Jillian is the owner of Mostly Made, a gourmet no-prep meal company. She started the company after preparing meals for her sister-in-law when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After being turned away by most grocery stores, Jillian launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $20,306 – enough to produce the first batch of Mostly Made meals.
Soon, Mostly Made will be pitching alongside 5 other brands in the Innovation Showcase Faceoff at KeHe’s national trade show. They’ll also be launching their meals in 50 stores of an innovative national retailer this spring. Not only that, but they were invited to pitch buyers at a midwestern grocer with 290+ stores. Big things are happening, so we chat to Jillian to get the scoop on what the future holds for Mostly Made.
Who are you and what brand did you start?
I’m Jillian McGary and I created Mostly Made to help busy people prepare a fresh dinner quickly. We’re dedicated to making healthy dinner options easily accessible to the masses so home favorites like casseroles can be assembled quickly and easily, packed with flavour minus the mess.
Mostly Made partners with Ronald McDonald House in the Upper Midwest as they work to help share their delicious filling with those in the community who need it the most.
BRAND IDEA - how did you come up with the idea for Mostly Made?
When my sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer, I made their family casseroles however annoyingly my bulky pans wouldn’t fit into their freezer. I also quickly realized just how many hours it took to chop and brown the vegetables which go into such dishes. Seeing this also made me realize that most people would likely not bother trying to make these dishes as they were too time consuming and technical. In this moment I saw an opportunity. I knew that once the tedious prep work was done, assembling the dishes could be done in next to no time.
I subsequently began bringing just the dinner fillings to my sister-in-laws meaning that each one could be stacked nicely into the freezer and then prepared whenever the family needed a quick meal.
I knew my easy meal mixes could help other busy people struggling to cook a fresh dinner. And so, Mostly-Made was born.
BRAND LAUNCH - take us through how you launched Mostly Made.
I spent three years working on the idea in my spare time. My kids were teeny back then so "spare time" was usually late at night. All my research supported the premise that Americans were looking for easy and fresh meal solutions. I first heard the word “copacker” on an episode of Shark Tank.
I Googled all my questions and found even more questions! I located a manufacturer and hoped they could make my product idea. I went back to visit them for two years – to get coffee, drop off samples, or show them logo concepts – just so they knew I hadn't given up. Finally the plant manager told me, "look Jillian, if you can sell the minimum batch, then we'll make it for you."
He was giving me a shot! I had done it!!! Except...no...
I visited grocery stores but the buyers all said “no.” They didn't want to sell my crazy idea.
Since stores wouldn’t sell it, I launched a Kickstarter campaign and pre-sold $20,306 Mostly Made meals directly to customers – enough to produce our first batch. If you look closely at our lasagna filling box, the little flap has art number #20306...a secret nod to all the customers who helped bring this idea to life.
Once our products were in boxes, most of the grocery stores came around and placed Mostly Made on their shelves.
ONLINE STORE SETUP - what are your top 2 tips for successful Ecommerce store setup.
- Don’t pay a bunch of money for a custom website. Test your product idea with a free Shopify or Squarespace template.
- Do invest in high-quality visual assets. Photos and videos are the only thing online shoppers have to judge your products.
CUSTOMER RETENTION - what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
With a food brand, grocery samples are the most effective way to find new customers. I did 250 demos during the first two years – talking to thousands of customers and selling more than 2500 products one at a time.
Sending new recipes via our social media and newsletter seems to inspire customers to buy again.
SOCIAL - what are your top 2 tips for successful use of social media to engage with customers.
- Give something of value (pro tips, recipes, coupons, etc)
- Show yourself! Posts that have my picture and story generate 2-3 times more likes and comments.
BUSINESS GROWTH INSIGHTS - how has Mostly Made changed and evolved?
We launched online through Kickstarter and shipped frozen products to 23 states before I determined the cost of shipping with dry ice was not working. I shut down e-commerce and focused only on grocery. I drove 12,000 miles demoing every single weekend and was working WAY too hard to sell my premium products.
