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Neil Whitney, co-founder of Menud, participated in last year’s inaugural Bunker Across America Nashville event and realized something. “The team at Menud took a hard look at the solution we wanted to bring to market. In early 2016, we almost entirely focused on launching a machine learning product that conducts nutrition analysis of restaurant dishes.”
The team thought their idea was “FoodTech-magic,” but, in the weeks following Muster Nashville, they had realized that they were solving the wrong problem. “People don’t want more nutrition guidance. They want simplified decision making,” says Whitney, who knows something about launching successful products. He spent over three years as a senior manager at Apple, an experience he values as having worked in “a cool company with consumer facing technology that changes lives.”
By late summer, Menud made a pivot, to help people make healthy decision making simple. “After all, eating healthy is frustrating. Most of us fail, but some succeed. And success leaves clues.”
Whitney and team reached out to some of the most famous people in the health, nutrition and fitness space, asking them if they wanted to join their mission, to which many accepted. “Now, with the support of some brilliant, influential people in the health, wellness, fitness and food spaces, we introduced a connected, fun, simple product to help you eat healthier.”
Within weeks of Menud’s relaunch late last year with a mobile product that lets athletes, celebs, personal trainers, and social media influencers recommend specific, healthy foods, they got traction, garnering thousands of users on the platform. “We love the pivot. We love our focus. We love our partners,” says Whitney. “Rather than counting calories, Menud helps you eat like Erin Oprea, country music’s favorite personal trainer. In a snap, you can see specific dishes that she, and other Influencers, recommend to you.”
There’s one other pivot of sort that he himself made. Though he was part of Bunker Labs Nashville in 2016, he and his startup were in Silicon Valley. As of early 2017, he, his family and the startup have moved back east, to Nashville, Tennessee.
In a way, Bunker Labs Nashville had something to do with making the decision. “In February 2016, while I was living in San Francisco, I visited Nashville with my wife. We were looking for a new city to hunker down,” recalls Whitney, a former Army intelligence officer who enlisted in the Army in 2005 after graduating from college a year early. (“Rather than continuing on to grad school, I felt the urge serve my country and help any way possible.”) “During that trip, I was introduced to, my now good friend, Blake Hogan. Blake and I hit it off immediately. Though I was still living in San Francisco, Blake asked that I join the very first Nashville Bunker Labs cohort. I gladly joined.”
Then there was another figure in Nashville who persuaded him to move, though he himself was also fairly new to town. It so happened that Robert Grajewski, executive director of The Wond’ry at Vanderbilt University, had grown up together with Whitney in Winston-Salem, NC. “We became best friends the first day of third grade, when Robert was already six feet tall,” jokes Whitney. “We’ve stayed very close ever since.”
Grajewski had told him about the opportunities that are available here, beyond the typical checklist of items that a startup looking to relocate may seek. By the end of 2016 with a new baby on the way, he had made a decision and a goal: move to Nashville, raise money in Nashville and be that big VC win for Nashville.
With 2017 Bunker Nashville Innovation Conference approaching, Whitney says Menud is on target to share the news of “launching something else very exciting” at the conference. “The 2016 Muster allowed us to get the product out in the wild,” says Whitney. “Acting as a milestone, the Muster forced us to make an idea public and get feedback from so many angles. Without that pressure, we may have missed our target by a lot.” As of May 2017, Menud has closed an oversubscribed funding round. So far, his decision to move seems to have paid off. The support that Team Menud received from Bunker Labs is humbling, says Whitney, and adds, “Muster 2017 is an example of how extraordinary leaders help bring out the talent of extraordinary military service men and women.”
And now that he has had time to settle in (and already become a mentor at the Wond’ry), Whitney has something else to say. “Nashville has exceeded my expectations. The startup atmosphere is piqued with excitement. Most entrepreneur communities across the US claim ‘there’s a lot of great things in motion.’ But, that hyperbole is real in the Music City. From Tomiko Peirano at Centresource to Andrew Goldner at GrowthX, the talent and the venture wisdom is evident.”
Whitney also adds, “Oh, and -pound for pound- Nashville is the best food city in the US.”