July 13, 2013
What’s Cook Smarts and how does it work?
Cook Smarts creates digital content and services that inspires, educates, and empowers the home cooks. We just launched a weekly meal plan subscription service to help home cooks get dinner on the table in a stress free way. Subscribers get a simple meal plan every week with a menu that can be fit for their diet needs (paleo, gluten-free, and vegetarian), a customized grocery list, and dinners steps that are full of cooking tips and how-to videos to help every home cook become smarter and more confident in the kitchen.
What’s the social implication of Cooksmarts?
I started Cook Smarts because I wanted to bring food education back to schools and family dinners back into our homes. I really believe that more confidence in the kitchen can help make our families happier, reduce healthcare costs for our businesses, and of course, create a healthier world.
How did you come up with the idea?
When I started Cook Smarts a year and a half ago, I honestly didn’t know what the product was going to be. I just wanted to create something that was going to focus on education in the kitchen and help people cook more. I started by giving in-home cooking lessons and teaching cooking at a local high school to teenage moms as my market research. This experience really allowed me to understand and empathize with the challenges of my future customer. Once I understood that every home cook I met with was short on time, knowledge, and confidence, meal planning seemed like an obvious product.
I could help them save time by creating a holistic menu for them that would efficiently use up their groceries and make efficient use of their time. Since most home cooks have never really learned to cook, our meal plans are include links to our short how-to videos that help build a solid cooking foundation. Lastly, we make our recipes pretty foolproof and doable for anyone on a weeknight to help them discover their inner cook.
Who’s behind the startup?
Just me. I’m Jess Dang, 31, and this is my first start-up. I do all of the recipe development, food photography, video shooting and editing, and front end work for the site. I love eating, cooking, education, and problem-solving, so I’ve just created my dream job as the founder of Cook Smarts. I’m based out of my home in Mountain View. Before starting Cook Smarts, I spent 7 years in strategy and finance. My last role was at Visa where I worked on expanding financial access to the poor in emerging markets.
How did you guys find/meet each other?
While I don’t have a co-founder, I want to give a huge shout out to the backend developer I worked with to create our meal planning web-app. I spent several months last year looking for a technical co-founder and met with lots of twenty-something males who felt my product wasn’t “sexy” enough for them to work on. Eventually I gave up on that route and decided that I myself was going to have to learn to code to make this product a reality. Instead, I met Jen Gilbert at a Railsbridge workshop. She was another thirty-something female making a career change from editing to coding. She built my web-app one Saturday at a time over 3 months while I taught myself web design, HTML, and CSS through lynda.com to create the front end. We launched our product on time (May 1st) with more features than we expected.
Why did you decide to go down the startup-route instead of getting a (or keeping your) 9-5 job, perhaps in a large corporate?
Weston McBride recently wrote a blog entry that captures the reason I traded my pretty-awesome corporate job for start-up life, so I’m just going to quote him, “You should start a company if you can’t sleep at night because there’s a problem you can’t stop think about. You should start a company if you’ve literally been brought to tears by talking to your customers.” That’s exactly how I felt when I started Cook Smarts. I had one of the most interesting jobs at Visa but I still spent my nights tossing and turning over how I could help solve America’s health crisis.
Are you guys angel funded or VC backed already? If not, are you looking to raise money and what expertise would you require from an investor?
I haven’t taken any funding yet, but I am considering fundraising next year. I’d love to learn from an investor that cares about health and education who also has experience with growing a media brand
What piece of advice would you give to 9-5ers who are dreaming to startup their own web venture?
First, you don’t need to wait for all the stars to align to get started. Figure out what you can make on your own without much financial investment to test out your idea. I started the meal plans as a PDF document that was distributed via a newsletter. It was something I could build, and it gave me a lot of insight into what the web-app should include.
Second, be so, so passionate about the problem you’re trying to solve. I never imagined that it would be this hard to get a product off the ground that I can’t imagine doing this if I didn’t feel completely invested in my customer and their problem.