In 2009 Loretta McGill picked up her life in New Zealand and moved to Melbourne. An exciting change, but a daunting one at that, as she quickly realised how difficult it was to make friends in such a big city.
Keen to explore Melbourne's infamous foodie scene but no one to share it with, Loretta began 'Let's Meet At', a social networking platform for foodies to connect and dine together. We sat down with Loretta to find out a bit more about how it works, and its success so far.
Can you tell our readers a bit about Let's Meet At?
Let's Meet At launched mid 2016 to help people make new friends by connecting them through their mutual love of food. As we get older it gets harder to make friends. By connecting people one-on-one over their common interest in food, it removes any pressure or expectations. It's about enjoying good food together.
What was your motivation to start up this online platform?
The motivation to create Let's Meet At came from my own experience of wanting to make new friends. When I first arrived in Melbourne nearly seven years ago, I had no friends. The worst part of having no friends in Melbourne was that I didn't have anyone to explore the food scene with. The tools to meet people online were limited to traditional dating sites and group-based activities. I didn't want others to feel as lonely as I did, and importantly, miss out on discovering new places to dine, just because they didn't have anyone to go with.
Have you always been a foodie yourself, or did you find moving to Melbourne turned you into one?
I haven't always considered myself a foodie, though most social occasions for me have always been centred around good food and wine - the key to building good friendships. Melbourne certainly heightened my sense of appreciation for good food.
You used to work on an online dating site, how has this affected your approach to your site?
Working on a dating site really helped me when it came to creating Let's Meet At. It particularly helped me approach the customer service and security aspect of the site. I also had knowledge of the operational side of running a peer-to-peer platform, which helped when it came to finding/building the tools to manage the site.
You used crowdfunding to raise initial revenue, what was the response like? Did you find it covered many start-up costs for you?
The crowdfunding acted as a pre-launch campaign and a market research project all rolled into one. I had a really great response from it and it further validated the idea. The funds raised helped pay for the final development phase of Let's Meet At. There are lots of costs associated with running a crowdfunding campaign like admin fees and tax that you don't think about when you start out. This meant that I still had to add more of my own funding to complete the project and launch.
For individuals who donate through Pozible, you send them a personal food recommendation. Could you share your favourite with us and why?
I'd have to say my all-time favourite place in Melbourne is the City Wine Shop. There's lots of wine for one, who doesn't love that, but the thing I like most is it's perfect for all occasions - an intimate dinner with friends or family, a date, after work drinks or to show an out-of-towner something that is quintessentially Melbourne. I love that the food is simple but done well.
Do you have any partnerships with restaurants to promote both a location for meet-ups as well as deals for diners?
At the moment I am focusing on growing the membership so that I can add real value to partnering restaurants. There are already many opportunities throughout Let's Meet At to promote food venues and events they're holding and I am looking forward to building these partnerships over time. We've been really fortunate to partner up with the likes of Union Dining, Ripponlea Food & Wine and Casa Ciuccio to host our Meet the Locals group dinners. This helps us live out our meet local, eat local philosophy!
Tell us about your 'Meet the locals' group dinners. How many people attend? Is this something you will continue?
Our Meet the Locals group dinners are a huge success with diners. They're still intimate with a maximum of 12 people, giving diners the chance to really connect with each other.
I think Let's Meet At members would be very upset with me if I didn't run more dinners. They love that between the dinners they can connect with other foodies on the site and dine together, and also that we come together as a community to share a meal - it's what it's all about. We'll absolutely be hosting more in the New Year and I'm looking for more wonderful local venues to host them at.
What's the greatest thing you've learnt from the experience so far?
You've got to believe in yourself and back yourself. It's not an easy journey and can feel lonely at times. If you work out how to turn the voice of self-doubt off in your head, it will help you to push on and get through it.
Any advice for daring entrepreneurs?
Embrace fear, embrace mistakes and drop the notion of perfection and just do it! The old saying of 'it's about the journey not the destination', is very true in business, the destination keeps moving and you'll tire yourself out chasing it.
Have you met your perfect foodie partner yet?
Just as we started to design Let's Meet At, I met my now boyfriend. He is the ultimate foodie partner! He's ex-Melbourne hospo and shares the same hobby as I do - eating good food. If you can meet a foodie partner who you can eat a whole wheel of baked camembert at Milk the Cow in front of without judgement, you're onto a winner!
This article was originally published on Smudge Eats on December 13 2016.