How I Started a Diet Plan
Generator and Food Tracking App
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Simone Zienna and I’m the founder of Meta Nutrition – a smart diet plan generator and food tracker.
With so much misinformation and fad diets, it’s become very hard for people to know what they should eat to meet their nutritional needs and wellness goals. The majority of health apps have you track foods and do tedious work but provide little to none nutritional guidance. We make eating and tracking convenient and easy by telling our users exactly what and how much they should eat based on their dietary restrictions, food preferences, body, and more.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I have a Bachelor in Computer Science from USC, and I’m a certified personal trainer and nutritionist. I’ve always been passionate about food, fitness, and nutrition from a very young age and I grew up reading and studying various health and wellness topics.
The idea of Meta Nutrition came to me when I was working as a personal trainer on campus. Before that, I would often help my friends out with coming up with diet plans that fit their goals, diet, and lifestyle too; but it wasn’t until more than 90% of my clients started asking me for nutritional advice that I saw there was way too misinformation and no easy way to get started on eating properly.
Additionally, all of my clients had rather different food preferences and restrictions but oftentimes similar goals. So I decided I’d code a mobile app that would tell USC students what to eat at the university’s dining halls based on the menu of the day, and the user’s restrictions, goals, body, and diet.
Despite initial interest from the university and two more, working with institutions can get tricky and difficult due to prolonged times and different policies; therefore, I decided I wanted to instead serve as many people as possible that could benefit from using the app. And so Meta Nutrition for the web was born 🙂
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
When I transferred to USC I barely knew how to code. Without any experience and working on the project on the side it was very difficult to get things moving fast. Initially, I coded the campus app for Android taking courses on Udemy and reading books (I enrolled in an Android class just so that I could dedicate more time to it), then I realized that most students had Apple phones so I had to learn iOS development and I designed and coded the iOS version the following semester only to finally realize React Native was the way to go so I rebuilt it one more time using that library.
Besides the technical knowledge, I guess the hardest challenge I faced was running and believing in the project by myself. Initially, I was a solo founder so I would go and talk to schools’ representatives and work on the business side by myself. I was lucky to have some friends that helped me out later and to find a co-founder after that. But the beginning was very rough. Some school officials even had me come in for a meeting with me showing interest just to tell me to take it down from the app store.
Finally, other challenges we faced later were researching the nutrition side of the app and finding investors to kickstart the company. All of our algorithms are based on USDA research and dietitians’ first-hand knowledge and experience so that took a while to gather and adapt to the technology. Funds were scarce at first, but we were then able to onboard some small investors on our first round of convertible notes.
Who is your target market?
Our target market is people from 18 to 34 years of age that are interested in eating healthy and diet planning. Also, people or families that eat often at home (as we are all lately doing) would benefit much from using our web platform as it would create tailored diet plans that are family-friendly and easy to cook.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We tried and are currently trying several approaches. Social media ads don’t seem to be too web-friendly so we are now focusing on inbound marketing and creating content for both our blog and social media platforms which drive much of our traffic.
We work closely with our awesome team of dietitians to ensure quality content that builds credibility and community.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
We constantly keep in touch with our customers and subscribers. We make sure they can give us feedback easily with a button in their Account tab so that we can promptly respond to any suggestions they have to improve their experience and our product.
Additionally, we organise panels on health and wellness with experts, where our users or viewers can ask questions and remain informed about health topics.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Our team is for the majority remote and is very very diverse: we have people in Africa, Ukraine, Canada, China, and the United States. The team is just phenomenal and they all work on PST.
We hold morning stand-up meetings to make sure we are all on track with the current projects and we communicate a lot on our Slack channels.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use a myriad of services and software to help us out in very different areas of our business.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Things I’d do differently:
- I wouldn’t be as cautious with our budget as we initially were. If you want quality work you need to back it up with a quality investment in resources too.
- Do a lot of research on what the competition does, how they do it, and what their numbers are way ahead of time before starting any project
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. You can’t do everything in the company, nor do you need to know how to do every single thing in the company to be able to run it successfully. Trust your coworkers and delegate work to them. Not only will it keep you sane but it will also speed up the development of the business
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The freedom of working on something I am passionate about and being able to make decisions that affect the whole business while providing value and service to the community.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Nothing comes to mind really!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I’m constantly reading books to keep up to date with the latest knowledge and make myself and the company more competitive.
Some of the books that have helped me a lot are:
- The Lean Startup by Eric Reis
- The Hard thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
- The Success Principles by Jack Canfield
- Hacking Growth by Morgan Brown
- Hooked – How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In two to three years we will be a medium-large sized business serving a great portion of the tech nutrition and wellness market with 50-100 employees. Our plans are very big and we are working our hardest every day to get to that point.