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

Unless you’re a food enthusiast, “what’s for dinner” is probably the phrase uttered daily in most homes.

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 in Cadence Hardenbergh as co-founder and COO.

Recipe management itself isn’t a new concept, and SideChef is among a host of startups bringing the technology to a sector where saving handwritten recipes to a file or a Rolodex is the norm. We’ve seen companies like Galley Solutions and meez do this for restaurants, while Pestle, Whisk, Foody, and even Instacart are creating apps for consumers.

However, SideChef’s “secret sauce,” if you will, is the 12,000+ shoppable recipes that you can add to your cart and all of the ingredients needed to make that recipe are delivered or made available for Walmart pickup. There is also a Create Your Own feature so that account holders can upload their own recipes and even share them publicly.

Rhythm Hardenbergh Kevin Yu SideChef recipe app

SideChef co-founders Cadence Hardenbergh and Kevin Yu. Image credits: Side Chef

The app is free to download and now contains over 20,000 “smart recipes” that users can filter by food preferences, ingredients you already have in your kitchen or kitchen, or cooking time. There is a $4.99 monthly subscription that comes with a premium version that features recipes from the culinary experts at SideChef.

Before starting the company, Yu was a video game developer for eight years, working with Warcraft and Blizzard. He admits 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 would help people cook. When SideChef launched in 2014, it was named “Google Play App of the Year”.

“That was really a huge affirmation for us,” Yu told TechCrunch.

Then, the company got its first raw spin and built its platform so that tablets, iPhones, Androids, and even smart home hubs can read step-by-step cooking instructions. Yu described it as “the beginning of the journey where our mission is to allow anyone to be able to cook.”

However, there was a point where he realized that monetizing recipe users wasn’t the same as video game users: basically, people wouldn’t go into the app and spend a bunch of money buying recipes. So, he went out in search of business models and saw how online groceries, despite their low reach, became a trend.

“Our idea was to take the structured data we had, select all the ingredients and send the lasagna to you with one click,” Yu added. “We know everything they need, and the serving size, so we can match some grocery database so we can send you the right amount of pasta sauce or pasta.”

SideChef linked up with Instacart around 2016 to deliver groceries, and has also continued to work with kitchen appliance makers like Sharp, GE, and LG Electronics.

Those new business models have paid off: The company has doubled its revenue growth three years in a row, spurred in part by the global pandemic, when Yu said more people are starting to cook at home.

At the same time, the smart kitchen side has led the company into a previously undisclosed Series A with LG and now another $6 million in Series B funding. Seed, Series A and B, SideChef awards 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 and 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 powered by smart kitchen technologies such as image recognition devices to allow for automated cooking and further platform monetization, including online grocery shopping, contextual marketing and data insights.

“I think we have the most structured prescription data format in the world,” Yu said. “What started with teaching myself how to cook became a kind of ‘Rosetta stone’ for connecting the entire industry.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *