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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.