Recently, Mathew Focht, CEO and Managing Partner of EMERGING Fund, spoke with Hilary Slocum. Hilary recently came on as the VP of Strategic Partnerships and is the newest member of the EMERGING team.
Fresh Out of College and Onto the Startup Tapingo
Focht: It’s great to have you as the VP of Strategic Partnerships. You’ll add tremendous value to our investors, LPs, and general partners. Thanks for joining the team. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and career?
Slocum: The first big thing that happened to me after graduating college was getting into the startup world. I was pegged to work at Tapingo, a mobile commerce app startup focused on the college student segment. In essence, we enabled students to order their food ahead of time, enabling them to access dining between those short intervals between classes.
At the start, there were only five to ten people on the team. This meant I had to be involved in every aspect, from selling to college campuses and literally knocking on doors to integrating campus cards. It was one of those unique moments where you got to get your hands dirty.
We ended up working with over 250 college campuses and integrated with many QSR brands, including Starbucks. One of the unique features was allowing students to utilize their Campus Dining Tenders to purchase the orders on the app. This ability was unique and one that drew Grubhub’s attention.
They were also interested in connecting with younger customers compared to those already in their professional careers. In 2018, Grubhub acquired Tapingo for $150 million. At that point, we were doing 100,000 transactions a day.
Getting to Grubhub and having the opportunity and responsibility to share the progress with the CEO was very exciting. I wasn’t very old at that time, and people put their trust in me. They trusted me to figure things out, get things done, and make a meaningful impact on the business. As a publicly traded company, there were many people I had to report back to.
From Tapingo to Choco
From there, I was fortunate to be sought after for a position with Choco. Choco is a one-stop platform for restaurants and suppliers to connect and grow, streamlining the ordering process and bridging the gap between the two. My job was to scale and launch the U.S. business for Choco, which started in Berlin and had a strong presence in Europe.
It was an incredible opportunity, and I was able to curate and create a team that grew from zero to over 100 people. I worked on generating revenue for the business as well as growing the customer base across the U.S.
I had to figure out which markets to go after and why we were going after them. What size suppliers and restaurants should we be targeting? And all of that had to be backed up with a strong reason because we had big investors with a lot of money behind the business. Getting to work with the CEO on that was an amazing opportunity, and I think it really helped me grow in immeasurable ways, personally and professionally. It set me up for success in a role like this.
Focht: You’re super talented and could be doing anything in life. I really think you’re in the sweet spot of the world in New York, surrounded by a lot of successful people in many different industries. So, why are you in this space? Why are you suffering through the pain of food and beverage and hospitality? And why in the startup space, specifically?
Slocum: I honestly really love to serve the restaurant industry. I am incredibly passionate about all of the operators within the space, whether it’s the cook in the back of the house or the guy doing the dishes to the servers and the general managers—these entertainment complexes, as you like to say.
I think there is so much opportunity in the industry, and I think that, frankly, this industry is underserved. The opportunity for new technology and innovations in this space is ripe but hasn’t been tapped into in the way it can be.
My favorite thing is teaching an operator about new technology that transforms their business, their family, and everything in between. This industry keeps changing and evolving, and it’s something that I continue to grow more and more passionate about.
But beyond technology, what inspires me the most is the people. That’s who you’re spending day in and day out with, solving problems and helping make each day better. It’s about connecting with folks and feeling like you can make a big impact together.
On to EMERGING
Focht: So, why are you interested in being the VP of Strategic Partnerships?
Slocum: It makes perfect sense, considering where I’ve been in my career and where I want to go. I love the individual relationships you’re building, whether with investors, restauranteurs, day-to-day operators, or founders and CEOs.
I think this is a really unique opportunity to marry all of my different skill sets and create great outcomes for the investors within the fund, for individual restaurants, and also for the founders that we support and partner with. So, I’m incredibly excited to roll my sleeves up and take all the different things I’ve taken from other roles and bring them together.
Focht: Well said. What do you see as some of the headwinds and challenges in the industry today?
Slocum: One of the challenges I see in the restaurant industry is a huge fragmentation in the market. There are so many different products, services, and offerings. It’s hard for anyone to know what to utilize and implement. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges within the restaurant industry and this space in general.
But I’ve had the opportunity and have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with a lot of different technology platforms and services that serve this industry. I think what will be exciting within this role is building out that matrix. It’s understanding who’s the right fit for this product and how it’s really going to move the needle for their business. And that’s something that I’m uniquely positioned to bring to the team.
It’s a very natural fit based on my background and experiences that I’ve had in the industry. I feel that EMERGING is in this breakout position, and you have the tools and the knowledge to take the entire restaurant and tech industry to the next level. I think my background uniquely positions me to help restaurants, investors, operators, and the fund in general to provide great outcomes. And I’m really excited about what’s to come.