Today I got to Interview Chris Muscarella from Kitchensurfing. I hope you enjoy it!
This call is now being recorded.
Ari: Hi, welcome to the Less Doing Podcast, today we’re talking with Chris Muscarella of Kitchensurfing. Hi, Chris.
Chris: Hey, Ari, how are you?
Ari: Good. Thank you for getting time to talk to us today. So, you are the CEO of Kitchensurfing and why don’t you start off by telling everyone what Kitchensurfing is?
Chris: Kitchensurfing is a community marketplace of really talented chefs and cooks all over the world and people that love to eat food. People have been using Kitchensurfing for all kinds of things. They’ve been using it for like catering lights. You want to have a really nice birthday party or having a graduation party or for your office. They’ve also been using it for weekly pre-prepped meals for their family. More and more people are starting to eat there like a restaurant alternative. It’s like if you have young kids or something like that, it’s not that much fun to go out to a restaurant and have the chef coming to you and have an amazing meal with your friends is something that people really seem to be enjoying.
Ari: This is great because I'm a big proponer of homemade meals and being more in touch with the food you are eating or same ingredients whether it’s made onsite by a chef or if they do it offsite and do meal delivery; I think what you’re accomplishing here is really amazing. How does it work? How does somebody post what the event is or what they need? How does it work?
Chris: The way it works right now is there are two different checks. One is you can go in and we’re live in New York City, Boston and Berlin, Germany right now although we are going to be opening up many more cities in the near future. The way that it works it you can go in and you can browse specific chefs if you are looking for something really particular. You’re looking for one specific dish from a Garganian chef and you can go and you can find that Garganian chef although the more common in this case is that somebody comes in and they basically post what they are looking for. You say, ‘Hey, I'm Ari. I want to have a four person dinner with a few snacks for three kids. Here’s certain type of cuisine that I like the most, or my dietary restrictions, what can you do for me? You’ll get responses back maybe from 5 or 6 chefs that would love to do that job for you.
Ari: I’ve had one personal experience with Kitchensurfing so far and I can’t even begin to describe how good it was. But basically last weekend my wife’s friend had a surprise baby shower for her and I took a chance. It was like 2 days before the event and I posted that I wanted someone to come and do a light meal for my wife and her friends. I was very specific with some parameters. One was, since my wife is pregnant and there were a couple of other pregnant women there, the food had to be friendly to that. Nothing raw or pasteurized and also because it was a surprise, the chef had to get in at a specific time frame. I got 2 bids back and we ended up using just one Chef JP, she was just absolutely wonderful and made the day amazing and the food was delicious. It made it such a special day. And cost wise was less I would say is than any one of those people going to a dinner or having a meal at a restaurant. I couldn't rave about it more but I haven’t had a chance to use it for other things like meal delivery or that kind of stuff so that’s really intriguing as well.
Chris: I think one of the things that we see with our customers is like interesting trends for us. Is that most people will come on to the site and get something similar to what you did. Which is they have some special event or some special thing and they have a great experience and are like “Wow, that was awesome and that was kind of easy, how do I use this again? What am I gonna do? They end up kind of coming back and using it for more casual use the next time. To me, if that ends up being our customer life cycle, I think that’s fantastic.
Ari: The chef emailed me after and asked can I send you some prenatal and postnatal private chef services. It kind of opened up a new world for me because as with a lot of outsourcing, which I recommend to all sorts of people with virtual systems and ghost writers, whatever it may be, most people just think a lot of these things are inaccessible because of either their lack of experience or because of cost. Honestly, what you have on your site – from what I’ve seen so far – just seems like people who really love to do this and it is very, very accessible and not intimidating in any way at all.
Chris: I think that that’s the goal. I think that one of the things we are hoping to do is to make it more and more clearer what you can get for various dollar amounts. One of the things I think is interesting about having an online labor marketplace versus an online marketplace for physical goods or things like apartment rentals is that it’s a little bit more difficult to specifically say what things cost because it’s variable. There’s like an aspect of educating the market minded kind of blum.
Ari: Sorry, can you repeat what said after aspect, you kind of cut out there?
Chris: There’s an aspect of marketplaces where in a labor marketplace the pricing isn’t necessarily as clear as pricing a good. If you want to post something on Etsy it’s like here’s the thing, it’s $20. It’s very simple. Whereas with Kitchensurfing, a chef will work with you to do whatever you want but a little less focusing on pricing. Kitchensurfing tells better stories about what’s available and what people have done and what price so that people understand what is available. I think it may take a little more time to do it that way but it really kind of opens up people’s eyes to a wider range of possibilities which is really what we are shooting for.
Ari: You mentioned something interesting there about there’s a story being told. It’s true and food does that in a very interesting way. Whether it’s a matter of you introducing yourself or your family or your friends to a new kind of cuisine or simply being able to enjoy the food because you’ve been working all day and you just don’t have the opportunity to make a home cooked meal, this is about as close you can get to a home cooked meal, especially if the chef is cooking in your home. I think that that aspect of the story being told is really wonderful. What is the process for somebody to become a provider? Do they have to be a professionally trained chef or just someone who loves food? How does that aspect of it work?
