At Comcast Ventures, we spend a ton of time thinking about, and investing in, consumer marketplaces. To sift through the noise and spot the next OfferUp or NextDoor, we apply a set of benchmarks around transaction frequency, take-rates and trading liquidity to assess the overall health and potential of the businesses we see. Though if I had to distill the essence of this checklist, the marketplaces that get us most excited are those that are already playing a significant part in the lives of both supply and demand-side participants.
As far as significance goes, there aren't many categories out there as big as food. Aside from housing and transport, US households spend more on food than any other category. That might help explain why venture investors have been so enthusiastic to fund the myriad of food delivery startups out there (us included- we are proud investors in Instacart). We think there are large companies currently being built here, but also think that starting a food delivery company from scratch today might be a tall ask.
With all eyes (and capital) focused on the food delivery opportunity, there is a multi-billion-dollar pocket within the $70B US meal takeout market that no one talks much about: meal pickup (i.e. consumers ordering to go). That's where MealPal comes in. Co-founders Mary Biggins, Katie Ghelli and their team have spent the past 18 months creating a unique technology platform connecting local restaurants with MealPal subscribers and are on the path to building an exciting company in the meal pickup space. Instead of charging a price premium for delivery, MealPal took a contrarian view: they bet that a large segment of the population would happily pick their lunch up from one of hundreds of nearby restaurants (and skip the line every time, mind you) in exchange for an unbeatable price.
Their bet is starting to look like a smart one. MealPal’s technology, proprietary data and sophisticated operational model intersect to create a win-win for restaurants and consumers. Thousands of leading restaurants are partnering with MealPal in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, and now London- and many are seeing a significant new, profitable revenue stream as a result. On the demand side, MealPal recently surpassed 1 million meals reserved, and I, along with many of my colleagues and friends, now turn to the MealPal app for lunch every day.
As far as marketplaces go, MealPal is one of the most exciting we have seen- by any benchmark. We at Comcast Ventures were pleased to join Haystack and NextView as seed investors, and are excited to lead MealPal's Series A round of financing, joined by Bessemer. I couldn't be more optimistic about what the future holds. Bon Appetit!