Martin Barry, founder of Manifesto Market tells us about the digital food hall market.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Martin Barry: Well, considering everything around us and the immense suffering brought by covid, we are doing fine thankfully. I am an Irish-American originally from New York City, my wife Hollie is from Taiwan and we have a 3-year old at home with a little 2-year old doggie SouSou. Our company is also nearly three years old. We live in Prague’s Old Town, which is approximately 6 to 7 hours apart from our respective families in opposite ends of the world. Because of that, being connected remotely with family, friends, and co-workers is nothing new to me. Hollie who has a background at Google, Yahoo, and YouTube is also Manifesto’s Chief Growth Officer.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Manifesto Market.
Martin Barry: Manifesto Market is the next generation food market hall brand transforming ordinary and underutilized urban places into memorable experiences. We call them digitally enabled food hubs. We use a complex tech stack in combination with custom BI and data dashboards to offer affordable and serviced spaces for restaurateurs and ghost kitchens while ensuring stable access to customers and future-proof business. When people ask me about my background, they’re usually surprised gastronomy is missing. Before becoming an entrepreneur, I had a rich and fascinating professional career as a landscape architect. I worked on ambitious projects in 13 countries around the globe with W Architecture based in NYC. I also have a degree in history and business, and right before founding Manifesto in 2018, I spent most of my time connecting people and hosting events with the nonprofit platform reSITE I founded in 2012, around one mission: making our cities better places to live, work and play, for the next generation. I implemented many of those values into my entrepreneurship. To be sure, I love one thing especially…creating places for people to come together and hopefully improve their lives a bit while I’m at it.
With Manifesto, I wanted to found something impactful that could make a physical and emotional difference for people, something I think the world needs more of. As a strong-willed entrepreneur, I want to utilize my skills in placemaking and connecting people and ideas to own an idea from the concept till the execution. My thesis is that I could combine several diverse skillsets at once to create exciting places. I also wanted to exit the conference room, take the ideas we discussed at those awesome events and create tangible projects. Transform forgotten places and parking lots into experiences where people will want to spend time together and enjoy themselves. I wanted to prove how we can increase the quality of life with a sleek design – temporarily, or permanently.
My company has come a long way since. We opened the first location with 3-4 people. In early 2019, we closed a seed investment to grow our team and develop the technology for our operations. We opened our second market and were awarded for customer experience, design, and sustainability. Our team swelled to over 70 at one point in 2020. That’s way more I would dream of for a very young company. I am supported by a diverse multidisciplinary team with a huge collective experience in real estate, tech products, marketing, finance, food & beverage operations, and design and construction. We are energized to bring unique experiences to new countries and cities, and become the largest new generation food hall. I feel there is an appetite. The pandemic has opened up many opportunities in what we see as a vast growth market in need of disruption. Our relative success even during the pandemic encouraged us to expedite discussions with institutional partners in the US while looking for M&A opportunities in the struggling sector.
How does Manifesto Market innovate?
Martin Barry: We’re dedicated to offering a fluid online-2-offline experience. Manifesto has always been pioneering new solutions. We opened in 2018 as the first cashless place in the Czech Republic and one of the first in Europe. We are driven by data and technology in our daily operations, planning, and decision-making. The pandemic accelerated some of our mid-term plans. In March 2020, we rolled out a marketplace delivery model which bundles food from various restaurants at our markets and aims to offer the same customer experiences and unmatched diversity of choices in-market and online. A whole lot of innovations are related to transaction processing, delivery integration, and smart property management. Last but not least, we are committed to reducing our environmental footprint throughout the whole operations cycle. We are 100 % powered by energy from renewable sources and continue further to eliminate disposable tableware, reduce waste and simply said, return to nature what belongs to nature. There’s no plastic allowed at Manifesto.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Martin Barry: Honestly I stopped counting the waves of the outbreak and the months we’ve been forced to close. The government in the Czech Republic, where we’re currently operating two markets, is brutal. We were closed for more months than we were open in the last year. How we’ve survived is a combination of alchemy, luck, and a boatload of courage and stamina from my team. We are ready to embrace a new status quo – with an optimistic outlook the vaccine should bring to society. We’ve also invested in the right aspects of our business, helping us build a moat and separating us from the competition. On the seashore, low tide and high tide alternate daily but the jetties and bridges are up and solid. We also worked on solidifying our business model for this era when swings and uncertainty define reality. We listen to our customers to find products that bring them convenience and comfort.
Concretely, thanks to Manifesto delivery, our customers can combine menus from up to 20 restaurants and bars, mix and match them in a single order and get them delivered in one bag to their doorstep. Data and the popularity of Manifesto on delivery platforms prove our hypothesis was right: On average, 78% combine food from at least 3 restaurants, and 4 out of 5 customers order two or more meals. No more compromises on what to order for delivery. This is how we transferred the signature characteristic of our markets – come with the people you love, and enjoy endless options of authentic meals to satisfy everyone around one table – into the online environment.
