Hi! My name is Maya Krampf and I’m the founder of Wholesome Yum, a healthy recipe website reaching millions of readers every month. I create easy, healthy recipes and keto recipes, all with 10 ingredients or less.
I also created the Wholesome Yum app (for custom meal plans, automatic grocery lists, and more), founded Wholesome Yum Foods (a line of natural zero sugar ingredients and food products), and wrote two keto cookbooks, the USA Today Best Seller Easy Keto Cookbook and the Easy Keto Carboholics’ Cookbook.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In my early 20s while in college, I started an eBay designer consignment business from my house, which made a little money on the side but was not wildly successful by any means. At least it helped support my online shopping habit at the time.
I started experimenting with a healthy low-carb lifestyle in 2010 and was amazed at how fabulous it made me feel. I had struggled with low energy, mood swings, anxiety, and sugar addiction since age 14, and eating this way made these issues virtually disappear.
My college degree was in computer science, but I was one course away from a nutrition minor and used this to my advantage. Soon after, I started experimenting with my recipes.
In 2015, I decided to start a website to have a place to record these recipes – Wholesome Yum was born! I chose the name to convey that you don’t have to choose between eating healthier and delicious food. It was extremely time-consuming, but luckily, did not require much financial investment. At the time, never could I have imagined that it would turn into my career and be seen by millions of people all over the world.
Take us through the process of getting started and launching.
Success never happens overnight, and it took time and tons of hard work to get to where we are today.
For the first 7 months of Wholesome Yum after starting in August 2015, it had virtually zero visitors. I was a private person and didn’t want to have social media accounts, and I knew nothing about SEO, so it was practically impossible for anyone to find me.
Besides, the blog posts were not written in any helpful way at all, the pictures were terrible, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t test the recipes as well as I should have. While I was spending a fair amount of time on it, I didn’t think it could grow into anything, so nothing I was doing had much of an audience in mind.
The first source of traffic that took off for me was Pinterest. At first, it was almost by accident, but once I got a taste of that, it made me want more very quickly. I changed my mindset from a hobby to a business. By June 2016, Wholesome Yum was getting over 100,000 visitors per month, mostly from Pinterest, and I started monetizing through an ad network.
Motivated by a taste of success, I opened up other social media accounts, got serious about recipe testing, and spent every spare moment studying food photography and SEO. While most people I knew spent their time after work relaxing or doing fun things, I woke up early before work to snap recipe photos and stayed up late into the night writing posts, studying SEO, and connecting with other bloggers in Facebook groups to learn everything I could about this business.
The hard work paid off. In January 2017, Wholesome Yum reached almost 1/2 a million views. While my initial success felt amazing, I was hesitant that it could last and faced a lot of backlash from people I knew. My husband was frustrated with how much time I was spending on the blog, my friends had no idea why I did it, and my parents warned me about throwing away my software engineering career.
I burned the candle at both ends, trying to do it all myself while trying to raise a newborn (my first daughter was born in March 2015) and maintain a full-time job. I hired some part-time contractors to help with some tasks and converted my dwindling eBay business employee to a blog assistant.
I took a 4-month maternity leave with my second daughter in 2017, and whenever the baby was sleeping, I was working on my blog. All of this still wasn’t enough. I was drowning.
By March 2018, I couldn’t take the pressure anymore. I was working 80+ hour weeks, trying to maintain a full-time blog and a full-time software job, and by then Wholesome Yum was making significantly more than my day job. Fortunately, my husband was supportive of the business by then. I left my job and felt a huge wave of relief.
With the ability to finally focus on Wholesome Yum full-time, I streamlined a lot of processes, started using a project management system, focused on batching, and hired out more work, while my traffic continued to grow - definitely with some ups and downs in between. We hired a couple more part-time employees that summer.
But now that the blog was my only source of income, I was concerned that it was supported entirely by ads. I thought, “What if the ad industry changes? I am so far away from retirement age.”
Determined to diversify, I launched a printable meal plan subscription in October 2018. It almost completely failed, because I forgot to foresee a critical component of a subscription: customer service. Thankfully, by this point, the blog was making more than enough to exceed not only my old salary but my husband’s as well, and he left his job to join me right when the meal plans launched.
His background is in IT infrastructure and management, and he has managed help desk teams in the past, so he created help articles and formulated a customer service process, just in the nick of time before the meal plans failed.
With my husband and I running the business full-time, 2019 was a year of diversification and team growth. It was time to get serious about diversifying, but also time to gain back some sanity and build a team we could trust, so we didn’t have to do it all alone. We hired 4 full-time employees that year and one part-timer joined us full-time.
I wrote my first print cookbook, which became a USA Today Best Seller. We made countless website improvements to improve usability and reliability. We finally backed up all our data and systems. We brought on a remote team of developers to create an interactive app to replace our PDF meal plans.
