been able to achieve several ambitious personal goals.
"Throughout high school, I spent so much time on weightlifting: training several times a day, 1-2 hours a session, every single day for years. I was one of the best weightlifters in the United States. Unfortunately, I got injured right as college started, an injury that lasted nearly 4 years. Being on campus was awful - I had neglected college admissions, failed in weightlifting, and decided to work on apps while recovering."
Will elected to use these experiences as fuel for business.
"When I started as a CS major at Georgia Tech, I had three goals, in order: first, to get out to California. Second, to gain as much startup experience as I could by building my own company. Third, to become the best person in app development at Georgia Tech, and I figured that would be the case if I was president of the iOS club and released something on the App Store."
"Freshman year, I decided I was going to intern at as many places as possible," he adds, "work my way up to an offer out of college at a top company for over 200k, and then turn it down to work on a startup out of college with no salary for a year. I was going to print out that offer and frame it behind my desk for employees to make a point."
Will went on to achieve everything he had intended to do. He learned how to code, interned at three places that year, even became a manager for a short stint at a startup, then took an 8-month internship position at Apple.
"Main thing I learned from Apple was management culture." He says, "People there hustled, they worked until 2am despite having little ownership in their work. I had never worked anywhere where people worked with that passion, and I came to understand that this was because of Steve Jobs and the culture he established. This culture was built on practices from his invention of the iPhone like daily demos, responsible individuals, separating out into 'subsidiary company' type groups, and being interrupt driven rather than polling driven."
On top of his various internship experiences (including one at Google the following summer), Will continued to work on the MealMe app. With big ambitions and a need for funding, the MealMe founders applied to Y Combinator. They were fortunate enough to land an interview.
In the Fall of 2019, Matt flew out to California to meet Will for their interview with YC. This meeting, however, turned out to be a rude awakening for the two of them: they were rejected.
"You're trying to do too many things. You need to come in with one idea; you're doing breadth-first search."
"By this point in time I had made four apps that had hit the Top 100 paid on the entire App Store, so I wasn't sure what was wrong with MealMe. The night they rejected us, we went home and I built out the designs for the new MealMe app, which is kind of like what we do today, minus the checkout. It was essentially a Kayak for food, where you could search for a restaurant and compare different options."
As you can imagine, the rejection was far from the end of their story, but it was certainly not smooth sailing after that night either. Fortunately, with the guts and drive of Matt and Will, MealMe continued to shape itself into the company it is today - albeit with plenty of interesting twists and turns along the way.
Stay tuned for part II of this interview, where we will dive into the early business stages of MealMe and learn more about what made things finally start to click.