Manifesto is an early mover, combining ghost kitchens with physical markets. There’s not another brand in the world doing this right now. It works well for us because we approach both with the same level of commitment and the customer experience in mind. The meals, prepared by experienced chefs from hero culinary concepts, are meant to travel well and keep their taste and quality when reaching the customer’s table. Manifesto’s virtual only brands included Mac & Cheese, Sausage Party, and Lord of the Wings prepared by awarded chefs from Ryba Je Ryba and Dirty Dog – both concepts that exist in the physical market.
Most recently, Manifesto has entered the D2C (direct to customer) market with seasonal collections of ready-to-drink artisanal cocktails in elegant glass bottles, draught beer, mulled wine, and party boxes for home celebrations. Making a difference is an industry-defining trend.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Martin Barry: I read the pandemic as a wartime situation. We quickly became a wartime company and I learned if I’m going to lead my team into battle, I need to be both courageous and vulnerable. These were big lessons. That crisis year taught me how important it is to work with people who see the world the same way I do.
When the crisis began, we made a clear commitment to our tenants. Our business principle is that we have to treat them as we’d like to be treated. Our tenants are our partners and they are our lifeblood. We recognized that the situation they’re going through is probably heavier than what we’re going through and if they all crash, we burn. Andrej Zverzhanovski, my COO, and I immediately decided to make sure that we keep them in business so that when this is over, Manifesto will still be the place to be. We had to renegotiate over 30 leases in a single day and reset the condition for a delivery-only business. Of course, the question was on the table should we stay open within the regulations, or close completely. If you look at it from a more qualitative perspective, what do you gain when you close something? Nothing. Okay, you gain fewer headaches, maybe, but you also have to lay off staff and you have to potentially lose tenants, so the stress probably outweighs the benefits of doing that and puts future stress on the business.
A couple of months into the pandemic, Manifesto became the only operational business unit for some of our chefs, while they closed everything else. This something I am proud of as it saved tens to hundreds of jobs, in that case. That to me is valuable.
During the year, I relearned how important it is to be top-notch consumer brand builders, and that we must remain dedicated to our customers. Above all, this company has a mission to improve people’s lives and make it easier for restauranteurs to start or expand their businesses.
Finally, last year, I learned to be humble so my team can find the incentive and motivation to help me find the light at the end of every tunnel. Manifesto is fighting our way through the pandemic by having a strong company culture, a flexible and smart team, and by trying new things almost every day like forcing our delivery partners to accept my idea of the marketplace bundled delivery from Manifesto, which has powered us through the pandemic and caught the attention of the red hot delivery startup world.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Martin Barry: A couple of months ago we shifted to an OKR management framework. It’s a learning process for the core management all the way down to our operations team, but I feel already how great this is to stay aligned, focused, and results-driven. We use several data dashboards developed with Keboola and we are starting a new collaboration with Adyen to process in-market transactions and online payments. We work with several delivery partners. I am also proud of our partnership with Nano Energies, a provider of clean energy for our markets and head office.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Martin Barry: Manifesto was recently featured as one of Europe’s top operators in the 2021 F-hubs report about the flagship, new generation food halls, where F stands for food and flexible use – culture, art, entertainment. That’s something which is in our DNA since the very inception of the company. We could consider older brands such as the TimeOut Market or Eataly as a sort of competition, but we’re more focused on disrupting the industry rather than competing with them. We have reason to believe we can get in the fast lane and pass them soon enough. The experiential element is much stronger in our case and we focus on pushing forward the technology, to enhance the tenant and customer O-2-O experiences. A different type of competition would be cloud or ghost kitchen brands and chains. Yet those brands do not focus on experiences and don’t really have a direct relationship with the end customer which we do. In the covid-affected new normal, Manifesto succeeded in bootstrap and roll out a unique marketplace delivery model, something Deliveroo Editions, Cloud Kitchens, and REEF Technologies have put hundreds of millions of dollars behind, yet have struggled to get off the ground. Manifesto remains one of the only brands in the world capable of bundling orders in our marketplace from dozens of restaurants in one bag shipped by one courier. Thus, Manifesto is able to deliver the same quality and diversity with food delivery as they do in their physical spaces for a wide audience.
Your final thoughts?
Martin Barry: We have barely started. I want this company, this incredible team to keep elevating people’s everyday experiences. If we can improve a few people’s lives, bring a few more smiles to the world, and make it easier for a few more chefs to scale their business – we’ll have fulfilled and rewarding careers.
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