December 23, 2021
We’re excited to announce the $10,000 November Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Sophronia McKenzie, founder of visuEats.
She is the November qualifier for the 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Sophronia for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
WomensNet: Welcome everyone to a chat with this month’s Amber Grant winner. Today, we’re speaking with Sophronia McKenzie, who’s the founder of visuEats Imagery Solutions. She’s our Amber Grant winner for November, 2021. I’m Marcia Layton Turner and I’m a WomensNet Advisory Board member.
So, Sophronia, let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about your business. Why did you start it? Where’d you get the idea?
Sophronia: First of all, thank you so much for this opportunity. And for selecting me as a finalist. The visuEats team is really, really, really grateful. visuEats in its simplest term is a photo menu app. I love food. I love to cook everything, and when I go out to eat and I like trying new restaurants. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes you go to a new restaurant, sometimes it’s expensive and you want to know what it is that you’re going to get. And we are in a digital era right now.
We like seeing things; we like eating with our eyes. I just remember talking with my best friend. And I was like, “Jessica, how do I know what this is?”. And I kept annoying her every time we would go out. And then she just turned and looked at me and she said: “ You work in technology. Why don’t you build a solution to solve that problem?”. And the light bulb just went off and I was like,”You know what? You’re right.”. And then ever since then, I met with, a really good friend of mine. And I sat with her and I told her my vision and she totally got it. It makes sense. When we go out to eat, we should be able to see a picture of the menu item.
And so she designed the concept for me and everything. Then we got visuEats. So it’s literally collating different restaurants, menu items on the platform. Like here (showing the app), we have a restaurant in Jamaica and they have their appetizers, main course, things like that. And you can literally click it and you see images of the menu items. So that’s where the idea came from. A love of going out to eat. My best friend just said, build it. And I did, and here we are. I got with a couple developers and designers, and now we have an app called visuEats where you can download and see a picture of a menu.
WomensNet: I think that’s so timely. We’re seeing so many more restaurants using QR codes. They don’t even give you a menu; you go and you click it. Then as you said, you have a text list of what’s available. (And often that’s not very helpful.)
Sophronia: It’s funny that you say that. The idea of visuEats came about before COVID; it came about in 2018. And then to even have the conversation with restaurants to say, “Hey, I wanna to make your menu digital…” It would’ve been a tough sell. And then here comes COVID right. You have the code. So I’m like, okay. I’ll make it simple for you. Scan the QR code and you get pictures instead of texts.
WomensNet: You were in the right place at the right time. With a great idea.
Sophronia: Thank you. Thank you.
WomensNet: How did you hear about the Amber Grant, and what made you decide to apply?
Sophronia: I’ve been funding visuEats from my nine to five salary. It cost me over a thousand dollars a month. It’s just me. No investors, no partners. Literally all the funding came from me. And then in January 2021 of this year, I decided that I said busy. Cause I talked to her, I was like, visuEats, you need to fund yourself and you’re going to start funding yourself, August 2021. You’re my baby, and you need to spread your wings. In August, 2021, I started a crowdfunding campaign. It ended November 1st and luckily, and being blessed, we were able to raise over $3,000. It lasted for three months.
Then one of my friends told me about grants. I’ve never won money before. (My) crowdfunding was really close friends and family and people just contributing… but grants? Okay. So I Googled, and the Amber Grant was one of the first grant opportunities that popped up. I went on the website. I saw the mission. I saw how it even came about is unfortunate. Then I decided to apply and prayed over my application. Then I went ahead and just submitted. So, through Google and just telling that it’s just time for her to fund herself. I know she’s still a startup, but some way somehow I need her to start funding herself.
WomensNet: And you got the answer. She said, okay.
Sophronia: I’m still in shock. It’s still surreal for me that it’s real. It I’m still shocked. I’m still shocked.
WomensNet: So, now that you’ve won $10,000, how are you gonna invest that into your business?
Sophronia: 10% has to go to tithing, giving back and showing my gratitude. And then the rest is gonna go straight into development. Because even though she’s a photo menu app, there’s a lot of cool features and functionalities that we want to build out. I can’t share those ideas just yet, but they’re super cool. Ahead of its time, functionalities that we want to put into the app because our goal is to redefine the dining experience. The taste of the food is just gonna be complimentary, but our goal is really to redefine the dining experience. So, we’ll development and build out at least two additional features that we want for the app.
And then the other half is going to go into our six month marketing campaign that we are launching in 2022. So it’s timely in terms of the funding that we’re getting. It’s awesome. Really going to go far. As much as thought I didn’t have the funding, I still hired someone to do a marketing campaign for us. I still did that for 2022. I got the budget for it and I was like, ‘I dunno how it’s gonna be funded, but it’s going to be funded.’ And then here, the Amber Grant gave me the opportunity to at least start the campaign. I’m really, really grateful.
WomensNet: You mentioned that some of the money is going go into developing new features. Thinking a little bit long term, what are some of the future plans for the business?
Sophronia: So we do have a 2022 roadmap. So our first year, two features, which I can tell — because they’re not like top secret and it’s must have — we want to implement the e-commerce functionality of the app. So when you do pull up the menu item, you could order through the app. And we also want to integrate the delivery features. So we want to integrate with UberEats, GrubHub — all the delivery components. We want to be able to have you order through the app, or you can order through app while at the restaurant.
We integrate with the restaurant’s point of sale system. So you’re sitting at your table, you see your menu item. You don’t have to wait for the waiter to come over. You could order through the app and it sends it to the kitchen. We want to integrate that. And then also, while you’re at home, say you see a nice shrimp scampi. And you really like how it looks from a particular restaurant, you could order it and it gets delivered to you. So those are the two features we want to build out for our 2022 roadmap.
WomensNet: Being able to order from a table reduces the wait staff requirements that a small business might need. Like that could really just be such a big help for smaller restaurants.
Sophronia: For sure. And sometimes too, when you go to restaurants and the waiter comes over and they explain the menu items… sometimes they do a good job explaining it, but I know you wanna see it looks like. Because I know for sure when you go to a restaurant, you see a plate of food passing and you’re looking at you, like, ‘what is that?’ Now you can just look at it from the visuEats app. You see the image.
WomensNet: You’ve made really great progress in a short amount of time. Do you have any advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs? Anything that you’ve learned along the way that you think might be really helpful in the beginning of their journey?
Sophronia: I actually do. I’ve seen memes on Instagram or on social media sometimes where it would say move in silence… or don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. I disagree with that. I think it’s important for you to have a support system. And if somebody’s listening to this and they would say, ‘well, my family doesn’t support me… or I don’t have friends that support me,’ then go where you’re supported and where you’re celebrated. Even if it’s just that one person. If you are around family or if you’re around friends that are not supportive, then you’re not around your people. So my advice to you would be to find your people. Find people that share the same ideas and on goals as you.
That way you can feed off them and they can feed off you. They pour into you and you can pour into them. You need a support system. Because there are days when I feel like I’m tired and I don’t want to work on visuEats today. But then my brother or my mom or my friends, they can say, ‘Hey, how is visuEats?’ And because they hold me accountable, I have to ensure that I have some update to give them right. So it’s important for you to have a support system because you’re not gonna feel like doing it every day. Sometimes, whether it’s because emotionally you don’t feel it or physically, you just can’t. But the fact that you have a support system, you have people sharing for you, you have people wanting you to succeed. That helps to hold you accountable. So yes. I would say find a support system. Excellent advice.
WomensNet: Sophronia, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to share your story with the WomensNet community and, and congratulations again on being the winner of our November Amber Grant.