- 👥 Gathermade was founded by Mackenzie Branigan, CEO, and Joe Sofia, COO, while they were attending business school at Stanford.
- 🎓 They met the Pear team while in business school at Stanford GSB and joined our S21 Accelerator after graduation.
- ↩️ They made a 180 during the Accelerator, completely pivoting on their initial idea. They found product-market fit and the pieces started falling into place quickly.
- 🌮 Today, their company matches time-strapped families looking for healthy, freshly cooked meals with top-notch home chefs looking to boost their incomes.
- 💰 They raised a successful seed round at the conclusion of the Accelerator.
- 🍐 Check out the full case below to hear about how Pear’s Accelerator program set up Mackenzie and Joe to take an initial idea and pivot into a fast-growing, venture-backed business.
Forming the founding team
Mackenzie Branigan and Joe Sofia met the first weekend of orientation as MBA students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB). They quickly connected through a shared passion and commitment to creating more gender equity in the home. Having grown up in households with two working parents, both Mackenzie and Joe saw first hand how challenging it was for their moms to get ahead in the working world while also trying to balance a myriad of responsibilities of home. And unlike many business school students, they were both willing to 100% commit to entrepreneurship and go all in on a plan to launch a business centered on addressing this challenge.
Testing and learning
Mackenzie and Joe really started moving forward with their idea while participating in Mar Hershenson’s Launchpad class at Stanford’s GSB. Their initial idea was to help address the “mental load” responsibilities associated with running a household by building a “To-Do List” productivity tool for parents. While participating in the course, the two realized that having a To-Do List was helpful, but, more than anything, parents just needed to get things done. This lead them to pivot to their second product idea: a virtual assistant for parents. And, after graduation, they decided to pursue this plan full-time. Initially, they weren’t interested in joining an Accelerator program, since, in their minds, the programs were impersonal and didn’t offer much real access to partners.
However, in talking to GSB alums, they realized that Pear had an Accelerator program that was exactly what they needed. As Mackenzie put it, “The consensus was, if we got into Pear’s Accelerator, we’d do it. Otherwise we would go about it on our own. I loved that it was a small batch size of 10-15 companies and that I actually got to work with Pear’s entire team day-to-day.”
Mar saw the potential in Mackenzie and Joe, even though she wasn’t as convinced about this virtual assistant product idea, telling the the pair, “We believe in you as founders…we’re not 100% set on the idea, but we believe in you guys.” And with that, the two joined the Pear Accelerator Summer 2021 cohort.
Finding a way to product-market fit through the Pear Accelerator
Going into the Accelerator program, Mackenzie and Joe felt a lot of pressure to make as much progress as possible in a limited amount of time, but the Pear team helped shield them from that anxiety and reassured them it was worth taking the time needed to land on the perfect idea.
As part of this research phase, the Pear team paired Mackenzie and Joe up with a mentor, who was a PM at Babycenter, had already thought a lot about the needs of parents, and could help them better understand this audience and how they could address their problems.
At the same time, Mackenze and Joe started meeting every day with one of Pear’s visiting partners, who previously founded a childcare marketplace that was acquired by Care.com in 2018. He was able to coach them on how to take what they were learning through their research and apply it to evolve their business and product strategy.
Pretty soon, the pair realized that their virtual assistant idea had some important pitfalls: it was too broad and many of their target users didn’t even know what to use it for. However, in talking with busy parents about the challenges of balancing work and household obligations, a key concern emerged: the daily struggle to get a healthy dinner on the table when parents simply didn’t have the time to cook themselves and were tired of ordering the same unhealthy takeout options over and over again.
The next step was for Mackenzie and Joe to validate that this was truly a market worth pursuing. The Pear team helped them ensure there was a big enough total addressable market (TAM) to make pursuing this idea worth it and to do mini assessments along the way to measure the best case scenario, given different assumptions or tweaks to the strategy. They quickly realized the data was making a very strong argument in favor of fully doubling down on this pivot into the food space.
They learned that families are spending $220B each year feeding their families, yet 89% of families report daily stress over getting a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table. At the same time, the pandemic accelerated the future of work, with many people being driven to become their own bosses and the economy seeing a huge spike in the number of home-based entrepreneurs. And finally, state legislators across the U.S. loosened regulations in response to the pandemic to allow home chefs to legally sell food prepared in their home kitchens, unlocking opportunities for even more home chefs wanting to earn money by cooking at home.
Ultimately, both consumer insights and market data validated their updated plan to focus on finding a way to match talented home chefs with time-strapped parents looking for low-stress, yet healthy, options for their family to eat for dinner.
As they put this place into action, the business, rebranded as Gathermade, just took off and they felt demand pull instead of push for the first time. They simply couldn’t keep up with people’s interest in it. In seven weeks, they served 450 meals to 56 families with four home chefs. They grew 44% week over week with zero marketing spend, through purely word-of-mouth and referrals. The majority of families are now ordering 2.2 meals every week, giving the business revenue retention of 102%, and their annual net LTV of $591 means they have an enormous market opportunity ahead of them.
Building the company and successfully fundraising
Within a few months, Gathermade was able to grow its supply pipeline to 44 chefs, thanks to a process that makes it easy for new chefs to onboard onto the platform. And Gathermade is now also offering chefs tools to manage their finances, orders, and more. The whole process is working well for both the growing number of home chefs on the platform and busy families in their communities.
However, the team viewed this as just the beginning. Knowing that they’ll need to be well capitalized to continue and even expand their rate of growth, Mackenzie and Joe prepared to cap their experience in the Summer 2021 Accelerator by presenting their plans for Gathermade at Pear’s Demo Day in October, 2021.
Taking their same meticulous approach to telling their story to potential investors, Mackenzie and Joe went through about 100 iterations of their pitch deck as they got ready for Demo Day, getting feedback from Pear’s team at each step of the way. Finally, the Friday before, they thought they had it locked down.
Going through that version from the eyes of the potential investors she knew would be listening just a few days later, though, Mar had a realization, telling Mackenzie and Joe, “Don’t freak out, but I think we should start over.” Together, they decided to flip the narrative from talking from one side of their marketplace, a customer POV, to the other, chef POV.
Mar met with Mackenzie and Joe Saturday morning, Saturday night, and Sunday morning to dial in this updated narrative, truly getting in the trenches with them. As Mackenzie describes, “Mar is on the Midas List, but was helping me move text boxes around on my slides.”
Ultimately, this all paid off, as Mackenzie and Joe left Demo Day set up with a great set of investors ready to begin negotiating term sheets and invest the capital the team needs to accelerate their growth. They raised a successful seed round within a few months of coming out of the Accelerator. Mackenzie told us, “We’re so proud of the work we’ve done. I don’t have enough good things to say about the Accelerator or the Pear team.”