Mostly Made was accepted into the Impact SKU Accelerator program that ran August-September 2020. It was a transformative experience for me. With the advice and feedback of SKU mentors, I began overhauling our products, packaging, and price. In the spring, we’ll be launching new pack sizes with easier assembly instructions.
MANAGING CHANGE - what are the top 2 tips you’d suggest others adopt to safeguard their business.
- Take time to reflect on what’s working and especially what’s not working.
- Look for new problems your brand can solve that are exacerbated by the circumstances.
FUTURE BUSINESS PLANS - how is Mostly Made doing today and what does the future look like?
Mostly Made was selected as 1 of 5 brands to pitch in the Innovation Showcase Faceoff at KeHe’s national trade show. We’ll be launching in 50 stores of an innovative national retailer this spring and were invited to pitch buyers at a midwestern grocer with 290+ stores.
ENTREPRENEUR INSIGHTS - what has been your biggest learning experience since starting Mostly Made?
So many people focus on creating a product, selling into stores, and scaling up. What really matters (and what’s really difficult) is getting off the shelf and resonating with consumers.
New products sit in the shadows; six months later they get replaced by the next exciting new brand that will most certainly whither on the vine too. And so on and so forth. Customers are the most important thing – a brand’s ability to connect with customers is the value you are building.
Connection doesn’t just involve social media, cute packaging, and 5-star reviews. It also means your product is priced correctly, portioned well, merchandised in the right place, formulated properly, has a profitable financial model, and is promoted in a way that meets shopper needs. It’s that boring business stuff that makes all the difference.
Find market fit by trying a bunch of stuff and see if people buy it. Learn as you go.
ONLINE BUSINESS TOOLS - what are the business software tools you couldn't live without?
Anything Google....Google Drive / Google Sheets / Google Slides / Gmail
See what tools other founders use here.
SELF DEVELOPMENT - what are the educational resources you’d recommend?
- How I Built This - Podcast
- Building A Story Brand - Podcast
- Tig Talks - Podcast
- Hidden Brain - NPR/Podcast
- Masters of Scale - Podcast
- The Pitch - Podcast
- Taste Radio - Podcast
- Work Life with Adam Grant - Podcast
Great Women of Business - Podcast
Food & Trade publication
- Specialty Food Association
- Give and Take - by Adam Grant
- Originals - by Adam Grant
- Let My People Go Surfing -by Yvon Chouinard
- The Method Method - by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry
- Irrational Persistence - by David Zilko
- Mission In A Bottle - by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff
- Do The KIND Thing: Think Boundlessly, Work Purposefully, Live Passionately - by Daniel Lubetzky
- Raising The Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business - by Gary Erickson
- Ben & Jerry's: The Inside Scoop - by Fred Lager
- Sweet Expectations: Michele Hoskins' Recipe for Success - by Michele Hoskins
- Start Something That Matters - by Blake Mycoskie
- Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch - by Lucie Amundsen
- Inventing Joy: Dare to Build a Brave & Creative Life - by Joy Mangano
- One Smart Cookie: The Story of Mrs. Fields Cookies - by Debbie Fields
INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE ‘shout-out’ - who have been the most influential people for you during your brand journey?
Kat Leys - big huge thanks for designing my packaging and logo
Advisory board members and mentors: Angi R, Maha T., Nick A. and Allison H. of Grown North
The people over at SKU Accelerator: Kirsten Ross and Michelle Breyer, mentors like Scott Jensen, Richard Riccardi, and Paul Taylor who are still available for phone calls.
Minnesota Department of Agriculture - Tradeshow and promotion team (Brian Erikson)
Kurt S. – my manufacturing partner who gave me a shot and lets me call him on Saturdays
All the grocery buyers and distributors who gave Mostly Made a chance; even before we had sales
- Lakewinds Co-ops
- Festival Foods
FINAL WORDS OF INSPO - for other aspiring entrepreneurs.
A year ago my distribution partner congratulated me, thanked me for all my demo/marketing support, and assured me that my products were selling well. But just as my pride was swelling, he said with a warning smirk, "just don't stop."
Just. Don’t. Stop.