(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a three-part series focused on Bunker Labs, which has an operation in the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, and one of its client companies, also located in Nashville.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Like all of the participants in the Bunker Labs program, Neil Whitney is a veteran, specifically a former Infantry and Intelligence Officer in the U.S. Army.
The North Carolina native joined Apple after leaving the military and worked at the company for four years, focused on new product introductions. Near the end of 2015, he co-founded a start-up in the Bay Area named Menud that is focused on making healthy eating fun, connected, and simpler than ever thought possible.
As he started considering the best place to grow the company, Whitney created a Venn diagram of the great cities in the U.S. for start-ups. “Nashville was right in the middle,” he says. “Leaving Silicon Valley was somewhat of a risk, but Nashville’s amazing strengths are greater than its subtle weakness.”
It also helped that Robert Grajewski, the inaugural Executive Director of Vanderbilt’s The Wond’ry, and Whitney were classmates. Cinching the deal to relocate to Nashville were visits with Blake Hogan, Executive Director of Bunker Labs Nashville.
“Nashville made perfect sense,” Whitney says. “The business was going well, so leaving San Francisco was not an issue.”
Menud is taking a unique approach to helping people eat healthy, something that is challenging for most individuals due to a variety of factors ranging from their hectic lifestyles to their unwillingness to take time to study meal options or count calories.
What’s the start-up’s secret sauce to overcome those challenges? It’s an iOS-based app that draws additional power from social media.
“The best tech apps have both motivation and triggers,” Whitney says. “Ours starts with our target user already following influential people on social media, looking for ways to eat and live a healthier life.”
Specifically, Menud shares health and wellness advice curated by celebrities in health, wellness, fitness, and food who offer their healthy eating recommendations to individuals who are already following them on one of the social media sites.
“We partner with celebrities, athletes, authors, bloggers, trainers and social influencers who are very good at understanding what to eat,” Whitney explains. These thought leaders are the “influencers on Menud.
“Eating healthy is frustrating,” he says. “Most people fail, but some succeed, and their success leaves clues.”
That’s where the “influencers” come in. Whitney says they are the motivator, while Menud is the trigger.
“Our team focuses on creating a product that puts a person’s diet on autopilot,” he explains. “When it comes down to it, yes, we are helping you eat healthy but, really, we’re making it insanely easy for you to make healthy decisions.”
The product development involves buying a lot of coffee for people and listening to the feedback they provide.
“Our team probably bought 200 cups of coffee in April,” Whitney notes.
Some of the celebrities who are featured on the app include Erin Opera, a well-known Personal Trainer to County Music stars and author of the 4X4 Diet; Carmel Rodriguez, an Instagram sensation famous for her high-energy workouts; and Antonette Galletti whose social media handle is @Nashfitfoodie.
While Whitney says his team enjoys working with celebrities and professional athletes, “we also love working with local gym owners, homeopathic experts, niche dietitians, and hometown foodies. Influencers don’t need to be social media sensations. They just need to be influential people who are trying to improve the well-being of others.”
The early results were striking – 2700 users of its app secured in less than six weeks on a $14 marketing budget. In fact, those statistics caused him to reconfigure the platform so that it can scale to hundreds of thousands of users. Version 2 is now available, and he’s planning a much larger marketing campaign under the banner of “#EatLikeMe.”
Menud was bootstrapped by Whitney, although he opened a pre-seed round in late February that was quickly oversubscribed. He’s contemplating a seed round and will make a decision on going forward with it late this year.
“It’s been a good journey,” he says. “We’re creating impact.”