Food52 is allowing every cooking enthusiast to feel like Emeril. A recipe creation and critique platform with a community of professional and amateur chefs, food journalists and critics, Food52 has been able to effectively leverage its community’s passion for food to create value for its members no matter what their skills and goals are. And with 500,000 members and $9 million in funding, this company is starting to be noticed.
There are a multitude of online recipe websites that allow users to find recipes or even post their own. Food52 takes this a few steps further however, by creating a platform that is truly focused on individual and collective content creation. Members can share, exchange, critique, vet and experiment with each others recipes. They can create recipe books with other members and then publish them to the community for further revision. This sort of iterative, engaging and communal experience keeps drawing members back to food52 because they feel that they are an integral part. As a secondary benefit, the high level of focus on sharing and vetting community recipes makes for an effective method of content quality control.
Another feature of the platform that brings new users in and helps Food52 truly stand out is their HotLine feature. Food52 realized that people are most in need of help while they are cooking. This is where the HotLine comes into play. Users can ask cooking questions and get answers in real time from the platform members. This is a service that no other company has been effective at solving, and a big value add to its members. The answers to these hotline questions are written and vetted by community members who seem to need no financial incentive but are rather motivated by community feeling itself. Of a registered user base of 500,000 members (and 500,000 unique visitors per month), a hardcore of 50,000 pro and home cooks do most of the responding to any of the cooking related issues, challenges or problems, which can be posted via Twitter or the Food52 mobile app. This second feature makes for real-time, real-human, customized solutions for the immediate needs of the community, which is of significant value creation potential, but without needing Food52 to create and manage a permanent staff of ‘experts’ to deal with queries.
In order to capture some of the value Food52 has created, the site has created an online store from which users can purchase a Food52 lifestyle based set of food ingredients, high-end utensils, cooking apparatus, recipe books and other essentials as well as some innovative items. So far apparently 2/3rds of their current revenue comes from the shop, with the remaining 1/3rd coming via online ads.
The key to Food52’s value creation is a strong user base with members of varying skill levels. The beginner food enthusiasts are the users most likely to purchase from the online shop, but the experienced user base is crucial to draw and keep novice cooking enthusiasts on the platform. In terms of growing their overall base, Food52 has taken some steps including partnering with Whole Foods. Wholefoods gets access to the hotline support while food52 gets access to the Wholefoods community. However, keeping a sufficient number of vetted, experienced and responsible users who are available and motivated to answer these hotline and other recipe questions, may be an even more difficult challenge. Given that so far, these users see none of the value they create, the company may find they have to start offering financial incentive to keep these crucial members on the platform.