Summary of Episode
#49: Co-founders Andrew Hollar and Max Rebarber join Ethan to discuss their innovative, intuitive and much needed startup, Fig. Aimed at helping the 60% of people who have dietary restrictions today, Fig is tech that helps to take the fear, isolation and frustration out of dietary restrictions. The app guides its users towards foods and recipes that will be beneficial to them and towards communities who can help to support their journeys.
About the Guests:
The dynamic duo discuss their own dietary needs and the demand for a service to assist these communities find foods that they can safely eat. They also explore the marketing strategy that fell into their laps, certain challenges that they have encountered, as well as the importance of community and utilizing consumer feedback.
Andrew Hollar and Max Rebarber are co-founders of the startup, Fig. After discovering their own dietary restrictions, they realized the frustration and isolation associated with not knowing what brands of foods they could eat without flaring up symptoms. Dedicated to helping others with the same plight, the pair started Fig. With the help of TikTok and word of mouth, they have grown to over five hundred thousand users in two and a half years.
Podcast Episode Notes
Introducing Max Rebarber and Andrew Holler and Fig, the tech that aims to simplify dietary needs [1:08]
A personal story of developed dietary restriction as well as visions of the future for Fig [3:28]
The importance of focusing on building your brand around your customer. [6:04]
An introduction to Fig’s stats [7:42]
The brilliance and reach of TikTok, and how a Reddit user helped to put Fig on the map [8:08]
Some stats and we touch on Fig’s marketing strategy! [11:17]
The intricate data challenges that Fig faces to provide accuracy for its users and the reason why Fig is the only app of its kind. [12:52]
Fig is built on trust - how do the pair build this trust and why the duo insist that Fig is a continual work in progress. [16:06]
How Fig aims to optimize the customer experience [19:55]
Fig as a community support to make dietary restrictions less daunting [23:33]
More in depth marketing strategy including TikTok, community building, and Facebook groups! [26:49]
Fig’s business model, how a free app is monetized, company partnerships, and investors. [31:42]
What’s to come for Fig? - Is international expansion in the works? [37:05]
Max and Andrew touch on their number 1 piece of advice for early stage entrepreneurs - time management and the banishment of fear [40:46]
Full Interview Transcript
Ethan: Hey everyone, and welcome to the Startup Savant Podcast. I'm your host, Ethan. If you're new to the show, welcome. And if you're a veteran, you know that this show is a podcast about the real experiences of entrepreneurs, founders who are currently, right now on the battlefield, in the trenches doing everything they can to build something wonderful. Our guests on the show today are Andrew Hollar and Max Rebarber, co-founders of Fig or Food Is Good. Hey guys, how are you doing today? Welcome to the show.
Max: Hi, Ethan.
Andrew: Doing very well.
Max: Doing great. Thanks for having us.
Andrew: Thank you so much for having us.
Ethan: Awesome. Super glad to have you guys on. And when I was doing research for this conversation, I got really excited because this seems like a problem that has just needed to be solved for such a long time. So I'm going to let this go to whomever you think will answer the question best, but simple question, what is Fig?
Andrew: You want to take that Max?
Max: Yeah, sure. So Fig is really a technology that's changing the way that food and health are perceived in the world. There's such an increase in how many people in the world have dietary needs. It's probably about 60% of the world that have some type of dietary need today. And the way that doctors and healthcare ultimately recommend for individuals to learn a new diet today is really just a sheet of paper. So if you are diagnosed with celiac or have a GI disease, a doctor might hand you a list of 500 ingredients to avoid, and the patients often left on their own to Figure out what their life is or how to navigate food with that paper. And that's just such a backwards experience that we felt pretty passionately technology could streamline and improve for the patient and just their overall life. So what we've built so far is a technology that simplifies that whole process, makes understanding what your dietary needs are really, really simple, stores that in one place that lives online your Fig and then connects that to everywhere that food is.
So if you're shopping for groceries, browsing for recipes, or ordering from DoorDash, really just finding food in the real world. Fig will just very simply and clearly show you, is a food green? Good for you. Is it red? Bad for you, and actually explain why. So Fig is reading the ingredients in real time and telling you what's in that food that you might not be able to have, and educating you as to why that's the case from a team of dieticians who've kind of built-up the platform over the past two years. So high level, that's what Fig is and where we got started from.
