WE ARE CANADA, a six-part documentary series narrated by Sarah Polley that celebrates the next generation of passionate Canadian changemakers, premiered in April on CBC, with new episodes airing each Sunday until May 14. Conceived and produced by White Pine Pictures, in collaboration with Ken Dryden, who serves as one of the executive producers on the project, the series profiles a new generation of Canadian innovators whose work is shaping and defining the future of the country in inspiring and imaginative ways.
To celebrate the series, SEE Change will be publishing first-hand guest contributions by some of the changemakers profiled on the program. First up: Andrew Hall and Jeremy Bryant, founders of Mealshare.
Twenty years ago when we were seven years old, we sat at our grandmother’s kitchen table, pushing our veggies around our plates at Thanksgiving dinner. We’re cousins and best pals (and, at seven, we were budding shit disturbers). Just like every other family dinner, we got the standard lecture. “Finish your food, boys! There are starving kids in Africa. You should be grateful for those veggies,” said Nan.
We grew up (big and strong thanks to our veggies…) and chased business degrees from different Canadian universities. We stayed close, and both got great jobs at top-tier accounting and consulting firms: Andrew in Consulting at Deloitte, and Jeremy in accounting at PwC. Unfortunately for PwC, Jeremy has a severe allergy to working for someone else, so he didn’t last too long. After a year at the firms, Jeremy was already bugging Andrew to quit and start ‘Mealshare,’ a concept that had been percolating in our heads while we sat at our desks working for the big guy.
The “dream jobs” weren’t working out for us. Despite being the envy of our business school classmates, making great salaries, and having the future paved for us, we didn’t see ourselves staying in that environment and climbing the ladder.
We wanted to do something ourselves, and we wanted it to have a positive impact on the world. So, with our careers in front of us on a silver platter, we did the only logical thing – we knocked that platter out of the waiter’s hands and got to work on our own dish. We started building Mealshare in March of 2013, with our heads full of ideas and dreams of saving the world and the restaurant industry – including a big Mealshare launch party with our first 10 restaurants excited to join the program.
By June 2013 it was getting ugly already. We had four restaurants agreeing to launch with us and a pile of no’s big enough to build a wall. We literally considered shutting it all down before launch day and going home with our tails between our legs. We learned then that even great ideas are tough to run to success. Progress takes grit – and it sucks. We definitely learned how great it can be to have a co-founder in those days in June – we leaned on each other a lot.
We literally launched Mealshare with just four restaurants, in two cities, to zero fanfare. Our materials looked amateur, the media barely noticed, and we definitely didn’t know how long we’d be at it, but we were off the ground. We’d launched a non-profit!
2013 continued to be a battle. A good friend from business school joined us, and we strung together a few good weeks in the fall of 2013. One day we realized, “Hey, we’ve actually put together a few wins in a row here. Maybe this could really work!”
We grew the program through lots of hard work, luck, support, and amazing wins over the next few years. Against all odds, Original Joe’s trusted us enough to put us on their menus under a year into our operations, which made a TREMENDOUS difference for us – they’ve provided a huge chunk of our meals, spread awareness, and supported us in many other ways. Famoso Pizzeria has also been a massive supporter, fundraising for us for three years in a row. And of course, over 300 independent and restaurant group owners have had the generosity to work with us and help us grow over the years. There are FAR too many of them to name! But if any of you are reading this, THANK YOU. Really.
We’ve also been fortunate to work with an incredible team. We’ve heard that good leaders are smart/great people, but great leaders hire people smarter and better than themselves. Now we’ve managed to provide over 1.3 million meals to youth in need, which always blows our minds!
Through Mealshare we’ve gotten to travel to new cities, and win awards. Educators have had us speak to hundreds of students – something that would probably surprise the family if you told them at dinner back in ’95. We met the Prime Minister, and hung out with mayors and other amazing people. We’ve been featured in the news and even got to speak at WeDay in front of 16,000 amazing youth.
Recently, we were honoured to be featured alongside some amazing individuals as part of “We Are Canada” on CBC, to celebrate Canada’s 150th. That was pretty surreal, and we were pumped we got to share our story with the country.
We’re really so grateful for all these opportunities! What we’ve learned is that people want to hear your story, support you, and meet you if you do something different & unique. Or, to quote Gary Vaynerchuk, if you “Do the right thing, and put in the F***ing work!”
We’ve also learned a ton of lessons in the past four years. Here are our favorites:
Just get started
Mealshare was pretty close to just being an idea on a shelf. Reading “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers was a great kick in the pants. When you’ve got something you truly want to pursue, don’t make it complicated. Don’t build it into a monster it’s not. Just get started and see what happens.
It’s pretty amazing that you can digest a person’s lifetime of advice in a few hours. We’ve used this to become “Jr. Experts” in different aspects of running a business and it’s made Mealshare so, so much better.
Be authentic and love what you’re doing
Don’t do things for someone else. And DEFINITELY don’t start a business for someone else. It’s too hard! You need to love it, or you won’t make it through the tough spots.
Work with people you love
The number one rule in our playbook is “have fun,” and this is a huge part of it. If the people you work with align with your values and get along with you, you’re set! The wins are twice as good, and the losses suck half as much. We’ve been lucky since day one with this one, starting off together with our best friend. But our entire team is an amazing group of people we’d be stoked to hang out with all weekend!
So what now?
Mealshare is four years old, but it still feels like the beginning! There’s tons more to learn and tons more to do.
We want Mealshare to be a household name, and be the standard in restaurants across the country (and beyond). Most importantly, we want Mealshare to play a big part in seeing a world without youth hunger in our lifetimes. That way we can tell our grandkids a different story about youth hunger at Thanksgiving dinner someday. But they still have to eat their damn veggies.
Andrew Hall and Jeremy Bryant are 28-year-old cousins from Calgary who founded MealShare. For every meal ordered at a participating restaurant, a dollar is donated that buys lunch for a hungry child.
Passionate about business, but not auditing, Jeremy was thrilled to leave corporate life behind to work with his best friend to help people in need. He’s co-founder of Mealshare, sets high level direction for the organization and manages Alberta operations. Andrew is Mealshare’s swiss army knife. With a background in consulting, he keeps Mealshare running smoothly internally and ensures the brand is presented professionally, while taking on a variety of other responsibilities.
To learn more about WE ARE CANADA, visit 2017guide.cbc.ca/item/we-are-canada
Photo credit: © 2017 White Pine Pictures