True innovation
Click – And Dinner is Served
Takara Small | January 12, 2016

It’s a well-known fact that America’s dining habits have changed over the years. The once-common ritual of families gathering around a table every night for a meal is somewhat akin to an urban legend, played out more often on the big screen than in real life.

Since people today are busier and working longer hours, it means many don’t have the time to cook enjoyable meals at home, even though they want to-at least according to Jon Tien, CEO of a startup called Kitchensurfing.

The company, which started in 2013, lets customers choose a chef who will cook for them in the comfort of their own home. Unlike other companies that send fresh ingredients and recipes for people to prepare themselves, Kitchensurfing does everything—from soup to nuts, as they say. The chefs bring all ingredients and equipment; they cook, serve, and clean up in half an hour. The cost comes in at a surprising $30 per person (or less).

“Today, with more and more families living in urban areas, having two incomes, being more and more stretched for time, busy working families and couples are finding themselves eating out of boxes of food delivered to them, in front of the TV or laptop. We’re trying to make it easy to help create a ritual around family dinner,” says Tien.

The business concept at face value seems incredibly simple, but it has garnered national coverage and a variety of accolades. Here’s how it works: Users sign up to the site and scroll through to find their perfect chef, choose from a menu, and set a preferred date and time. The chefs range from the professionally trained to the self-taught, but are all vetted by the team, says Tien.

“I think the desire to gather around the table with your loved ones is innate to most people, and yet it’s getting harder and harder,” explains Tien about Kitchensurfing’s mass appeal. “Current options are great in getting you ingredients to cook (but many people don’t have time to cook, even with the ingredients provided) and in getting you a variety of food in a box (but this lacks the experience of taking the time to eat a freshly prepared meal).”

Food startups, like this one, are disrupting the food industry by bypassing the entrenched giants to go straight to consumers. It’s tough work, but the self-described foodie sees more businesses like his popping up across the country as consumers become more educated and push for more eating options.

“Years ago, the only food you could have delivered to you was pizza or Chinese food. Today, you can get almost anything delivered to you,” he says. “One of the things emerging is, ‘What if there’s a world beyond delivery?’ [Of course,] food that’s delivered has limitations inherent to the model, you can’t (and shouldn’t try) to get a nice piece of salmon or steak that’s cooked medium rare through delivery. It’ll steam to death in the box and get cold by the time it gets to you.”

Tien applies this same logic when advising other entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses. “There’s always a temptation to try to be all things to all people, but I think you often end up with nothing if you follow that path,” he explains. “We’ve made some explicit choices—we don’t do on-demand because we want people to be thoughtful about their dining experience. We don’t do single portion servings because we want our customers to eat together. We’re a membership service because we believe that family dinner is a ritual and not a one-off experience.”

Tien makes sure to point out that entrepreneurs should always focus on what it is they want to do, and not do, before launching.  “That’s probably the most important thing for entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses — decide what your mission is, and build a team of believers behind that mission. Then really try to live that and make hard decisions about the things you’re going to be great at, and the things that you’re not going to