This is a follow up story for Hipcooks. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello again! Thanks for following up with Hipcooks. I’m Monika Reti, owner, and founder.
Hipcooks offers hand-on cooking classes to hungry home chefs and corporate clients looking for excitement and empowerment in the kitchen. It's a place for the community to learn, get inspired, and connect — over healthy, delicious food.
Since 2004, Hipcooks has grown to 7 locations across California, Oregon, and Washington. We thrive on building community: within our group of all-women managers, within our pool of diverse teachers and volunteer assistants, and within our student body.
Hipcooks has one published cookbook and a second in production.
- taught over 100,000 students
- 37,000 newsletter subscribers
- 20,000 average monthly visitors to our website (2019)
- 4.8 average customer rating
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
2020: Think fast and Pivot!
2019 was a banner year for Hipcooks. All 7 locations were hitting their stride, the last baby studio built 2 years prior. I paid out my Angel Investor (our goal of launching 7 schools completed) and Hipcooks was primed for next-level growth.
As long as you keep going back to reshape and improve and commit to reinvest and expand your team, you can be more effective when you work as you go, or rather, go and work!
In February of 2020 Hipcooks welcomed COO and partner extraordinaire, Jesse Cooke. Jesse found Hipcooks online and stalked me through LinkedIn, Stater Story (Thanks, Pat!), and other outlets to know she’d be a great fit for the company. After a series of inspiring conversations, I heartily agreed. Jesse was brought on to scale the company for next-level growth. We were putting very exciting plans into place — and then the Pandemic hit.
Since the initial craziness of the March shut-down, we’ve stabilized the business and staved expenditures to the bare minimum to ensure the company can successfully ride out the Pandemic. Our team of 25 has reduced to a team of 4. All of our brick and mortar locations have temporarily closed and we have gone 100% online, offering Virtual Cooking Classes for public and private clients, adults, and children. We’re keeping our customer base engaged through our recipe blog, newsletters, and class offerings.
Public Virtual Cooking Classes are 1-hour long classes at an extremely accessible price point. These classes keep our brand alive and on the radar of our customer base. Fun, quick, and interactive, they also serve to promote the brand, potentially to the national level.
Private Virtual Cooking Classes are offered to businesses looking for team building experiences or groups of friends/family wanting to connect. Price points vary depending on the budget of the organization/bookee and group size. The most popular? Our “Cocktail paired with a nibble” classes, naturally! Creative cocktails are helping us all get through these crazy times.
Cooking Class Kits: Ingredients Starter Kits are sold as add-ons to our virtual classes. Besides being an additional revenue stream unto themselves, they also enable us to expand our class offerings from what you’re likely to find in your own kitchen to more esoteric ingredients. One of our first classes that paired with a Starter Kit, “Let’s Go to Morocco,” had over 60 participants in the inaugural class. Now that we have a recorded video, Kit holders have the choice to either join a live Virtual Class or watch a recorded video.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Progress, not Perfection
I’m known to be a stickler for perfection. Why cook something averagely good, when you can whisk in a little magic and make it toe-tappingly delicious? I follow the same logic with the company, from marketing materials to digital content to job descriptions. It has to be right or it doesn’t leave my desk. Yet, as Jesse likes to remind me, “Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress!”
Our pivot took place at warp speed. There was no time or money to custom code hipcooks.com, with 7 subdomains for each location, as the hosting page for our Virtual Classes. We quickly re-purposed our Wordpress recipe blog (blog.hipcooks.com) as our Virtual Class Schedule posting site instead. It did not have the SEO and integrations of hipcooks.com, but it sure was easy and fast to pivot on a shoestring.
No payment integrations? No problem! Again, rather than take time and money to integrate, we invoice virtual Public Classes on our site through Authorize.net, Private Virtual Classes through Wave, and Kit orders through a Google order form and Venmo. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. Not perfect, and certainly cobbled together, but fully functional and operational in mere minutes.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
2021: Grow Virtual to National
We’re keeping the lights on and keeping our customer base engaged virtually. By marketing to our Newsletter Subscriber list alone, we’re steadily growing revenue. (It feels like 2004 when we first launched Hipcooks!) It will take some time before people feel safe enough to return to in-person classes, so we’ll continue to expand the virtual program in 2021. Marketing outreach needs to expand to the national level — an opportunity we did not have through brick and mortar alone. I never would have predicted that virtual would be the driver for a national brick and mortar expansion in the future.
Next 5 Years: Expand Hipcooks to HipChefs, a B2B SaaS Platform
Jesse and I have created a business pivot that integrates Hipcooks IP to HipChefs, a model that radically shifts employment trends by empowering home chef entrepreneurs worldwide to easily start, confidently grow, and successfully run thriving micro-businesses. With our turnkey business platform, HipChefs creates career pivots with sustaining incomes and connections to a vibrant community of food-industry professionals.
We’ve teamed up with a fractional CTO Sam Alexander (with whom I worked on hipcooks.com) to develop the MVP, which we’re excited to offer to beta users. Then, we’ll do what we do best: bootstrap away and iterate, expand, iterate expand.
With a flourishing Virtual Class Program and a committed team back in our kitchens, we’ll reinvest in our long-term sustainable growth. Turns out, there are silver linings when forced to think fast, innovate, and re-invent.
A few years ago, I never would have thought that Hipcooks would have been the springboard for an entirely new pivot — I would have thought it was my be-all, end-all. Yet here we are, with something bigger and juicier on our plate.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
No time for books, but when I workout I geek out to Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, This Week in Startups with Jason Calacanis, and Angel Invest Boston with Sal Daher.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Jesse would be proud of me for passing on her mantra: “Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.” It’s been my new dogma as I let go and allow the iterative process to work its magic. As long as you keep going back to reshape and improve and commit to reinvest and expand your team, you can be more effective when you work as you go, or rather, go and work!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes! But most importantly, if you’re an Angel Investor (or know of one), we’d love to pitch you! An ideal partner is someone interested in capitalizing on employment trends and making a lasting impact in one of the fastest-growing industries. Our ideal Angel has a track record of advising successful SaaS businesses and is inspired by delicious food as a vehicle to whisk up success.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Hipcooks in general
- Join Public Virtual Classes
- Book a Private Virtual Class for your crew
- Order a Hipcooks Starter Kit, they make great gifts
- Food porn, I mean, food pics: @hipcooks on Insta
- And last but not least, for info on HipChefs: [email protected] / [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Let's leave your readers with a fun Hipcooks recipe. Here’s one that combines the kitchen and the bar, and a quarantine fan favorite. When the Pandemic’s got you down, the Sage Rush rushes to the rescue!
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