Our interview this morning is with Babette Pepaj, CEO and founder of BakeSpace (www.bakespace.com), a local Los Angeles startup focused on social networking around food. We caught up with Babette to get the story behind the site, and how the site helped her escape from the world of reality television.
What is BakeSpace?
Babette Pepaj: BakeSpace is a food social network and recipe swap. You come for the food, and stay for the conversation. The base of the site a recipe swap, but it's more about integrating recipes and figuring out the conversations that happen around recipes. Similiar to the kitchen--you come into the kitchen, you're hungry for food, but you're really hungry for friends, family, and conversation.
So very much a social network involved?
Babette Pepaj: Yes, it's definitely very driven by social networking. The idea is that food transcends just making it in the kitchen, every time you start preparing food, you start having a conversation about something. We wanted to take that experience and bring it online. So, if you're at home, a party of one, you can interact with people online in that same, similar situation, also cooking in their own home.
How did you get into this?
Babette Pepaj: In 2006, I directed and produced reality programming. Every morning I'd wake up and go "I'm going to Hell." If you've been in television, you know what I'm talking about. So I needed a hobby, something to feed my soul. I took a cake decorating class, and I loved it. The foodie community is passionate, they were giving, they wanted to help, they were extremely friendly. I thought, "this is where I need to be." I'd just come from Hell, and this was great. So I went online and saw that the forums were outdated--for example, you'd see the last post was in 2001, who would be coming back to that? I went to recipe sites, couldn't communicate with anyone. I went to general social networks, they were so big I couldn't find anyone in common with me, so I thought--there has to be something here. I scratched my own itch. I built the site to really give the opportunity for foodies to interact in real time. They didn't have to wait until someone posted a message, and hope that someone came back, thinking "Did anybody hear me? Hello world?". We also created a recipe swap. One of our biggest partners is ABC, where you can take recipes inspired by each of the shows. For example, Desperate Housewives, Gray's Anatomy, Ugly Betty, Pushing Daisies--we do a lot of films. It helps films to provide something of value. If a user comes to the site and is looking for a creme brulee recipe, and a brand happens to have one, instantly the user is--hey, they're giving me something I want--and they hear the brand's message in a way that's interesting, creative, and fun. They'll go home and make that recipe and talk to my family about the brand. I can't think of a more intimate marketing form than that.
So you have lots of deals with brands?
Babette Pepaj: We do. We have the usual suspects like Kitchenaid, Sara Lee, McCormick, Reynolds but we really focus on entertainment properties like Sony, ABC, Fox Searchlight. It's cool because they are interested in reaching this demographic--women, foodies. And, foodies are very passionate, so when you have a recipe that is a really good recipe, they'll forward that on. But, if you have a microsite with a video--are they going to forward it on? Most likely not. Will they click on a banner ad? Most likely not. If you offer them a recipe, they might think that's really cool, and it might start a dialogue.
How are you funded and backed?
Babette Pepaj: When we first started, we were totally self-funded. We have since raised a friends and family round in 2007, pretty modest--enough to get to our first milestone. In August, the entire economy collapsed and we started thinking about our other options are. We're making money from our advertising, and doing really well. We're not in dire need to raise a round, but we know in order to grow there needs to be some strategic partnerships, just so we can compete with the big guys. There are lots of big media companies -- and they own the newspapers -- it's difficult to compete with them. The good news is, we're giving them a run for their money.
What's next for the firm?
Babette Pepaj: We're looking at offline stuff. We're going to make it easy as possible to share information on multiple platforms. We're thinking about phone apps. We're thinking of ways where our members can take us with them to the grocery store. When we first launched, we wanted to be the first place you went before you went to the grocery store. Now, we're thinking--how do we become the first place that when you get to the grocery store, you call us up and figure what your friends are cooking or how you can get coupons, or if you're at the grocery store with a question how you can get help. We're also building more brand partnerships. We're really blowing up with film companies right now, we're doing Julia and Julia, which is really fantastic. Lots of companies, particularly with Duncan Hines in December, there are many more companies getting used to working with a social network. Because the site is such a safe platform, brands are all of the sudden saying--I want to be there. They're still a bit leery because they don't know what to expect, but I think over the next six months we'll see a growth in what we do.
Thanks, and good luck!