Ethan: So this is such a multi-pronged problem. Obviously you mentioned that if someone is diagnosed with this issue, their doctor in most cases is just going to hand them a piece of paper and say, "Good luck." Which it doesn't necessarily sound like you're changing that part of the conversation, but you're kind of coming in afterwards and saying, "Hey, we are that good luck, we're going to be here to support your dietary needs moving forward." Is that the part of the problem that Fig is trying to solve, or is there other, kind of, steps in this problem that you guys are trying to build yourselves into as well?
Andrew: Yeah, I think I'd say that we believe strongly food is medicine, and I know it's cliche, but for so many people, food has resolved symptoms, is giving you your life back. And I don't say that lightly, because for me, that was the case. I'll keep a very long story short. I went to Mexico in 2014, got really, really sick. And for three years saw more than 20 doctors trying to Figure out what in the heck was going on with me. I finally found my answer through food in 2017 when I flew to Chicago to see an alternative medicine doctor, and he was the first one that ever got me on this notion that food might be causing your symptoms. But I was presented with that sheet of paper and basically told to avoid hundreds and hundreds of ingredients.
We are starting at that part of the journey right now where, okay, whatever restrictions you have, maybe it's celiac, maybe you also need to follow a diet for IBS. Maybe you also have a peanut allergy. They can take all of those needs together and then present recommendations for you so you don't have to go to the grocery store and spend hours looking for food. But my eventual dream is that Fig is actually broader than that. Probably the number one request that we get from our members now is what should I actually eat to feel my best? So we know that people need help before they get to that moment of, "Okay, I'm going to customize what I'm getting at the grocery store." And that is in the future roadmap to actually build out tech to help you Figure out personally what types of foods are going to help you fill your best, which ones are going to be most aligned with your unique dietary needs.
And it's very much unique. We find that an interesting stat, 80% of people on the Fig platform have an entirely unique Fig than anyone else, and this means that all of us are eating uniquely based on our own needs, and that's on a user base of over 300,000 people. So quite a lot of unique dietary needs out there.
Ethan: So I mean, obviously we're seeing that this is a massively widespread problem that people are having. How did you know though that this was a problem that had a viable business idea behind it? Was there any testing you did to validate that?
Max: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that just got us really excited from the start is just the scale. So just the amount of people that have this problem and struggle with it every day and the multi-pronged facets of the problem that touch really massive industries. So as we kind of view Fig as a technology that's connecting the world of food and health, I think we knew that A, this is a massive consumer problem. We can think about a way to solve the problem for the consumer, directly build an exceptional consumer experience, which I think is where we've focused on what we've done today. And if we're successful at that, we can basically pull demand onto the platform in a way that every consumer with dietary needs or that needs to learn a new diet, can use Fig to manage their lives. And that will be valuable to both the worlds of food and health.
So our approach from the start has always been built with the consumer, don't necessarily be focused on the business as we've kind of built with them from the start, and then use the demand and the exceptional experience we've built to really connect to these large industries, food, which is a trillion-dollar industry, healthcare, 60 billion a year. So kind of find opportunities from both of those. As we continue to grow, we're still kind of mostly at the end of, I guess, of our consumer journey. We can kind of share some stats and where we've been so far, but that's kind of been the business focus and our approach since when we got started.
Ethan: Well, if you're going to offer to give stats, I'd love it. So tell us what you got.
Max: Yeah, so we started building maybe about two and a half, three years ago. We started pretty quietly in beta, just kind of building with a small community and group of early adopters. I think the main reason why we did that was just to focus on building an accurate platform that could be trusted by the community and used ultimately for medical purposes. I think we saw-
Ethan: Is this an app that you're building? I apologize to jump in, or was it some other format?
Max: So we started with a Chrome extension. So the first manifestation of Fig was a Chrome extension that sat over online grocery and online recipe experiences and showed you that green, yellow, red rating and red ingredients on top of those pages. We launched that platform maybe about two and a half years ago, and we experienced a lot of growth pretty quickly, actually from a single TikTok post. So from the-
Ethan: Oh, nice.
