Launching a minimum viable product

“Better 60% done than 100% ready.”

My classmate Sneha can frequently be heard uttering this (or the rather more piratical alternative, “F**k it, ship it”) on a Monday evening over coffee and what may just be New York’s best cookies. A small group of my Tow-Knight classmates and I have a regular catch-up at this time where we brainstorm, problem-solve, and keep each other on-track to meet our project goals. There’s also a fair amount of irrelevant discussion about politics and puppies but hey, what would life be without those.

This gentle peer pressure was instrumental in helping me launch Kitchen Chapters last week. At this point it’s not much more than a very shiny-looking blog, but the main thing is that because it’s live, I can stop talking in hypotheticals and start getting meaningful feedback, building an audience, and working on the business strategy in earnest.

The process went something like this, although it is important to note that most of these steps were happening simultaneously:

  • Begin producing content. Organising, researching and conducting interviews, then writing and editing.
  • Set up a basic site. I chose a free WordPress theme that loosely fit my desired aesthetic without needing extensive customization, which is an unnecessary cost at this stage.
  • Start building an audience. I began to increase activity on my Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts: posting interesting links, participating in live chats. I discovered how time-consuming it is to manage multiple accounts, each of which has a different purpose. Adding to the challenge is the fact that my audience is split between New York and New Zealand, giving me an additional factor (and mathematical headache) to consider in when deciding on the timing of posts. I also experimented with a small Twitter ad campaign, which pointed to a landing page with signup form. I gained a handful of new followers from my target demographics, but engagement with the ad was low (0.44%) and none of the clicks through to the landing page translated into signups. I may revisit social media ads again when the site is more developed.
  • Seek feedback. Once the first story was live, I sent it to my classmates and mentors to get suggestions of improvements to make before putting it out to a wider audience. The first important discovery was that 20 people trying to simultaneously access the site was enough to crash it!
  • Provide early access to subscribers. Throughout my user survey process I had been collecting email addresses of people who were interested in Kitchen Chapters, promising to give them first access to the site. I have received useful feedback from several of them since sending the first newsletter last week.
  • Soft launch. I posted the first story to social media so people know the site is live.

The challenge now is to keep building on the initial momentum. My biggest concern is making sure I can produce enough content to give people a better idea of what the site is about, and to ensure they keep returning. Before launching, I drafted a publishing schedule based on material I have been gathering in the last couple of  months, with the aim of having something new once a week. This will get me through the initial month but I’m not entirely confident beyond that. With business models still needing to be developed, end-of-course presentations looming and an influx of people coming to visit me, my time management skills are going to be tested more strenuously than ever.

Also this month:

The founders of Spoon University taught us how they built a their huge community of contributors and readers through the college network. Their student focus puts them in the unique position of being able to source quality content for free because they offer skills training program together with a way for budding food writers to start building up a portfolio of published work. However, they remain a good example of how food provides an ideal framework for creating a highly engaged audience, if you find the right approach.

I learned more about food media publishing during a visit to Tasting Table, which began as an email-only newsletter in 2008 and now has two million subscribers along with a website that receives one million unique visitors per month. Co-founder Geoff Bartakovics provided valuable insights into the company’s revenue model and the importance of the three million-strong users across their social media accounts.

Also particularly pertinent was a talk from Kevin Kearney of Hard Candy Shell, a strategic design and development agency. Much of his work focuses on improving the digital properties of large media organizations, including NBC, Bloomberg and The New York Post. I found myself nodding furiously in agreement as he was describing the challenges of working within these large companies. But his user-focused approach is exactly what they need, and I wish we would see more of that in New Zealand too.

Big Apple bites:

Watched: Hamilton. This bound-for-Broadway musical about US founding father Alexander Hamilton is the hottest ticket in town, and justifiably so. It challenges assumptions, teaches history and features some of the most inspiring writing and performances I’ve ever seen. I went into this (having won a coveted lottery ticket) skeptical of the hype, on account of my indifference toward rap music – but was hooked by the end of the first phrase. Lin-Manuel Miranda has created a very, very special piece of theatre. Hamilton heads to Broadway in July – be there.

Ate: Cookies. Lots of cookies. I am on a quest to find New York City’s best chocolate chip offering, which seems to be driving my friends of lesser fortitude to exhaustion. But it is all for your benefit, dear reader. I shall report back in full at a later date, but for now I can confirm that these monstrosities, from Baked, are in contention:

You want #cookies? @tastingtable has cookies. And they are monster-worthy.

A photo posted by Kim Choe (@kimchoe) on

Attended: Food Book Fair 2015. It’s so exciting to be in a market that can justify an entire three-day conference about food writing. I got a lot of inspiration hearing from cookbook authors and co-authors, culinary historians and journalists including the indomitable Mimi Sheraton. I was also introduced to the art and science of coffee “cupping” – apparently my slurp is not half bad but I wish I could say the same for my sensory faculties: acid, oil, citrus, berry… it all tasted the same to me!

You can receive blog updates via email by subscribing – enter your details in the sidebar to the right (or below, if you’re reading on mobile).