Introduction : Lauren McMahon, Founder of Lunch Unpacked
Describe your company, product or service, business location and number of employees.
Lunch Unpacked is a subscription-based meal planning service for kid’s school lunch. We deliver a weekly guide of nutritionist-approved snacks and lunches which include a consolidated shopping list, daily prep guide, nutritional information for each meal, and printable lunch box notes.
We are based in Los Angeles.
I do not have any full-time employees, but I work with a trained nutritionist/chef, a graphic designer, and a social media manager on a freelance basis.
Tell Us About Your Company : Lunch Unpacked
Why did you start this company and when?
I started working on the concept in early 2019 and launched in September 2019.
What kind of corporation is your business? And why?
LLC provides legal protections without the requirements of a corporation.
Did you have an “Aha” moment that made you create your product?
When I was brainstorming ideas for a new business, I wrote down all the challenges I was having as a parent and I kept coming back to the daily question of how to feed my kids well. I’ve always been knowledgeable about nutrition and loved cooking. But even with those tools in my pocket, I still felt like I was failing. Packing lunch for school was a big thorn in my side. There’s a lot of school lunch inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest, but I didn’t have the time to browse, choose ideas, and plan out the week. I wanted a school lunch solution. I built Lunch Unpacked to be that solution.
How did you come up with the company/product name?
Lunch Unpacked is a play on the phrases “unpacking the problem” and “packing lunch.” Breaking down a problem into its component parts in order to find a solution perfectly described what I was trying to do. That coupled with its connection to packing lunch seemed like a perfect fit.
What were your initial goals?
My initial goal was really to challenge myself and see if I could make it through all the steps of building a business.
Tell Us About Yourself
Describe yourself and your family.
I am a mom to two children aged 6 and almost 4. I live in Los Angeles with my kids and life partner.
What is your background and how does it relate to your company? What was your past career and did you ever dream of being an entrepreneur? Did you experience an epiphany that changed the direction of your life to where you are now?
I spent fifteen years working in corporate America in various sales planning and strategy roles, but I always felt like I was in the wrong place doing the wrong thing. I just hadn’t found my “thing.” After I had my two children, the demands of trying to balance work and family stopped me in my tracks. I decided to quit my job and do some big picture thinking about who I was, what I wanted, and how I could better meet the needs of my family. But life sent me a curveball. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor the day after I resigned. I had already committed to steering my life in a different direction, but the universe sent me a big exclamation point on that commitment. Luckily, my surgery and recovery went well, and I came out of the experience mostly unscathed. With my physical health back in place, I spent the next few months soul searching. I decided that I needed to do something that would push me wayyyy out of my comfort zone, something that would really challenge me. And what better way to challenge yourself than to start your own business?
How did you test out your product so you knew people would buy it? What process did you follow to develop a prototype or service?
I did a national survey before I decided to develop the concept and confirmed that other moms were struggling with putting together healthy lunches every day. As I developed the idea, I received thoughts from a circle of friends who were willing to provide critical feedback. This helped me refine the structure and add even more value to my offering.
Was it more expensive to create than you originally thought?
Yes! I really didn’t have any idea how much a nutritionist would cost or how much time it would take to develop menus, recipe test, and photograph them. It was more than I anticipated.
How did you determine the price?
I looked at competitive meal planning services to understand the range of prices. I chose to go on the higher end so that I had room to promote or move pricing down if needed.
Did you personally finance your company – or did you have an investor?
I personally financed the company from savings.
Did you ever pitch your business to an investor? If so, what was the result?
Were you right on target for your startup costs – or did you exceed your initial financial needs?
I exceeded. Even though I DIY’d most of it, the expenses just kept rolling in!
Through what markets are you selling (retail, wholesale, internet, specialty sales)?
How did you introduce buyers to your product? What secrets have you learned in terms of publicity and marketing your product? What was the biggest learning curve in terms of marketing your product?
I’m only a month in, so I’m trying all kinds of different marketing tactics to see what works, including organic marketing, social media marketing, Google ads, influencer endorsements, and publicity.
Time Management & Personal Needs
How long did it take to get your product/service from idea to market (conception to product launch)?
What parts of the business did you decide to delegate to employees?
I hired for my gaps in knowledge and experience. I brought in a trained nutritionist and chef to create the menus. I thought it was important to have that skill set and credibility on the team. I also brought in a graphic designer to help format the look of our plans and create marketing assets. Finally, I hired a part-time social media manager to help create content.
How have you managed to juggle the roles of business owner and family/personal life? How do you balance your family’s needs and your own?
