#2 : Growing Philly-Based Vegan Food Delivery App Live Better to 350 Weekly Active Users

Welcome to Plant Basting Talks, where we interview entrepreneurs in the vegan-friendly space about their story, what they’ve learned thus far, their business model, and revenue numbers.

In our second interview, Live Better Inc. founder Jordyn Adegun discusses:

  • How he came up with and validated his idea for Live Better
  • Getting his first restaurant on the app and how that influenced his business model
  • Why his business model had to change when he moved to Philadelphia
  • The biggest challenges he's faced, a handful of great resources for you to learn from, and how he's learned to appreciate the little things

1. What influenced you to start Live Better Inc.?

I’d say about a year and a half ago, the job I was doing caused me to travel a lot around the New Jersey, kind of Philadelphia area. I was going to different places for work just about every day. At the time I had a girlfriend that was not vegan so whenever we’d go on our lunch breaks, we would have to find a place that was able to be quick for both of us.

That’s around the time I’d say I found out about Happy Cow, and when I was using it I would look on our lunch break and see that it says there are vegan options somewhere, but it would be a 20 minute drive away. Even sometimes in Philly, it would be something that was very far away. So then I would say, “Screw it,” and we’d just go to a random restaurant. They would have a full vegan menu and I had just checked Happy Cow, I checked Yelp, I would check Google, and none of them would have it. It would be really confusing. I was like, "Okay. I’ll just jot this down, and I’ll send it to Happy Cow later". Then it got to the point where I had a list of, I want to say about 60 restaurants just in the Philadelphia area that weren’t on the app, and I was like, “I’m gonna send this to Happy Cow and tell them that they need to update their app."

And then the entrepreneur in me was like, “I can just create this myself and do a better job!” And that’s kind of what started Live Better. It initially started as a food finder just to be able to help vegans find food near them that they never even knew was possible, and make it a lot easier for them to eat out, or now as you see, get delivery or pick up. As we started to get more and more feedback from users of the app they wanted to be able to do more after they found the food so that’s why we ended up adding the delivery down the line.

On the 60 restaurants that aren’t on the Happy Cow app:

It’s way more. I checked a little while ago. It’s been probably a month or two since I checked, but the last time I checked, Happy Cow said that just in the city limits of Philadelphia there’s about 180 vegan options. And on our app right now we’re about a little bit over 400, so they’re missing about half.

2. What went into putting together the initial product?

So initially I had run my own company before so I wasn’t that new into business, but a startup is a lot different than normal businesses, so I had to do a lot of research on that. Then what I found was to build something that’s called an MVP (minimum viable product).

So what I did for the very first initial product was I created a website basically just explaining what the app would do, saying it’s a vegan food finder, saying it’s all vegan menus so you don’t have to worry about asking your waiter or calling the restaurant ahead, explaining the features of the app, how it would benefit you, and then adding a fake download link at the bottom. So it just said “Download Here” at the bottom of the website. and testing that I reached out to a bunch of random people on instagram that I knew were vegan. I just used the hashtags and stuff like that, and I think I sent it to 100 people, and just said, “Check this out”.

I didn’t want to try to persuade them to download it or anything, just putting it out there to see if it’s anything they’re interested in. I think like 60 out of those 100 people tried to download it, and that’s when it kind of confirmed “okay, this is actually a problem that people have other than myself.” Because everyone obviously feels like they have a great idea, but unfortunately the truth is 80% of businesses fail for a reason, so not everyone actually has a good idea, so that was a message to kind of test, is it an idea that’s worth going for, or is it an idea that I just think is a great idea and could be a solution for myself.

So then once we had those 60 people when they clicked the link it just sent me their email information and then I said “okay cool” now that I know that, I’ll actually build an app because people want it. I just sent those 60 people, once I actually built it, the link to the app. I think out of that, 40 of them downloaded and that’s kind of how we got our initial start.

3. How did you get your first customers?

Instagram has been very effective. I’ve reached out to a ton of restaurants just on Instagram, and I think that’s how I got my first one. I also just ended up calling. Calling doesn’t really work that well just because I think they’re getting sold stuff a lot. Getting in contact with certain owners can be hard if they’re not at the restaurant.

Then the way that we got our first orders was based on the way our business model works, the restaurant basically promoted us on their Instagram and people just eventually started ordering. And after that was how we started to get feedback.

That was all in Miami, then I just copied that playbook when I moved here. I was able to test out a lot of the business model in Miami, I wasn’t planning on testing it. The reason why I left Miami was, two big reasons, the first was Miami’s vegan market was very weak. Also the prices of food are extravagantly expensive in Miami no matter where you go. For example one of the restaurants we worked with, for 3 seitan wings it was $14. It was $7 for a slice of vegan pizza. The average order size in Miami was $85. Since it’s so tourist heavy, they hike up the prices.

The other reason was it was very difficult to hire drivers there. There was nothing centralized like we have here, where all the most popular restaurants are going to be around the Center City area or within 15 minutes max. In Miami, there would be popular restaurants 35 minutes apart from each other.

