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520 days ago
 

Nosh nations: The monetization of the sharing economy spreads to food

The evolution of the sharing economy started with pioneers like CouchSurfing (couches) and Craigslist (everything), and then began morphing to monetization with Zipcar (cars) and Airbnb (rooms).

The evolution of collaborative consumption continues, with several startups serving up different takes on monetizing shared meals in North America.

Kitchensurfing

The pitch: Kithensurfing connects the hungry to chefs for specific meals. Users put in the number of guests, a budget and a brief message, and the site brings it to vetted chefs in their network. Users can see proposed menus and chef reviews, and have the chance to customize the menu with the chef before booking.

Funding: A recent SEC filing shows over $3.5 million raised.

Tnooz view: Kitchensurfing has one of the more well-developed and intelligently-designed products in the space. There is very clear thought to brand-building, and the team is passionate about their mission. Funding sources include Union Square Ventures, which is a solid backing for success – Andy Weissman is especially enamored with the business, which most certainly helps.

The brand, which reflects Couchsurfing, is a bit off, however. There’s nothing “free” or “shared” here; Chefs are being paid for their work. It’s the creation of a direct, P2P network for chef-cooked meals that’s the story here.

Cookening

The pitch: Founded in France, Cookening is a network for attending or hosting meals around the world. Travelers and locals can get together over a home-cooked meal and get to know each other through food.

Funding: Self-funded to date.

Tnooz view: The idea of bringing people together over food is key to each of these startups, and yet, out of all companies in this new-foodie batch, Cookening is the only one that focuses directly on the travel element.

Couchsurfing has been bringing people together via its group functionality, often over meals. By tapping into this desire of travelers to meet and eat locally, and the simultaneous excitement of locals meeting travelers passing through, the company has a great chance of developing something special in the space.

Travelers looking for a piece of home – or a meal beyond just eating out – will most likely flock to the service, providing the competitive advantage of network effects if the company can build a community quickly – and maintain it thereafter.

Kitchen.ly

The pitch: “Dining, reinvented” and “Airbnb for food” means that the traditional restaurant kitchen is not the only place providing food: Users anywhere can open up their kitchens on Kitchen.ly for reservations, making any kitchen a restaurant. Other users can view the kitchens near them, and literally book a reservation into another user’s kitchen.

Rather than a user broadcasting for a chef and a particular event, the kitchens become browsable – just like searching for a restaurant on Yelp or TripAdvisor. It’s an “easy way for cooking enthusiasts to share their skills with the world.”

Funding: Kitchen.ly emerged from Startup Weekend.

Tnooz view: Kitchen.ly is widening their marketing approach, offering a solid USP that not only includes foodies, friends and chefs, but also restaurants, students, and fundraisers. Restaurants can use the tool to put butts in seats for special menus, students can get a home-cooked meal, and fundraisers can build an event centered around their cause. This is a clever way to make the service into a utility, rather than a novelty, giving it extra sticking power for discrete communities – especially for something that may be seen as competitive to the traditional food service sector.

Nonetheless, the disruption of theoretically having everyone’s kitchen listed on Kitchen.ly is nearly as large as Airbnb. The endless number of potential meals one could have brings in an entirely new exploratory element to both one’s own neighborhood and new neighborhoods being discovered while traveling. This could be a revolutionary way to “eat your way” around another culture – via home kitchens.

Kitchen.ly is up against some well-funded companies, so this differentiation in the market is essential for success.

Supperking

The pitch: SupperKing is a mobile app that “makes it easy for you to host and share your next meal with your friends, family, and local community.”

The app exists to bring people together at events: Hosts post upcoming events, and users can search upcoming events, adding any interesting ones to their itinerary. Reviews drive trust and increase hosts’ profile in the community. Mobile-only focus.

Funding: The LA-based startup is self-funded to date.

Tnooz view: The self described “peer to peer in-home dining experience” is the target, and the concept sets it apart from the field with its mobile-only focus. By using the mobile app limitation, it facilitates more spontaneity to discover upcoming events. Rather than opening a restaurant-finding app, users could very easily be trained to browse Supperking first, making it a viable route for hosts to raise their profiles in the community (ie. an up-and-coming chef or event planner), in addition to being a quick, fun and fulfilling way to get fed.

Kitchit

The pitch: Kitchit is a curated and vetted roster of chefs create magnificent in-home meals for customers. The “trusted marketplace for chefs” ensures that only the best-of-the-best will be creating food experiences for guests. Guests are also serviced by a concierge service to help them plan events most effectively.

The platform also promises to make client acquisition much easier for chefs, including reviews, communication and payments.

Funding: Kitchit is a 500 Startups company, and has led a round of investment that includes Crosslink Capital.

Tnooz view: Kitchit has a slick UX that delivers a mouthwatering desire to get a chef booked, stat. The concept definitely has competition, as noted in this article. However, with 500 Startups backing, the company has solid footing to go up against the very-well funded Kitchensurfing in the book-a-chef-for-an-event category.

