From The Big Apple To The Magic City

By Nancy Dahlberg
The Miami Herald.

Mary Biggins co-founded ClassPass, a fast-moving New York-based company that lets fitness enthusiasts pay one monthly fee to gain access to multiple specialized boutique fitness studios.

Launched in June 2013, ClassPass now has more than 200 employees and serves 37 markets around the world, including Miami, and most recently, Australia. It offers classes at 10,000 studios from the big names to small boutique neighborhood spots and has booked more than 10 million class reservations.

It’s also a venture capital darling, having raised more than $80 million in financing from Google Ventures and other firms.
So what is she doing in Miami? Not taking a vacation on South Beach, although she probably deserves one. Biggins is starting another company — but this time, it’s based in South Florida.

Along with co-founder Katie Ghelli, she launched MealPass this month in its first market, Brickell, with a curated list of 50 restaurants, such as American Social, Grazionos, El Taco Loco, Novecento, Sushi Siam and Suviche. For $99, members can select and then pick up a meal from a nearby restaurant each weekday, which works out to $5 a day if used daily. They can choose from dozens of choices such as veggie pizza, a tuna wrap, zucchini quiche or chicken teriyaki, among the offerings on one recent day.

MealPass creates efficiencies for restaurants because they will get all their orders by 9 a.m., Biggins said in an interview before the big launch day. Customers pick them up in a special line, so there’s no wait, and they will know exactly what they are getting because the photos on the website were taken by professional photographers and include detailed descriptions.

Now a team of 10, MealPass works out of, a shared workspace in Brickell. Fellow co-workers were beta testers. “We’ve been eating really well and a lot of it,” Ghelli said. “Somebody’s got to do quality control — we willingly take that on.”

Biggins and Ghelli said they expect to be launching in a lot of markets in a short period of time, similar to ClassPass.

Why Miami? “There’s a lot of opportunity. We see it as an interesting place to test ideas. Brickell is like a New York but on a smaller scale,” Biggins said. And yes, she also wanted to experience living someplace warm.

She began spending time in Miami last spring and found a good tech scene and less competition for talent than in New York or San Francisco. One of the first people she met here was Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of the Miami-based early-stage fund Krillion Ventures. Krillion is now an investor in MealPass.

At a Citi Fintech Meeting last week about women in technology co-hosted by the monthy meetup organization Refresh Miami and held at WeWork, Biggins shared more about her ClassPass journey — how the team went from 35 paying customers the first month (“I am pretty sure I knew 30 of them,” she said) to more than 1,000 customers and a $100,000 recurring revenue run rate in just six months. That is also about the time they began to get investors on board.

She said her experience at Vistaprint and Betterment helped prepare her for the startup life. Here are a few of the lessons learned with ClassPass that she shared at the Citi event:

–Don’t build too much technology until you have extensively tested the business model. At ClassPass, that meant doing many, many tasks less efficiently by hand, but if the company had spent time and money building out the technology at the beginning, it would have been wasted because of the numerous iterations.

–Spend on marketing, but with every channel, test, test, test. Try out different versions of ads and content to figure out what moves people to buy your product. “Once you find it you’ll know you found it. But until you find it, it could be crickets,” she said.

–Learn to sell, and the secret is it’s 99 percent listening. When ClassPass was pitching studios, it listened to what features they wanted and added them constantly, she said.

At ClassPass, Biggins transitioned from an operational role to an advisory role this past summer. She knew it was time.

“I love building things and launching things, and I have a lot of ideas,” she told the full house at the Citi event. “ClassPass has a great team in place, it’s on a great path, it knows what it needs to do.”

But she loves the startup challenge. “You don’t do that in the same way when you are a 200-person company,” she said. “You’re either a builder or an optimizer, and you need to know that about yourself.”

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