Melisa Lin, founder and CEO of restaurant meet-up site Nommery, chatted with FEM Tech earlier this month about her journey from Berkeley student to owner of one of the most promising start-ups in the industry.
Nommery has its roots in SF Foodies, the other meet-up community Lin started years ago, back when she worked at Veritable Vegetable, the country’s oldest organic produce distributor.
“There was a point when I was thinking, should I be trying to advance my career in the food industry and progress further there, or can I build something out of this community that is exploding,” Lin said. The group was holding 100 events a month, and filled entire restaurants on some nights.
But before Veritable and SF Foodies, Lin was a student at Berkeley studying mostly, well, food: besides selling her own, homemade granola, leading organic gardening at People’s Park and basically majoring in food (B.S. In Conservation and Resource Studies with a focus on Sustainable Food Business), she also helped found the Student Food Collective, the vegan food-haven located on Bancroft.
A veritable violinist (she’s performed on tour in Europe with the Stanford symphony and at the Davis Symphony Hall in San Francisco) Lin says her love of music taught her the discipline needed to get Nommery off the ground.
“As a performer, you learn how to present yourself in front of a large audience, learn how to command, learn how to project your voice.” This skill has invariably helped in talking to big names, like, for instance, the CTO of Coffee Meets Bagel, a user of and mentor to Nommery.
People First, Company Last
Nommery sprouted in a backwards way, launching with a consumer base already established, with little question as to its viability.
“Having a community first, and understanding what they want and building it for them makes it worth it, because you’re saving time, you’re saving money on developing. It just seems like a no brainer to me.”
Lin says there are three things to have established before looking for funding: the minimal viable product (your website), sales and marketing. Sales will prove the viability of your product, which will particularly capture venture capitalists’ interest.
Logging onto Nommery, there are a handful of restaurant meet-ups created by different hosts at different price points. The cheapest meal is a non-inclusive RSVP of $5; the higher priced reservations can climb up to $300, but that includes everything from appetizers to the tip.
She describes the mood at restaurant meet-ups as “warm, open, excited.” The meet-ups have attracted many food business executives from companies like CISCO, Walmart and OpenTable.
“I’m just kind of awestruck, still,” Lin says. “To go to an event and dine with someone, and not have them mention who they are, and then go on LinkedIn later and see that they’re the VP of eCommerce at Walmart, is kind of mindboggling. It’s amazing how down to earth they all are and how humble they all are.”
Nommery has plans to expand into Chicago, New York and Los Angeles as well as overseas in late 2016.