The massive growth in restaurant technology has created tremendous opportunities, catapulting the most disruptive period in our history. Leading founders and CEOs in Restaurants and Restaurant Technology (ResTech) partnered with EMERGING and founded the EMERGING Fund to invest in the explosive growth areas the industry is experiencing. Unlike other funds, these founders have extensive experience developing proven social entertainment and ResTech concepts. Now, these entrepreneurs want to use their expertise to mentor and offer support and guidance for early-stage ventures.
We’re taking a deep dive into our unique founders that significantly impact the current ResTech and social entertainment trends. The group of founders partnering with EMERGING represents an unrivaled opportunity, a platform developed by successful entrepreneurs in the industry.
In this, the first of several interviews with these industry leaders, Mathew Focht, Founder and CEO of EMERGING, spoke with Adam Breeden, the Founder and Co-Founder of Flight Club, Puttshack, FI Arcade, and Hijingo, the leading social entertainment concepts of our time. Breeden is one of the Partners of the EMERGING Fund and is using his proven track record of successful social entertainment concepts to help others drive growth. Let’s explore the highlights of their conversation.
The Pioneer of Competitive Socializing in the U.K.
Focht began, “Adam, I remember when we were sitting in the basement of the AceBounce location in 2017, and you were telling me about your vision for Flight Club as well as something you had on the horizon later called Puttshack. Then, about a year later, we were discussing Hijingo. It’s an incredible story, and all of these concepts are top performers in the social entertainment sector. I don’t know anybody in the world who has done anything close to it in this arena, and I’ve been privileged to be a part of your story in recent years. I’d like you to share a little about your career and how you started.”
Breeden: “Thanks, Mat. I started out owning and operating a cocktail bar and restaurant in Notting Hill, London, called Lonsdale, in my twenties. It was the first of its kind in that I took a very premium cocktail bar offering and turned it into a neighborhood bar with all the quality you expect from the best. It won seven awards, including several comparable to the James Beard awards in the U.S., and was frequently voted the best or the second-best cocktail bar in London. It was a phenomenal success and paved the way for me to think about how to make these venues more fun.
“Then, in 2006, I created All Star Lanes, a concept that fused bowling with high-quality food and beverage and a great design ethos. It effectively combined high-end hospitality with an activity. Right after, I did the same thing with ping pong, which I think was really the tipping point. It’s called Bounce or AceBounce in the U.S., and it was the first time someone had fused an activity that hadn’t really been understood as a ‘fun thing to do.’ Again, it was a huge success with phenomenal returns and acted as a catalyst for many other founders in the space to think, ‘Well, if it works with ping pong, what else can it work with?’
“A lot of social entertainment concepts came quickly after that in the U.K., which is why I think the U.K. is ahead of the rest of the world in terms of the variety of concepts in the competitive socializing space. However, make no mistake; it is coming everywhere and on a global scale.”
The Rise in Social Entertainment
Breeden went on to explain the many concepts following these successful ventures. “On the back of that, we created a flurry of additional concepts, including the Flight Club, which fuses darts with technology, making for incredible gameplay around the dartboard. Again, I emphasized best-in-class food and beverage, and it became a huge success and phenomenally popular for all forms of group activity, including families, corporate, and social. It’s been very profitable and is on a significant rollout in the U.S.”
Next, Steve and Dave Jolliffe, founders of Topgolf, went to Breeden with their golfing technology, that is, effectively, a computer in a golf ball, and Puttshack was born.
“Puttshack offers best-in-class mini-golf and follows in the footsteps of Topgolf in terms of target valuations, etc. It has very successfully launched in the U.S., and we’re looking to open 10 to 15 sites a year.
“I then created Hijingo with James Gordon, a bingo concept designed for a significantly younger audience. It combines live entertainment with stadium-grade lighting and is very high-tech-focused. It’s a real thrill, dramatizing bingo through lighting and sound. Again, it’s been a huge success in London and is also rolling out.”
The Future: Formula 1 Racing
“The big thing I’m doing at the moment and what I think will be the biggest yet is a global concept I’m doing with Formula 1, the F1 Arcade. We’re following the same playbook, combining phenomenal food and beverage with great design and activity. We forensically go through how to gamify the activity—an immersive, state-of-the-art F1 racing simulation experience—so that it can appeal to everybody of all backgrounds and all ages. I have a very long-term license agreement with F1, who, for the first time, has taken a meaningful equity position.”
Choosing a Concept
Focht was curious about how Breeden analyzed concepts. “When you hear of a concept, or you have an idea, what makes you think that it has the potential or the legs to dominate and be a category winner?”
Breeden: “I’ll immediately get a feel of whether a concept will resonate with the customer and how the economics of the business might work. Generally, the economics of these businesses are very good. I’ve chosen to go down the premium route, spending a bit more but then generating that top line.
“I’ll look at the space it requires and the profitability per square foot. It’s also important to examine the customer journey and if it’s an activity people can enjoy while eating and drinking. Other considerations include its scalability and if there’s a proprietary tech that translates to a barrier to entry.”
Focht mentioned Breeden’s ability to create concepts that appeal to multiple target markets: “A big differentiator you have in relation to other entertainment concepts is how you appeal to all markets. All your concepts can transition from corporate business or families in the day to this late-night sexy millennial 25 to 35 customer who’s a little more sensitive about where they hang out and needs to be on-trend. It’s much more challenging to get that customer, but you’ve been able to in all your concepts. So, how do you accomplish that, and what are the drivers?”
Breeden: “The really important thing for me is to have the broadest possible appeal for the activity. You look for activities that can appeal to the family, corporate, and adult social markets. And by establishing policies, you can even have two audiences in the venue at the same time, overlapping by a couple of hours. Drawing in the adult social market is about creating a phenomenal design using lighting and light features that create that youthful effervescence and incorporate cutting-edge technology. Bars and restaurants usually have a narrower audience, whether family, premium, or fast casual. That’s one of the great things about this concept is its broad appeal, and that’s been completely proven out.”
In closing, Focht asked, “So, as you know, the EMERGING Fund is focused on two categories: F&B tech and early-stage restaurant entertainment concepts. Many people wonder why we’re tackling both, with these being two different silos in the investment world. You know our thesis, but, in your opinion, do these go together today?”
According to Breeden, they absolutely do. “I can certainly vouch that bringing technology into these businesses is a game changer. One of the things we’re doing in the new F1 venture is building the systems architecture in the back end of the business. It’s critical in terms of our ability to have insights into and control the business. It affects the data we can capture and what that means in terms of driving a single customer view and the analysis of what we can feed into when we’re looking at property acquisition, as well as procurement, the supply chain, and loyalty. This is the way things are going to be.
“The more systems infrastructure and data and ultimately insight and control you have over your business, the better you’re going to run it and the more seamless you’re going to operate. Those in hospitality that haven’t embraced data are leaving a lot on the table in terms of efficiency, how they operate, simplifying the customer’s journey, and making an experience more interesting or gamified. Tech can leverage and enhance an opportunity, and then, having the people around the table that understand how to support success is pretty unique.”
The New Face of Investing
As is evident, founders such as Adam Breeden give early-stage ventures a unique opportunity to work with entrepreneurs who have proven themselves as the best of the best in their field. Today’s entrepreneurs want more from their investment partners and are looking for capital partners that can work closely with them to provide insights and rapidly drive growth.
The addition of Buyers Edge Platform and EMERGING creates an incredible platform that provides access to over 200,000 restaurants and a proven roadmap to success that is unprecedented. To learn more about the EMERGING Fund, or to schedule a consultation, contact EMERGING.