How an entrepreneur, who didn’t know how to cook, started a recipe company

Unless you are an avid food prepper, “what’s for dinner” is probably the phrase uttered everyday in most households.

Ten years ago, SideChef founder and CEO Kevin Yu set out to make it easier to answer that question by creating an all-in-one cooking, shopping and meal planning app. He later brought on Cadence Hardenbergh as co-founder and COO.

Recipe management itself not a new concept, and SideChef is among a group of startups bringing technology to a sector where handwritten recipes kept in a folder or Rolodex is the norm. We’ve seen companies like Galley Solutions and meez do it for restaurants, while Pestle, Whisk, Foody and even Instacart are creating apps for consumers.

However, SideChef’s “secret sauce,” if you will, is its more than 12,000 shoppable recipes that can be added to your cart and all of the ingredients needed to make that recipe are delivered or made available for in-store pickup from Walmart. There is also a “create your own” feature so that account holders can upload their own recipes and even share them publicly.

Cadence Hardenbergh Kevin Yu SideChef recipe app

SideChef co-founders Cadence Hardenbergh and Kevin Yu. Image Credits: SideChef

The app is free to download and now has over 20,000 “smart recipes” that users can filter by dietary preferences, ingredients you already have in your kitchen, cuisine or cook time. There is a monthly subscription of $4.99 that comes with a premium version providing recipes from SideChef culinary experts.

Prior to starting the company, Yu was a video game developer for eight years, working with Warcraft and Blizzard. He admits that he didn’t know how to cook at the time, but was curious if there was a step-by-step guide via an app that helped people cook. When SideChef launched in 2014, it was named “Best App of the Year for Google Play.”

“That was really big validation for us,” Yu told TechCrunch.

Following that, the company got its first seed round and built up its platform so that tablets, iPhone, Android and even smart home hubs can read off the step-by-step cooking instructions. Yu described it as “the start of the journey in which our mission is to allow anyone to be able to cook.”

However, there was a point where he realized that monetizing recipe users was not the same as video game users: chiefly that people are not going to go into the app and spend a bunch of money buying recipes. So, he went out looking for business models and saw how online grocery, though still low penetration, was becoming a trend.

“Our idea was to take the structured data we had, map out all the ingredients and send lasagna to you in a single click,” Yu added. “We know everything that they need, and the serving size, so we can match some of the grocery database to be able to send the right amount of pasta sauce or pasta.”

SideChef linked up with Instacart around 2016 for the grocery delivery and also went on to work with kitchen appliance makers like Sharp, GE and LG Electronics.

Those new business models have paid off: The company doubled its revenue growth three years in a row, boosted in part by the global pandemic, when Yu said more people started cooking at home.

At the same time, the smart kitchen side led the company to its previously unannounced Series A with LG and now another $6 million in Series B funding. The seed, Series A and Series B give SideChef a total of more than $16 million from institutional investors, including Ideate Ventures, AB Electrolux, Peacock Capital Group, V-ZUG AG, Ilion Capital, Empower Investment, Innolead Investment, LG Technology Ventures and KZone LLC.

The new funding enables SideChef to move into its next phase of growth that includes an end-to-end cooking platform supported by smart kitchen technologies like image recognition devices to allow automated cooking and further monetization of the platform, including online grocery purchasing, contextual marketing and data insights.

“I believe we have the most structured data format of a recipe in the world,” Yu said. “What started as teaching myself how to cook became kind of a ‘Rosetta Stone’ to connect the entire industry.”

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