Max: ... extension. Yeah, we grew maybe about 20,000 users in a week from a single TikTok post. It was learning both in terms of the magic and power of TikTok for marketing, and then also just kind of gave us confidence that there's like a market here and pull for our product. Which-
Ethan: All right, hold on, I got to interrupt again. I'm so sorry. You got to tell us what was in that post.
Andrew: It was so simple. So very simple. If you have dietary restrictions, you've got to try this and-
Ethan: Oh wow.
Andrew: ... it just showed someone setting up their Fig profile and then plugging in all their unique restrictions. Actually, the guy who created the video, he had reached out to me from a Reddit post that I had created and said, "I have lived with dietary restrictions all my life. I have to be involved with what you're doing." He made a TikTok video and went viral. We said, "Come on, you're our chief of marketing." So Tyler's actually now our head of marketing, and he's incredible. He's doing it for all the right reasons because he lives, himself with 400 dietary restrictions, and he's basically found there were so many people in the world of dietary restrictions. All you have to do is talk about your experience on TikTok, and the TikTok algorithm will get it to where it needs to go.
Ethan: Wow. So this post really wasn't even something that came from you all, it was coming from one of your users.
Andrew: That's right.
Ethan: That's impressive. And then you're like, "Okay, nope, you're coming on. You're our guy." That's so cool.
Andrew: And I think that's something we've found really with the DNA of the company. We think of ourselves so much as a mission. As you said, it's surprising that something like Fig hasn't existed yet because so much of the world has to watch what they eat for some reason or another, and we find users coming to us all the time offering ideas. Most of our team live with dietary restrictions. They've joined Fig because they believe in the mission and they need it in their own personal lives. And it's in many ways made a lot of our work easier because we don't have to make a hard sell if you personally have to restrict 600 or 700 ingredients, you want Fig to exist desperately for your own selfish reasons, but also for the goodness of the world.
Ethan: That's absolutely true. That is 100% true. I mean, I've said it a thousand times at this point already, but so wide-reaching that I'm massively surprised that something like this hasn't existed until now. Max, we want to go back to the stats that you were sharing there.
Max: Yeah, yeah. I'll just quickly touch on our journey and I think we have a few ideas as well for why it hasn't existed so far, which we can share. It mainly relates to it being an incredibly hard data challenge to solve, but just back on our journey, like I mentioned, we launched the Chrome extension, grew pretty quickly, realized there was a market here and the product was liked and loved with a lot of the feedback we were getting. And so raised a bit of money off of that and then really invested it in building the mobile app, which we recognized was going to be our main source of growth. It's much easier to get people on a mobile app than a Chrome extension just based on how many people use phones versus computers every day in their lives. So built a mobile app. It's been on the market for about a year.
I think we launched it right around Thanksgiving of last year, and that was after we felt the platform was accurate enough for users to trust it, for it to be really public facing. And it's grown to support a little under 500,000 kind of total people right now as a platform. And most of that has just all been through organic word of mouth marketing. So the same type of messaging and channels that we mentioned, that took off on TikTok. We've just kind of been doubling down and replicating that, building out like an SEO funnel and launching communities on Facebook and those channels have really just driven a lot of organic growth for us. So we've been just pleased at how it's taken off. Again, we've been talking about just because so many people need it and it doesn't exist, people are just kind of jumping at the bit to start using it.
Ethan: All right. Well, you're basically doing my job for me. You're bringing up all these awesome things that I really think we should get into with the SEO and the Facebook groups and all that stuff, but we're going to save that for a little bit later because I think it's so valuable to go into. Max, I want to go back to you for a second. You mentioned that this is an incredibly difficult data problem to solve, and that may be the reason why a solution for this problem hasn't existed in the past. So can you give us a little bit of insight into why this data problem is so hard to solve and what the steps you all are taking to solve it?
Max: Yeah, that's a better Andrew question since he's been working on our data.
Ethan: All right, Andrew, hit it.
Andrew: First, our grand vision for Fig is that Fig is everywhere. You have to make a food decision, and we started at grocery stores and recipe websites, but eventually we want to expand into restaurants, and especially with sharing between friends and family, my ultimate goal is that you'll be able to send your Fig to your mom and she can cook for you no matter how restrict your dietary restrictions are. But we've started in the grocery space because that is the foundation of where most people find food, and your meal plan. You would think that product data, ingredient data, allergen data, is easily available and accurate. That's just not the case. That has been data sets that have been built up over the last decade. But it's a chronic problem because ingredients are always changing. Allergen statements are always changing. That is one part of the data problem, the actual ingredients and allergens for food products.