It worked well, and a lot of people used the vegan food finder there as well. I guess because there were so many tourists. We got a ton of complaints when we left. But it’s definitely worked out much better here because the restaurants we work with are all within the Center City area. It makes it very easy to have a driver go from Tattooed Mom’s to Pom Pom, that’s about the farthest they’ll go and it’s only 15 minutes.

4. How have you continued to grow Live Better’s customer base and what is the business model?

We’ve actually had to change a lot. It’s interesting because when I first started I didn't even realize the business plan that I had. One of the restaurants that we started working with became very popular very quickly. They opened up their first restaurant and I happened to reach out to him I think a day or 2 after he opened and he was really hungry to grow. I wanted a way to focus on supporting local businesses. That's kind of around the time that I realized that DoorDash and all those other companies say they support local businesses but they really don’t. A lot of the time they actually end up hurting them. It becomes an issue rather than support and then they kind of are on a crutch because they had no other choice during the pandemic, and obviously now that people have gotten used to ordering, people are still kind of keeping those trends.

I wanted to figure out a way to deliver for restaurants but not have them lose money on every order that they were doing. A lot of restaurants either break even or they’re actually losing money. Just because the profit margins aren’t that much for restaurants getting taken by 30% then they’re not really going to be making any money and a lot of time they lose money. So the initial restaurant I worked with, he was pushing it extremely hard because he wanted to make more money and he wanted to grow the restaurant. He was on DoorDash and Grubhub and people had no clue he was even on those services because every Instagram post he was telling people to order through us.

That’s when the business model came to mind where if all restaurants did this, if we just do a business model where they can make more money and we don’t have to worry about bringing the customers, we can have another model where one side is if they want us to bring them new customers then we’ll charge a commission but we still won’t do 30% but the other side is if they don’t want us to worry about bringing them new customers, I’m not gonna charge them and it worked out super well, and that’s why we have 2 plans.

So we have a partnership plan and we have a merchant plan. The partnership is if a restaurant wants to actually build a partnership with us, they can have that plan where we won’t charge them commission on any orders. That didn’t work nearly as well moving here, surprisingly. It worked with all the restaurants in Miami, which wasn’t as many. We worked with 3 restaurants because we were only there for 6 months. When we moved here we didn’t get the same feedback, which was quite interesting. So that's when we came up with the second plan where we focus on bringing in new customers and we just charge a commission for it.

That was a big confirmation that we needed to change the business model a little bit. We can’t force people to want to promote the app. We don’t force people to do that at all, that’s just all by the restaurant’s own doing. So we did have to change the model when we came here to offer those plans and then also add requirements where if you don’t feel like posting it, you at least have to put it somewhere for people to know. Because if not, then you’re just kind of taking advantage of our plan. Unfortunately some restaurants will try to take advantage of that so we did have to add some stipulations in so that wouldn’t happen but those are adjustments we’ve made with the restaurant side.

5. What is your monthly revenue and how have you grown it?

We’re over $3,000 a month in revenue.

Other metrics that we keep track of are weekly active users then also new users.. Our goal is to try to get people to order once a week which could honestly be a little bit too much but that’s just what we keep track of cause we also want people to be using the food finder give or take once a week as well. In July we had 134 new users, August we had 175 new users, September we had 253 new users, and then as far as weekly active users, in September we had about 350 active users a week.

6. What is your tech stack?

iOS, Firebase for a ton of the app, Stripe for processing payments, Mixpanel for app analytics to improve the experience.

7. Why is it important to you that your product promotes veganism?

Well, we are primarily a vegan app. We do now offer non-vegan options, but we do it in a very specific way. I was very hesitant to add that, but my social media manager brought up a very good point to me. Most households aren’t going to be completely vegan, so if a person wanted to order from Tattooed Mom and they’re not vegan, they wouldn’t have been able to do it on the app before because we didn’t show the non-vegan options. So they would just go to another app and order it anyway. It kind of didn’t make sense because we would just lose out on that customer.

So what we thought is to keep the focus the same where we include non-vegan options, but we’ll never include pictures of the food for any of those options. We make it aggressively clear that the item is non-vegan. On top of that you’re actually not able to check out with a non-vegan item only. If you try to order only non-vegan items from a restaurant on our app just because you want to support them the most, you wouldn’t be able to do that. There have to be vegan items within the cart, so it still goes along with our mission.

I think it’s really important. Something that I wasn’t a big fan of was the Beyond Meats and Impossibles of the world say they focus on meat eaters and that since there are so many more of those people, they’re going to make more of a difference than getting more vegans. I don’t agree with that. I personally feel as though, if I get more people to be open to the vegan diet that makes so much more of an impact in the world. I actually focus directly toward vegans and I say we can get more people to be vegan and see that the diet is a lot easier because it’s not difficult to find food.

