By his own admission, Conor Sheridan went from a career in consultancy and fund management to frying chicken in a kitchen on the top of Camden Street in Dublin 2. 

However, the more Sheridan explains his career trajectory, the more it makes sense. And it also helps to understand why he is now leading an AI and automation tech company that is scaling internationally and catching the attention of a host of major international investors.  

The way Sheridan tells it, one strand of his career led to the next, and all led to Nory, the hospitality tech start-up that he believes can help improve both the top and bottom line for players in the hospitality sector, a sector with a historically high failure rate. 

The business raised a €2 million pre-seed round in 2021, just months after it was launched, and earlier this year, it raised a further €7 million to further develop its technology and to drive it into new territories.

The round was led by Triple Point Ventures and Samaipata VC, and was also backed by existing investors in Nory including Playfair Capital and Calvary VC, a fund founded by Claude Ritter, who was a co-founder of food delivery giant Delivery Hero. Irish investors CircleRock have also backed the company.

Given Sheridan’s ambition – he says he wants the company to be the “leading hospitality tech company by market share” and the “operating system for our space” – it is unlikely to be the last raise if the company scales as he anticipates.

However, despite leading a cutting-edge AI firm, his days of frying chicken are not over just yet.

An original origin story

Conor Sheridan worked as a strategist with Accenture before doing a stint as a fund manager with Davy. However, after working in pubs and restaurants during his teens, he was always attracted to the hospitality sector. So, as the itch to do something entrepreneurial grew, it seemed the sensible place to start. 

“You are in and out of restaurants all the time. And I began to think that maybe I could do this better,” he said. 

While holding down his full-time job, he met with different brands about bringing a franchise to Ireland, and with several Irish brands about rolling out some outlets. However, the more he looked into the model, the more he realised he could build his own brand from scratch. 

“I was just not used to operating like that. The industry was very analogue.”

“I had ideas around concepts. There was probably a bit of naivety and maybe some hubris that made me think I could give it a go,” he said. 

 Sheridan met with several restaurant operators to see if they would be interested in partnering up – “they all said no”. And then someone said yes.

That someone was Stephen O’Reilly, a restaurateur who had launched a number of concepts including Pitt Bros BBQ and Blockburger. Eventually, they decided on a concept for a chicken restaurant. Mad Egg was born. 

“The country loves chicken rolls and chicken as a protein. But it was not done particularly well. We wanted a funky setting at a good price, something with a bit of personality,” adding that Mad Egg was one of the first movers in a space that has since become very saturated. “Fried chicken joints are now everywhere, but we were lucky that we were there first.”

The first outlet opened in 2018, and within 14 months, the business had revenues of €6 million. Today, the chain stretches to five outlets.

As the business scaled, so too did that complexity around managing it. And this is where the next part of Sheridan’s journey begins. 

Hard data and gut instinct

With a background in strategy and finance, Sheridan was used to making decisions based on hard data points. However, he soon found out that in the hospitality sector, the decisions were traditionally made on gut instinct. 

“I was in shock,” he said. “I was just not used to operating like that. The industry was very analogue.”

He began building his own dashboard and his own models to see if he could improve how his restaurants were performing. The idea was to help manage costs by tracking everything from stock management to staffing to the performance of every product on the menu.

“With the best will in the world, people often go into hospitality out of passion,” he said. “One of the big shocks for me was that it wasn’t run like a normal professionalised business in terms of the inputs or how you manage staff performance or performance reviews. It wasn’t because people didn’t want to do it; it’s just that access to the data isn’t really there and they are not really trained.”

If he was having this problem, Sheridan suspected other scaling hospitality businesses were having the same issues. In late 2020, he went to a number of other operators to see if they would be interested in a more advanced model of his own internal system if they were to build it. Some 50 pre-signed up. 

The NDRC bought into the idea also, and gave what became Nory a spot in its accelerator. In 2021, it went out to the market, and raised €2 million, end-to-end, in a matter of weeks. 

“There was obviously a bit of FOMO, and it was probably quite easy to raise money at that time,” he said, adding that the company knew it needed external funds to build out a product that would be used by operators with multiple outlets and significant revenues. 

Armed with the funds, Sheridan and his team built out the product. “ It’s a fully virtualized operating system, just for hospitality. It is purpose built bottom up for the DNA of how to run a  successful hospitality business.- revenue line, what is happening in the business in terms of customers coming through the door,” said adding that it analyses the revenue line to predict out demand over the months ahead.

The company’s first overseas market was the UK. Since then, it has rolled out to targeted markets including the Benelux countries and Spain. 

Existing clients include Dr Juice, Stonegate Pubs, and the Viva Italia Group. At present, Nory is localising its product for the US market. “We’ve got some pretty global household names that are going to be an answer in Q1  in the US. So at the moment we are localising there,” he said. 

“We’re servicing about 600 venues. Expansion wise, our plan is UK and Ireland  for next year – and to really ramp it up in the US.”

The future

When it came to raising further funds earlier this year, the existing investors stayed on board, while it also brought in a number of other heavy-hitting backers. 

Despite being flush with capital, Sheridan said the company would not be deviating from its plan. “We didn’t go out and hire a crazy amount of people,” he said.

“At that time, we had a really world class product team and a successful implementation team. So we look at it like two legs on the table – we are a product first company so we have to keep investing in the product to make sure that we’re a couple of years ahead of everybody else. When we went out to market first and said we had an AI operating system, everybody nearly jumped away from us and said, I don’t want AI in my business. It is going to take jobs and business. We’re now seeing a complete 180 on that.”

He said Nory sells to restaurants on the business that it can have a significant financial impact, stating that some restaurants have seen increases of between 50 per cent to 100 per cent in EBITDA once the technology has been deployed – “obviously businesses with small numbers, but that’s pretty transformational if you can promise that to somebody and then they can scale a business with confidence going forward,” he said. 

“So we want to be known as a business that can really impact a businesses future in terms of financial performance. We don’t want to be a product that is just you can do this exercise faster than if you did it on an Excel sheet. You need to be mission critical if you want to scale.”