Pepper is Cooking with Fire

Pepper is Cooking with Fire

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A month ago, I met the co-founder of a recipe sharing startup at Morgan Barrett‘s New York Tech Breakfast.

Jake Aronskind explained how his company, Pepper, was a social media app for 1 million home cooks to share, comment on and bond over all things culinary.

This week, I was back at the latest New York Tech Breakfast, and I sat down next to another guy who started pitching me his recipe sharing startup.

It’s a testimony to the vibrancy of the tech startup scene that my immediate thought was: I can’t believe there’s two of these guys!

As it turned out, I had randomly sat next to Jake’s cofounder at Pepper, Matthew Schkolnick.

Jake and Matt are childhood friends. They met at sleepaway camp in Milford Pennsylvania when they were nine years old. 

The idea of Pepper emerged the summer after they graduated college. It was 2019 and they were hanging out in a shed in the backyard of Jake’s parents’ house in Short Hills, N.J. 

Matt kept talking about how GroupMe, a popular app he used to share information with college friends, was filled with people sharing recipes and photos of meals. 

They realized there was a lot of food content on Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest but it didn’t seem organized and aimed at helping people become better cooks. 

They sensed an opportunity to knit together a community and create a business. Something like Strava, but for cooking.

In the meantime, both started corporate jobs — Jake trading at Trillium — and Matt doing accounting at Deloitte. But when Covid hit, they resurrected the food idea and raised initial money from friends and family and later seed capital from investors. They launched in 2021.

Pepper is perhaps best explained as “Instagram for food,” but it’s the focus that matters. 

It’s part of a trend of smaller online communities focused on a specific interest like biking/running (Stava) or reading (Goodreads.)

Users can use Pepper to build digital cookbooks by creating and saving recipes they find on the app.

One of the most interesting things about Pepper to me was how Jake and Matt are using content to help promote, scale and also fund their expansion. 

They started producing content about food and restaurants to post on Instagram organically. The accounts were so popular they accrued two million followers.

Leveraging that audience, they created an agency that charges restaurants to create viral videos. The cash flow from that business helps fund Pepper’s expansion.

It’s a significant advantage because it means they are less dependent on future VC funding.

Pepper now has more than 80,000 recipes and last month added a feature to create collections that mimic the concept of playlists on Spotify. 

It’s a cool feature and another reminder of the insight Matt and Jake had five years ago in a shed in New Jersey: that much of the information on big social media platforms could be organized better on smaller, more intimate sites.


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