The beginner cooks with their hair on fire 👨🦱🔥
How we discovered our initial market and built a product for them
We often refer to the r/cookingforbeginners subreddit as the best representation of Parsnip’s initial target market. Of all the go-to-market channels we’ve tried, it contains the highest concentration of people who really want to learn to cook.
It has also skyrocketed from 300,000 users in early 2021 to almost 1.2 million today, and is currently adding ~100,000 subscribers per month:
This incredible growth is perfectly timed for us, and so I’d like to tell a story about:
A market that’s doing it’s best impression of a hockey stick
The hair-on-fire pain of users in that market — that hasn’t been addressed
How we discovered and deeply understood this pain
Building Parsnip to be the product these users needed
Want to see where this goes? Follow along as we build Parsnip in public!
Do beginners actually care about learning to cook?
Previously, we’ve pointed to this Google Trends graphas evidence of the growing demand for learning to cook. A valid critique of this data is that it doesn’t indicate a potentially reachable market, only general curiosity — and that this falls prey to the "myth of large TAM". So let’s separate the general wave we're riding from the immediate learning need of beginner cooks that Parsnip is meeting, which also becomes our wedge into the broader market.
To state the obvious, it’s unintuitive to be launching a cooking product targeted at beginner cooks. They have a higher activation hurdle than people who are already cooking, so the product would be harder to adopt. So while our mission has always been to help as many people cook as possible, teaching beginners wasn’t our initial idea: we first explored the idea of AI-assisted meal planning, then annotated, learn-as-you-go recipes. I now believe those approaches both have poor leverage as an early-stage product.
But, after getting clues from other founders who had built in this space, and diving deeply into this market, we became convinced that learning to cook was a burgeoning yet unmet need. And the pain of our potential users is in plain sight: they cry for help all over the Internet! We’ve interviewed and spoken with many of them, but here you can see in their own words the complaints of 100 people who have a burning desire to learn to cook. A short sampling:
A clue for how to meet this burning need
But, these complaints evidence just a problem and a need—not a solution for it. The most incredible hint we discovered for a solution actually occurred by chance, when we happened upon this thread on Reddit, the first time someone asked: "is there something like Duolingo, but for cooking"?
The most upvoted comment here triggered a really unusual response, and changed our mind about how to enter this market. As opposed to the usual suggestions and banter, the Redditors of r/cookingforbeginners realized this was both a product that didn't exist, but also one they wanted so badly they were actually going to build it. Over 35 people volunteered to pitch in, and dozens more eagerly awaited the result:
This impromptu band of Redditors created a Discord, a Slack channel, a Trello, and many Google Docs. They had numerous zoom meetings, interviewed each other as well as others on the Internet, and produced mountains of research. There were "Lord of the Rings vibes” about how this could benefit the world:
Sadly for this noble quest, the motivational mojo of 35 strangers on the internet was no match for the daunting task of starting a venture from scratch, and after a few months the group perished in the fires of Mount Doom. But they did leave behind an incredible legacy of market validation for a product that taught beginners how to cook, by interviewing dozens of people and each grappling personally with the problem themselves. 78% of the potential users they surveyed all had the same issue: I don’t know where to start.
The most common way for a startup to fail is to create a product that no one cares about. The best way to avoid this is to build for an existing community that has a burning need. Moreover, the problem of beginner cooks trying to learn is both underserved and underappreciated: a common refrain we hear is that people who aren’t cooking must just be too busy, or too lazy, or there’s some other problem with them. What if the problem is that no one teaches us how to cook anymore?
Parsnip as the solution to this problem
Digging into the examples above, you can see that a common thread topic on r/cookingforbeginners is "Help! I need to learn to cook". And others’ replies generally fall into one of 3 categories:
go watch a bunch of YouTube videos (but be careful who you listen to, many people are noobs)
go buy X, Y, Z cookbooks and read all of them
go apprentice in a kitchen, or learn from your parents
We've seen these suggestions repeated time and time again, and they aren’t effective solutions to that problem. But check out this thread from last week, when we mentioned Parsnip in the list of solutions:
Every few days, someone will make a post complaining about how hard it is to learn cooking. But this time, we actually had the product that they needed. And so this latest thread is different than all the others, because it has closed the loop from the opportunity we saw in the market to the product we built to meet it—Parsnip.
One of the most powerful ideas in Parsnip is the tech tree of cooking skills, which solves the problem of “you can’t search for what you don’t know” and gives beginner cooks a place to start!
In summary, our journey here started from following a general trend, to identifying a specific burning need as a wedge, to building a product to meet that need. Let us know what you think?
Or if you liked this post, you can share it with a friend:
See detailed stats for r/cookingforbeginnners. You can see a serious inflection point in March 2022. This is also when CPI (inflation) started hitting record highs. We’ve argued that demand for learning to cook will skyrocket in a recession/inflationary macroeconomic environment, and this is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for that.
An interesting analysis of this data is to example the query by state. US states with the highest search prevalence are Vermont, Maine, Wyoming, New Hampshire, and Montana. The query is about 60% as popular in California, New Jersey, Virginia, New York, and DC, regions with the lowest prevalence. The most likely explanation is that demand for learning to cook is significantly higher outside of cities.
You can still try these out in a previous iteration of Parsnip!
Eventually two core members of this group, Rachel and Ben, found their way to Parsnip. A happy ending!