Heidi Finley Bachelor's Degree is in Restaurant Management from Cornell University. Her MBA is in Sustainable Business from Presidio Graduate School (formerly Bainbridge Graduate Institute). During graduate school, she worked as a household manager and private chef for a family in Seattle. At the beginning of each week, she prepared food that the family ate throughout the week.
Her father was an entrepreneur and Finley wanted to be one, too. "Could meal prep be the business that she would start?" she thought. As fate would have it, a friend nudged her in that direction. The friend asked Finley to do meal prep for her. "Sure, if the friend could get a handful of other friends to want the service, it would be worthwhile."
Sundays became Finley's day to buy food, prep it, and deliver it. She not only delivered the food, but she also put it in the refrigerators of her clients. These were friends and friends of friends. All had given her their keys. Between 2009 and 2010, this small test became her minimum viable product (MVP)—pilot—for Maven Meals. The fresh-food meal prep industry is expected to reach $11.6 billion, according to Statista.
Finley had a contract job that was about to end. She was burning out working a Monday to Friday job plus doing meal prep on the side. It was time to take the leap into entrepreneurship and move out of her home kitchen and into a commercial one. Maven officially launched in 2011.
For people who love delicious and nutritious food, but don't have the time to prepare meals themselves, Maven does it for them. The company makes seasonal dishes, using the freshest locally grown ingredients. The breakfast, lunch, and diner menus change weekly.
The handful of customers she launched with told their friends, who told their friends, and so on and so on and so on. "Every year, we've grown by 40% plus," emphasized Finley.
Not everything was a grand slam. "We tried selling through retail outlets," sighed Finley. That business model made money, but "the grief-to-benefit ratio just wasn't worth it." However, she did keep her original shop.
Entrepreneurship is often considered a lonely journey, but the best entrepreneurs know when to seek help. Finley worked with a coach, Julia Pimsleur, of Million Dollar Women. "She kept me focused on the top priorities and, every time I got on one of our calls, she helped me think through my options and keep me moving forward with total clarity." As a result, the company's trajectory accelerated.
Seattle was the place where the US Covid-19 outbreak first took hold. Starting on March 11, Governor Jay Inslee initiated a series of restrictions that limited the size of gatherings, closed schools, and temporarily shut down all bars, restaurants, gyms, hair, and nails salons, and other social gathering places. However, even before Seattle-wide lockdown orders were issued, companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook sent their employees home to work. "There was a huge rise in orders," Finley said. "Business doubled."
But, it wasn't all people ordering food for themselves. Between March and June, during Maven's Healthcare Heroes Campaign, 589 customers donated over 8,100 meals to nine local hospitals run by Healthpoint, Highline, Swedish, UW Medicine, and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA). Additionally, Maven partnered with local producers, who lost their distribution channels when the pandemic hit, to sell their products on its website. As a result, the company has directed over $20,000 into the local business community.
The sudden surge in business caught the Maven team off guard. By reaching out to the local economic development agency—Discover Burien—the meal prep company responded. It regained its footing quickly to build the team and infrastructure to meet the demand. Finley hired people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, many were from the restaurant industry. She hired local companies to deliver food and do some kitchen work. She even found refrigerators. "We increased staff by 35% in the span of two weeks," she stated.
The team wrote a pandemic action plan, which focused on keeping staff and customers safe. They based it on the King County and CDC guidelines and covered social distance and sanitization. Before the crisis, she had one shift of workers. Now, people were in the kitchen almost around the clock.
Finley attributes her success to others, including her team. "I could not have done this without the people on my staff," she said. "It's definitely about the whole team."
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