The idea for Manna Cooking came, in a way, from CTO and co-founder Guy Greenstein’s mom—a private chef who cooks all-vegan food. It turns out in Greenstein one day that his mother’s workstation was completely unmanageable, a clutter of notebooks and folders overflowing with heavily annotated recipe passages. He searched for an app to help her simplify things but it came out empty-handed.
So Greenstein teamed up with his childhood friends and co-founders Josh and Rachel Abadi to create a platform that lets users like his mom organize, customize, and share recipes. Manna Cooking officially debuts today on the Apple App Store. I got on Zoom last week with Josh and Rachel (the company’s CEO and CMO, respectively) to find out more about the launch.
The name of the app is inspired by the early years of the three founders of a Jewish day school. Rachel, who came by this name, said: “The manna is that which is supposed to have fallen from heaven to feed the Israelites – to give them all they need.” “Our app is meant to be your friend in the kitchen that gives you everything you need to cook.”
Rachel and Josh led me on a tour of the app via Zoom. The digital environment is bright and easy to navigate, made more friendly by Chef Mic, the app’s cartoonish character. The app relies on popular social media features to help users discover new recipes: you can tap on recipes dating app style in scroll mode, or scroll through other users’ posts in the discovery feed. Users can also create and import recipes by themselves.
Mana delivers on its promise to create one central space for users to manage their recipes. In a cookbook environment, the app allows you to edit any recipe you like and save a new version. (The app also automatically identifies recipe ingredients that might not be compatible with your diet.) When you want to start cooking a dish, the app guides you through the recipe one step at a time in the same way Google Maps takes you to-step-by-step toward your destination, enabling Saves the need to scroll back and forth between the ingredient list and instructions.
There are currently about 10,000 recipes on the app. Some are from a handful of pre-approved websites from which users can instantly import recipes from; Some are created by beta testers of the app; Some are sponsored by the recipe creator at Mana.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Greenstein and the Abadi siblings to take an unorthodox approach to fundraising. They did get some funding before COVID (including from David Greenstein, Guy’s father and co-founder of incubator Wonder Brands) but the pandemic has smashed opportunities to suggest restaurants and other funders. “But we realized, our app is more about the community, than it is about the food. So if we’re a community, why not use the community to be our funding source as well?” said Josh.
The team used Wefunder to raise about $150,000, which helped them create a beta version of the Manna Cooking app. This crowdfunding approach also helped the team create a group of dedicated beta testers: “Our first wave of testers really had a good feel in the game, because they gave us money anywhere from $100 and up,” Rachel said. “So we actually had super-testers built in.”
Mana has partnered with restaurateur and chef David Burke, giving users access to simplified recipes for restaurant dishes. They’ve also identified social media influencers that are compatible with the brands, who create the recipes, provide feedback, and help promote the app.
This spring, Manna will raise more of its traditional seed funding round. In the next two months, the team plans to partner with a grocery retailer, which will allow them to launch an auto-order feature.
But the team’s number one priority is user acquisition, and their success there may depend on how well the platform fosters community building within the app. At the end of the day, the promise of the app is to provide a streamlined social cooking experience, especially for users with specific dietary needs – people who want to cook gluten-free, or vegan, and get inspiration from 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 they can relate to in one central place.”