How do you also build up what we call an ingredient database? The thousands of different ingredients that you can find in food products and the hundreds of thousands of different synonyms that those ingredients can appear on an ingredient label. So we've spent years building up that ingredient database.
The next part of the data challenge is just having accurate algorithms that can actually take an individual's dietary restrictions, read through a product's ingredient label and an allergen label, and actually produce an accurate result. How do you know if the algorithm is properly reading that ingredient label or that allergen label?
And that's where we've spent just countless hours over the last two years, refining, refining, refining at the individual diet level, trying to make it as accurate as possible because I think where so many of these technologies have failed in the past, they've not gained the trust of the communities that would otherwise rely on them. These are very serious challenges. For me, I have IBS, eating the wrong thing whenever you're trying to follow a restrictive diet, like low-FODMAP for IBS, means you can get really, really sick. For me, it can mean three or four days of a lot of pain. So the bar is really high on the importance here and just having that accurate product data, the accurate ingredient database data, and the accurate algorithms all working in concert 99% of the time, it's just a significant challenge.
Ethan: So yeah, let's dig into that trust building there for a second, because this is a problem. I don't have a whole lot of dietary restrictions myself, but personally, my fiance's mom has celiac, and so I know that I've stood in the grocery store and Googled with only one hand, because the other hand is full of groceries, is America Whip gluten-free? Is this brand of pickles gluten-free? I mean, everything in the grocery store I've Googled is this gluten-free? And so that thing-
Max: That's our SEO strategy. Just FYI, not to cut you off.
Ethan: Yeah. Right, right. And so what-
Max: So hopefully Fig was on top of some of those search results. Yeah.
Ethan: Well, I've been doing this for years. So in the past it's always been blogs and these personal blogs. And so there are these individuals out there, not businesses that are trying to solve this problem and you don't know whether to trust them or not. So tell us-
Max: Not credible.
Ethan: ... how you're building this trust.
Andrew: Yeah, I'll say that we have, I think there's a two-pronged system. One is working with dieticians where we can. There are dieticians who live with celiac who are the absolute best people in the world to go through and help us identify which products are likely appropriate for a celiac diet.
Same thing for dieticians with IBS, dieticians with histamine issues. What you'll find is that there are such a long tail list of dietary needs and restrictions out there, truly just thousands of different restrictions for different diseases and for different conditions, different allergies and sensitivities and where possible, we work with dieticians to make sure that we're as accurate as possible. We also, though, recognize that for a lot of these communities, the healthcare system just doesn't yet have the knowledge that it needs to adequately serve those communities. I mentioned that I saw 20 doctors trying to figure out what in the heck was going on with me and the healthcare system ultimately failed me.
What you find is that there are a lot of communities that have popped up out of desperation in order to try to serve the needs of those in the community. Corn allergy is a great example. A corn allergy is a terrible, terrible allergy to have. Corn is used in absolutely everything in this country. Even bottled water could be unsafe for someone with a corn allergy. You are not going to find a lot of information about which products have corn online from professional sources. It just doesn't exist. But these communities have sprung up of people with corn allergy, tens of thousands of users, and they have institutional knowledge within their communities and we're working as closely as we can with them to try to serve their needs as well as we possibly can.
And of course, I will always caveat to say that Fig is a continual work in progress. Our job will never be done, but the best that we can do and what we owe to these communities is to build alongside them, build as rapidly as we can and as trustworthy as we can, fix errors as we find them, and know that with time we will keep improving and better serving them.
Ethan: So are you bringing these dieticians kind of onboard as employees or are you working with them on a contractor level, what is the kind of path to getting their knowledge into your system?
Andrew: So we definitely work with them on a contract basis, and that's just because we find that different dieticians are experts in different diets of course. And so we have such a long tail list of needs that we serve on the platform that it makes sense to contract with 15 or 20 different dieticians, all of whom are experts in their respective fields.
Ethan: All right. So you've got this information, you've got this app, and you're building this customer experience through the app. Can you tell us how you're going about making that customer experience exactly what the user needs?
