Made in New England: Meet Insa Elliot of Farmers’ Market Delivery App Market 2day
As a pescatarian, former tech executive Insa Elliot has many fond memories of going to the farmers market over the years—mingling with the local fishmongers, farmers and artisans. With her background in tech and passion for eating local, she got to thinking: How can I take this magical experience and put it online?
It didn’t take long for this part-techie part-yogi to come up with Market 2day, an app that connects farmers’ markets with customers at the push of a button. As their tagline says, it’s “local food for busy people.” We got to chat with co-founder Insa Elliot about her mission to create a healthier food system, the importance of having co-founder and wing-woman Stephanie Marmier on board, and why building community has been key to their success, in our latest Made in New England interview.
R.K.: How did you get the idea to launch the Market 2day app and take it from idea to business?
I.E.: Before I launched the business, I had been thinking about this app for quite a while. I am a pescatarian and eat primarily vegetables and a little bit of fish. Because of that, I’ve been going to my farmers’ market for over a decade. In doing so, I started developing relationships with the people at the market—talking to them about the work they’re doing—and I was really inspired by them. I don’t know a single vendor at a farmers’ market who’s making it rich, or thought it was going to be easy. It got me thinking, “How can I help these people?”
My background is not in food; I spent two decades in tech and know applications, market strategy and product development. I knew that if you applied technology in the right way it could be transformational. I thought, How can you take a farmers’ market and put it online? The the next step was, How would you monetize that? That’s where the delivery piece came in, in creating Market 2day.
R.K.: How does the app work? Take me through the process from a user’s point of view.
I.E.: I tried to replicate the experience of going to shop at a farmers’ market! You download the app, and you can use it to find farmers’ markets that are close to you. Right now we have seven markets—four in Boston and three in the South Shore. You can tell which markets we work with, and see the schedule of most markets.
You then click on a market, and it’s like you’re shopping at the farmers’ market. You’ll see a list of all the vendors organized by category—the farmers, the bakers, the fish guys, the prepared food—and then you click on the vendor and you’ll see their product list. From there, it’s like shopping on Amazon—you order whatever products there are.
Our cutoff is midnight, two days before the market for placing an order. The folks we’re working with are very small businesses, and when a farmer receives an order, they pick, wash and prep it themselves. The vendors will receive bulk orders and we take care of the rest: We pick them up and sort them into individual orders at the market.
I often say the farmers’ market is this magical event where a whole bunch of people with a whole bunch of food come to the same place and then everybody leaves. If we do this correctly, we can avoid overhead costs. We’re not trying to replace farmers’ markets; we’re trying to extend farmers’ markets. We think they’re really special and don’t want them to go away. I’ve had customers vaguely aware of farmers’ markets start using the app and they realize the quality is so much better. Then on the days they forgot to order from the app, they actually went to the farmers’ market for the first time!
R.K.: The revenue goes directly to your vendors. How does that work and why was that an important part of your business model?
I.E.: We’re using a backend payment processing system, and when the payments process, it actually flows directly from the customer to the vendor’s account through our platform. This leads to fewer processing fees. We tack on a small shopping fee and there’s a $10 fee for home delivery. We can also deliver to a workplace, co-working space or luxury apartment complex, offering free delivery for bulk orders.
A lot of the farmers [we work with] are very old school. The best description I got from a farmer is, “It was easy money. I just had to throw a couple extra things on the truck, and it’s easy as pie.”
R.K.: How do you create a sense of community through the app?
I.E.: The co-working spaces are really excited about the app because they’re looking to build a sense of community and grow their offerings. Food is one of the best community connectors out there! We’ve really tried to tap into that sense of community, in doing something together.
People often wonder what’s the reason for buying local, and there are tons of reasons: It tastes way better coming directly from the source versus sitting on a shelf, it’s better for you because the nutrients are contained, and it’s all natural without preservatives. It’s also better for the environment, leaving a much smaller carbon footprint.
