Food52: Figuring out the future of food media

Food52's first cookbook came together in October, 2011
Food52's first cookbook came together in October, 2011

Amanda Hesser is a household name to journalists and foodies alike. She was even named one of 50 women game-changers in food by Gourmet magazine. In 2008, she left a high-profile job as a New York Times food editor to start Food52 with co-founder and fellow food-writer Merrill Stubbs. "The age of an editorial team telling you what you should be paying attention to is over. It's now a conversation with the audience... and the audience is creating some of that content as well," Hesser said.

In the early days, Hesser and Stubbs treated Food52 almost as they would approach a new recipe. The question at hand: "Can we create the first crowd-sourced cookbook in 52 weeks?" They sold this idea to a book publisher and used the money to build their site. Then, each week they held a recipe contest featuring a different food. To bring the site to life, Hesser and Stubbs made videos of each recipe being prepared, explaining cooking techniques along the way. At the end of 52 weeks (thus the number 52 in the name Food52), the duo hoped the series of contests online would yield a full-fledged user-generated offline cookbook. 

Not only did the crowd-sourced cookbook work, but the community on Food52 wanted more -- more recipes and more opportunities to engage. With their initial success in hand, last fall, Hesser and Stubbs decided to seek funding from angels to see where their community would take them next. They raised $750,000 from super angels Joanne Wilson (an investor in more than a dozen companies) and Ken Lerer (one of the early-stage funders and co-founders of HuffingtonPost), among others. 

Since that time, Hesser and Stubbs have relaunched the site, partnered with Whole Foods on branded micro-sites, started another cookbook contest series and created a popular holiday recipe iPAD app, which is selling briskly for the hefty sum of $9.99. They hit all their goals this year, achieving 500,000 unique visits to the site and garnering more than 55,000 email newsletter subscribers. "Engagement is the more important metric," argues Hesser, who says that Food52's newsletter open rates are a solid 40 percent.

Watch the video to find out more about Hesser's approach to online content creation, how she spends her time as a manager and where she sees the company heading:

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