Reality bites, MunchMoney pivots, tummies applaud

Let them eat … well, whatever they want: That's the plan at West Islip-based MunchMoney, which is focusing the national launch of its rewards-based group-purchasing app on its most promising B2B vertical.

From the Office of Sticktoitiveness comes Chris Kane and MunchMoney Inc., makers of a rewards-based group-purchasing app that whittled down an overdose of functionality to focus on one bright vertical – and has ridden that strategy to an impressive national launch.

When last we left Kane, the James Madison University graduate and hungry entrepreneur was preparing for a pilot launch of MunchMoney, flagship app of the 2017 startup created by the CEO and co-founders Aaron Pardes and Tony Dobbs.

The original plan: A pilot launch inside the Hauppauge Industrial Park, offering the park’s city-sized population of daily workers access to group-purchasing perks at their favorite local fast-casual restaurants.

That would be the springboard, according to Kane and co., shooting the “college meal plan for real life” into the loyalty-program stratosphere.

Flash forward 11 months: That pilot program never launched. But after some strategic soul-searching and technical retooling, the app has instead gone national – Android and iOS versions are now available, with a tasty database of more than 45,000 restaurants on the menu.

The remarkable pivot started with a cold dose of reality. Tooling up for that pilot launch last year, Kane and his partners “ran into obstacles,” according to the CEO, specifically when it came to “integrating with point-of-sale systems.”

“We uncovered difficulties integrating with them and even getting in front of them,” Kane told Innovate LI. “It turned out to be extremely costly and time-consuming. The tech and development requirements were overwhelming and expensive, on both sides.”

The partners faced a question familiar to many startups – is this the best way to go to market? – and decided to “step back, reevaluate our value proposition and check our business equation,” Kane said.

One thing was clear: The B2B market (targeting employers as MunchMoney customers) was already showing more pull than the B2C market (targeting individual eaters). The team determined to capitalize on this data, and Step No. 1 was a simplification of the MunchMoney app.

“We had a large, large feature set we were trying to implement,” Kane noted. “The sales process just threw to much at people at one time. It was overwhelming.”

Chris Kane: Changing the recipe.

With Chief Technology Officer Pardes and Lead Developer Dobbs retuning the app’s functionality, the team decided to release MunchMoney in phases. The current launch is Phase 1, specifically targeting that promising B2B market.

“We want this to be known first as a way to increase employee engagement and satisfaction, with food-benefits perks,” Kane said. “There is no B2C element at the moment.”

The basic idea: Employers pay $1 per employee per month, giving them access to the MunchMoney platform, which offers “bulk rate” deals at regional restaurants (BOGO, 50 percent off, a free X with a purchase of Y, etc.). The restaurants gain new traffic; the employees enjoy great deals; and the employers can add a nice perk to their employee attraction/retention package.

Instead of limiting MunchMoney’s potential client base, the B2B focus has supersized it: By making the app free for restaurants to use and seeking out a series of unique national partnerships, the West Islip company has amassed a database of 45,000-plus national restaurants – and has even negotiated an exclusivity deal with them, meaning they “can’t offer a deal, publicly, of better value,” according to Kane.

The B2B push has also refined the 2017 startup’s marketing strategies. Kane noted a “presence on all social media platforms,” including Twitter and Instagram, but said MunchMoney’s bread is buttered on LinkedIn and Facebook.

LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator tool is “particularly powerful,” the CEO said, especially for a company more interested in pursuing a 1,000-employee firm than chasing after 1,000 individuals.

“We’re able to segment exactly the [business leaders] we want to target,” Kane said. “We can reach out to these specific people and get into conversations with them about MunchMoney and employee engagement.”

Those efforts are bolstered by a “bottom-up strategy” on Facebook, he added.

“Through LinkedIn, we contact the C-level execs – the HR chief, the head of talent acquisition,” Kane noted. “But at the same time, we can run a Facebook ad set with content about the company, targeting the people who work at the company.”

That sophisticated use of specific e-marketing tools is essential to the MunchMoney plan. The focus now turns to user growth, according to Kane, with the company exploring “strategic partnerships” with HR tech companies that could put the app in front of huge numbers of potential customers.

Also on MunchMoney’s radar are commercial property managers. The idea there is to convince landlords that offering MunchMoney to an entire building’s population is an affordable way (just 6 cents per square foot, according to MunchMoney) to make a space more palatable (literally) to potential tenants.

With its flagship app now available at Google Play and the App Store, the early-stage enterprise is also setting its first financing round, targeting $250,000 and looking to get with angels and VC firms.

“We’ve been talking to them,” Kane noted. “Now that we’ve launched and we’re building traction, we can go back to them and say, ‘We’re ready to get that deal.’

“We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback so far,” the CEO added. “We’re really looking forward to growing as quickly as we can. It’s exciting.”