Lastly, it connects you to the community, and it’s really important to me that you buy from people, not companies. I’m not an anti-globalist, but if you have the choice to buy from somebody who might virtually be your neighbor, why not keep your dollars here? The most important value of Market2Day is to build a strong food community—from customers to farmers.
R.K.: What did you have to learn the hard way in launching your business? Any particular challenges along the way? Or something that surprised you?
I.E.: There were a few things. As good as the product or service is, people don’t always come right away. You really need to have a strong professional marketing campaign, and that’s why I’ve been really happy to work with FRESH Communications; they’ve been fantastic.
The second thing is around community. I realized selling to communities is the best way to make this service sticky. When I first launched, I was thinking I’d do mostly individual household deliveries so I waited for orders to come and they hardly came at all. I really started to get traction when I began selling to communities: yoga studios, fitness centers and daycare centers. People find value in doing something when their community endorses it, and I realized I needed to have a community-centric, go-to-market strategy. We’re still constantly learning, which is frustrating and exciting!
Also having a co-founder [Stephanie Marmier] is incredibly valuable, and we’ll get 10 times as much done as I could by myself. It can be really overwhelming going at it alone. Stephanie is a certified health coach, has a degree in food studies and she ran the service portion of a grocery delivery business in Shanghai, so we’re a perfect mix of skills.
R.K. What other local New England brands are you a fan of?
I.E.: So many brands! I love Iggy’s Bread—if you’re a bread addict, you’re in nirvana. They have an incredible product and they’re super nice people. I’m also a huge fan of Freita’s Farm Stand (they have the best corn) and River Rock Farm, a small family beef farm in Central Massachusetts. While I don’t eat meat, I’ve been out on the farm and know they raise happy cows—they were gallivanting around the pasture when I went to visit! Because of that, they have the best tasting burgers, and we always serve them at any family event.
Another cool story is an Irish guy named Barry Shannon who just lunched Barry’s Hot Sauce. He started as a bartender, so he’s a mixologist and knows what flavors go really well together—like green apple and jalapeño or ghost peppers and grilled pineapple. And Suman Shah is definitely one of my local favorites. She created vegan, farmers’ market-sourced meal kits with her company Fork on a Road. She is a really lovely person as well as a talented recipe creator!
R.K.: Tell me more about your mission to create a healthier food system. What are some changes you hope to see transpire in the next couple years?
I.E.: I would like people to eat more consciously, eat more locally, and think about where their food comes from. One of the things that’s been influential to my thinking is The Third Plate by Dan Barber. He talks about shaping our menus to align with what the earth produces. One of my mantras right now is simply, “Eat real food.” I’ve been consistently thinking about eating food made by hand, not machine.
R.K.: You’re currently serving Greater Boston and the South Shore. Do you have plans to expand in the future?
I.E.: Yes, we absolutely have plans to expand, but we don’t want to get ahead of our speed! It’s important for us to build a demand before we build our supply. Long-term, we’re trying to establish a new business model that we can license beyond Boston. I’d love to take these learnings here and go to a different metro area, creating something that’s an enabler for other people’s success.
R.K.: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business from scratch?
I.E.: You have to be passionate about it, and that goes without saying. It’s really hard. I’m in a program called Startup Mentors—all women of color who have revenue but haven’t “made it” just yet. If it wasn’t for our passion and sense of purpose, we’d probably give up. Try to find a community, both within your space and also a startup community like a women’s networking association.
Also recognize that you’re going to make mistakes. One of my favorite quotes by Samuel Beckett is, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” That’s the process… you try something. We acknowledge our wins, and acknowledge things we could do a better job with.
R.K.: At WELL, we believe wellness comes in all forms. What does wellness look like for you?
I.E.: Wellness to me means consciousness, and I’m partly influenced by the fact that I’m a part-time yoga teacher. It’s understanding what it is you’re actually putting inside your body and making a conscious decision about it. The more mindful you are, the healthier all of your habits are!
Want more Made in New England? Check out our full series coverage.
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