The Manyfolds team (from the left): Christian Kusmanow, Sebastian Gutmann and Frank Thomsen.
© Manyfolds

Manyfolds: Optimally Sized and Environmentally Friendly Packaging

Anyone who shops online is familiar with the problem: A small item or modestly sized order arrives in an oversized box half full of filling material. The Munich startup Manyfolds has made it their mission to combat this problem. In our interview, the founders explain how the environment as well as retailers benefit from their solution.

Munich Startup: Who are you and what do you do? Please introduce yourselves!

Manyfolds: Hi, we’re Guz and Frank, the founders of Manyfolds. We’ve developed a system that manufactures optimally sized and environmentally friendly packaging on demand. Guz (Sebastian Gutmann) has a background as an industrial designer with extensive international experience, and Frank is an experienced dot-com entrepreneur who worked for many years as a consultant and innovation project manager.

We met through an acquaintance in 2018 and launched the project Manyfolds in its current form. Guz is responsible for the entire technological side as CTO, including hardware development, prototype construction and software development coordination. He also attends to our pilot customers and produces the packaging with our big cutting plotter. Frank as CEO takes care of finances, funding management, presentations, competitions, PR and what feels like a thousand other duties.For software development, we have two highly experienced software architects on the team. Christian as CIO is responsible for the overall structure of frontend and backend and everything having to do with draft pattern design. Markus is a specialist in the field of object and image recognition as well as CAD design automation.

“On average, packages contain 50 percent air”

Munich Startup: What problem does your startup solve?

Manyfolds: For medium sized E-Commerce, retail stores and industry SMEs, packaging means significant costs and stress: Because in the vast majority of cases the items ordered by customers don’t fit in the available boxes properly and having a supply of a variety of cardboard packaging is expensive, large boxes are selected for shipping. On average, packages contain 50 percent air. That leads to higher expenses for filling material and postage. Not to mention the unnecessary CO2 emissions and streets gridlocked with delivery vehicles.

Manyfolds dramatically simplifies the issue of packaging. Our basic approach: With Manyfolds, customers can concentrate solely on their merchandise for shipping and not on how that merchandise needs to be packaged. The system in our app automatically calculates the optimally sized packaging including protective positioning inserts – which means additional filling material is no longer needed. It even takes care of measuring the merchandise for customers: If the dimensions of the merchandise aren’t available, just two photos with the Manyfolds app are enough for the image recognition algorithms to automatically calculate the measurements.

Manyfolds also takes an innovative approach to production: In the future, customers can decide if they want to produce their own on-demand packaging at their company site with compact rental machines or if they want to have the packaging produced by Manyfolds externally and sent to them. That significantly lowers the entry threshold for use. For our pilot customers, we’ve already started with external production, and the rental machines will be available next year.

New packaging from just one material

On top of that, fully digital production of the packaging cutting patterns makes entirely new architectures of shipping packaging possible with just one type and quality of material. With the right folding techniques, 100 percent recycled, corrugated cardboard that’s three millimeters (about 1/8 inch) thick is enough to safely package even fragile or heavy objects.

Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box!

Manyfolds: Of course there are already various packaging systems on the market. First, you have the classic “we have every box” online suppliers. But they only concentrate on selling the largest possible quantities of standard sizes and aren’t concerned about providing the best possible packaging for merchandise. Then you have suppliers of automated systems, which are usually huge. Their products are more expensive overall, require more organization and are far from having the range of solutions offered by Manyfolds.

None of our competitors have product-to-pattern technology including photo recognition with an app plus the engineering of positioning inserts that makes it possible to even package multiple products without filling material. The bottom line: No. There isn’t anything like Manyfolds on the market yet.

Munich Startup: What have been your three biggest challenges so far?

Manyfolds: With a software/hardware startup that very much operates in the physical world, you face new challenges nearly every day. In addition to the ongoing challenge of always having sufficient financing (which is an ‘extra level’ during corona), we simply couldn’t find an affordable production site that was big enough in Munich or the surrounding area for several months. We have a 1.8 ton cutting plotter that’s too big to fit through standard office doors and instead requires a warehouse door. Fortunately, we ended up finding a good location in Pasing where we now feel very much at home. And of course there are always obstacles in development and in the interplay between hardware and software. But it all ultimately works in the end, sometimes you just need to have a bit more patience – which is the biggest psychological challenge for entrepreneurs.

Manyfolds launches pilot production

Munich Startup: How is business going?

Manyfolds: We launched pilot production in late March, which means we’re now producing optimally sized packaging for select customers with our own cutting plotter. At the same time, we’re working on further development of our small production machine and the software. We’re now basically being contacted ‘without sales efforts’ by various companies. So business has started well.

Munich Startup: What do you think about Munich as a startup location?

Manyfolds: Munich is absolutely amazing when it comes to the density of startups, which is also why the startup ecosystem works so well. We had the opportunity to be a part of the UnternehmerTUM Xpreneurs incubator program last year, which allowed us to establish valuable contacts in the entire startup industry. That helps us make progress every day. As of this month, we’re also part of the LMU Entrepreneurship Center program, which we want to use to dive into the international scene. In short: Munich is an important location for us to drive our startup forward. Yet there still is a little ‘but.’ In these difficult corona times, easier access to loans and capital would be beneficial, especially for the many innovative startups that have no significant turnover yet. But that’s up to the politicians.

Munich Startup: Home cooking or take out?

Manyfolds: Home cooking! Guz has always been an enthusiastic home chef and has even made headway into molecular gastronomy. Frank regularly cooks classic Italian and German dishes for his family of five.