“It’s a jungle out there.”
“Dog eat dog.”
“Only the strong survive.”
“It’s a rat race.”
When we describe business it’s not usually in soft, cuddly terms because it takes skill, hard work and determination to succeed in any field.
But when we work with someone or with a company, what keeps us coming back to work with them or use their services again? It’s a warm and friendly attitude that makes us feel welcome and appreciated. We can’t think of anyone in recent memory that has combined these two crucial elements of business better than Krystle Mobayeni.
Her ability as a designer and her capacity for relating to her clients has made BentoBox, the company she co-founded in 2013, the go-to digital design firm for many of the best restaurants across the country, including recent James Beard Award Winners and nominees Young Joni in Minneapolis, Manresa in Los Gatos, Coquette in New Orleans and Empellon in New York City.
Here, Mobayeni shares how she became the hospitality industry’s secret weapon, how her background plays a role in her business relationships and how she gets her hands dirty when she’s not at work.
OF TWO MINDS
Maybe it’s the left side and right side of our brain fighting it out, but for whatever reason, we always try to separate art and commerce. But the funny thing is that they go so well together. One’s technical and controlled; the other is irreverent and originative. Paired, they balance each other out.
Mobayeni figured this connection out early on. Her ability to harmonize both concepts at once probably has something to do with the fact that she’s an
INFJ (Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging) according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
“Less than 1% of the population has this personality type,” she notes. “We tend to be creative, insightful, and very good at solving problems.”
Some of her dual-brained acumen also has to do with her upbringing. “My father had a career in computer science starting in the early 80’s, so I grew up surrounded by technology,” she says. “And I’ve always had a passion for creating. I get a lot of satisfaction from working on something and having a finished product to show for it—whether it was making clothing, crafts or websites.”
It didn’t take her long to combine what her dad was teaching her and her own passion for conceiving and constructing something new from her own imagination. Later she would take this inspiration and get a degree in digital design from Philadelphia University and, after graduating, go on to work for advertising and design firms like agency.com, Big Spaceship, and Sarkissian Mason, before co-founding Neon & Sons, a digital creative agency based in New York City.
“Design is a natural part of both creativity and technology as it’s the consideration for how something looks and works,” she explains. “My career now is clearly a reflection of those two things coming together.” And they’ve messed perfectly in her latest creation: BentoBox.
Restaurants live and die on reviews, and with the advent of Yelp, Glassdoor, Indeed and various other websites and apps, the same goes for businesses. So what does Mobayeni believe a review of BentoBox would look like?
“I like to think they would say that we treat restaurant owners the way they treat their guests - with warmth, empathy, and most importantly, hospitality,” she surmises.
Given the number of starred and lauded restaurants that have signed up with BentoBox, Mobayeni’s probably spot on with her self-assessment because she understands her clients—both from a business and personal perspective. The latter she learned from her mother as she explained in a blog on getbento.com:
“I grew up in a Persian home where hospitality came before everything else. Even now, when my fiancé and I visit my parents in Maryland after a long week of work, we might arrive at 1 AM on a Friday night and my mother will still have a hot lamb shank—and nine other dishes—waiting for us on the table.”
Knowing the importance of hospitality, Mobayeni’s intuitive nature kicked in when starting her own company focused on the hospitality industry. Early on, she noticed a disconnect between those eating the food and those making the food while working for a restaurant client. ”Third-party apps and platforms had driven a wedge between restaurants and their guests, and restaurants have ultimately lost control online.”
In short, the foodservice industry had lost the personal connection that makes cooking a meal for someone so special.
“For restaurants, their website is literally the only place online they have total control of their brand, their guest relationships, and their profits,” she adds. “I knew exactly how to solve this problem and I was excited to help an industry that has given me some of the best experiences of my life.” It’s been pretty good for the restaurants as well.
That’s because Mobayeni’s considerate approach extends to her company’s billing model. Knowing how razor-thin restaurant’s margins are, she decided that BentoBox would charge a subscription fee so the websites are revenue generators for her clients instead of just being another bill to pay. Plus, the websites are highly customizable to create that personal connection between the business and its customers.
Even after raising nearly $24 million from investors, Mobayeni remains just as committed to her clients’ success as her own. And being so respectful to her customers it comes as no surprise that she runs her business the same way.
“I believe in giving a lot of ownership and operating with transparency,” she says of her leadership style. “Through that people feel more connected to what they’re doing.”
As you can probably guess, Mobayeni is a bit of a foodie. Given her client list, she could probably get a table pretty much anywhere she wants to eat, in any city, any night of the week. But when she’s off the clock, Mobayeni often prefers heading home for a meal. And we’re not talking take out.
“I love to cook. I also just moved into a new apartment in New York City that has some decent outdoor space—not an easy thing to find,” she says. “So, I’ve been taking full advantage and started a little garden. It’s good to work with my hands and take a mental pause when I’m in the dirt. I also take pottery classes, which have a similar effect.”
Making use of downtime—something she doesn’t get a ton of these days—also means getting away for the avid traveler. Her favorite spot: Ibiza, Spain, and probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about it—that it’s this big party island—when actually the majority of it is really peaceful,” she explains. “Ibiza has such a beautiful, unspoiled landscape, amazing food, and a culture of international people who all gather there because they appreciate the lifestyle the island cultivates. It's a special place I have been returning to over and over again for the past 20 years.”
Even though she goes back to her favorite spots again and again, Mobayeni also has her eye on at least one new location to hit when her schedule allows. “In the future, I’d like to visit the country of Georgia to explore the culture and off the beaten path wine - it’s one of the oldest wine regions in the world,” she notes.
Just like her ability to combine her artistic and her objective aptitudes into her business, she has two divergent places that are always calling to her: the beach and mountains.
“I like water activities of all kinds—boating, jet skiing, eating seafood,” she notes. “I’ve been indoor rock climbing for many years, but have recently done some amazing outdoor climbing in Joshua Tree and Red Rocks.” And she welcomes a trip to either equally.