As Eating Season — otherwise known as the holidays — rapidly approaches, it seems only fitting that our next #50startups incorporate both food and technology. Lisa and Jim Sipe created the FoodFu cooking competition app after playing their own version of Chopped with their family over Christmas. The app launched in August and now the Sipes are focused on expanding the FoodFu brand with new cocktail and plating apps.

StartupBend recently caught up with the pair to learn more about their experience in tech, why they decided to leave their previous jobs to pursue FoodFu, and the secret to successfully starting a business with your spouse.

Startup: Binary Star Systems, creators of FoodFu and FoodFu Cocktails
Founded: 2015
Founders: Jim and Lisa Sipe
Employees: 2
Headquarters: Bend

How do you describe FoodFu?

Jim: It’s an app that facilitates a cooking competition (like Chopped or Top Chef) in your own home.
Lisa: It guides you through the competition. You need four players, two to be chefs and two to judge and moderate. After choosing an ingredient, you have 45 minutes to prepare a dish. During that time the app will give the moderator questions to ask the chefs. The judges taste the dishes and the app tallies the scores and announces the winner.

How did you come up with it?

Lisa: We were at a family gathering over the holidays and we made and played our own version of Chopped. We had so much fun that we were still talking about it a few weeks later. We realized that we could create an app that could facilitate the same experience for others.

Lisa and Jim Sipe, creators of FoodFu and co-founders of Binary Star Systems.
Lisa and Jim Sipe, creators of FoodFu and co-founders of Binary Star Systems.

What prompted you to transform that game into a company?
Lisa: We were both working for a software startup. I was the vice president of marketing and Jim was the vp of software development. We helped grow the company from a mom-and-pop business to raising $2.5 million. We were getting more involved and then we took a two week vacation to Italy. We realized it was the first time we weren’t stressed. We wanted to get back to a place where we were in control of our situation and could chart our own path. At that point, we were still talking about our idea for FoodFu. It kind of felt like it was now or never.

Why do you think an app works as the format for FoodFu?
Jim: My background and core experience is in web development, so an app is halfway there. It makes it easy to change and improve, and also provides ways to continuously monetize the product. We really want to use apps to facilitate social interaction — instead of everyone staring at their phones and Facebook. So that social aspect is a lot easier with an app. We can bring people together using the technology and when it works, the technology fades into the background. It’s more about the experience.

FoodFu app in action.
FoodFu app in action.

Are there any similar cooking competition apps out there?
Lisa: Not really. Top Chef has its own game you can play from their website. But there aren’t really any cooking games. People haven’t gotten there yet, but we think there’s a large market for it, considering how many people love cooking.

Jim: We’re still waiting for more detailed user stats, but we’re already seeing individuals who use our app daily. We think they’re probably teens or tweens. And we’re growing our user base by 20% to 25% each week.

FoodFu is free. How do you plan to monetize it?
Jim: We always want to keep the apps free. But we’re trying to come up with a different way to use in-app purchases and advertising. We’d like to give advertisers a chance to educate FoodFu players about something food- or cooking-related, make it useful and have them be present throughout the game. We’d like to work with fewer advertisers, but offer them something really unique.

And now you’re creating FoodFu Cocktails and FoodFu Plating?
Lisa: We want to have something for everyone. The cocktails app will be similar to FoodFu, but with beverages — and you’d need to be 21. The plating app will be for individuals, giving them the chance to show others their beautiful plates.

Battle Asparagus.
Battle Asparagus.

Are you raising money?
Jim: Not at the moment. We’re bootstrapped right now and still serving consulting clients with our firm, Binary Star Systems, while we’re building FoodFu. We’d like to fund ourselves for as long as possible.

Finally, you two have worked together for 15 years. What’s the secret to your collaboration?
Jim: We work together really well, but we also both appreciate each other’s need for personal space. We both take time away from the house to work or spend time with family.
Lisa:  We both know that we need the other’s skills. I need Jim to build the app, but he needs me to make it look good.

Kelly Kearsley

Kelly Kearsley, the co-founder of StartupBend.com, is passionate about startups, entrepreneurship and Bend. In addition to writing this blog, she creates content and manages content projects for global financial companies, tech firms and startups. She began her career as a newspaper journalist and later worked as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in WSJ.com, Money Magazine, CNNMoney, MSNBC and Runner's World. See her work at kellykearsley.contently.com or kellykearsley.com.

You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].
Kelly Kearsley