If you thought sourdough mania ended when the pandemic wound down, it’s worth scanning social media to realize nothing is further from the truth. The groups and rosters of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram overflow with topics as diverse as “Sourdough Starters – Sourdough Support Group,” “Sourdough Geeks,” and “Sourdough Bread Bakers India.”
Sourdough is about community; no one knows that better than Fred Benenson, the man behind Breadwinner, a sensor-driven tool that helps home bakers manage their sourdough starters. Breadwinner, a high-tech jar lid, launches its crowdfunding campaign today, hoping to hit $35,000 in pledges. This new entry to the crowd-funding arena is a data drive device that uses battery-powered sensors to measure a starter’s height and temperature; Breadwinner and its companion app seamlessly sync with the cloud to record the starter’s behavior over 36 hours. The crowdfunding campaign even includes an option for an add-on where Benenson and company will send you Benenson’s own Breadberry starter.
Once your starter hits its peak fermentation, Breadwinner lets you know it’s time to start making your dough and gives you a precise measurement of how long it took (e.g., “Your starter took 9 hours and 32 minutes to reach its peak.”)
Benenson’s interest in sourdough blossomed when he happened upon a cooking class where the guy teaching it “has a Ph.D. in yeast biology.” It became a learning experience for the tech veteran starting around 2010 when his journey began into the finer aspects of working with a starter. After immersing himself in his work at Kickstarter, Benenson took a break around 2018 and 2019 and dug into the social media sourdough world. Tickled when he learned that people named their starter cultures, Benenson was ready to make an impact in the space.
“It was really a little bit of a mystery when it behaved well and when it didn’t,” Benenson told The Spoon in a recent interview. “I knew if I kept on it, (the starter) would get into shape.” Deploying his refined data skills, he made a spreadsheet to help him track his starter’s behavior and learn its optimal time for baking.
Success with an early prototype of Breadwinner led to some positive feedback which encouraged Benenson to enlist the help of some hardware experts and build the product he brings to market on Kickstarter.
“I thought, okay, if I could make (the initial version) work, and people would spend $150 on it, there’s a market here,” Benenson said. “I thought I would sell a dozen, which would’ve been a successful beta. But we ended up selling three or four dozen of them, got some nice writeups, and got on people’s radar. And I was like, oh, okay. This is, there’s enough of a market for me to take it to the next phase.”
While other products manage or facilitate manipulation of sourdough starters, Benenson knew building a community around his Breadwinner would give it an edge. The role of community with Breadwinner is for users to share recipes, provide each other tips and tricks, and even if need be, offer tech support.
“There’s a couple of reasons I’ve decided to start with a community,” he explained. “First is it’s kind of just my intuition, and I spent a lot of time in that kind of open source and Wikipedia and Creative Commons world before I worked at Kickstarter. And when I worked at Kickstarter, I think one of the defining features of running Kickstarter projects was that you get a really great community at the end of it. And those people follow you, and if you treat them well and you’re honest and straightforward with them, they’re fans for life.”
You can check out the Breadwinner crowdfunding campaign here.