It started with a 36-hour hackathon fueled by trail mix, beer and apples. Competing in teams to create a smartphone application at Social DevCamp 2010 at the Illinois Institute of Technology, two Chicago-area developers who had never met—Conrad Fuhrman and Moshe Tamssot—channeled the universal craving for cookies into CookieBots, an app that would enable users to videotape someone baking cookies, annotate the video with instructions or ingredients and, in addition, provide a service to re-create those cookies. “Cookies have a lot of emotional attachment,” says Tamssot, a self-professed “foodie,” explaining the origin of the idea. Whatever the appeal, the team took home Best Overall App, which got them a spot at MidVentures Launch, a Chicago conference for Web-based start-up companies.
They returned to the table with a fellow food-lover (Conrad Styczen) and an expanded concept: CookItFor.Us, a website that matches “Cravers” (people who want a recipe made) with “Makers” (people who want to cook) via a system that ties the demand-driven buying of Groupon, the bidding wars of eBay and the social networking of Facebook into the culture of food blogs, recipe sharing and chef-worship. Again, it comes back to an emotional craving: “People are exposed to thousands of recipes, but very few actually get made. So there’s a lot of desire that’s unmet,” says Tamssot. From MidVentures, Fuhrman, Styczen and Tamssot took home the People’s Choice Award; meetings with venture capitalists and potential partners ensued, and now the website is slated to launch by the end of 2010, with an app in production.
“The ultimate objective is to create a marketplace for everything that doesn’t exist,” says Tamssot. “You have Cravers and Makers in all these different categories, whether it’s sweaters or cars. There are people that have wishes, and there are people that have the capabilities to make those wishes come true.” But that’s a long way’s off. For now, in between rhapsodies about the Red Velvet cake and watching YouTube videos where people try (and fail) to eat a spoonful of cinnamon, the trio explain how the website works:
1. A CRAVING IS BORN A Craver can buy something that’s already being made in the “What’s Cooking” section of the site, or choose a recipe to have made, whether it’s the Craver’s own or a link to a recipe on a food blog or site like Epicurious. “It’s similar to a ‘Like’ on Facebook,” says Tamssot. “The more people that ‘Crave’ the recipe, that creates demand,” Tamssot adds.
2. A CRAVING IS NEGOTIATED A Maker—any restaurant, bakery, catering company or chef—puts in a bid to make the recipe. Other Makers do the same. “A restaurant that doesn’t open until dinner can open up their kitchen and create a whole bunch of recipes throughout the day that people want to pick up that night. That utilizes the kitchen a lot more, plus it delivers on what your local consumers want,” says Fuhrman. Users can alternate between being Cravers and Makers (although if they’re both for the same recipe, they’re missing the point).
3. A CRAVING BECOMES A REALITY Cravers choose from the bids, considering variables such as location, price, type of kitchen facility (Tamssot says, “Makers are responsible for complying with all applicable federal, state and local regulations regarding the preparation and sale of food”) and availability of delivery or pickup. As on eBay, users can rank both buyers (Cravers) and sellers (Makers) which can also factor into the decision.
4. FRIENDS CRAVE, TOO If a Maker sets a minimum quantity for an order, Cravers encourage others in the CookItFor.Us community—via social-networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter—to join their purchase within an allotted time frame. Payment is made through PayPal. “You could end up becoming the next Famous Amos without having to invest in kitchens or other infrastructure using this model,” says Tamssot. There’s added financial incentive on both the Maker and Craver sides: If you’re a Craver, and you post a recipe, for every unit sold, you earn a “commission,” where you get a percentage of the total sale back.
5. A CRAVING IS SATED Makers make, and once the product is picked up or shipped, Cravers temporarily stop craving. (Or they could be in the process of multiple Craves.) In Tamssot’s words: “It brings people together, because at the end of the day, food is love and love is food.”