Marie Farmer (pictured) started a nutrition app after challenges with weaning her autistic son, August
With only a handful pledges two weeks into her online crowdfunding appeal, Marie Farmer knew she had to resort to desperate measures to meet her £5,000 fundraising target.
Even though she was on holiday, she knew she had to start calling around and appeal for donations for her business.
Marie says: ‘I did the campaign in August and it was the worst time – everyone was on holiday.
‘I was away too and I had to get a signal on a beach in Wales.
‘If I went into the water I got signal so I made calls there and my husband kept rolling his eyes and saying I would drop my phone.’
‘It was an an “all or nothing campaign” so you have to reach your funding goal or it goes back to investors.’
Marie is the brains behind the Mini Mealtimes app, which provides nutritional guidance and support for parents who are weaning children from age one.
She created the app after experiencing her own weaning challenges with her son, August, who was one at the time and later diagnosed with autism.
Marie says her app has been adapted many times since the idea first came to her.
‘Initially it was a selfish idea. My son is on the autism spectrum and when we started to suspect it, I became really focused on his health and overall nutrition and wanted tools to help me specifically with food.’
She realised she wasn’t the only parent who found weaning a daunting and frustrating experience.
Fussy eating and ensuring all nutritional needs are met are just some of the things that she found intimidated and worried parents.
Many parents worry about whether they are feeding their children the right foods and if all their nutritional needs are being met. Marie Farmer believes she’s created the right tool to help in the form of a Mini Mealtimes app
What’s more, getting an expert, such as a dietitian, to provide nutritional advice for children or even coming up with new and interesting recipes can be expensive and time consuming for parents.
Marie adds: ‘There wasn’t anything at the time three years ago. We did initially go private with a pediatrician but this was very expensive.’
‘I thought there has got to be a tool to help me with all the questions and something that’s personalised.
‘That’s how Mini Mealtimes initially started. I wasn’t doing it full time so it took quite a long time to create.’
To start with, Marie was able to draw on her experience launching products from when she worked as a digital account executive at South Korean agency Cheil Worldwide.
‘I helped to launch thousands of products while I was there and had to manage different teams and we got experience in developing certain apps.
‘I had experience in user experience, product design and apps. I was there for just over four years and all that experience has helped me in doing what I do now.’
You can input your child’s meals using the scan and search function of the app. It will then provide you with an instant health report
Getting more backers on board
But creating an app that would be every parent’s ‘on call’ dietitian would also need a lot of funding, market research and time.
It took two years for Marie to create the right team of developers, dietitians, nutritionists and advisers to create the app, which was officially was launched in January.
Crowdfunding was not an option Marie initially wanted for her business but after being targeted by a sponsored advert on Facebook she took the plunge.
‘With the Natwest campaign I had no intention of doing it. I had initially talked to Crowdcube but I was put off as they wanted a certain amount of funds committed before any campaign.’
The app provides guidance on nutritional information and shows whether their children’s dietary needs are being met
She stretched her Natwest campaign over four weeks campaign and reached her goal in three weeks.
She explains: ‘I raised £5,700 – so slightly over the target.’
She initially found it difficult raising the money and even went to extremes on who she would approach for funding.
‘It was interesting – I barely raised anything in the first two weeks as I was on holiday and people that said they would invest, hadn’t done so yet.
‘Then 80 per cent of donations came in a day as I called people on holiday.
‘Being persistent is key as is not taking things personally if someone doesn’t donate.
‘People are busy, I get it. You can’t do everything.
‘I reached out to everyone, even the people that I shouldn’t have. I tweeted Richard Branson – obviously he didn’t fund me, but you never know.’
But there was some help to her campaign that she didn’t expect. ‘
‘There was a mommy blogger/influencer that made a public video for me that encouraged people to donate to the campaign. It was quite fun and her daughter was in it.’
Marie’s hard work to garner in funding paid off and to date she’s received a total of £60,500 from several sources.
They may say they don’t like what you do but this is your opportunity to make it better. Put your ego aside and focus on what you’re doing.
Marie Farmer – Mini Mealtimes
Besides Natwest’s Back her Business she also got £3,500 from the Entrepreneurial Barnet Competition, £40,000 from Bethnal Green Ventures (£20,000 in cash and £20,000 of equivalent support) and finally £12,000, which was funded by her in-laws and parents.
But she says the business needs more capital.
This time Marie’s approaching private investors to back her business. ‘It is a company with a lot of potential. We are doing a seed funding and aiming for £350,000. I’m currently at £170,000 so the appetite is out there.
Expansion and passion
To encourage more parents to use the app she’s dropping her small subscription fee of £2.99 this month.
She’ll instead focus on making money through partnerships and sponsorship. She’ll also be venturing into the community with her team to teach parents about nutrition.
She’s already in talks with one London borough to offer such services and is partnering with a food bank to help with fund raising.
The app only has 70 subscribers but Marie points out that many are loyal to the brand. ‘Our retention rate is 30 per cent.
‘Even in the last month or so now that this new version is out, people are using it for longer and like it a lot more. They say it’s so much easier to use.’
Her advice to prospective entrepreneurs is to be passionate about what they are doing and to be open to advice – even if the feedback given is negative.
She hasn’t draw a salary since starting the business, but hopes this will change once all the funding is in place. Instead all the money has gone into the app to enhance features and improve the content.
Despite having to rely on her husband’s income, she adds: ‘You can’t start a business just to make money. Don’t think of your million pound idea.
‘You have to think of something that excites you. Something that is an injustice or gap in the market.
‘People have millions of ideas but not all of them pan out. Listen to people. Be passionate.
‘They may say they don’t like what you do but this is your opportunity to make it better. Put your ego aside and focus on what you’re doing.’
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