This is still targeted to groups of friends that want to host an event, and pay a chef to cater it. It remains to be seen how big this business is, and if it will be able to eat into users’ food budgets as a restaurant-replacement. The key will be providing atmosphere and ensuring that the Chefs are delivering delightful experiences in peoples’ homes alongside their meals.

Kitchit is also focusing a great deal of energy on their celebrity chef listings. While this makes sense from a profile perspective, it’s not obvious how a high-end chef like that can scale. Ultimately, the service is trading time/food for money, and a chef can only be in one place at one time. But perhaps loyal customers will use more affordable chefs for everyday occasions, and then scale up to use Kitchit for larger, more elegant events for special occasions.

Customer service also seems to be a priority which may be a smart investment. The overhead for great customer service is higher, so the question is: will this customer service focus lead to more sales or be a burden as the service scales?

Honorable mentions in this category include UK-based Housebites and SF-based Gobble. These two startups deliver chef-created and plated meals directly to customers’ homes. A hybrid restaurant delivery/personal chef model, these companies demonstrate just how deconstructed many industries are becoming due to technology.

Nothing is sacred, everything is changing, and flux is the only certainty – especially as technology drops traditional barriers between sectors of the hospitality business, such as chefs and guests.

NB: Noodle image courtesy Shutterstock.

 
 
Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick Vivion is a reporter for Tnooz, based in New Orleans, USA.

His passion for travel technology led him to travel around the world shooting travel videos for Current TV and Lonely Planet TV in 2006 and 2007.

He shot on Mini-DV, edited on a white MacBook, uploaded and shared online as he traveled. His moxie for travel video has resulted in over two million views on his YouTube partner channel.

In addition to travel, Nick co-founded of one of the web’s most talked about LGBT media sites, Unicorn Booty, and has gone "blog-to-brick" with a bricks-and-mortar restaurant called Booty's Street Food in New Orleans – serving street food from around the world.

 

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  1. Michael Atkinson

    Nick, I agree that enabling home chefs to explore, test and have fun makes sense. But, I don’t think there will be an airbnb for food. Food may be part of the hospitality experience but frankly, it’s not a category business.

     
    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      I disagree; I could see this business scale if it were to be integrated into any of the P2P home sharing/rental startups. Airbnb could easily offer an “upsell” page, similar to airlines and car rental agencies, of add-on experiences. Several of which could be meals in homes nearby to the one just booked. Not only would you be able to stay in a local’s home, but you’d also get to meet the neighbors in the area – a significant value-add to a person already interested in P2P-style experiences.

      It may not scale on a stand-alone basis, but the first one to land a significant integration partnership could be on the way to be a large business given how much is spent on meals at restaurants each year. Granted, not an apples-to-apples comparison, but people are willing to spend money on chef-driven pop-ups and one-off events (see DinnerLab, for example).

      It’s interesting to watch these things play out!

      N

       
      • Ram

        Great report Nick. I am confident that this throws up some very interesting opportunities in the food space. Cheers.

         
  2. Michael Atkinson

    I guess I just don’t get it. I see and love the concept of utilizing capacity and actually can’t wait to use airbnb next spring when I tour Italy. Borrowing crutches and a chain saw, fine. Makes perfect sense. But, food, really? Just because you can start any type of company, doesn’t mean you should or it is a good idea. Maybe it’s just me, but I do have a little experience and perspective in this domain. Catering has been around forever, and basically ordering up a meal or having a chef prepare a meal for me at my home isn’t anything new. Yes, yes, add social, mobile and then it’s contemporary and probably eminently fundable because, well, it’s an app and VC’s just love apps. But, suggesting that American’s will flock to unlicensed kitchens as an alternative to restaurants is, well, naive. America’s don’t even like communal tables at restaurants. Watch a bar for more than 5 min and how people seat themselves. Rarely do they sit down next to someone unless that have to. My point is will the investment thesis work? While there may be people willing to cook for “strangers” what is the motivator to go reserve a seat at a strangers home to eat something that may or may not be safe, healthy, sufficient, or even good tasting? What’s protocol? Tipping? Bathroom etiquette, second helpings, corkage fee? Ok, reviews and screening and reputation management tools can help, but will there be a Yelp for houseateurs? What about the sell side? Didn’t our parents teach us and scare the Hell out of us about strangers?,

     
    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      I would say that the trend towards food-centric experiences have led many amateur cooks to take pride in what they do in their kitchens. Many would like to test the hospitality waters, and this gives them a low-impact way to serve their creations to eager customers in a much more intimate manner.

      This is right on trend with travelers seeking more direct engagement, personality and authenticity with their travel experiences – rather than the mass market anonymity that has prevailed for at least the decade pre-recession.

      Best,

      N

       
  3. Daniele Beccari

    Good report Nick.

    Do we see a trend in design here?
    Thin header, full size picture, inspiring tagline, simple action button to start or enter…

    For the sake of completing the picture, I can add VoulezVousDiner (http://www.voulezvousdiner.com/).

     
 
 

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