A handful of companies were born during the onset of the pandemic, but how did they overcome the new hurdles small businesses faced? We had the pleasure of catching up with Chris DeSantis, CEO and co-founder of Munch, which launched a new food app self-proclaimed the “Tinder of dining”, thrusting them into the foodtech sector at the height of Covid last year.
Heres what he had to say:
What is the story behind Munch?
Munch was born at the onset of the pandemic. I learned my contract at UBS was not going to be renewed due to emergency cost cutting measures resulting from Covid-19. As I was reassessing my career trajectory, my best friend (and now CTO) Aleks Azen was moving to an apartment in Chelsea. He was overwhelmed with the dining options in his new neighborhood, and often was asking for recommendations. He was disappointed by the lack of tools food apps offered to decide from his options. Aleks is the type to create solutions rather than wait for them, so after some thought and research, he came to me with his idea about a “tinder for group dining”. I immediately wanted to be involved and the idea developed from there.
(The Munch team..having a munch.)
What are the challenges of Covid and how have or will you overcome them?
The hospitality industry is suffering tremendously and creating new technology for people to enjoy eating together currently is particularly challenging. People are not as interested in doing things in groups of more than 2 right now, and even if they were, their options are more limited than ever. We are trying to create a resource for people to support the dining industry, but with lockdowns and the constant changes these business owners need to make to survive, we are limited in the circumstantial data we can provide for people to make decisions (outdoor setup data, indoor capacity, sanitary procedures in place). However, Covid-19 has also given us a unique opportunity. While our ability to gain traction and generate buzz has been stifled, we have been receiving a lot of positive feedback and excitement from our early users. This soft launch period allows us to push out improvements and changes at low stakes. As such, we can quietly poise ourselves for greater success once the world comes to a turning point.
We plan to overcome these obstacles by creating an awesome product that will get people energized to go out to restaurants with their friends/family/colleagues while providing restaurants/bars with effective tools to reach new customers. We also have plans for a unique payment system that gives diners a completely different experience once they finish a meal and allow restaurants/bars to make more money on every transaction.
What advice do you have for other budding food entrepreneurs breaking into the market?
The industry is extremely sensitive right now, but I believe there is opportunity in times of significant change. For a B2B or B2C business model, restaurants and consumers alike care more than ever about what is in it for them and what will it cost (effort/time/money). So, I believe the best way to see success with that model will showcase benefits upfront that also result in a reduction of those 3 cost categories.
Most importantly, be prepared for people to tell you that it is impossible to survive as a startup in this industry (especially when looking for funding). While I am not able to say we have found success yet, I believe the best way to be disruptive in an industry is to succeed at something that everyone tells you won’t work.
What are your plans for the next 5 years?
Our first big hurdle is fundraising. We are currently in the process of trying to find angel investors for our first round of funding. With that money, we will validate our product/market fit and put the pieces in place to scale. With healthy user growth, we want to create a community/social experience where people can see where their friends have gone, what food the group ordered, what they thought of it, etc. We would also like to have a rewarding loyalty system that adds value to both user and restaurant.
We would like for Munch to be a major player in the B2B space of the hospitality industry. Restaurants/bars are extremely limited in the tools available to them to reach new customers online. We want to be known as the most effective way for these businesses to reach their target audience without costing them an arm and a leg. After many discussions with restaurant owners, we have learned that the sentiment of the current market leaders (Yelp, OpenTable, etc.) is incredibly low – we want to be a company business want to associate with.
What is the goal and mission behind Munch?
Munch is more than an app – we are a company focused reshaping the end-to-end dining experience. We are doing this by breaking down the barriers that keep people from fully experiencing their local dining scene. We are starting by removing the hassle of picking the place with your friends, showing you spots you have never heard of (because the traditional algorithms keep them from you, and eliminating the discomfort involved with splitting the bill. All of this, plus creating invaluable tools for great restaurant and bars to connect with new customers.
What importance does sustainability and nutrition play in your brand?
We are a young founding team who wants the world to be a beautiful place for as long as possible. For us, there is no question about sustainability – it is the only way to do business if you are a decent person. We are working on a partnership with a sustainable delivery service that we feel can make the currently flooded food delivery market rethink its social responsibility relating to the global food waste problem.
Nutrition has always been a major factor in my personal life. I struggled with weight when I was particularly young until adopting a healthy lifestyle in high school which significantly changed the way I interacted with food. While we do not put any restrictions on Munch for the sake of nutrition, we do not allow the big fast-food chains to clog what you see on the app – as a matter of fact, you like will not see much of them at all depending on your location. We believe food cooked by your local gems, which are mostly small businesses, is good for both the body and soul!