Interview: Caramelized way of life

Caramelized

Food goes online and eating becomes digital. That are no surprising news and articles like http://tech.eu/features/1130/online-food-ordering-boom-europe/ show, that the online food ordering category is an emerging battlefield – not only because of Amazon and not only in Silicon Valley. But talking about food start ups in the German web 2.0 is often a disaster and real success stories are rare.  So I got never the chance to present an enterprise on this blog out of this field and it’s fantastic to get in contact with John Grøtting – one of the founders of http://www.caramelized.com. A start up for digital cook books and recipes from Hamburg, that added the attribute smart to their work. Well let’s see and have a good read ….

I’d like to start with an observation from my side: cookbooks often just exist to be donated for birthdays or celebrations. Once placed in the kitchen, most of the people never ever use them. Have you made the same observation?

Research has shown us that about 50% of cookbooks are purchased as gifts. This means that a large number are bought around Christmas. For Christmas 2013 we added the ability to send a friend one of our digital cookbooks as a gift either via email or in the form of a download card. But, we saw the larger number of sales directly after Christmas, indicating that purchases we closely associated with acquisition of a new tablet.

We have seen a boom of tech start-ups in Germany with a lot of failures. All in all food and beverage played a nearly not existing roll in that hype. Why? Are Germans not ready for that kind of business?

Food and beverage requires investors that have experience in the field. That is fairly uncommon. We fall into a mixture of categories: publishing, food and beverage, and mobile. It is clear that German venture investors are most interested in investing in models that are familiar. So, that was one of the reasons we turned to crowd funding and private investors.

You write about revolutionizing cooking. But how? Regarding the quantity or quality of cooking?

I am very passionate about motivating more people to cook and those who do cook to help them improve how they cook. That requires looking at the entire cooking process, from planning to shopping and then eventually the time spent at the stove. There is a lot we can do to streamline the overall process, make it more fun and help improve people’s skills.

Your product development roadmap extends about four years out. But which was the right moment to kick off the serious product development?

I am a firm believer in getting started quickly and the development of what is called a minimum viable product. Rather than trying to create something with all the bells and whistles that one dreams of, it’s important to figure out what are the essential features that will really make a product relevant to consumers.

Where are you now on your roadmap and is it still valid?

We have developed our first product, the Smart Cookbooks, and added some important features. Now we are going into a phase where we will dramatically expand the amount of content that we provide. Once we have that moving smoothly we have two more major products that will complement our first product.

What was the bigger investment at the beginning? Time or money?

The great thing about developing software these days is that there are so many tools available to start a business that are either free or very inexpensive: email, software development toolkits, hosting, contact management and so on. So, the biggest barrier to entry for a startup is that they have the time and skills. I am very fortunate to have two partners who are very talented developers and we could invest a lot of sweat equity to build our company.

Did you quit your jobs at the beginning or develop Caramelized in your spare time?
I spent the first 6 months developing Caramelized while I was working at another job. That meant that I was working from 8 in the evening until 1 or 2 in the morning most days.

Which have been the biggest obstacles so far?

I come from a background of design and marketing. So, for me it has been a lot of work to learn the whole financial side of running a company and learning about how to work with investors.

Caramelized has a lot of battles to win: improve the own platform, get in contact with publishers and cooks, get the consumers on board and a consequent innovative attitude. Which one is the toughest?

We are very happy with the platform we have today. There are more publishers that want to work with us than we can accommodate at the moment. So, we are focusing more of our efforts around bringing more consumers aboard.

What about your communication and marketing projects? How do you talk about your product, which has a quiet conservative appearance?

We will be focusing on social media and promotions. But, even more important for us is to establish partners in distribution and marketing. For example, in late May 2014 we started a partnership with Tupperware, where they are now selling their cookbooks in our format at their Tupperware parties. They have an amazing group of consultants in Germany, who are passionate about what they sell and that kind of intimate environment is a perfect way to explain the benefits of Caramelized.

What is the future of the cookbook for you?

The future cookbook will have recipes that are much shorter, but link to detailed explanations in the form of videos or step by step photography. The user will also be able to adapt the recipe to fit their tastes, diet or health concerns. Much of that adaptation will come from built in advisors.

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Caramelized has already many features like an adjustable recipe calculator, a timer, etc. What are your thoughts for the future?

We have been testing various forms of gesture recognition. This is the ability to control the app without touching the tablet. The technology is improving, but it is hard to say how long it will take to become reliable. Beyond that I am very excited about integration nutritional guidance.

Food and Beverage gets more and more digitalized and even http://www.amazon.de wants to get in the food e-commerce business – how do you benefit from the boom?

Since our customers can create shopping lists from their recipes, the next step will be to then order those groceries online.

What’s your typical customer looking for? A high quantity of recipes, many different gadgets and innovation or perhaps a personal involvement with selfies, comments, etc.?

First and foremost our customers appreciate that our cookbooks are just as elegant and well designed as their print counterparts. But, for them the breadth of content is more important. Beyond that, they are always asking for even more convenience tools.

With http://www.caramelized.de you have to reach two target groups: the people who use this application and the people who buy the product as a gift. Isn’t that difficult?

I think that those people who are giving our books as gifts are also our customers. So far, the sales have been primarily via our app and less through our website.

Is there an end for the development of http://www.caramelized.de? If yes, which one?

There is so much that we would like to do. But, we are focused on maintaining quality. So, I can’t see an end to the development.

In how many countries are you represented? Where do you want to go next?

We have sales coming from all around the world. Most of our books are currently in German, but the books in production are about 50% in English. There is quite a bit of interest from Holland, France and Scandinavia, so we will slowly see additional languages come in.

How do you choose your cooperation partner and cooks?

We have an editorial team that identifies the partners that we want to win and we have directly targeted those companies. In many instances, the companies that we want to talk to have contacted us first.

Which are your biggest competitors?

People are still buying printed cookbooks, so that is the most important alternative for us. Beyond that there are individual apps, but we are targeting a more premium segment, which few apps are doing at the moment. There isn’t currently anyone doing exactly what we are doing, so we look at what alternatives customers have.