How Martie Co-Founders Raised $3M While Pregnant: Conviction and Learning

In January 2021, my longtime business partner and friend, Kari Morris, and I, had a big decision to make. We were both pregnant–my baby had a due date in April, and Kari’s was in June. Both of our families were growing, as we each already had a son, aged 2 and 3, respectively.

We had spent the past year growing a business, featuring a family of food brands, with better-for-you options, and things were on track. But the craziest thing happened, and we just knew we had to change everything. And we found out, not everyone was on board.

Our food business, Reimagine Foods, was succeeding, and we were building something we were proud of. However, in January, we came up with an even better idea. While we were in market with a new holiday pancake mix, we came across the very real issue of surplus inventory. When Dec. 26 came around, this holiday pancake mix was no longer relevant, and we were left with pallets of it, with no real brand or climate-friendly way to offload the inventory. Sadly this story is all too prevalent. Nearly 40% of good food in the U.S. ends up in landfill, while 42 million Americans experience food insecurity.

And that’s what led us to the idea of Martie – the online discount grocery store that saves our shoppers up to 70%, saves great food from going to waste, and makes liquidation for our partners not only easy, but brand-right.

So, we had a big decision to make. Were we really going to pivot our food production business, into an online food retailing business and fundraise–while pregnant?

The answer was a resounding yes. Our conviction was impenetrable, it felt like it was our true calling. As a 2x-exited entrepreneur, I know that when you get that feeling, it’s time to act. Understanding the baby timeline, we got to work. We had six months to bootstrap, build the business plan, and most importantly, LEARN.

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The first step forward on our journey around building this business, and eventually, fundraising $3 million in our seed round, was to learn. We got on the phone with key groups of people, to glean as much qualitative and quantitative data as possible. Who could we learn from? How could this idea work? How could this idea fail?

Here are the four types of groups we learned from: 

Founders of competitors and complementary businesses (some failed, some in business):  

  • We went deep into the competitive landscape to understand these business models, and hopped on the phone with founders. What were missed opportunities? What are the pitfalls? What are the most important data points? What are/were you relentless about? 

Former employees (C-Suite) of competitors and complementary businesses:  

  • This cohort really helped us understand the behind the scenes. What is needed to run a successful department? How do you measure and understand what moves the business? 

Investors of companies like ours:  

  • We brought investors in early, long before fundraising. What are they looking for? What have they seen? Why would this fail? Investors are amazing data collectors and asking the right questions will give you a head of important information. This started the conversation that led to ongoing feedback loops and showcasing progress with experts. The key here is to leverage investors that have invested in similar businesses. 

Prospective Customers:  

  • You can never start this exercise too early. You’ll never be perfect, so don’t hold back on questions. We spoke with hundreds of prospective customers. Why would they like something like this? How would this make their life better? Where do you shop for groceries?

This group became our pool for potential investors, advisors and employees. Collectively, it became, “who can you warm intro us to?” and “do you want to be a bigger part of this?” And we quickly learned that not everyone wanted in. When we shared the news about our pregnancies, there was one investor who had a very off response. Of course, every entrepreneur is used to hearing “no”, but this was personal. The result? Stronger conviction.

Once we were ready, we prepped everyone that a raise was coming. We had a clear understanding of what the timeline was (for us, this timeline had a hard stop…our delivery dates!) and filtered through our list of potential investors, getting our top-10 list finalized.

We never doubted any part of the journey. The stars aligned, and the moment was right. Sure, we happened to both be pregnant, but that just helped us drive forward.

And in November 2021, we launched – a new online grocery store on a mission to make good food more accessible, and help save the planet from food waste. We’ve worked with over 1,500 food producers and distributors on their excess inventory, saved our Smartie Shoppers over $2 million versus shopping at traditional grocery stores, and saved over 1.5 million pounds of food from going to waste. We are currently shipping in 12 states, and look forward to a nationwide expansion later this year. We have built a lean remote team of six full time staff and six part time employees, also during a pandemic!

We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve built over these past two years and the relationships we’ve made with brands like Kellogg’s, Kind, Annie’s, and hundreds more. While the tagline of “fundraising while pregnant” sure is catchy, it’s not the whole story.

Our two beautiful babies, Coco and Leo, were both born healthy and happy in 2021 and helped guide us in following our instincts. They both provided a neat timeline for us to organize our business around – and for that, we are both so grateful and constantly inspired.

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