Perhaps the biggest step was launching a food product line, Wholesome Yum Foods, in January 2020. It started with Besti sweetener, the first ever monk fruit sweetener without erythritol or sugar alcohols. Besti is a monk fruit allulose blend, which tastes and behaves much more like sugar than other sugar substitutes. Our audience loved it.
We also created a few products similar to others on the market, and those didn’t do nearly as well. This was a lesson learned – create something unique instead of trying to replicate others’ success. Since then, we’ve launched our current best sellers, the first-ever sugar-free honey and a just-like-the-real-thing sugar-free maple syrup.
After the pandemic hit in 2020, it was time to pivot again. With everyone stuck at home and eating comfort food to make it through, the keto diet lost its momentum… and with it, our website traffic dropped. If I was being honest, my eating shifted to a moderately low-carb diet instead of a keto one.
I felt less restricted but with most of the same benefits, and it was refreshing to have the flexibility to enjoy more fruit and occasionally starchy whole foods, like sweet potatoes.
I had a lightbulb moment: If my audience’s priorities were shifting, then we should shift along with them. I decided to start creating more healthy recipes for any lifestyle – even if they weren’t keto.
It took time, but our audience has since grown to all kinds of health-conscious eaters, and our traffic returned. In 2022, we rebranded our “keto” food products to “zero sugar”, because I’m a strong believer that everyone can benefit from reducing sugar, without having to follow a keto diet.
The best decision I’ve ever made was hiring my team, and the worst decision was not doing it sooner. They are amazing and allow me to have the time to focus on building new things.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The number 1 thing we focus on is creating what is useful for our readers. I try to put myself in their shoes and imagine what would help them the most. This is as much about avoiding what isn’t helpful as it is about offering what is helpful.
This principle applies to everything we do (recipes, apps, food products, and so on) and every platform (our website, email, social media, and so on). At the end of the day, we are here to serve our readers and customers.
Search engines are our main traffic source today, so we spend a lot of time focusing on SEO, but the underlying common thread is always matching user intent. Does this content, product, etc. fill the need for the person looking for it better than any other piece of content, product, etc.? Does the user have a positive experience and feel like they got what they wanted?
Tools like SEMrush and reader surveys have bhelped findwhat people are looking for, but matching user intent is a bit of an art and has taken years to grasp. Our email list is also a big part of our strategy for bringing people back.
What’s the business model and how do you make money?
After all these years, our bread and butter is still what started it all: Ad revenue on our website. We don’t run ads to acquire visitors – our traffic is organic from search engines, social media, email, and direct website visits.
Our revenue model has also expanded a lot from the early days. We have mobile apps, cookbook sales, affiliate revenue, ebooks, and digital products. Wholesome Yum Foods revenue exceeds ad revenue these days, but profit margins on food are razor-thin and cash flow is complicated, so the profit is nowhere near what the content drives. The products are growing through online sales and retail, and in the long term, they are our biggest opportunity for growth.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is not to be afraid to hire out and to let go. I used to be a control freak, but the best decision I’ve ever made was hiring my team, and the worst decision was not doing it sooner. They are amazing and allow me to have the time to focus on building new things.
Another huge thing? Create your content and products for your audience, not for you. If you want a hobby and you want to do it for yourself, that’s perfectly fine, but make it a conscious decision. If you want a business, treat it like a business and create what is most helpful for your customers.
But truly, this question is hard to answer because I have learned countless things along the way. I now not only approach my own business differently, but my view on other businesses and even on life is completely different as well.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
While I have a creative side, I’m a very process-oriented person. The right tools are everything. The two most important tools in our business are ClickUp (the entire team’s tasks live there, including my own), AirTable, Google Drive, and Google Sheets.
Off the top of my head, other tools we use include social media platforms (Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram), an email service provider, photo editing software, online graphic software, SEO research software, and code editing software. I hesitate to list specific names of the tools we use because honestly, they change very frequently. I am constantly looking for the best tools and the best ROI I can get from them.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
To be honest, most of my inspiration has come from blogging, marketing, and entrepreneurial online communities rather than books or podcasts. I am so grateful to many small business owners who have helped me learn along the way.
I have learned a lot from them and from doing research online, but probably most of all -- and this is the fun part! -- I have learned from experimentation and seeing what works for my audience. No two businesses are the same, no two sites are the same, and what makes a business fun is testing to see what sticks!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not currently hiring, but expect our team to expand in the next few years. Most of our team is full-time employees, all remote. We work hard and we play hard, too.
Where can we go to learn more?
I would love to have you come visit Wholesome Yum! Find me on the Wholesome Yum website for recipes, Wholesome Yum Foods and Amazon for products, and on social media at Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.
- 4,818 founder case studies
- Access to our founder directory
- Live events, courses and recordings
- 8,628 business ideas
- $1M in software savings