How a Ruined Valentine's Day Dinner Inspired a Business
Kevin Yu created the app SideChef to help amateur cooks who need a hand in the kitchen.
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The idea of making a home-cooked meal sounds romantic, but Kevin Yu knows just how difficult it can be to pull off.
Several years ago, Yu had a special night planned for his girlfriend on Valentine's Day. Although the restaurants he wanted to take her to were booked for the night, he had another idea: he'd whip up a "fancy" three-course meal himself.
He bought groceries, researched recipes and watched some YouTube tutorials on how to cook. Then, he started cooking -- which is where he ran into trouble. Like most novice chefs, he had trouble with the timing of specific steps and forgot to add some ingredients. The result, of course, was more gross than gourmet.
To prevent future failures in the kitchen, Yu fell back on familiar territory. The 31-year-old had been working in the video-game industry at the time -- for Blizzard Entertainment, the company known for World of Warcraft -- and realized that helpful tools like multiple timers and video options for answering his questions on techniques would have been helpful. "I realized all of these features could be built into an app for an all-encompassing cooking experience," he said.
After raising $15,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign, Yu and a team of four others launched SideChef, a free app that offers users step-by-step voice guidance through recipes, as well as automatic timers, shopping lists, measurement conversions and other tools. The app also gives people the ability to share recipes with other users.
SideChef, which raised $1 million in funding late last year, caught on quickly. It first launched for iOS in August 2014. By that Christmas, it had been downloaded more than 200,000 times, becoming one of the Top 5 food apps in Apple's App Store, Yu says.
Its popularity speaks to how wide a net it has cast. The app appeals to both women and men (Yu says there's a 50/50 gender split among users), and is meant for various levels of cooking experience. "This is the perfect app for both that friend who is completely lost in the kitchen as well as the radical foodie friend who can build a huge following sharing his or her creations on SideChef." In the future, Yu said he's considering monetizing the app through partnerships and add-on services. Those could include an option to order groceries and have them delivered, which would make the entire process easier.
Yu also points out that the mobile/tablet-friendly platform makes Sidechef perfect for individuals, groups or, yes, even dates -- for Valentine's Day or any other date night. "SideChef works great in pairs...when couples cook together on a date, since users can easily pass the phone/tablet to another person to work on the next step of the cooking process without needing to know the 'whole picture,'" he said.
Not sure what you would create for your sweetie? Yu says the most popular recipe among users is the Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes. Personally, however, he prefers to make something more savory, like the spinach artichoke dip he brought to a SideChef potluck dinner in Shanghai. It was the very first dish he learned to make via the app. "I love making this because it seems to always hit the spot with groups," he said. "I really don't have any dishes I don't like to make."
As they say, behind every good chef is a good assistant. This one just happens to be digital.