A big reason why I wanted to leave corporate America is because I wanted more flexibility and balance. I didn’t want to feel bad if I took a day off work to care for a sick child. I didn’t want to leave my kids in childcare until 6 at night. I wanted to attend all their school events without guilt or distraction. Becoming my own boss has enabled me to do all these things. But what’s getting squeezed out is how much time I can put into my business. It took me much longer to launch than I would have liked. It’s taking me much longer to get my marketing tactics in place. There is only one of me working on the core parts of the business, so it can be hard when I’m not getting through my to do list at the pace I want. But I am doing the best I can and I am at peace with that. Overall, I am MUCH happier with my work life balance now than I was with the scramble and stress of the previous 6 years.
What kind of support system do you have in place personally and professionally?
Personally, I have a core group of friends who provide me with emotional support and give me feedback.
Professionally, I’ve joined several groups that support working mothers and female entrepreneurs. These groups have been invaluable in making connections, getting advice, and feeling connected to others.
What are your hours?
During the week, I work from 5 to 6AM to get a quiet hour in before life starts and then I work from roughly 9:15 to 4:15PM. I try to spend another hour on social media at night. On Sunday afternoons, I try to work for a couple hours while the kids go over to grandma’s. But of course, there are school closures, sick kids, school events, etc. that pull me away from this standard schedule.
What drives you to keep going every day?
I love working. I love the process of learning new things. I love solving problems. I’ve had no problems finding the drive to get this business off the ground.
When you need a break, what is your go-to activity?
I don’t really take many breaks except to make coffee! But if I really need to clear my head, I go out for a walk.
How much vacation do you take?
Two weeks a year, but this year they were working vacations.
Your Journey and Success Stories
What has been your greatest success or "high point" in the process?
Launching my website was thrilling. To know that I could come up with an idea and make it happen was so exciting. Lots of people tell me that they get stuck at the idea phase. This was proof that I’m a doer and not just a dreamer.
Have you experienced a “low point” and if so, how did you rally yourself to get back on track? Did you expect as many challenges – personally and professionally – being an entrepreneur?
Honestly, my subscriber growth has been much slower than I anticipated. It’s hard not to take it as a rejection and get discouraged. But I believe in what I’m doing and know that the Lunch Unpacked plans have been so helpful in my life. I just need to get out there and find my customers.
Were there more financial challenges and risks than you expected?
Definitely. Self-funding a startup is tough. I felt confident with my costs and revenue projections, but then life didn’t turn out that way. Determining how much more I can spend or whether I need to pivot is challenging and emotional.
What was the greatest surprise in the process?
The biggest surprise is how much infrastructure exists to find freelancers for small business. Whether you need a logo, a social media strategy, or some technical help, there is an online service out there to help you.
Who has been your biggest source of inspiration?
I am addicted to the How I Built This and Second Life podcasts. They both go deep into the journey to entrepreneurship. Second Life focuses on women starting a second career. Both podcasts reveal that many very successful entrepreneurs had no idea what they were doing at the start. Through innovation, flexibility, and hard work, they were able to find success. Listening to all these stories really inspired me to give it a go and build something myself.
Did anyone in particular help you along the way?
My friend, Michelle, was in a similar stage of life as me--disenchanted with corporate work, trying to raise two small children, uncertain of her life’s direction. We met almost weekly and talked about how we got to this point in our lives, what our dreams were, and what our options were to move forward. These talks were truly transformational. I feel so lucky that I had a partner to go on this emotional journey with.
How does your family feel about your business?
My family is very proud of me. My six-year-old daughter is a big advocate for my “lunch business” even when she doesn’t like the look of all the vegetables in her lunchbox.
If you work alone, do you miss the connection with others - and if so, how do you build a work community?
I miss the exchange of ideas and the sense of camaraderie you get from working in an office, but there are a whole range of things that I don’t miss!
Next 3 - 5 Years
Where would you like to be in the next 3-5 years? What do you need today that will launch your business to the next level?
My intention is to build a scalable brand so that we can help parents feed their kids well in different ways. But right now, I need to focus on building a captive audience for my Lunch Unpacked plans.
What is your absolute dream for your business? Work and grow the business, find the ideal partner to invest, or build and sell?
I would love to work and grow the business, but the reality is that some of my ideas will require capital. I will likely look for a partner who can provide sweat equity in the short term and eventually will seek investment.
What advice would you give specifically to women who want to start their own business?
I’m right in the beginning of my journey so it is hard to be reflective. But the one thing I can say is that you don’t need to know everything to start a business. I have found freelancers on Upwork, Fiverr, and The Mom Project who have been fantastic and affordable. You can hire for your weaknesses or use sites like Barter + Be to trade services. Or you can mine your network for free advice. Everything is negotiable!
1 WEEK FREE TRIAL
Try us out for a week and see if our plans work for you and your family.
1 Month Plan – $12
3 Month Plan – $30 (or $10/mo)
6 Month Plan – $48 (or $8/mo)