There are over 400 options just in Philly. It's not hard to be able to eat out with friends. You don’t have to feel awkward when you’re at a restaurant and you have to ask the waiter to make adjustments. You don’t have to do any of that with our app. You can order food just like everyone else, and you don’t have to take 20 minutes just to figure out what’s on the menu. All those things, allowing it to be easier and causing more people to be vegan, I think will make more of a difference than having meat eaters eat Beyond Meat once or twice a week. That was my perspective, and that’s the mission that we’ve been going towards.

8. What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?

I’d say the first one would be getting restaurants onto the app to deliver. It’s obviously very hard to build a marketplace because you’re trying to deal with the chicken and the egg problem. How do you get restaurants onto the app when there are no users, and how do you get users onto the app when there are no restaurants? It’s a difficult problem to solve. Most of the time they recommend to go towards the supply side because they’re willing to take a bit more time to allow that to mature, so we went towards restaurants.

With the restaurants especially during the pandemic which is when I started this, they had a really bad taste in their mouths from the current delivery providers. There are a lot of different things that they do that don’t really help the industry. One is that they didn’t initially charge so much, they started at 15% and then it slowly creeped up to 30-40%. And they would do it for restaurants that already needed them and it got even higher during the pandemic because they knew restaurants needed them even more. When the restaurants already have such a bad taste in their mouths, getting them to believe differently is pretty difficult. You’re no one, they have no clue who you are, and the only thing they have to look towards is Grubhub Doordash etc., so they’re automatically going to portrait you in that same light. That was definitely a hard hurdle to overcome both in Miami and again coming back here.

And once you get one or two to say yes, and other restaurants see them having a good experience, that’s when it starts to become progressively easier. For example, Tattooed Mom reached out to us to partner through DM on Instagram. And the same thing happened in Miami where the dynamic switched, where once we had a certain amount of restaurants, restaurants started reaching out to us.

Another one that’s actually been really tough, which wasn’t as hard in Miami but has been here, is getting people to give feedback on the app. I’ve been having to try to find creative ways to do that. One thing that we did before but people just don’t answer here, is send texts after the order and ask for feedback on something specific that we were trying to learn about.

And reviews have been an obstacle recently, trying to get people to give reviews on an app is difficult but is very integral and what we want to do with our app since it is a vegan focused app. If you go look up Red Crest Fried Chicken, they have vegan chicken sandwiches. If you go on their Yelp or Google reviews page and look at their reviews, I’d say more than 9 out of 10 are going to be about the non-vegan options. As a vegan looking to go out to eat, when you hear that they have vegan options there you’re really just going in blind. When was the last time you couldn’t get a review for a restaurant that you wanted to go to? That really doesn’t exist anymore, but for vegans it’s still a really prevalent issue. So we’re trying to get people to write reviews because then someone can go on our app and see all the different reviews for a restaurant and get a real clear mind about what the vegan options are like specifically.

It’s been really difficult to get people to do reviews, but the idea that we’ve come up with to overcome that is to offer 20% back on the order, so that’s worked a little. We just started doing that recently and I think it’s only a 20% rate of people actually doing it. That’s a solution we’ve come up with where it’ll slowly but surely add up to a lot of reviews and once more people see the reviews, then others will start to follow suit but that’s something that’s been a pretty big struggle.

And trying to get an investment, we haven’t been successful with that.

9. Have you found anything (resource, book, skill, habit, or bit of knowledge) that’s been valuable or useful for your entrepreneurial journey?

Books wise, The Mom Test is super helpful. And The Lean Startup. Using the method of basically you just build something super quick and throw it out there to see if people are actually interested in what you have. And the other thing The Lean Startup taught is that you should tell your ideas to as many people as possible so that you can get feedback on it. It definitely just goes over more of the basics, and explains the why of a lot of things. And then Y Combinator videos that will kind of go into deeper avenues of each section of the book.

It sucks that they don’t put a lot of the information online that people need to find. Y Combinator videos are a good starting stepping stone, but there are a lot of flaws in the videos that stand out now. Also some Jason Kalakanis podcasts and Paul Graham essays.

10. How do you tend to your mental health as a business owner?

The business I did before was door to door sales and it was a business where they kind of taught you how to be good at business. That’s definitely enhanced the way that I do things now. One thing that they teach you there is how to keep a positive attitude, so when things come up I’m usually never angry or negative but that’s a skill that took a long time to build. So those skills I’ve held through my life and still use every single day now. If I do have something that comes up, I’ve learned to enjoy the smaller things in life that help with stress. So I hang out with my dog a ton, I play video games. Having a routine is definitely helpful, but letting it come naturally. I haven’t used an alarm clock in 2 years, maybe 3.

11. What’s your advice for entrepreneurs just starting out in the vegan-friendly space?

The city of Philadelphia is a wonderful vegan city. I would just say do things a lot faster than you think you should and take risks. Time is the most important thing you have in the company because there are so many different directions you can go, you just have to figure out which one is the best decision. Always build things faster and just put it out there. Don’t wait.

12. Where can we go to learn more about you and Live Better?

You can go to the Live Better Instagram, @livebetterinc. We also had an article recently written about us on Grid Magazine.

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