Food52’s Amanda Hesser on Starting a Business

By: Melissa Campanelli

In last week’s Inner Circle, I wrote about a Q&A session with Diane von Furstenberg that took place during the OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp in New York City. This week, I thought I’d discuss some of the insight I gleaned from another speaker at the event, Amanda Hesser, the co-founder and CEO of Food52, a content and commerce destination for home cooks where visitors can find recipes, tableware, how tos, articles, ingredients and more.

Food52

Provisions, the commerce part of the site, sells hand-selected kitchen products. The store isn’t a stand-alone website under a separate domain, but lives right underneath the main Food52.com roof. When visitors are browsing through the products for sale, beneath each item they’ll see photos and links to related materials elsewhere on Food52, including articles and recipes.

Food52 Provisions

Hesser has a fascinating background: She’s designed a 17th century-style herb garden at a French chateau, created the Twitter graphing app Plodt, and appeared in the film Julie & Julia, playing herself. She was also named one of the 50 most influential women in food by Gourmet. Before she and co-founder and editor-in-chief Merrill Stubbs started Food52, Hesser was a reporter at The New York Times, and the food editor at The New York Times Magazine. She also wrote the award-winning books “Cooking for Mr. Latte,” “The Cook and the Gardener,” and edited the essay collection “Eat, Memory.” Her latest book, a New York Times best-seller and the winner of a James Beard award, is “The Essential New York Times Cookbook.”

At the OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp, Hesser spoke about how she and Stubbs bootstrapped the site in 2009 through advances from two book deals with HarperCollins. After about 18 months, however, “we realized we were going to have to go after investors if we wanted [Food52] to grow,” Hesser said.

As for her approach on getting capital from investors, Hesser explained that while some entrepreneurs are great at selling a dream with nothing behind it, “we were more like the good students who sit in the front of the class. We did our homework, we proved our concept, and we had a very practical plan.”

And it worked. In 2010, Food52 was funded via a seed round of $750,000. Then, in 2013, Food52 announced a $2.75 million Series A, with the goal of funding its move into e-commerce.

The Right Partner Critical to Success
Hesser explained to the packed audience that if you’re going to start a business with a partner, it’s very important to have the right kind of partner, which she said she has with Stubbs.

“I was lucky in that Merrill and I worked together before we started Food52, and basically share a secret language, as well as trust and a mutual respect,” she said.

It also helped that Hesser and Stubbs each have different skills that complement each other so well.

“Merrill is great with details and things like legal issues, while I tend to be more of the big picture person,” Hesser said. “As a result, we’ve been able to split up our tasks pretty easily.”

Make sure to check out The Inner Circle next week, when I share some of Hesser’s thoughts on the intersection of content and commerce.

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