The idea for Manna Cooking came, in a way, from the mother of CTO and co-founder Guy Greenstein – a private chef who cooks all-vegan, all-kosher dishes. One day, Greenstein realized that his mother’s workstation was totally unmanageable, a chaos of notebooks and filing cabinets overflowing with heavily annotated recipe clips. He searched for an app that would help him streamline things, but he came up empty-handed.
So Greenstein teamed up with his childhood friends and co-founders Josh and Rachel Abady to create a platform that would allow users like his mother to organize, customize and share recipes. The app, Manna Cooking, makes its official debut today on the Apple App Store. I went on Zoom last week with Josh and Rachel (CEO and CMO of the company respectively) to find out more about the launch.
The app’s name was inspired by the three co-founders’ early years at a Jewish school. “Manna is what is supposed to have fallen from heaven to feed the Israelites – to give them everything they needed,” said Rachel, who came up with the name. “Our app is meant to be your companion in the kitchen that gives you everything you need to cook.”
Rachel and Josh showed me around the app via Zoom. The digital environment is bright and easy to navigate, made friendlier by Chef Mic, the app’s cartoon personality. The app leverages popular social media features to help users discover new recipes: you can flick through app-style recipes in swipe mode, or scroll through other users’ posts in the discovery feed. Users can also create and import recipes themselves.
Manna delivers on its promise to create a single, centralized space for users to manage their recipes. In the cookbook environment, the app allows you to edit any recipe you liked and save a new version. (The app also automatically flags recipe ingredients that might be incompatible with your diet.) When you want to start cooking a dish, the app walks you through the recipe step-by-step, similar to the app. Google Maps guides you step by step. step-by-step to your destination, saving you the hassle of scrolling through ingredient lists and instructions.
There are currently around 10,000 recipes on the app. Some come from a collection of pre-approved websites from which users can instantly import recipes; some were created by the app’s beta testers; and some were selected by Manna’s in-house recipe creator.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Greenstein and the Abady siblings to take an unconventional approach to fundraising. They had secured pre-COVID funding (including from David Greenstein, Guy’s father and co-founder of brand incubator Wonder Brands) but the pandemic has reduced opportunities to pitch restaurant owners and other backers. “But we realized that more than it’s about food, our app is about the community. So if we are a community, why not use the community as a source of funding as well? Josh said.
The team used Wefunder to raise around $150,000, which helped them create a beta version of the Manna Cooking app. This crowdfunding approach also helped the team create a pool of dedicated beta testers: “Our first wave of testers really had skin in the game, as they gave us funds ranging from $100 and up,” Rachel said. “So we already had super testers built in.”
Manna has partnered with restaurateur and chef David Burke, giving users access to simplified restaurant food recipes. They also identified brand-aligned social media influencers who create recipes, provide reviews and help promote the app.
This spring, Manna will work to raise a more conventional seed funding round. Within the next two months, the team plans to enter into a partnership with a food retailer, which will allow them to launch an automatic ordering function.
But the team’s number one priority is user acquisition, and their success may depend on the platform’s ability to foster in-app communities. Ultimately, the app’s promise is to provide a simplified social cooking experience, especially for users with specific dietary needs – people who want to cook gluten-free or vegan foods, and be inspired by others who cook and eat like them.
As Josh said, “There are millions of people who fit each of these descriptions, and each of them should feel like they have a community to engage with in one place. centralized.”