Story by Bavani, Photos by Amanda Antilla
As I sit across the table from Martin Ronquillo and Norton Gumbo, the co-founders of the iOS application, Meal Prep by Papaya, their enthusiasm and energy are apparent. I can’t help but step into their world for a moment to see it through their eyes. Ronquillo, 24, a true blue “Tater” who was raised in Star is a Boise State University graduate and Gumbo, 20, originally from Michigan, is a senior at Boise State.
Ronquillo’s exposure to technology began as early as his junior in high school. He started initially freelancing as a web developer and then realized his passion of being able to create things of value to others. He prides himself in being self-taught and observes that “in this exciting era of technology, with the ease of accessibility to open source technology, even those without much experience will be able to develop an app provided they are willing to put in the time to learn.” Together, Ronquillo and Gumbo bring to the table a powerful combination of knowledge and skills, Ronquillo with his business degree and Gumbo with his computer science degree. They agree, “You really don’t need one degree or the other. All the knowledge is out there and readily available at your fingertips. You should feel free to question and challenge preconceived notions.”
The Meal Prep by Papaya application uses the details of a user such as the gender, weight, and height to calculate an individual’s calorie requirements and provide a suggestion for macros (which are nutritional requirements). A meal plan is then recommended using an in-app recipe database created using the expertise of nutritionists, dietitians, and free recipe websites. The app currently has nearly 4,800 registered users.
Ronquillo shares that the motivation of the app concept stems from his personal struggle for 8 years to lose weight. He came to the realization that yo-yo dieting does not work and was at his heaviest and lowest point when he discovered meal planning. Something resonated. What started off as breakfast planning turned into planning all his meals ahead of time by coming up with detailed grocery lists and cooking on Sundays for the week ahead.
On the other hand, Gumbo notes, “I didn’t have the same experience as Martin. I was always fit and ate healthy, somewhat. But I know that nutrition can make a big change in your daily life. I like knowing that I can help people feel better about themselves and accomplish their goals.”
One might even call it serendipitous how Ronquillo and Gumbo met. Working for the same startup company in the spring of 2015, they first met in Salt Lake City during a work meeting at the company’s Airbnb accommodation. Noticing that Gumbo was the only one of his colleagues who was utilizing the groceries provided to prepare his meals, Ronquillo started an ‘off the record’ interview with questions about the types of meals and the regularity of preparation. Venture College had taught him the importance of researching customers’ needs before developing a product.
By this time, Ronquillo had already lost 55 pounds and was determined to find a way to “help people eat better.” During the summer of that year, coincidentally, Ronquillo and Gumbo changed their residences and found that they lived in close proximity. Entering the Boise State Innovation Scramble in 2016, they furthered their research and development exploration. After pitching the idea at Venture College, they started developing the app during the summer of 2016 using web technology. They switched to native technology in September that year when they had 1,000 users.
While Ronquillo and Gumbo realize that it is not too difficult to get people to try using the app, their challenge lies in ensuring continuity with their users. This was overcome by using feedback received to continuously upgrade features and increase the app’s user-friendly elements. Gumbo believes that “pushing through the hurdles and staying open is the key to success.”
Sharing wisdom from their experience, Gumbo says, “Just know that it’s going to be rough. Even though we are self-motivated by the concept, and we believe in it, there are days when we are overwhelmed with the work and simply feel knocked down. A lot of it is just persistence and listening to feedback and not having a single notion of what you want because that may not be the right answer.”
Ronquillo reflects, “Failure isn’t failure. Failure is a lesson. The setbacks that make it seem like we are ‘failing’ are signs that some change is needed. Ultimately, what I would tell a younger version of myself to do would be just set a goal and start. Things align themselves. Once you have the goal and you set it in motion, you start seeing the opportunities to get there. Often times it almost feels like luck. But I am a believer that a large part of what luck is you believing that you are lucky then going out and actually doing the things that will allow you to be lucky.”
Gumbo and Ronquillo are excited to discover what opportunities the future holds for them. In the meantime, they are investing their blood, sweat, and tears to grow their company, increase the number of users and launch the Android version of the app. They are committed to doing whatever it takes to help improve the quality of people’s lives. This is their ultimate gratification.
Visit papayamealprep.com to learn more and get started!