Chef app whips up funding and new users

New cooking app leverages chef and fitness partnerships to build launch buzz.

Client: SideChef (Los Angeles and Shanghai)
Agency: PMBC Group (Los Angeles)
Campaign: SideChef launch
Duration: September 2014 - January 2015
Budget: $50,000

SideChef is a cooking app that provides step-by-step instructions with visuals. It launched wide last August 21. 

SideChef and its AOR PMBC Group ran an integrated campaign to drive awareness among consumers, potential recipe contributors, and investors.

"In many app development and marketing circles [it’s assumed that] if you make a really good product people will automatically pay attention to it," says SideChef’s VP of marketing Megan Westerby. "A good product is the base level. You need a good marketing team and strategy to ensure your app reaches a target market that will embrace it, use it, and become your biggest evangelist."

Unpaid partnerships were established with chef Sam Marvin of Echo & Rig Butcher and Steakhouse and Elise Joan Fitness.

"Sam developed recipes for the app and allowed access to some of his famous recipes," Westerby explains. "He’s very focused on education, which fit with what we’re doing in terms of instructional and educational cooking. Elise believes fitness is about what you put in your body, and she provides a lot of recipes to her own community, so we had her do a series of New Year’s Resolution recipes for the app."

Events, social media outreach, and media relations helped engage the app’s existing community of beta testers, early adopters, and recipe creators and draw new users and supporters.

"Longer lifestyle stories were important because lifestyle cooking is very integral to the app," Westerby says. "We have to appeal to why people cook -- who they cook for, how much money and time they have to cook, etc. The tech story was important to investors, but the lifestyle story was far more important in terms of user acquisition and engagement."

The team pitched lifestyle, business, and technology traditional media outlets and blogs covering food, nutrition, fitness, and tech.

Tech story pitches focused on SideChef CEO Kevin Yu and his background as global marketing manager at video game developer and publisher Blizzard Entertainment.

SideChef’s in-house team created a promotional video focused on the app’s lifestyle appeal. It was included with pitches and posted on SideChef’s and PMBC’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Recipe image sets and round-ups, animated GIFs, and links to recipe creators were posted on SideChef’s Instagram page and blog (

The public was given live demonstrations of recipes available on the app at events hosted at culinary supply store Surfas in Culver City, California, in October 2014 and January 2015.

"Surfas regularly hosts cooking demonstrations," Westerby explains. "It was a great opportunity for us to show the similarity between live cooking demonstrations and our app’s methodology." 

A happy hour event was held August 21 at YouTube’s studio space in Los Angeles, where more than 1,000 YouTube subscribers and vloggers shoot videos. The public and local media were also invited.

Attendees got to meet some of SideChef’s top contributors and sample their recipes. YouTube provided a food truck, and local sponsors donated food and drinks. 

For the January launch of a feature that allows recipe contributors to post videos on the app, the team promoted Marvin’s videos via push notifications within the app and on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Westerby says the campaign helped close a $1.2 million round of funding in late December.

She also reports app downloads on par with expectations, and the number of registered users increased 280% between September 2014 and January 2015. 

Ending February, 483 earned stories had run in outlets including USA Today, CNBC, Fox Business, Redbook, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and Shape. The team says the USA Today story alone drove 13,500 app downloads. 

The campaign helped attract about 50 new recipe creators, which Westerby notes is "huge" given that few are willing to do step-by-step recipe work. 

The campaign also helped land partnerships with The Campbell Soup Company and meal subscription services Plated and Blue Apron. Campbell’s is creating recipe content and promoting the app in China.

"We’re looking at a model in which brands can drive app users back to their websites to buy food," Westerby says. "We’re not yet getting paid for these partnerships, but we would like that to be our model."

The team will showcase the app at SXSW and is preparing for another funding round.

Westerby says retaining and engaging existing users is a priority this year. 

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