In celebration of Mother's Day, we interviewed Alison Mountford, a Knackpacker, chef, startup founder and mom of two! Alison is based in Silicon Valley, and leads an incredibly inspiring life. Her startup, Ends+Stems, helps people eliminate food waste through easy meal planning.
Below, we’ve shared insights from Alison on growing a startup company, sustainability and parenthood!
Knack: Starting a company is a lot of work! What made you decide to go for it?
Alison: I have been a chef for 16 years, and I used to cook for people and deliver food. But, that was limited to a few dozen customers and it was expensive for the customers. A lot of people could really use a personal chef, but it’s just not accessible.
Honestly, Ends+Stems came about from listening to people. There were three main areas I kept hearing about:
#1: Too Busy to Cook
I have been hearing for years that people are too busy to cook, and they found themselves ordering takeout too often.
#2: Guilt about Wasted Food
They were also regularly throwing food out that had spoiled, because they weren’t sure what they could cook with it. It's estimated that a third of all food is thrown out—more than a billion tons a year!
#3: Not Sure What to Make
Friends text me all of the time with the contents of their fridge asking, “What can I make with this?” People buy groceries with good intentions, but they don’t end up using them.
People Need a System
I realized people needed an easy system to use, that didn’t require a lot of planning. We all want to eat healthy. We don’t want to waste food. But there needs to be an easy approach.
People kept telling me these 3 pain points, and I decided to design a solution and make it happen!
Knack: How did you decide on the business model?
Alison: Ends+Stems costs about $10/month and I post 3 interlocking recipes on a dashboard, the customer approves or changes things and generates a grocery list. From there, they simply shop and cook, knowing the inspiration was easy and the recipes will use up all of the food they buy - no waste! But no extra effort either. You can also edit the number of portions you need, making it a great fit for families or people who live alone.
I decided on a monthly subscription based model, and users get 3 new recipes per week that fit together to reduce food waste. For example, that week’s recipes will all use a specific ingredient (for example, using half of an onion on Wednesday and then the remaining on Friday) – so you can make sure to use all of it and reduce food waste.
The platform generates an easy grocery list, and it also shows you how much food waste you’re eliminating each week!
Knack: Making a technology platform can be incredibly difficult. How did you build your team? What lessons did you learn?
Alison: That’s for sure! And as a non-technical, boot-strapped solo founder, it’s even more challenging. I went through many iterations of what I was hoping to build. I originally wanted an app, but it was going to be very expensive to build and after a few weeks researching fundraising, I met a business consultant who showed me that web-apps are a great way to begin.
I met a development/design duo by being interviewed on their podcast actually, and though I interviewed others too, I felt like they were an extension of the business rather than just a contractor.
I have learned that there’s always another way to keep going, make sure to keep working with people who are smarter than you and who you want to be around.
Knack: How much food waste does 1 person reduce per month with Ends+Stems? What about a family of four?
Alison: This is a fascinating and impossible question. It’s sort of like that Schrodinger's Cat in a Box problem. There have to be 2 universes for me to answer this, one where you wasted food and one where you didn’t. If I’m being difficult, it’s to not “greenwash” my mission to really have an impact! I wrote a very long post about this on my site and I would love to talk about it all day, email me! Here’s the post.
In short, and math which must be flawed, we estimate up to 1.2 pounds of food per week ( .36 CO2-e kg) per person, which for fun and to make it familiar, we convert into equivalent slices of NY style pizza - and it’s about 4.5 slices of pie.
Knack: Kids are home right now, which can make running a growing company challenging. What has been the most helpful advice you’ve received as a parent + founder?
Alison: My kids are 2 and 5-years-old, and they have a LOT of energy. It’s critical to roll with the punches. Working from home during Shelter in Place (I’m in San Francisco) has been a challenging experience, and I’m taking a lot of breaks and working later into the night now which isn’t my preference.
Besides that, I would say it’s critical to be ruthless with your time. I say no to things if they clearly won’t help the business. I make lists and rely on my calendar to get things done.
I love networking with other founders who have little kids at home too because you can’t imagine how your life will look until you’re in that situation.
The Mama Founders Community and The Motherhood Collab on Facebook are two very helpful groups.
Solid daycare is a must for me (outside of shelter-in-place).
Knack: Have you started any new traditions or activities during this time?
Alison: We’ve been eating outside more, picnic style! I actually used my Knack Pack for a recent picnic with my kids!
I packed a picnic blanket in the main compartment, and put a water bottle in it’s zippable pocket. I put quick grab snacks in the front triangle shaped pocket because I knew the kids would want those, before I unpacked the whole blanket.
Food items went into the expandable compartment, and it was really easy to transport!
Knack: That’s a great use of the Knack Pack! What do you normally pack it with?
Alison: The soft phone and sunglasses pocket made me crazy happy. I love that the key clip is removable.
Overall, I am not a “fancy purse” kind of mom. I want ONE bag.
I look forward to having something this beautiful and professional for meeting other founders or mentors, yet, if it’s a Saturday trip to Golden Gate Park, I still feel comfortable grabbing the same bag just packed a little differently. I will definitely be using this bag as soon as we get to travel again - I’m hoping that’s to visit family back east (they’re in Rhode Island by the way!) - and it’ll have my laptop for working on the plane, but also entertainment for the kids too. And so many snacks in the front pocket!
Common items I pack: I always have a metal water bottle, my phone, sunglasses, charger, a notebook and pen, a smaller bag inside that has swag - business cards, stickers, pins, and another other bag inside that has sanitizer, bandaids, mints, chapstick, hair elastic, Sharpie (why? lol Old chef thing I guess….), and Advil!
Thank you for sharing your story, Alison!
Thanks to Alison for sharing how her story with us. FYI, Alison went with the Medium Knack Pack in Indigo Blue, and uses a 15” MacBook Pro for her work.
Visit Ends+Stems here.
Do you know a Knackpacker we should interview for the One Bag Blog? Share your recommendation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.