I’m often asked, “what makes entrepreneurs different?” One factor is the ability to look at something and see the opportunity others often overlook.
That’s what sets Maddie Purcell, the founder of Portland, Maine-based Fyood Kitchen, apart. Like millions of Americans, Purcell was a big fan of Chopped, a mainstay on the Food Network. Chopped is a cooking competition show where contestants are given baskets of mystery ingredients and need to create a delicious dish on the spot.
Purcell loved Chopped so much she played at home with her best friend. But, unlike millions of Americans, Purcell took that obsession and turned it into a business. Fyood Kitchen, launched in 2016, brings the Chopped experience to the masses. Fyood, Purcell says, “puts on outrageously fun, amateur, social cooking competitions.”
Rieva Lesonsky: What inspired you to start a business based on Chopped?
Maddie Purcell: I was stuck in an unfulfilling job and realized I wanted to run my own company. I made lists of potential problems I could solve looking for the right fit. I worked on another startup idea for six months. Then I took part in an informal Chopped-style competition in a friend’s professional kitchen and it was the most fun night I’d ever had. I knew I would pay to do that regularly and wanted to give people the opportunity to have this experience.
Lesonsky: How did you get started?
Purcell: I didn’t know how to start so I decided to host several cooking competitions in my apartment between friends to figure out some details, such as should there be judging? Could amateurs tackle real mystery baskets? What did a stocked pantry really need to include for maximum creativity?
I launched Fyood with a crowdfunding campaign which is a real rollercoaster of momentum swings. But, we surpassed my financial target, while creating a group of staunch supporters and generating marketing opportunities that proved crucial to our early success.
Lesonsky: How does Fyood work?
Purcell: Fyood’s competitions, which take about three hours, take place in a professional kitchen. We offer the ideal cooking experience—no rules, no chores, and tons of imagination. Each team gets a basket of mystery ingredients with four “must-use” foods and access to a fully stocked pantry. They have to create dishes (one sweet, one savory) without instructions or recipes.
Lesonsky: And how do people react?
Purcell: Over 90 percent of cooks make something they'd never attempted before, permanently expanding their culinary comfort zone.
But Fyood isn’t just a cooking competition. We’re a connection company that happens to be in a professional kitchen and includes a delicious meal. In our increasingly digital age, people are searching for a social experience that fully immerses them in the present and creates lasting memories. Fyood produces uniquely engaging events designed for collaboration, creativity and laughter.
Lesonsky: What were some lessons you learned as you built Fyood?
Purcell: I worked with several mentors in SCORE’s Portland office. They taught me to sell and helped me become more comfortable understanding the worth of our services rather than underselling myself or feeling guilty. And they helped me make connections I wouldn’t be able to access on my own.
Lesonsky: How is Fyood doing? What are your future plans?
Purcell: We’re growing. Fyood recently pivoted from regularly scheduled open events to focus on the demand for private group events, especially teambuilding, birthday and wedding parties.
Over the next year we're planning to triple our number of monthly events, hiring three additional team members, including an event manager, along the way. In preparation for this growth, we're currently focused on optimizing our existing systems as well as testing new marketing campaigns to make sure the folks who would have the most fun at Fyood are able to find us when they want to throw a creative cooking party.
Lesonsky: What are you most proud of?
Purcell: Several things. Our mystery baskets provide an innovative platform for ingredient producers (salsa, kombucha, veggies, sauces, chocolate, etc.) and consumers to meet each other, enabling us to promote our amazing local food ecosystem.
I’m proud we can give customers an incredible connection and creative opportunity—empowering and inspiring them and give my team the opportunity to create something awesome and do something that feels great for them.
And seeing folks come in unsure of their abilities to cook without a recipe and leave feeling like they’re conquered the experience is pretty magical.
Hear more small business owners tell their stories on the Bank of America Small Business Podcast.
About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
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