Alice Cheng , Founder of Culinary Agents

I discovered the need for Culinary Agents when…

I worked in service for many years when I was younger and loved it. Over the years, I kept in touch and gravitated to friends who worked in the food, beverage and hospitality industry, wherever my day job took me. I watched and helped technology evolve over the years to better other industries.

When my industry friends looked to me as the best resource to find a job or for career advice I was surprised to find that there weren’t any tools effectively addressing challenges around job and talent discovery.

Talented people with impressive resumes were looking to friends and using low functional tools to help them find career opportunities. Chefs and General Managers from award winning restaurants were posting on sites, only to spend pre/post shift and days off sifting through hundreds of email submissions.

The need for an efficient and effective way to find the best jobs and the best people was apparent to me. But it wasn’t just about jobs, it was about career development, mentorship and professionalism. It was about leveling the playing field for the talent regardless of where they were and how much education they had. It was about providing a scalable tool to help cooks, bartenders, bussers, sommeliers, baristas and porters connect with businesses and with each other.

How my experience at IBM prepared me for launching Culinary Agents…

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and hoped to one day run my own business. When I joined IBM, it was unintentional. A mailroom job to pay for rent and education quickly turned into full-time role, placing me in meetings that were defining the future of media as we know it today. Working with early stage startups in Silicon Valley and helping them solve industry problems in new and unexpected ways was when I first got the bug to branch out on my own.

Throughout my 13 year tenure, I made sure that every position I took helped me build on a different skill set. My time at IBM allowed me to work and travel extensively around the world and it showed me the ins and outs of how to design, architect and implement solutions with thousands of experienced and talented resources to learn from.

I’m a builder and fixer. I like to know how things work. IBM helped me learn how a lot of things work!

My biggest lesson learned in our first year of operations…

Appreciate good intentions but don’t rely on them.

Skills that I gained by working in food service and retail 10+ years ago…

Customer Service, the ability to anticipate needs, multi-tasking and patience. I’m still working on the patience piece.

Top 3 resources for entrepreneurs looking to fundraise…

  1. Blogs. Many professional investors have started sharing their advice publically. Very useful especially if you find yourself pitching to one of them
  2. Your network! Warm introductions work much better than cold calls.
  3. Select events where you know investors will be in attendance.

How we developed our initial fundraising strategy…

I was a single, non-technical founder with 13 years of corporate IBM experience under my belt. My initial fundraising strategy was to talk with anyone who would talk with me.

Also, I took as many meetings and warm introductions as I could get while simultaneously growing the business and hitting meaningful milestones. This led to funding and the ability to recruit amazing co-founders and the beginning of what continues to be the absolute best team.

And my tip is that if you’re raising venture for the first time, don’t discount non-partners who are willing to help. I learned a lot from associates and principals during my fundraising endeavors. Some are now partners and potential future investors.

Tactics we used to convince investors that there was a need for Culinary Agents…

Regular follow-ups that indicated a clear market need and adoption backed by consistent user growth, revenue growth and customer references.

How we secured reputable clients early on…

We cherished warm introductions, listened intently, responded as quickly as possible, and earned trust.

My best advice for keeping users engaged and returning back to your website…

Be genuine, thoughtful and useful. Put the user experience first and create unique value from every angle.

How Culinary Agents collects and implements feedback from our users…

We take feedback very seriously and collect it from every direction. There are the obvious channels, directly from CulinaryAgents.com and all the various social media sites, and then the not so obvious, visiting chefs and managers onsite at their convenience. I was (and still am) adamant that our site is built for the industry to support their unique challenges. From the very beginning, I let user requirements drive the site design and functions.

The biggest challenges we have encountered from expanding internationally…

Localization is difficult. Adapting to the needs of multiple cultures and languages and complying with different rules and regulations is difficult even for established companies.

We are addressing these challenges by…

Making sure the right partners are in place and that we get the right team members on board to support our global community.

Top 3 things to consider when developing a growth strategy…

  1. Vision, milestones and key performance indicators.
  2. Money in the bank, money coming in and burn.
  3. Audience behavior and feedback.

What I’ve learned about hiring a great team…

Hiring a great team is crucial to building a business and is one of the most important aspects of my job. It can make or break you. Great teams inspire each other and delight customers.

A typical day at Culinary Agents consists of…

Organized chaos!

Top tips for developing strategic partnerships…

Look for a win / win situation. Setting expectations up front is critical, and periodic check-ins after the fact to ensure you adapt to changes is important.

How Culinary Agents has evolved since launching…

Our vision and mission to be a global professional networking and job matching website dedicated to the food, beverage and hospitality community hasn’t changed. Our team and product has evolved to adapt to our user needs.

An entrepreneur I would want to have dinner with and why…

Reid Hoffman because I have a deep respect and admiration for him and what he has built.

What’s next for Culinary Agents…

Continue supporting career development and mentorship for talent, and streamlining business operations around talent sourcing for businesses.