Just Started – MeatFreed: Patrick Huang and Mike Morris

Veganism has never been more popular - which is good news for MeatFreed. The new platform is helping to empower and drive growth for plant-based and alternative brands.

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Names of founders: Patrick Huang, Mike Morris
Ages of the founders: 39, 61
Location: Penryn
Date launched: September 2021
Number of employees: 2

What does your business do?

MeatFreed is a member engagement, advertising technology platform that drives growth for plant-based and alternative brands. We offer a membership programme targeted at 16-24s, encouraging them to choose plant-based with incentives when dining out and cooking at home while connecting to others like them on their plant-based journey. Through incentives and a community, we intend to drive lasting behaviour change for this demographic and their future families.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

We met at the Launchpad programme in June 2021. Besides our initial research into the huge growth potential for meat alternatives, MeatFreed came about when Patrick’s wife was exploring veganism and she wanted more information about recipes, options at local restaurants, and opportunities to meet others like her.

How did you know there was a market for it?

We identified and connected directly with potential members across Falmouth University. After a few conversations with these students, we learned about their various motivations to choose plant-based and their overall passion for plant-based. We then wanted to build on this passion.

What were you doing before launching your business?

I (Patrick) started my career in management consulting and after 6 years, I decided that I wanted to have a greater impact. So, after completing my MBA at the University of Michigan, I joined a fintech startup and eventually progressed to the COO. I continued to work in leadership roles with various founders in other early-stage tech startups and SMEs.

Mike has more than 30 years of experience in content, advertising, and events including serving as the former director of Channel 4’s commercial businesses, a former director of Saatchi and Saatchi, and a founder/director of Taste of London.

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

Not really! After reading and applying Lean Startup with a few startups, I knew that I had the potential to create and launch my own. However, I knew that I needed support as I had tried and failed before. These experiences led me to Launchpad.

How did you finance your business?

We are fortunate to have joined the Launchpad programme which provides coaching and financial support to test and validate our idea.

Explain your business model and how you make money.

Our business model is based on our membership base and the deeper engagement that we can offer to brands. Brands want direct access to and feedback from 16-24s, and our platform offers this access and feedback loop. Brands can access our membership base with values-aligned messaging on our platform and with locally-organised events with our partner restaurants.

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

The key challenge that we have faced is how to grow our membership quickly and efficiently. Mike and I were building membership through mainly guerrilla marketing efforts and we had achieved a couple hundred on our own. However, we set an ambitious target which we purposely recognised that we could not reach through our own efforts. With that, we decided to harness the passion of our new members to build our membership. We ran a few experiments for our members to refer other members and these experiments meant that MeatFreed’s membership would continue growing while we focused on more strategic initiatives that would allow us to expand our membership even further. Now, more than one in four of our members comes from word-of-mouth.

I started my career in management consulting and after 6 years, I decided that I wanted to have a greater impact.

What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?

The pandemic has likely contributed positively to our idea. Due to COVID-19, people in general are much more conscious about the environment, animal welfare, and health. All of these are key motivators for our members to choose plant-based more often or to completely stop consuming meat. We were also fortunate in that local businesses recently opened and they were seeking opportunities to promote themselves; especially to the incoming student population at Falmouth University. Based on these headwinds, we have received little resistance to build members and bring onboard local restaurants.

Describe your first breakthrough.

Our first breakthrough was during the first few weeks of term in September at Falmouth University. With our guerrilla marketing efforts, we registered more than 200 members who could receive discounts when choosing plant-based at more than 30 local restaurants with our access to 60 plant-based brands. This outpouring of support was a huge validation for our idea that allowed us to continue our efforts and dream bigger!

How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?

Although expanding to other countries is appealing, Brexit has meant that we wanted to identify opportunities that would take advantage of the national market that we were in. We believe that our hyperlocal platform will continue to grow local businesses through the people that could taste the delicious food in their immediate area.

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

Get out of the building as quick as you can! We see often that some entrepreneurs want to conduct as much research or build as much of a product before learning and understanding your customers. We practiced timeboxing for our brainstorming and research which meant that we focused our energy on identifying the key aspects of our solution or hypothesis and then we validated these aspects by engaging directly with the users or customers as quickly and as often as possible.

We see MeatFreed as the positive, simple, and meaningful option for people to choose a planet-friendly option that is better for the world.

What is one resolution you have for your business this year?

Our key resolution is to start identifying ways that we can truly accelerate our membership with potential partners in sectors that would benefit from our hyperlocal platform of engaged members around a passion area for plant-based. We have already started conversations with key leaders in large media platforms and we look forward to partnering with one or more soon.

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

We see MeatFreed as the positive, simple, and meaningful option for people to choose a planet-friendly option that is better for the world. With our ambitious target to reach 1 million members within the next 2-3 years, largely with higher/further education students across the UK, we hope to spread the message and drive long-lasting behaviour change towards more planet-friendly food for the 16-24s’ generation, and their future generations to come.

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Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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