Working for a fledgling business comes with its own sets of challenges and learning curves.
For Julie and Austin Rich, a brother and sister team who work together at the Augusta startup MealViewer (a platform providing digital signage and custom menus to schools nationwide), the challenges and learning curves have served as opportunities to learn leadership, management, and problem-solving skills.
Austin studied computer science at Augusta University and has worked as a software engineer at MealViewer for three of its five years. “I got in early enough to see a bunch of struggles of a startup without having the [burden of ownership],” says Austin.
Julie, a few years younger than Austin, came to the company a little later, applying during her final semester at University of Georgia where she studied communications. Julie was hired to take over as executive assistant and trained for two months. But as is the case with new businesses, change happens frequently and needs can arise unexpectedly. After the first day as executive assistant, Julie was moved to customer service to handle data entry, digital signage installation, and customer questions (which meant learning a lot of information on the go). After 10 months, Julie was approached to become product owner (or product manager).
“[As product owner] I take in what the different stakeholders say we should do, I take in feedback from customers, how to push the company forward with new product. I take that, compile it all together and create a priority for what will help drive sales, and what will help tech-wise,” explains Julie.
MealViewer offers several components to its customers, including the native app for parents and students, digital signage that goes in school cafeterias, and a content management app for nutritional directors to enter information. The company got its start when CEO Tommy Wafford’s mother (who worked as a nutritional director and now works in sales at MealViewer) challenged Wafford to come up with a better solution for paper menus and white boards in school cafeterias. The small business has taken off in its five years, and the apps and platforms are used in schools across the nation.
Austin and Julie say they’ve learned a great deal in their few years at MealViewer, from customer service, to product development, and backend logistics that come with running 13 different apps.
“There’s always a fire. There’s always a big fire – not even a small one,” says Austin. “It’s like we’ve got to go as fast as we can right now. Then you go home and then you come back and it’s still the same.” Julie says working for a startup and juggling day-to-day challenges and crises comes down to figuring out how to contain those fires and learning from them.
Despite the hardships of entrepreneurship, Austin says he has been bitten by the startup bug and has some ideas for future endeavors. “We’ll be back,” he says.