Andrew: Sure. My goal with Fig is to make it as easy as possible to find foods that likely fit your needs or your family's needs. Whenever you come onto the platform, you fill out some very basic questions. If there are any diets that you follow, if there are any allergies or sensitivities that you have, if there are any other restrictions that you need to be mindful of. And then Fig is going to recommend foods that likely work, but the emphasis is really unlikely. We have hundreds of thousands of food products in our database, and as you know, unfortunately in this country, manufacturers can change ingredients and allergens on a whim. And so it is just incredibly important to me as someone with dietary restrictions and sensitivities myself, that everyone on our platform use the platform responsibly in the right way. Whenever I first got diagnosed with IBS and I was told to follow a low-FODMAP diet, there were literally hundreds of ingredients that I needed to avoid.
And I went to the grocery store and I remember my husband and I, we were looking for coconut milk that didn't have any preservatives in it, and we went to five or six different grocery stores and we came home empty handed. I remember I cried about it because I thought to myself, is this really going to be my new existence? Is this my new reality? My goal with Fig is if that coconut milk without preservatives exists, I want Fig to point you to it and say, "This is likely the one that's going to work for you." But something that we tell our members over and over, please use Fig as that guide to point you in the right direction. But then always confirm ingredients and allergens yourself, because I just want to make sure that you're using it in a manner that's safe. You've got to find something that's going to work for you, but you've got to double-check it because I don't want that on my conscience to be honest.
Max: And I think that our approach as well, that Andrew just outlined, also helped us build the experience to be accurate and meaningful over time. And Fig is taking really that complex logic and choosing a food and making it super simple, right? Green, yellow, red, that's like the central tenet of the customer experience. And with all of the sentiment that Andrew just outlined in terms of how people think about choosing food based on their experiences so far with their dietary needs, we built the ability for those users to interface with the experience from the start and tell us if the experience is good or bad. So in our initial ratings, "Hey, this is green. Did Fig make a mistake? Please flag it and tell us why." And through our beta period, that kind of community feedback coming from the sentiment that Andrew just outlined really helped us make it more accurate over time because users were basically telling us, "Hey, is our algorithm rating this as good or bad?"
And, "Hey, don't necessarily blame us. We're sorry. It's not 100% accurate yet, but please tell us so that we can help us make it more accurate and better for you over time." And that's really the sentiment that we kind of carried through from our beta period even through today. You can see in the product, there's a lot of ability to flag products and ingredients as accurate or not. And we'll do our best to adjust those ratings as fast as possible and get back to those users and let them know that we've made the adjustment for the community to keep making it accurate for everyone.
Ethan: And you've mentioned this community, and we've kind of talked about this already with these blogs and having these kind of followings, there seems to really be a strong community aspect to this problem that since there wasn't anybody out there solving the issue, and since there's so many people having these issues, that they're solving it for themselves and then sharing that information. And so it's really kind of amazing that you have this engine that is there to provide you with all this data to build out this product. And back to something Andrew said, these folks that one question that you asked, "Is this my new life?" I think that is such a powerful question because on some level, we've all experienced that and it's grief. We've all experienced that in some way of, is this really what this is going to look like? Is this forever? And so it's truly amazing to me that you're finding a way to solve this widespread issue for so many people.
Andrew: I think in many ways, we're giving a lot of these communities the vehicle to better solve the problem that they've been solving through channels like Facebook now for years. If you think about the alpha-gal community, alpha-gal is an allergy to mammalian meat. It is an absolutely terrible allergy because so many food products in the US are made from beef or from pork. If you're interested, alpha-gal basically comes as a result of a tick bite, and it's actually a quite prevalent allergy that's growing. It's an anaphylactic allergy to mammalian meat. There are two or three large alpha-gal communities on Facebook, and every day new people are diagnosed with alpha-gal and they're coming onto those Facebook groups and they're asking the same questions. "What should I eat? What can I actually eat at restaurants? What can I eat at the grocery store?" And you'll find that there is an incredible willingness of folks in those communities to help the newcomers, but they're doing it on Facebook.