Chris: The thing that we’ve done, that I think is tricky and I think we made it work, is that we kind of have open arms to everyone that loves to cook. Our goal is that we want to have chefs on the site from Michelin’s chef, which we have all the way down to somebody who just says they only do one dish that they learned from their grandmother, whatever that may be. That’s really the goal for us. You don’t have to be a professional, we have amateur cooks on board and we have professional cooks. The chefs that do the most business for Kitchensurfing usually are pros or aspiring pros. We have chefs that go and make almost $10,000 a month from Kitchensurfing. For those guys, they are hustling and they know a lot about how to do really fast prep. They’re pros at kind of managing relationships with enquiries and customers but we also have people that kind of like Kitchensurfing just for fun, like every once in a while, which is great. It means we have a thriving community not just some kind of labor market.
Ari: I think that plays well into the idea of the story being told even more so, which is really cool. Are you a chef? How did you get this idea of Kitchensurfing?
Chris: I am a competent cook, I don’t know if I would call myself a chef. I can handle a 10 or 12 person dinner party pretty well but if you put me on the line at a high volume restaurant, I’d probably die. I have been in the technology business for quite some time; I guess almost 15 years now. I have this love hate relationship with computers where I’ll work on technology related projects for like 3, 4, 5 years or whatever and then kind of not want to be in front of the computer anymore. The last time that happened to me was sort of in 2009 and so I did what every rational person does, decided it would be fun to try and open up a restaurant with a bunch of friends. We opened a restaurant in Brooklyn which is brand new. It’s been really successful. Most of the credit for that is definitely due to my business partners. I observe a lot of interesting things there which is the fact that you got all these tremendous talented chefs who don’t have a place for themselves online yet. Everybody else has some spot for themselves online. Whether you’re a photographer and you have a portfolio site or you’re a designer and you have Gerber. For people who love to cook, they don’t have that thing. It seemed like it was an interesting opportunity there. Also, understanding that a lot of these people are talented but they have no way of being discovered. So, when you go to work on the line at a restaurant, a really fancy restaurant, a very nice restaurant where people are paying $1000 for a meal. The people in the back of the kitchen are getting paid about $15 an hour. The executive chefs and the sous chefs make more money than that. I think one of the things that we have seen, and it’s like a trend for a lot of things – trend in food and it’s a trend in my culture more generally, is this nourishment being closer to the person who makes the thing that you are either buying or consuming. Whether that’s Etsy or whether that’s Kitchensurfing. Even now, you see the hottest new restaurants in cities like Paris or New York, London; the kitchens are becoming an open kitchen where people can watch the chefs at work. People are getting closer to the chef and so we decided to take that to the most extreme test possible and actually have the chef with their whole personality come into your home.
Ari: I love it. That’s such a great genesis for again what I think is an amazing, amazing offering. So, the last question that I always like to ask people in these interviews in what are your top three personal productivity tips?
Chris: I am going to say three names. I'm going to say Mark Hendrickson, Pierre Gill, and William James, the early psychologist. I think the biggest thing about being productive is first admit that multitasking doesn’t work. If you admit that then you accept that you have a limited through put or amount of things that you can possibly understand or focus on at any given point and time. And the name of the game becomes how do you only pay attention to those things that are important? Because one of the things that Pierre Gill says a lot of is if you focus on twenty things you never end up really creating that step value function and value creation really gets you to another level. Mark Hendrickson talks a lot about everyday it’s only three things like, if I get these three things done, I'm happy, and they’re the most important things for the day and you can’t complement on them. William James is kind of like the presententer of a lot of this stuff, early psychologist of the 19th century decided you should automate most of your life with routine so you can actually think interesting thoughts about big things rather than having overwhelmed the personal, administrative details. I think all of those things kind of tie together pretty well. So, for me, my top three productivity things is always be re-evaluating what I'm spending my time on and making sure I'm giving myself a very narrow focus of what I'm trying to do. I think sometimes I can be infuriating to your partner or your business partners but it ultimately makes you more productive. There are certain tools and things that could become helpful. I like open office environments but at the same time I believe noise cancelling headphones are really important. The third thing I think is like how you actually go about having collective focus as a team and as an individual. There’s some really interesting software tools that are being developed now; I think you did an interview with Jenny from IDoneThis and I think that they are developing a tremendous product for helping individual people and for teens actually like focus on the things that are important.
Ari: This is the 20th time I’ve done this top answer thing and I ask that question every time and I think that your answers are more in line with my thinking than anybody else has ever given. I appreciate those very much, you explained them very well. Again, Chris, thank you so much for your time and talking about Kitchensurfing. It was really great to hear about it. Where do people go to find out more?
Ari: Kitchensurfing.com. Thank Chris.
Chris: Thank you.