Interview with Mike LaValle: Changing the Cooking Experience One Recipe at a Time

Digital Recipes photo by @ugmonk Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash
Digital recipes Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash

By Lauren Keyson

I sat down with Mike LaValle cosponsor of the 2011 FarmBill Hackathon and CEO and founder of Gojee. We discussed his beautifully rendered recipe app that showcases 10,000 handpicked recipes by 160 food writers. To use Gojee, people simply enter what they have in their kitchen and curated recipes pop up in seconds.

The site will even deliver personalized recipes based on what users crave and dislike. Along with his partner Tian He and his designer, Adam Miesel, he quit his job and lived off his savings, launching his startup in July of 2011. Currently, they have their offices at Projective Space, an incubator loft near Canal Street.

Why didn’t you continue to bootstrap?

Once we knew that we had a special experience built, and that we were getting great feedback from our users, we wanted to add a lot of fuel to the fire.  I went on Angel List — a way for entrepreneurs to be connected to investors — and we raised $1.2 million in seed funding led by Kapor Capital.

How did you get your users?

People just started talking about it. We didn’t advertise or anything.  We have a quarter million users on the site.

How did you come up with the idea?

We were spending a lot of time browsing recipe websites and not really finding something that was fun, enjoyable and pleasurable.  We wanted to create a much more emotional, intuitive experience around food.

Were you in the food business before creating your startup?

No, I worked at Morgan Stanley in investment banking.  None of us have food backgrounds, but we love to cook.

Why is Gojee different from other recipe sites?

Because it’s completely visual and beautifully designed with extremely curated content that people just love to use. That’s the difference between our site and a lot of other food sites out there.  We also link to your supermarket loyalty cards and we will provide you with targeted recipes based off of the things you buy in real life.  We wanted to build a really awesome consumer application off of this data layer.

Are you doing something game-changing?

Oh, we absolutely are. The food world is definitely reacting to the experience that we built and it’s really changed the way people think about food discovery.  We’ve made it much more enjoyable and focused on the experience for the user and how they make decisions, which is through emotion and desire and visuals.

Who is this site for?

For people who love to eat and love to try new things and experiment. And it’s not always creating this complicated dish. All of our recipes come from food bloggers and writers around the world. And a lot of them are just moms and dads at home cooking.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to break in the online food business?

Focus on the human experience and make that the dynamic core to anything you’re building. We wanted to design something that didn’t feel like a computer.  We wanted to feel part of life. Cross designing an experience rather than an application was pretty important to us.

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