Social enterprise Eat My Lunch has just come to the end of its eighth week in business, but it's had the kind of beginning many startup entrepreneurs can only dream about.
Eat My Lunch is a lunch delivery service that donates one lunch to a Kiwi kid in need for every lunch a consumer buys, and company co-founder Lisa King says it's a simple, easy concept that seems to be resonating.
"The growth of the business was completely unexpected. We went from 100 'buy' lunches a day in our first week to 400 a day in our second week. The business just escalated beyond what we thought it would be."
King and her partner - who are both experienced FMCG marketers and established the social business in partnership with chef Michael Meredith - have primarily got the word out about their venture via social media. Among their online fans is Lorde, who garnered media attention for posting her support of the company's work on Instagram.
King says they chose to set up a social enterprise, rather than a charity, because it seemed a more sustainable way to deliver the social change they wanted to make than relying on donations or other forms of external funding. They took particular inspiration from US company Toms Shoes, which gives a pair of shoes to an impoverished child for every pair it sells.
(sorry for the text wall) hey kiwis! something a little out of the ordinary to share with you today, but something that means a lot to me. as you know, the cost of life in auckland (and new zealand!) is high. the heartbreaking result of that is that a really appalling 1 in 4 kids are living in poverty, and going to school without lunch. it makes me wanna cry thinking about kids who can't eat at school, and therefore probably find it pretty tough to focus and learn too. so when i found out about michael meredith's awesome new thing, EAT MY LUNCH, i was chuffed. the idea is for $10, you get a super yum healthy lunch which changes every day delivered to your work or school, and for every lunch you buy a second lunch is given to a kiwi kid who needs it. HOW COOL IS THAT?! i emailed them like "i travel too much to eat a lunch, but how can i GIVE TWO instead?" and they came back to me saying they were just about to launch a new thing, hopefully nationwide eventually, where you can do just that. and the first day is today. you can subscribe to do this at eatmylunch.nz/give-two - even if it's $10 a week, that's 2 less coffees (or one less cold pressed juice, jesus!!) and two kids get to eat lunch. it's a no brainer, really. this week, i'm sponsoring te papapa school in onehunga for all the lunches that they need, and i've also subscribed to GIVE TWO as their first subscriber. so what are you waiting for? if you've got $10 to spare, jump on it. ok that's it THANKS 4 READING and lots of love from me ??
Alex Hannant is chief executive of the Ākina Foundation, an organisation that supports New Zealand social enterprises, and says there are a range of models social enterprises use to deliver the social or environmental changes they'd like to see, such as the 'one for one' approach used by Eat My Lunch.
Others, for example, embed their social impact into the business itself, says Hannant, such as Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant, which gives street kids an opportunity to get training, have a job and move into a stable workplace through experience in its kitchen.
Another is what Hannant calls the 'Robin Hood' model - a social enterprise that has a traditional business but uses the money it gets from that to fund other activities that have a social impact.
One such enterprise is Thankyou Payroll, which provides free, cloud-based payroll intermediary services to SMEs and charities. Hugh Davidson, who is now the company's CTO, was working as a service designer at the IRD when he came up with the idea for the company, after seeing the possibility of leveraging the IRD's subsidy programme for payroll intermediary services to create a social business.
CEO Lani Evans says the firm focuses on five different areas to make its social impact, including a community grant-making programme through which it donates 25 cents per person, per pay - out of the business' own pockets - to give out small grants to community organisations through the Thankyou Charitable Trust. "The more successful the business is, the more we're able to support people doing good things around New Zealand," she says.
Q&A: Lisa King, Eat My Lunch
What does Eat My Lunch do?
We're a really new business - we've just come to the end of our eighth week. My partner and I are both FMCG marketers and we'd been selling big food brands, but basically the food wasn't what we were feeding our own children. So we just came up with this lunch idea, where each time someone buys a lunch through us, we'll give a lunch to a Kiwi kid that needs one.
Because we're marketers we came up with these big lofty goals like 'wouldn't it be great if we could help solve poverty in New Zealand by something as simple as eating lunch?' and what we were hoping to create was a social movement of providing lunches to kids. Chef Michael Meredith is on board as part of the business, and we currently give lunches to kids in 10 decile one and two schools in Auckland, and by the end of last week we'd given away 11,000 lunches.
Why did you choose to set up the business as a social enterprise?
We purposefully didn't set ourselves up as a charity because it didn't seem sustainable to be constantly relying on other people to donate and fund you. So we took some inspiration from business models overseas, in particular Toms Shoes. They have this 'one for one' model, where if you buy their product they'll also give that same product to someone in need.
We thought that seemed a really easy, simple way for people to get involved and give something every day in a way that was also of benefit to them and wasn't a hassle to do. I think a lot of people want to do good but they don't know how to go about it, or if they do donate money they don't exactly know what it buys or who it impacts. With this concept it's really easy to understand and immediate: when you eat lunch, a kid eats lunch.
It's early stages in the business, but what's been the biggest challenge so far?
The growth of the business was completely unexpected. We went from 100 'buy' lunches a day in our first week to 400 a day in our second week. The business just escalated beyond what we thought it would be. Especially in that second and third week it was really hard because we didn't have the right number of courier drivers, or the right number of people helping us make the lunches so we had a few hiccups.
But the great thing about owning your own business is you can move with speed and agility and change. It's not something you see in the big corporates where we've worked. And even with charities there's often a big governance board to run things past and probably a lot more consideration around cost, whereas with us we'll just make a decision and it happens tomorrow.
Another beauty with this model is we've been really fortunate to have a ton of people email us and say they'd love to help out. We now have a volunteer force of 30 people who help us one morning a week, and some do two.
What is it about the way you've conveyed your message that you think has resonated with consumers?
I think it's the simplicity of the concept. It's so easy to understand that when I buy a lunch a kid gets a lunch, and people can see there's a tangible impact to what they're doing. In total we've spent $600 on marketing, and that's just for pushing a couple of posts on Facebook. We've got more than 12,750 likes on our Facebook page and our level of engagement is incredible. And because there's the food aspect to what we do there's this constant flow of images on Instagram of the lunches.
We've also communicated one message through everything. So on our lunchboxes we have a personalised label that says 'thank you for buying a lunch today and helping us to feed a Kiwi kid in need' and our Facebook posts are all about 'buy one, give one'. Taking some of the classic marketing training we've had and implementing it in this type of business is a big advantage, and probably one a lot of other smaller businesses wouldn't have.
What's next for the business?
We really want to cement ourselves in Auckland first; we haven't even opened up areas here yet because we're trying to control the growth and make sure we can deliver. We're looking at running a PledgeMe campaign this month to raise capital so we can move into a commercial premise, because we're running out of space in our home.
But our goal is to open up in other areas of the country where there's a need, and that need is huge. Every single day we deliver the lunches to the schools and that's the reward for us at the end of the day.
We sit with the kids and talk to them, and you realise we're not just filling tummies; we're watching them eat vegetables they've never tried before, and hearing the feedback from their teachers about their improved behaviour and concentration. We work hard, but it doesn't feel like work.