May 8, 2020 - Technology

Help Main Street allows orders directly from struggling small shops

Ina Fried, author of Login

Photo: Help Main Street

In the latest version of its volunteer effort, the Help Main Street project is linking directly to the many small businesses offering their own ordering systems, in an effort to help them avoid giving a cut to various middlemen.

Why it matters: Large, tech-based intermediaries like Grubhub often take a significant cut of revenue, eating into badly needed cash for already struggling restaurants.

Background: Help Main Street began two months ago as a way for people to buy gift cards to support small businesses. Then the volunteer-run effort added GoFundMe so people could donate directly to businesses.

  • With the new update, Help Main Street offers links to the direct ordering pages of more than 30,000 of the 121,000 small businesses in its map-based directory. Help Main Street has about 20 volunteers, mostly from New York's tech scene.

What they're saying: Help Main Street founder Nihal Mehta, a partner at VC firm Eniac Ventures, said the team was inspired to add the component by a viral Facebook post that showed how one restaurant got just $376 in revenue from more than $1,000 worth of GrubHub orders.

  • "That's nuts," Mehta said. "At a time like this you want to help businesses, you don't want to make money from them."
  • Mehta said he encourages businesses that want to offer takeout to use a system like Toast, that charges a flat $50 per month, rather than taking a big commission. For gift cards, he encourages them to use Square.

The big picture: Help Main Street is one of a number of efforts launched by tech investors to help small businesses. Another, Frontline Foods, started by Ryan Sarver, helps feed health care workers and provide business to local restaurants. Others have helped collect masks and procure other needed supplies.

  • "We're really happy to see all that stuff and play our part," Mehta said.

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