They're posting a picture of a product and saying, "Here's what my family and I rely on." And now that product is going into the depths of a Facebook post from three years ago. It's not searchable, it's not indexed, it's not kept up to date in any sort of a fashion. And that really speaks to, I think, the evolution of what Fig's product is becoming, which is really a food database for each individual dietary restricted community out there, created and annotated by members of that community for that community. Instead of posting a product on Facebook and saying, "This is what my family and I eat with our alpha-gal." Instead, I can go on to Fig and I can flag this and I can annotate it with all the information that's helpful and necessary for other alpha-gal members to be able to make a decision for themselves. Is this something I want to try for myself or for my family?
Ethan: So we've touched on this community aspect in these Facebook communities, and we talked a little bit about the SEO earlier, but let's jump into that. Tell us about the kind of marketing strategies that you're using to reach these people that clearly want to use your product. Tell us how you're finding them or how they're finding you.
Max: Yeah, so I mean, I mentioned three components. I think… biggest channels, TikTok, SEO, and communities. So TikTok, we've just been live both sharing a lot of our team's stories as well as building an ambassador program. So that same strategy of just sharing what your experience is with your dietary needs, how big is helping you, and just basically multifactorial scaling that out with other ambassadors who can share the same story from their own personal lives. And then that's really our biggest channel by far. I think we get two to five million views on TikTok a month, and I think that trumps everything else that we do from a growth perspective. And so we're heavily indexed and kind of prioritized on TikTok as a growth strategy. It's pretty crazy what one post can do in terms of reaching a large part of the world. SEO, we have kind of a long tail strategy, like we mentioned Ethan, when you were standing in the grocery store searching for, is this cottage cheese gluten-free?
Hopefully Fig is one of the top one or two search results now. It's an approach that we've, I guess, been scaling for a long time. We know that it is exponential growth, so it takes a long time for Google to index those pages and really drive traffic towards us, but we get a good amount of traffic from them. And we're actually launching another set of pages in the near term that heaviest leads support every single grocery item at every single diet. So I think we're going to go from about 50,000 total pages to about 350,000 total pages in the next month or so with that strategy, and that should hopefully increase our traffic by a similar load. And then lastly, communities. So we've pretty much started a similar multifactorial approach of saying, if you're gluten-free at Trader Joe's, if you are celiac at Costco, we basically just started thousands of those groups and just saw which ones took off.
And there's probably about 200, 250,000 or so total members in those communities now. And we've been talking about with the community, it's a way for them to both engage around the problem and for us to really think about the best way to support the community with subsequent product features and services that we can ultimately build to support them. So like we're talking about with community, we're thinking about what the social solutions are to this problem and how we can really build the right infrastructure to solve those social problems for people when they come and interact with Fig. And the communities are both a way for us to acquire users for free or low cost, and also a learning ground for us to understand their challenges better and think about how to build product and solutions that can help support them and make them better over time.
Ethan: These Facebook groups, my one question was going to be, if you are starting the groups, or for lack of a better term, infiltrating groups that already exist, but it sounds like you're starting a bunch of them. Are they Fig branded or do people know that they're going to be interacting with a commercial brand when they join?
Ethan: Yes? Oh, okay.
Max: They're not Fig branded on the surface, but when you join, you're asked about, have you heard of the Fig app? It'll help you find gluten-free food at Trader Joe's, for example, and here's a link and a discount to get started. So the groups are organically supporting you finding food for a specific dietary need, and you're also informed and taught about how Fig might be helpful given your situation.
Ethan: That's a pretty darn good strategy to me. That's awesome.
Andrew: I would say on the Trader Joe's gluten group, we started that probably three months ago. I think it's already grown to 120,000 members.
Ethan: Holy cow.
Andrew: We're relying on Facebook's algorithms and just the inherent interests of people who are trying to shop gluten-free at Trader Joe's to drive that growth. And as Max said, whenever you join, you're prompted to go download the Fig app, which is great. But the second piece, going back to what Max said too, we're trying to bring Fig's app into the conversation on these pages. So whenever people are posting products, post them from the Fig app, go add your commentary about your gluten-free experiences with this product onto the Fig app instead of just posting it onto a Facebook post, which will again, just go into obscurity in a year or so, start making Fig the way that you actually have these conversations around food in your specific dietary restrictions.
Ethan: So you've definitely proven that there is a problem here. You've proven that there are a ton of people who are not only willing to jump into your product, but excited to jump into your product. So tell us a bit about the business model. How is this being monetized?
