We’ve all stumbled on foodtok, or the side of TikTok inundated with recipes. But rather than hoping the algorithm keeps foodies there, two former Google leaders launched an app for watching food videos and buying the ingredients for those recipes right from the app.
Former Google engineer François Chu and Alejandro Oropeza, YouTube’s former global head of creator marketing, launched Flavrs earlier this week with the hopes that users will use the app as a dedicated platform for finding recipes, learning how to cook them and buying the necessary ingredients. The platform has raised $7 million in seed funding from support from Andreessen Horowitz, Wellington Access Ventures and celebrity chefs including Eric Ripert.
The platform looks almost exactly like TikTok. At the bottom of each video, there’s a fork and knife icon that users can click for a recipe. And through an Instacart integration, users can buy ingredients right from the app. “We're very proud of that unique intersection of beautiful food-related content, a product that's been built around user needs for food and commerce,” Oropeza told Protocol.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
At what point during your time at YouTube, or after leaving, did you come up with the idea for Flavrs?
I worked for Google and YouTube for about nine years. And the last of that was leading global creator marketing, which was a really interesting experience because it allowed me to work very closely with some of the world's largest content creators and understand what they needed. It was a great experience in terms of understanding creator needs, motivations and, before the “creator economy” was even inked as a term, to be part of the economy. I was also an advocate for creators within YouTube for a long time working very closely with the CEO in trying to focus more aggressively on its creators.
During the pandemic, I did a bit of soul-searching, and food was always my passion. And so after I left YouTube, I was exploring ideas together with François [Chu], who is [Flavrs’] co-founder and CTO. We both had a shared passion for food. I had a background, which was mostly about content, technology and food. He had a lot of experience with shopping, consumer experiences and a lot of product development. And when we got together, we found this white space of creating a standalone platform where foodies can find other foodies and people they love through content and where the whole experience is built for food.
What were some of the challenges you faced to get investors on board?
Securing funding as a Latinx founder when only 2% of total venture capital funding goes to Latinx founders [is difficult]. There are very few people from the Latinx community that are founder CEOs of a company, so that was an additional challenge. And both François I did not grow up in the U.S. Both of us are immigrants. I don't think we necessarily have the immediate plug-and-play network that a lot of people in this industry have to just call up their friends and get funded.
But on the flip side of that, investors saw a couple of things that made them really interested. The first is the size of the market, the size of the opportunity, content around food and commerce around food, which are each individually very large businesses. The second thing that was interesting is the quality of the founding team. We both had a very strong product-founder fit, because we had the combination of the things that we needed to build this business: understanding of the food space, technological experience in some of these large content platforms and specific creator economy experience. And so we were building the product that we had, in some ways, already built before in different places.
We ended up getting funded by Andreessen Horowitz, which for all intents and purposes is probably the best consumer VC out there. Connie Chan, who's the partner who led the round, had written a lot about this space that we were already building in. Some of the pieces were a very natural fit for her business and our business. So examples of that include vertical-specific social networks, or the idea that very passionate users in a handful of spaces really want something that's built for them, in our case, a vertical food-specific platform was one thing that she really was bullish on and that we were bullish on.
The second thing is shoppable video or social commerce, or the notion that people want to see something visually on social media and want to do something about it, another area that Connie and Andreessen had been very bullish on. The third one is the sort of commerce side of this, which is really interesting and has in many ways been influenced by Chinese consumer experiences where, you know, in many respects some of the cutting-edge stuff on consumer social happens in China or in Asia before it happens in the West. And so we were also very inspired by that.
What's the biggest lesson that you learned in your time working on content creation and with creators and how are you incorporating that lesson into Flavrs?
If you want users and eyeballs, you need content. And if you want content, you need content creators. For a long time, content creators were undervalued by a lot of these large platforms. And the biggest lesson is you have to be creator-first, you have to be creator-centric, you have to build the platform together with creators on day one, you have to understand their needs, you have to work with them. In our case, I'm very proud to say some of these guys have been with us since before we had the product. We shared the vision and they decided to get involved because they believed in what we were doing. So if you are building in this space, you need to work for and really engage often with content creators because they are at the center of everything we do.
If you have content creators who are passionate about a specific space, and we give them a product where they can create the best content and monetize it in better ways than incumbents, that in itself is valuable.
Every platform wants to win over creators in some way. What role does Flavrs have in this ecosystem?
It's been well proven that consumers have attention for more than one platform, especially those that are very passionate about a specific space. A relevant example is Twitch. Twitch is a great platform for livestreaming and gaming. And that is true, despite the fact that there are other established platforms that have large trenches of gaming, livestreaming content and world-class products. The thing that makes any of those platforms, the niche vertical platforms, different and the thing that will make Flavrs different is the community. If you have content creators who are passionate about a specific space, and we give them a product where they can create the best content and monetize it in better ways than incumbents, that in itself is valuable.
We intend to coexist with some of the existing incumbents, of course. But because food is such a high passion point for people who live to eat, then you're going to love Flavrs, because you're going to have the people that you love creating content. You're going to have an app that understands your tastes, you're going to be able to shop for the stuff that you see, and most importantly, you're going to be able to connect with other people. That is actually the mission of the company, to connect the world through food to bring people together through this amazing universal human experience where we all have to eat. If we're successful, we're going to have people across different continents talking to each other, not about politics, not about what they disagree on, but the best way to cook pasta or the best restaurant in New York or in Mumbai or in Mexico City.
When I'm thinking about looking at content, I always think of endless scrolling. How do you anticipate Flavrs will change the user experience and get people to act on content and buy ingredients?
We're already seeing two distinct behaviors for some users who have been testing the product in the early days. One is more about consuming content. People probably come to the app, you know, three, four or five times a week just to watch stuff. And when they watch stuff, people tell us it's meditative. It's relaxing, you've made them hungry, it made them happy. There is a part of just watching stuff, maybe three to five times per week.
There's another occasion for families where people have to meal plan. We think there's an occasion, once or twice a week, where families are going to go in, they're going to watch a bunch of videos as they already do, and they're going to say “shop shop shop shop shop.” And then within 10 minutes, they would have built the family’s meal plan.
So the first use case is more about entertainment. The second use case is about utility. And we think that utility is what's ultimately going to differentiate us. Households today are spending one hour and 30 minutes to two hours in the U.S. figuring out what to cook each day. We're going to turn that into a game where you can do that in an enjoyable way.