LittleMoochi Tastes Success by Helping Kids Eat Healthfully

Forté’s Power Pitch competition, held at its annual MBA Women’s Leadership Conference, is an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to test out their business idea in front of 600 audience members. And it can lead to more than just applause from the audience and judges – winning also includes a monetary prize that can move an idea from concept to reality.

Winning was transformative

In the case of LittleMoochi – a mobile app that allows children to interact with virtual pets powered by artificial intelligence (AI) while learning about nutritional food choices – winning the Power Pitch competition in 2019 was transformative. “Before the competition, the team wasn’t sure we wanted to continue after graduation (from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business), but winning gave us the confidence to keep going,” says Summer Xia, CEO and a co-founder of LittleMoochi.

Because LittleMoochi received both the audience favorite and judges’ prizes, it won $10,000, which it used to form a business entity and patent to protect its technology and hire a graphic designer. Winning also gave LittleMoochi credibility to attract interns and employees with critical skills to round out the team. They went from an initial team of three to approximately 20 interns and staff now. The current team has varied skillsets, essential to reaching the goals they have set for 2021 and beyond.

Where they are now

In the summer of 2020, LittleMoochi launched the app and has since acquired 2,500 users, a milestone for the company.

While LittleMoochi’s mission for children to develop healthy eating habits has remained since 2019, the team has expanded the app’s objectives to more broadly encompass healthy lifestyle habits, which now includes the importance of exercise. They are also addressing the roots – and not just the results –

of childhood obesity, which affects more than one-third of children in the U.S. today.

To reach their goals, the LittleMoochi team is improving the app by incorporating United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines into its nutritional information. They have also established partnerships with children’s healthcare centers and childhood obesity prevention programs, as well as business partners who can help them monetize the app.

Another goal of the app is to encourage balanced eating. Summer explains that telling children “this food is good, this is bad” can negatively impact their lifelong eating behaviors, and the goal instead is to help them make educated choices. “We want them to know that fried chicken and French fries can be part of their lives, but it’s about balance,” Summer says.

Finding opportunity in challenges

COVID-19 was a formidable challenge to many start-up (as well as existing) businesses in 2020, and LittleMoochi was no exception. Their plans for local, in-person promotions at the beginning of 2020 were sidelined, but there was optimism in the challenge, too. COVID-19 “opened a new door for us,” Summer explains, because “it accelerated our online promotion plans.”

LittleMoochi explored different options for its online promotions, and partnering with children’s social media platforms resulted in more app downloads and cost less than its previous on-the-ground promotions.

Advice for budding entrepreneurs

As LittleMoochi heads into 2021, Summer shares some of the lessons she has learned since 2019. First, find experts for areas where you or your team lack strengths. As Summer explains, “At the beginning, we tried to do everything ourselves. We were good at tech and artificial intelligence, but we were not as strong in design, promotions, marketing, and finance.” LittleMoochi now has a well-rounded team on board, which positions the business to address any challenges and continue its primary objective: find additional ways to monetize its app.

She also recommends being prepared for sometimes bumpy roads. “Entrepreneurship is a journey and, along the way at every stage, you face different challenges. Don’t give up.  Find a coach and get help along the way,” she says. Negative feedback can be particularly daunting, and Summer believes women, in particular, can take it too personally sometimes because they tend to be more empathetic. She suggests focusing on the constructive aspects of feedback. “Open your mind to all suggestions – no matter if it is positive and negative – but don’t let it consume you,” she suggests.

Here’s to continued success for LittleMoochi and never giving up.

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