Max: Yeah, definitely. I think this is maybe one of the biggest challenges that we've experienced so far as well. Being very mission-driven, very clear on the community that we want to support and being multi-faced in the way that we approach the business model in setting this up. I think we knew that we would have to hold our stomachs while we progressed on building a free platform focused on consumer growth. And I think our stomachs got a little bit more queasy over the past year as the market and capital became a little harder to come by. So our approach to monetization has always been: get demand on the platform, partner with a large industry, food and healthcare that can ultimately pay for this service and support it for the communities that need it. I think we were at a point maybe six, seven months ago where we were doing the math on runway, how long we had in order to make it to that next phase where we could really start jamming on the B2B side with enough demand on the platform that we question if we could make it.
And our strategy and approach really turned to starting to charge the consumer for a premium service that we could build in on top of the existing experience. So maybe about three, four months ago, we kind of decided to start monetizing from the consumer. We built and launched a consumer subscription at the end of August for premium features, which included unlimited use of certain features. And we also launched an initial restaurant feature that only premium users would get access to. So basically Fig at restaurants, green, yellow, red, at Taco Bell, McDonald's, et cetera. And the subscription actually is performing pretty well.
So over the past three or four months, we are starting to grow our revenue maybe about 30%, 40% kind of month over month. And we think we're on a good path to sustainability and have a good proof point around our first revenue stream. So for us, again, the end game is not to make all of our money from consumers, it's still to really generate a lot of partnerships and opportunities with businesses who are going to pay for the service for their consumer as well as to improve kind of their businesses as well. But right now we're monetizing from the consumer and it's working, so we're going to continue growing that into at least 2023.
Ethan: What kinds of companies are you looking for partnerships with, and what's the benefit that you're providing to these companies in this partnership?
Max: So, main category we're focused on right now are food brands. So any brand that's basically building or interested in reaching a dietary need community. So if you're launching a digestive health brand, a prebiotic, probiotic fiber for example, we can basically hyper target that product just directly to our community who is their exact target market. And we're basically just becoming a native advertising platform for connecting those brands directly to our community.
And then I think on the more health side, we're initially focused on employers. So if you're a large self-insured employer, why not just cover Fig for potentially the 60% of your population that has dietary needs and just pay a few bucks a month for your employees to get the exact same benefit that the consumer is getting, just that you'll kind of reap the benefits on decreasing the healthcare costs that you're kind of paying out of pocket for managing a lot of these difficult to treat conditions.
Ethan: All right. And you also mentioned that with this past year, in past few months and maybe even this past month with the, we're going to date this podcast a little bit, but with the kind of insanity that's going on around FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried, what does the pressure, if you're receiving a little bit of extra pressure from the VCs or from the investors, what do those conversations look like, or how do those conversations happen?
Max: I mean, I think it manifests for us in that queasy stomach feeling that I mentioned of really having solid data and a clear understanding of where the business is and where it's going. So I think building in the multi-phase approach that we mentioned where, "Hey, don't worry about business model, we'll get a million people on this thing and then we'll be able to put Fig everywhere." That strategy and that approach, I think lands on quieter ears, if you will, given the climate that we're operating in. So for us, our decision was, "Okay, let's not go with that strategy and approach. Let's go with let's build a solid revenue stream and initial business that we can show multiple months of growth and hard data that we can walk investors through and get them comfortable that. Hey, in six months Fig will be a million dollar a year revenue business." Great.
Here are other revenue streams that we can turn on subsequently with the additional investment. And that's kind of how we've at least felt and realized that difference in the market and how we're positioning and thinking about structuring the growth of our business over the next few years.
Ethan: So Andrew, going to you, let's talk about those next few years. What's next for Fig?
Andrew: Yeah, we've got a lot of things coming in the pipeline. It always feels, I know you started this podcast talking about how startup building is like a battleground in the trenches. It always feels like there's just so much to do and so little time to do it. But we have three or four things I'm really excited about coming down the pipe for product. One is we're looking at international expansion. So dietary restrictions are not an American problem. They are global. We've got requests really from every single country in the world and we maintain a wait list, but we're looking at expanding now to English-speaking countries, likely the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. So that'll be coming in early 2023. The second thing is really a focus on user generated content and annotation around foods, which I know we've talked a bit about already, but it's this notion that if you have 20,000 celiacs on the platform and they've had certain experiences with XYZ food product, how can we structure their experiences in a responsible way and deliver information back to that celiac community?
