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Cooklist App Helps Customers Solve the Age-Old Problem of “What’s For Dinner?”

Serial entrepreneurs Brandon Warman and Daniel Vitiello have known each other since high school, and they’ve come a long way since then. As is the case with many entrepreneurs we chat with, their entrepreneurial journeys began early on with their own small business ventures, such as mowing lawns and working construction jobs.

The duo spent many of their formative years together building and tinkering, which would set the stage for much bigger collaborations down the road. After high school, they went their separate ways to pursue degrees at different colleges, though both remaining in Texas. Post-college they reunited in Santa Barbara, working on a B2B consulting business together. The pair eventually returned to the Dallas area, living in a house near SMU and renting rooms out on AirBnB to make some money and help fund their business ventures.

Daniel Vitiello (Left) and Brandon Warman (right) have been friends and business partners for years. (Courtesy of Cooklist)

The first business they built together was Handground, which was inspired by their love of coffee and their frustration with the coffee grinders available on the market at the time. In pursuit of the perfect cup of joe, Brandon and and Daniel realized that coffee grinders pretty much fell into two camps: cheap and inefficient, or overly pricey and still not quite the grind quality they desired. They wanted to purchase something that was both more affordable but provided a higher quality grind, but it didn’t exist–so they decided to solve this problem for themselves.

Handground coffee grinder. (handground.com)

In October of 2014 they began creating the actual concept, and a design competition (with 187 submissions from designers around the world) and a $300,000 kickstarter later, they were well on their way to a full blown product and company. It took them about a year to fully develop the product, but it was through this first project that they learned the value of community collaboration and the role it would play for them in their approach to business. Overall, the pair relied heavily on feedback from the community and potential consumers to shape the design and product itself. This would result in the success that made Handground a profitable venture, enough so to help them launch their next venture, Cooklist.

The inspiration behind Cooklist came from a discussion on the market and monetization of personal data, and most specifically Daniel’s attempt to get his family’s purchase history from a Safeway grocery store. Though their original idea as a team was somewhere more in the realm of creating a smart oven that could look at your pantry and tell you what to cook, they realized the application itself is what would provide value to consumers. When Daniel had originally requested the grocery store records he had received paper copies, but as they looked back into this idea many stores were now going digital with the data in their loyalty programs. So the two decided to partner up again on this idea (Brandon handling the business side, Daniel the technical side) and began building the MVP that is now Cooklist–a full blown application that consumers can use to track their grocery purchases in a digital pantry and receive suggestions on what to cook based on what items they have available.

Beyond that, the app can tell you when items will expire to help prevent food waste. There is little effort on the users’ part to make this happen, as Cooklist currently connects to 70% of the 81 grocery stores nationwide, pulling in purchase records from the stores’ loyalty programs. This means whenever you haul your groceries home, if you’re connected in the app to one of these stores, your items will automatically populate in your Cooklist pantry. If you purchase any groceries outside of this network, say at a Trader Joe’s (which doesn’t currently have a loyalty program), you can scan your items individually to load them into your pantry instead. With these items loaded, the app can then pull from its database of 1.3 million recipes to help suggest what you might be able to cook using these items–solving the age-old problem of what’s for dinner tonight.

Cooklist application overview from the app store. (Courtesy of Cooklist)

Brandon and Daniel began workshopping their idea for Cooklist last September by creating an MVP web application and onboarding 100 beta users to test it out. Receiving great feedback from their users, they officially launched the company in January of 2018. The mobile app was well underway in January, with the beta version ready by April. As they moved forward with the design and build of the application itself, and following the success of the design competition they hosted for their coffee grinder, the team decided to host another one for the UI of the Cooklist app as well. Inviting UI/UX designers from around the world, a winner was selected from 387 designs submitted by 143 freelance designers. Like before, they encouraged their community to vote on the winning design. The winner designer was Rodrigo Leles from Brazil, who they ended up hiring to join their team full time.

As of two weeks ago, they’ve now launched the app for free for both iOS and Android in the app store. Their mission is to help people eat intelligently by combining the intelligence of a personal chef, a personal shopper and a personal nutritionist into a service that anticipates people’s needs and helps them reach their dietary and monetary goals. To date, they’ve raised a pre-seed round in the amount of $250,000. They’re also the first startup from North Texas to be accepted into Techstars, a global seed accelerator. This will help provide them with a number of resources, among which include funding and mentorship. They hope it will help them get the resources they need to move the product into its second phase, where users can begin with a recipe that they want to cook and create the shopping list based on what’s already in your pantry. So far their participation in Techstars has helped put them in front of retailers like Target, with whom they’d hope to partner with on ordering and delivering groceries.

When asked for his advice to other startups or anyone considering starting one, Brandon recommended not quitting your day job before you begin. “If you’re really passionate about it, you’ll be willing to put in the time,” he said. Test your idea first, and it’ll let you know if you have what it takes to execute and make it happen. He also recommended talking to someone who’s not only done this before, but talk to someone who’s failed so that you know both sides of the coin.

If you’re interested in downloading the app and joining the waitlist, you can find it on both Google Play and the App Store. And if you’re a software engineer looking to join their team, Cooklist is hiring.