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March 17, 2021,

Rockaway Insider with Martin Barry, CEO of Manifesto Market: Always ask harder questions than everyone else

Rockaway Insider with Martin Barry, CEO of Manifesto Market: Always ask harder questions than everyone else

Just a few years ago, New Yorker Martin Barry was a partner at W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, where he was responsible for large projects in places like Canada, Mexico, or the Middle East. Back then he was already specializing in public areas, waterfronts, and urban regeneration. But after many years, as he himself says, he wanted something of his own. As the head of the reSITE non-profit organization, he made his dream come true in Prague and opened the Manifesto Market, a pop-up concept that combines the latest technologies with something that appeals to everyone – meeting outside over good food and drinks.

What is the most important thing that 2020 taught you?
First, 2020 taught me how important it is to work with people who see the world the same way I do. Alongside that, I learned what it means to be a wartime company. I learned that if we’re going to be a wartime company for a long time – until we’re by far a global market leader – I want to link arms with people that are smarter than me, and who will go further than me to accomplish our objectives. And, if I’m going to lead my team into battle, I need to be both courageous and vulnerable. These were big lessons. 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. Our customers value our message, and have show us a lot of love last year. 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.

What is the number one rule that you follow in your business at all costs?
As a manager, to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am. And, only they will decide if I’m a leader or a manager. I won’t decide that. Also, as an entrepreneur, Manifesto and any new entity I start in the future will always care about sustainability and work toward a net zero carbon footprint. Manifesto has always been a mission driven company and our customers value that with us. We always will look to utilize our tech-enabled consumer brand to add cultural, social and economic value in society. This means that we seek to meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability while balancing profit and purpose. Being committed to that will create a tremendously valuable brand and company. One example of how we do this? Manifesto has been connected to renewable energy from Nano Energies for two years. It is one of a number of effective ways to reduce our impact on the environment and to inspire other companies and households to follow the same path.

Failure is the mother of success. Which failure taught you the most and what specifically?
It’s not exactly a failure, but a punch in the face for sure. Around January last year, I wrote down, for the record and my memory, that “there’s never really been a more trying six months” of my professional life. I was facing a tough decision about a new equity investment and onboarding a new investor. We didn’t move it forward, and not too long after, we found ourselves in the center of the COVID-19 storm. In early March 2020, I had a call with a board advisor for one of the biggest growth investment firms in New York – Insight Partners – who was considering investing in Manifesto. That same day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped over 2000 points. Every person in the finance and venture world was holding their wallets and focused on their own problems. The consumer and hospitality companies like mine – like many industries dependent on movement and face-to-face interactions – were on the verge of being washed out.

On the opening page of our Series A deck, it said, “We are a hospitality platform.” followed on the second page with “We want to be the largest and most loved food market hall brand in the world.” A statement like that would get you thrown out of a room in March 2020. And so, the same board advisor said, “Martin, that’s a solid deck, it looks really awesome, you guys are doing an amazing job, your growth metrics and your traction are great. But I have to be honest with you, you are in the center of the storm. And the only advice I have for you right now is don’t fundraise, because no one’s going to give you money. You have to survive. And, if you survive this, everyone will be throwing money at you.” I ended that call and I wrote down three things. That we have to survive. We have to innovate. And we have to come out thriving. That week, we closed Manifesto temporarily, ripped up our old playbook and figured out how to survive.

What is your most important advice for start-ups?
Seek advice, lots of it, before you raise external capital. Always ask harder questions than everyone else. Depending on your business, do not neglect branding and understanding who your customer is. Branding doesn’t mean having a logo and brand color. It’s about understanding where you are going and why, and being able to convey your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) to others in a clear and appealing way. It requires tons of editing and tough questions that you might not feel you need to answer so soon. It’s a tool to stay focused, and to realize your present and future value. Another piece of advice is to treat your partners exactly how you want to be treated. If you’re successful, you can choose who will go along on the ride with you. You’re going to be at war constantly and you want to be in war with the right people.

What do you consider to be the greatest benefit of your business to society?
Our vision is to improve people’s lives and neighborhoods through transformative food experiences while creating hubs for restaurateurs’ businesses to thrive. We don’t take that lightly. Bringing people together around good experiences they will remember is not easy and takes a tremendous amount of dedication to constantly tinkering with the way we do that. Providing accessible and flawless business opportunities for entrepreneurs in flexible and tech-enabled spaces. Improving cities and quality of life for the residents by doing so, with a creative and design-first approach. Daniel Bach, the editor from Monocle The Entrepreneurs introduced Manifesto as “a great launch point for small businesses, or an additional location for established brands, all housed in an ultra-modern market experience, built in unused corners of the city as either a temporary solution or a permanent burst of life.” This is exactly what I care about achieving and how I want Manifesto to become the world’s most loved food hall brand.

What question do you get most often and what is your answer?
It’s probably why I relocated to Prague. I wish I had a play button for that one. I’m most interested in solving challenges. I relocated to focus on my nonprofit reSITE full time, and work on something I own. I was tired of working for clients’ on their projects. While I was happy with that work for a while, I wanted to be an entrepreneur, to start my own thing that could make a positive impact on the world. reSITE was my second attempt at this. Initially, I saw a huge opportunity to help solve issues associated with development of the city, to make Prague and other cities around the globe more sustainable and livable. To teach important people how to improve parks, and riverfronts. And, why they should do that. Prague is big enough to be an influential European city, but small enough where you can get to know the right people fairly quickly. I love that. Inherently, the city also offers a pretty high quality of life, for a young family like mine. So, even though my wife and I are not from Prague, we’ve stayed.

Which life-hack makes working life easier for you the most?
Being car-free. I live my 15-minute city dream. Not many of my friends in New York City can say that. I walk, I bike, I see the city at standing eye level. I love the convenience of being close to everything – my office, my partners, parks, good food, daycare for my son, the river. Using smart technologies is second nature for me. Not only do I use various products every day and minute, but I also see what else can be transformed and improved with technologies. Our smart vacuum is one such life hack that makes my feet happier, since I don’t step on too many bread crumbs from my son.


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