If 10,000 celiacs had issues with a product that wasn't labeled gluten-free, that's important information that we might be able to pass back to the community. The third thing is thinking more about restaurants. Restaurants are often what I call the final frontier of dietary restrictions, at least with a food product from a grocery store, there is an ingredient list and an allergen list, which you can generally trust, I say generally, which is a whole another tangent, but with restaurants, you never quite know what you're getting. We started our beta restaurant feature with chain restaurants where there is some standardization, but think about all the mom-and-pop restaurants out there. We're thinking about how might we leverage the demand for food that we now are bringing onto the thick platform to potentially influence how we might be able to work with mom-and-pop restaurants or with other chained restaurants to deliver those eating out experiences that people with dietary restrictions desperately want.
And then the last thing I'd say is really around sharing. One of the hardest things when you live with dietary restrictions is isolation. It's feeling like you are alone and that no one else understands what you're going through. You don't really know what life of dietary restrictions is like until they hit you. And then you realize that you eat three times a day and you have to start thinking about where your food's coming from three times a day every day, 24/7.
And it's an exhausting challenge and it's very isolating because no longer can you just say to your friends who want to go out to eat, "Oh yes, I'll see you there." You have to start pre-planning, "Can I eat something at this restaurant? Is it going to be safe for me?" The sharing component of Fig is our way to help friends and family love you through food so they can understand, "Okay, Andrew has IBS, he has to avoid 700 ingredients." Here's why I can now use the Fig app to help him find groceries. I can use the Fig app to find recipes that'll likely work for him. I can use the Fig app to find restaurants that will likely work for him.
Again, this is going to be a multi-year journey, but my goal is Fig is your digital dietary companion that's helping you and your loved ones improve your food experiences everywhere and is so desperately needed for the people who struggle.
Ethan: Awesome. That is such a good answer. So much to look forward to. Well, this has been a good conversation so far. We're going to see how it turns out with this next question. Max, I'm going to go to you first. What is your number one piece of advice for early-stage entrepreneurs?
Max: I think it's check fear at the door. I think it's going to be a strong emotion that's kind of going to be present and will be there across your journey. You should listen to it, know that it's there, but don't let it command you and just go for it. You got to get over the hump and you got to get out there and really get past your fear.
Ethan: Solid advice. Andrew, same question. What is your number one piece of advice for early-stage entrepreneurs?
Andrew: I'm sure this will be cliche, but it's truly about prioritization of your time. There is always so much that needs to be done at a startup, and one of the best learnings that I've had is figuring out what are the things that only I can do really, really well and what are the things that I can ask someone else to do? And it's really the latter that is so very important. And Max will probably laugh because I haven't perfectly figured it out yet. But the best possible thing you can do is free up your time to focus on the things that truly matter that only you can move the needle on.
Ethan: We got a thumbs up for Max, everyone. All right. This has been so much fun. You guys are awesome. I'm super excited about Fig. I've got it on my phone and we're going to get check it out the next time I've got a shop for my fiance's mom. Last question for both of you. Where can people connect with you online and how can our listeners support Fig?
Max: Yeah, checks online, foodisgood.com, @foodiscoodco on Instagram and most social platforms. Check out @tylerandhistummy as well on TikTok, he's the most pop in TikTok, I would say. He is our head of marketing, like we mentioned. And @theallergicgirl as well. Her name's Mia. She's actually college student at NYU, and she's just amazing as a person and has been wonderful kind of sharing out her story as well. Check out those handles and yeah, outside of that Fig on the App Store to get the experience and use it for yourself.
Ethan: All right, fantastic. Well, thanks guys so much for coming on. Folks, we're going to put everything you heard today in the show notes over @startupsavant.com/podcast. And that is going to be all for today's episode of the Startup Savant Podcast. Thanks for hanging out with us guys. This has been a ton of fun.
Max: Thanks, Ethan. Pleasure being here.
More on Fig
Fig, or “Food is Good,” is a food and beverage startup offering people with food allergies or restrictions to easily find products that fit within their diet using an app.
Andrew Hollar, founder of food tech startup Fig, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.