3 january 2024
A New Year’s Letter From Jakub
First and foremost, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and a successful start into the new year 2024! In this blog, I want to write about the past year 2023 and the last 5 years.
I believe, and now from my own experience I know, that the success of any startup that is led and majority-owned by its original founders inevitably depends on what is happening in their personal life. It directly affects the mood, vision, and willingness of the company to fulfill its set mission; it's like a pH litmus test. To all who are contemplating fulfilling their dream of fulfilling any mission that you believe will benefit civilization, I want to say that if work-life balance is on your decision-making scales, then don't even do it. Dividing personal and professional life, especially at the start, is simply not possible. Moreover, if you don't have previous members or relatives in your family tree who could provide the necessary mentorship, reconcile with being an anomaly. In the last 5 years, I have been going through a divorce with everything that entails. Finally, I got divorced at the beginning of last year. This phase is behind me. This year I have once again breathed in for brighter tomorrows, and I believe it shows on Mana. I thank my co-founders, family, and friends who supported me during this period, thank you.
In 2023, we planned the launch of 28 products: 8 ManaDrinks, 8 ManaPowders, 8 Family Packs, and 4 ManaBars. Practically every month we released something new, and now Mana is in great condition with products that have no competition in the world. It was challenging, but we managed it excellently. In 2022, we tirelessly worked on a new Drink, for which we changed everything from the ground up - composition, technology, and especially the new packaging made of mono-material. The huge challenge was to achieve stability with at least a ten-month shelf life. The transition from Tetra Pak was quite wild and, as we now look back, seamless. The reason was the technologically impossible recycling and the cumbersome system of minimum packaging material quantities, which slowed our expansion. We were the first in Europe (in 2016) to fill such a format. Now it was time to advance the Drink to much more sophisticated technology. In January, we will introduce the eighth release, and with that, the basic Mark 8 lineup will be complete. A complete novelty is the ManaBar, which we had on our TODO list for more than 5 years, and this year we managed to release the first version, which is really great.
At the end of 2022, we took a very radical and brave step into the unknown by changing the distribution of Czech and Slovak retail. In November, we terminated the distribution contract and began taking over distribution ourselves. I must say, we really considered this step because it was a discipline in which we had to renegotiate all supplier contracts and set up logistics. The first 5 months were hell, but we got through it. By the end of the year, we had stabilized the entire distribution. The reason was the rapidly changing situation in 2021 and 2022, when the prices of raw materials increased by hundreds of percent. If your input price changes immediately and you can react to the market only with about a three-month delay, this time disparity on cash flow was deadly. We really struggled. At the end of 2022, our annual balance sheet showed that we were losing money, while our distributors and retailers maintained their margins. With this story, I want to thank our until then distributor, with whom, I believe, we achieved a lot. Everything is settled now. This year we introduced the new Mark 8 portfolio. We changed absolutely everything. We literally started again. In the middle of the year, it looked like we wouldn't catch up with the previous year. But now we can say that we have done it and are well on our way to growth in 2024. Through this, I want to thank all our current partners for their cooperation. Thank you :)
From the very beginning, it has been important for us to integrate the entire vertical in-house, from breeding, cultivation, processing, to filling into our products. We are inspired by the current technology of integrating computer circuit and microchip design. This strategy will allow us to have absolute control over the raw materials we want to grow organically. From a cost perspective, thanks to the scale economies we have already achieved, we are able to reduce input costs by 50 - 60%. An associated goal is to become the largest plant-based protein producer for human consumption in Europe, beyond our own consumption. Currently, according to recent statistics, the Czech Republic produces a weak 5% of energy compared to the 20% needed, and we see this as a significant risk in the current food security strategy. Consumption will only grow, and we want to become a main support, at least for Czech consumers, in the foreseeable future. We have now selected a suitable location near Prague Airport, where we are planning the construction of a factory in several phases, covering a total area of 10,000 square meters for indoor cultivation, raw material processing, and filling, along with an associated area of 300 hectares for outdoor cultivation. Over the next few months, we will hold a Keynote with the first version of the factory.
NASA & Rocket Lunch Inc
This update has been pending for almost a year. I understand that everyone who follows us is interested in this update. In 2021, we secured a contract with NASA through my company Rocket Lunch Inc. It's primarily my dedicated R&D team that was tasked with designing a solution for constructing food dispensing hardware for SpaceX's Starship rocket. We presented the concept solution and won the contract for construction, the next year we built the prototype and presented it in the second phase. We did not advance to the third phase, even though the solution was on the right track. In the third phase, NASA prioritized startups that focused on cultivating primary raw material sources, such as bioreactors for growing proteins and crops that generate vitamins B, C, and K. Leaving the meetup in Brooklyn, we felt defeated, but everything ultimately turned for the better, and we gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and contacts with specific people in NASA's leadership who have been dedicated to food for the last 30 years. At this moment, we are not under contract, but we are working on a new solution that integrates the current solutions of partner teams, and in 2024, we plan to return. The doors are open for us. It's been an incredible experience, it changed our view of the world, and we will never be the same. NASA recognized us for “Excellent Achievement” and expressed their support. Photo from left: Jakub Krejčík, Ralph Fritsche (NASA Deep Space Food Challenge Project Manager), and Marek Humpl.
I want to express immense gratitude and pride for the opportunity to work with such incredible people. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this great year full of successes and tremendous hard work, which enabled us to bring over 2 million Mark 8 products to market. It wouldn't have been possible without you. We had a few tough moments, but thanks to tremendous agility, hard work, and intelligence, we are back and have a new, amazing chapter ahead of us.
At this moment, I cannot say more, but we are in the phase of negotiations with possible strategic partners. Mana as a company has matured for real scaling. You will hear more soon.
On behalf of the entire Mana team, I would like to thank you. Thank you for the trust you have shown us for all 9 years. Your support, as well as your constructive criticism, continually drive us forward. It inspires us to constantly push the boundaries and find new ways to improve life. To all my beloved, the Mana team, friends, fans, customers, partners, and competitors, may your life be healthy, fulfilling, rich, happy, crazy, and hungry for new challenges, just like ours.
— Jakub Krejčík, CEO