If you’re like me, you’ve watched some of your favorite food creators and chefs on Instagram or Twitter offer up cooking classes in recent months as a way to connect with followers and monetize during the pandemic.
In practical terms, what this usually means is an otherwise busy chef selling tickets through an event platform like Eventbrite, scheduling the class through emails, and then dialing into a Zoom or Google Hangout.
All of this works ok and it much easier than it would have been just a couple of years ago, but Taylor Dawson thought there was maybe a better way for culinary creators to share their skills online than through a patchwork of disparate platforms.
Which is why he and an internal team at GE created Chibo, a turnkey social cooking platform that includes scheduling, ticketing, online video streaming and all the other things a chef would need to offer cooking classes online to their community.
According to Dawson, he and his team first started working on the idea in early 2019, they just built a simple website using Wix and stitched together all these pieces themselves. “When we first built this, we basically cobbled all those things together for people, and then filled it in with some guy who sent out emails for you as a way of testing it out,” said Dawson.
The idea was to build a service that would eventually resemble something akin to a Peleton for cooking, but they first had to see what cooks wanted in a platform. After a few months, Dawson and his team saw “hosts didn’t want to handle any of that. So we built it into the platform that you currently see with Chibo.”
Before Chibo, Dawson had just spent a couple years building another product for GE called Giddy, a site that invited people to crowdsource new ideas for products. While Giddy never got the kind of traction they envisioned and the company eventually wound down the effort, Dawson and his team learned a lot about social communities online.
“When we were working on Giddy, I was all about community building, and especially really motivated by this idea that social media is a passive practice,” said Dawson. “We wanted to create community around getting people active and doing interesting things and sharing the same things that they’re really doing as opposed to sitting around and scrolling through social media feeds.”
Of course, nowadays there is no shortage of online cooking classes, ranging from those cobbled together Zoom calls all the way up to Masterclass’s with the world’s best chefs. There are also a number other platforms that have gone from in-person to online cooking classes, and even some who have opportunistically pivoted towards cooking from a completely different online focus.
But according to Dawson, his team’s research found these platforms were not tailored towards the specific needs of a culinary creator who wants to offer a high quality, interactive cooking experience.
One of the very basic things they added is the ability to support a number of cameras.
“None of those platforms allow you to have multiple angles that cameras,” said Dawson. “So we built in a feature that allows people to wirelessly connect the camera to their laptop, and then you can just switch views by hitting the number keys.” Chibo supports up to five camera angles according to Dawson.
They also found that trying to manage the technical aspect while also offering live cooking classes is tough for many chefs.
“People are not very good at managing their microphones, and that can be super distracting,” said Dawson. “So we created a microphone cueing feature that notifies the chef or the host when someone has a question, gives them a really clear ‘this is the person that has the question’. And then when that person gets done asking the question, just pushes the next person at the top of the queue.”
Dawson said they also wanted to make a platform that would allow chefs to make money more easily than with a roll-your-own solution, which meant also allowing them to serve more students at once.
“We figured out pretty early on that the available platforms would allow you to get to 10 or 20 people participating alone, but that wasn’t going to be enough to make a platform valuable enough for a host to want to run classrooms. So we had to start adding features that made it possible for them to get to 50 or 100 people joining an event.”
Dawson said that their cooks can make anywhere from $500 to $2000 per live event, and that many are also selling their video library of pre-recorded cooking sessions.
Despite progress, the Chibo team is still moving fairly slowly, hoping to get 50 hosts by the end of the year, and they are focusing specifically on online influencers who, unlike the celebrity chefs who can make money through TV shows and selling cookbooks, are still hustling to make a living.
That means “anyone who has an audience of, say 10,000 to 150,000 people,” said Dawson. “When you’re in that spot, you’re in the spot where you’re still grinding hard to get to the point where you most people want to be, which is ‘I want to quit my day job and I want to do this full time’.”
All this makes sense, but I still wasn’t sure why GE, a company that makes money selling appliances, is building an online cooking community. According to Dawson, that’s usually the first question they get when they reach out to new cooking hosts.
“When we present ourselves to the new a new host, they ask, ‘well, do I have to have GE appliances in my home?’ And the answer is no. This isn’t about that.”
“GE has shown over the past five or six years and ability to create separate spaces that allow for the growth of something where we don’t instantly understand how we’re going to monetize it,” said Dawson.
I also wondered whether Chibo could serve as a content platform for content for their Kitchen Hub, the kitchen TV screen they company recently added to a microwave oven. The answer is yes.
“There is a clear path toward making this a good fit with the Kitchen Hub,” said Dawson. ” And I think there’s also a fit with our brands, in many different ways of thinking the next few months you’ll see us doing some stuff that’s supported by the Profile and Café or Monogram brand.”
If you are a chef and want to apply to teach classes using Chibo, you can fill out an application here.