Verena Hubertz and Mengting Gao are the founders of Kitchen Stories, a cookbook app for iOS devices that features videos as well as photo spreads. In an interview, Gao explains the idea and business model behind Kitchen Stories.
With all the online cooking communities, recipe blogs and apps out there, why do we need Kitchen Stories? Where did the idea come from?
Verena and I liked to cook together during our studies, but we were always disappointed by the results and user-friendliness of our recipe searches. There are a lot of food blogs with beautiful pictures, but they are more targeted towards experienced cooks. Otherwise, the cooking world is governed by advertising applications and user-generated formats that bring little value.
We wanted to take on the feel of a food blog but with a contemporary format. So, we came up with the idea of Kitchen Stories, the first video-based, user-optimized cooking app with a high-quality design. The emotional recipe videos provide cooking inspiration and are complemented by many high-resolution step-by-step pictures and kitchen tricks. Every user can prepare a tasty dish fast and easy. We are starting with an iPad app, but we are planning to launch our iPhone version at the end of March.
What did you do before Kitchen Stories, and who is still on board?
I founded Kitchen Stories after my studies at the WHU. Before that, I went through the traditional job stations of management consulting, investment banking and corporate, but I realized relatively early that the startup world is just more exciting. I started working in a variety of early-stage startups, and it became clear to me that I wanted to start something of my own. So, my friend and colleague Verena and I brought Kitchen Stories to life. Our team consists of an iOS developer and a designer. We also work closely with professional chefs and a design studio.
How does the business model work?
Our vision is to go from cookbook 2.0 to creating a content-based shopping platform that brings together an active community around the topic of food. We currently monetize through in-app purchases of individual recipe and recipe packets. We also have strong B2B collaborations regarding product placement, which converts into a strong additional source of revenue. On our release version of the app, we had product placements from KitchenAid, Le Creuset and Rosenthal.
We are currently integrating tags, which create a bridge to content-based shopping. Users can then click on products for additional information and be guided to shops. In addition, we will license our free-to-access videos from the app to content platforms, which will open up another stream of revenue.
For every recipe, you need a cook, a professional film crew and, at the end, the material must be cut and edited. How valuable is this despite the high time and financial costs?
As a startup, we are able to be very flexible and produce high-quality video content at a fraction of the market price. During filming, we proceeded with the “no frills” approach and were able to do it significantly cheaper than if, let’s say, we filmed in an expensive studio. We will periodically shoot new recipes and expand the app accordingly. Our claim, however, is not to be an all-encompassing collection of recipes. Instead, we see ourselves more as a high-quality cookbook 2.0. We want to inspire a targeted group to try cooking at home.
It works, because we can easily internationalize the app. There are no spoken words in our videos, so the translation effort is very low. We are already available in English, and we are currently looking into other localization opportunities. We have an advantage over the classic print products, since we do not have any print or logistic costs, and we can scale the app easily.
How is Kitchen Stories financed?
We believed in the idea from the beginning, so we started with our own money. We got a small amount of angel funding later on, but basically bootstrapped up until the launch. In addition, we sold product placement before the launch, which we were able to refinance ourselves with.
Is there something that Kitchen Stories is still missing? An employee, an investor or an office?
We are currently looking for other iOS developers, and good employees in the areas of PR and marketing. We are also looking for a larger office with plenty of space for our show kitchen.
Do you have a role model?
I’ve always admired Wooga for its corporate culture. In the office, you can feel the creativity, team spirit and passion for the product. Keeping in mind the size of the company, it is, in my opinion, a great achievement to be able to maintain this spirit.
Imagine you have won a lunch. Who from the German startup scene would you invite to eat with you?
The Runtastic Founder Florian Gschwandtner, because he has managed to build a strong fitness brand and sports community with mobile apps. Even if the startup comes from Austria, since the Axel Springer deal, we can’t leave it out of the German startup branch.
For what challenges do you have the most respect?
I have the most respect for the increase in operational and administrative tasks, which will be necessary for the integration of further external partners and expansion of the company. We are confident that, with a strong team, we can face the challenges ahead and bring a unique cooking experience back into the domestic kitchens of our users.
Image Credit: Kitchen Stories