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KitchenPC? Huh?

June 23, 2010

Recently, a friend asked me while hiking where the idea of KitchenPC got started.  Not one for verbosity, I replied, “over a quarter inch of drywall.”  Though she seemed more than satisfied with the answer, I decided to extend the reply into a more protracted response.

About ten years ago, I had just purchased my first condo and was eager to remedy one glaring flaw with the otherwise sufficient abode.  The unit had no washer and dryer.  There were not many places upon which to install one, but the bathroom was, what I thought, the obvious choice.  It boasted a large linen closet that ran from the floor to ceiling and had plenty of room in front.  Since I was a single guy with little “excess” in my life, the closet was pretty much entirely empty.  It was just asking to be converted into a stackable washer and dryer unit.  There was one problem; it was only 24″ wide.  Following several minutes of Internet research, I found a European brand of washer and dryer that (apparently made for boats) was confined in the desired dimension.  I was rather excited at my visions of upcoming laundrydom.

I shopped around for various contractors who wished to attempt the feat, and quickly a major problem reared its ugly head.  The unit itself was 24″, as was the closet, but this 24″ included the quarter inch of particle board separating the closet and the cultured marble countertop which spanned the rest of the bathroom wall.  Darn.  Installing a washer and dryer there would entail  ripping out the entire vanity, which was quite nice.

After contemplating a few other locations, it finally became apparent that the kitchen could be useful here.  Behind the fridge, there was already a wet-wall servicing the adjacent powder room and a dryer vent could easily be poked through to the outside wall on the left.  My contractor drafted up a quote we both agreed on, and the project got started.  It would simply require fridge to be moved over to the right, taking out the existing counter area, and building some drywall enclosures for both washer/dryer combo and fridge.  But why stop there?  I was young and ambitious, and wanted to get rid of the ugly fluorescent lights cluttering the ceiling.  Some modern canned lights would be much better.  Oh and those 70s looking white cabinets!  They needed to be put our of their misery and be replaced with nice modern oak cabinets.  But once you do that, you’d have to replace the countertops and why not use a solid surface material such as Corean.  At this point, it’s cheaper to just demo the entire kitchen.  Oh yea, and replace the linoleum floor with tile, which would be extended into the enter entryway as well.  For those of you who have ever been through a remodeling project, you’re nodding your heads in collective agreement.  Long story short, about $24,000 later and 6 months over deadline, I had a fantastic new kitchen.  One problem, I had no idea how to cook!

At this point, I had an undeniably good excuse to get into cooking; which I did.  Plus, it could even be cheaper since I had used up all my savings.  While cooking I noticed a recurring behavior.  A habit if you will.  Since I didn’t really know any recipes by heart, I’d usually look stuff up online, print out the recipe, bring it downstairs, dig through my pantry and fridge to figure out what I needed to buy, go to the store, blah blah blah.  After making a big mess and trying to avoid catching anything on fire, I’d usually find the printed recipe covered in some sort of food-like substance, unsuitable for future use.  It would get thrown away, and perhaps I would bookmark the page if I wanted to try it again.

There had to be a better way.

“Oh wait,” thought I.  “aren’t I a software engineer?”  They say if you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  Or something like that, actually I’m not sure who says that.  The point is, to a software engineer, every problem must be solved with cool software; with pretty icons and stuff that fades in.  And whatever three-letter-acronym (TLA) is popular with the kids these days.  Upon careful thinking, I decided I’d put a touch screen monitor fixed to the countertop with silicon, and sealed in with clear caulk.  The cables would be buried and descend through a hole directly below, completely out of sight.  A compact (actually it was a Compaq) computer would be mounted in one of the cabinets and have an Internet connection.  I could then be free to write some slick little UI in Visual Basic, perhaps with an embedded web browser to make things easier.

I found there’s actually a market for these types of touch screen displays.  There’s various “ratings” they possess which indicate how much abuse they take before they keel over and die.  A cheaper monitor could be used in your office but nothing else.  One a bit higher up could be sufficient for use in restaurants, and the top of the line ones could be used on oil rigs and probably dropped off a building while set on fire and be fine.  I ordered one from ELO Touch Systems that was rated for kitchen use and had touch capabilities, and built in speakers.  I was very excited about my purchase, and spent quite a bit of free time writing a cool recipe organizer with a touch screen interface.  It pulled all its data off my web server upstairs, and I could copy recipes to the server using a little recipe editor I crafted.

My contractor, who I had become friends with due to recurring business, caught wind of this and knew he needed to sell these to his trophy wife clients (those were his words, not mine).  Since I had a full time job, I wasn’t really interested at the time in getting involved in this sort of side business.  However, it did get me thinking about PCs in the kitchen and why this had not really taken off yet.

Fast forward a few years.  I was talking with an ex-coworker of mine who had left the company to start his own business.  Upon successful acquisition by Amazon, he was looking for the next stage in his entrepreneurial career.  He thought of me as someone who he could rope into whatever harebrained scheme he could come up with, and we got to talking about my kitchen PC ideas.  At the time, my idea was to get touch monitors, cheap computers (or even Windows embedded devices) and get contractors to install them in rich peoples’ kitchens.  The software was no doubt cool, but the business plan was flawed.  “Mike,” he said, “your idea is awesome but a hardware business is almost impossible to succeed at.  You’ll need millions in capital just to get started and you’ll probably just lose everything.”

However, my friend loved my ideas for the backend service that would power these “Kitchen PCs” – allowing them to get content, interact with other cooks, manage their shopping lists, etc.  He told me I really had something there, and I should focus on that side of the business.  This is what I did, and I’ve been at it ever since.

The KitchenPC idea has shifted into an online web service that allows cooks to find recipes, organize meal plans, and aggregate ingredients into shopping lists automatically.  As most recipe websites just focus on a single recipe, KitchenPC allows users to work with multiple recipes at a time.  It’s also designed to meal plan for you.  You’re able to enter the ingredients and amounts you have on hand, and KitchenPC will analyze your likes and dislikes and suggest a meal plan that will most efficiently utilize your available ingredients, resulting in the fewest amount of leftovers.  KitchenPC is able to come up with accurate shopping lists, and determine the exact amounts of each ingredient you’ll need.  In short, KitchenPC is my attempt at making meal planning easier, fun and save people time and money.

A couple months ago, I decided to quit my day job and work on KitchenPC full time.  I’ve never owned a business before, but I’ve always wanted to.  This is something new and exciting (and scary) for me, and what better way to document my journey than by creating a blog!  This will be that blog.  I hope to use it as a vehicle to share my experiences as a first time entrepreneur, eventually learn how to spell the word “entrepreneur” on my first try without using spellcheck (I almost did it that time!), and create a personal “face” to my company by connecting with my users on a personal level.

I see this blog existing in three stages (well, provided the business doesn’t crash and burn, which will of course make for great blogging too.)  First, in the beginning it will journal my experiences getting a product out on the market.  I’ll be dealing with business partners, trying to figure out who’s gonna actually use this thing, worrying about technical problems, etc.  The second stage will be once I actually have a product.  The blog will be advertising a lot, demo’ing new features, and trying to promote awareness of the site.  Third, and ongoing, it will be used to talk about KitchenPC, what’s going on in the business, and just sticking around as a way to connect with users.

If no one reads this blog, it’ll simply be my journal and something I can look back on to marvel at my progress years in the future.  I hope it will be enjoyed through many pairs of eyes.  More to come soon!



From → Business

One Comment
  1. Mike:

    I look forward to watching the growth of your business. If there is anything I can contribute, I’d be happy to do so.


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