Cadence Hardenbergh is Co-Founder & SVP of Operations of SideChef, a step-by-step cooking app, and kitchen tech company. Under her leadership of the product team, SideChef was named “Favorite cooking app” of the New York Times in 2016 and was selected as one of the 36 best apps of 2017 by Google. She has spoken at Disney about female entrepreneurship and recently organized and moderated a series of food talks discussing the future of home cooking, food photography, and sustainability in the food industry.
Born in Boston, MA, Cadence grew up eating clam chowder and apple cider donuts before studying International Relations and Chinese Language at Williams College. She attended grad school at Johns Hopkins SAIS at the Nanjing campus. Pursuing a career at the intersection of food and technology, she is passionate about leveraging technology to make it easier and more fun to cook and ultimately improving people’s lives.
What is your business, and what do you do?
SideChef is the all-in-one home cooking platform that provides over 18,000 smart recipes with dynamic recipe guidance: featuring hands-free voice commands, step-by-step photos, how-to videos, built-in timers, and over 10,000 one-click shoppable recipes for the ultimate home cooking experience.
SideChef partners with the world’s largest retailers, publishers, home-hubs, consumer brands, and kitchen appliance companies to offer home cooks a seamless cooking journey, enabling digital meal planning, grocery delivery, and smart kitchen connectivity.
What sparked your vision to launch your business?
I didn’t grow up in a household that loved to cook. I thought people who made their salad dressing were pretty over the top because it must be so hard. I became more interested in cooking and our food system in college and started reading step-by-step food blogs. Seeing all of those visuals, I realized, you know, this doesn’t look so hard. I could do that! (So thank you, Deb Pearlman, of Smitten Kitchen, the OG food blogger, for teaching me how to cook!) I started cooking and found that it was fun, delicious, and overall low stakes. If a dish didn’t turn out well, it was no problem; I would try again. Over time I mastered the basics and gained the confidence to try more and more dishes. I could see how if everyone cooked just a little bit more, we would be healthier, and our healthcare system and spending would also improve.
Just think about what it would do for families sitting down to have dinner together or kids enjoying a nutritious breakfast before school. How would that change our education system? It would impact the environment and our use of (and conflict over!) natural resources. I could go on and on, but the food system is fundamental. It informs how we live, connect with others, how our society is and equitable, and who can access which resources. I wanted to give people that experience that I had and teach them the basics to feel confident and empowered in the kitchen. After you get over that hump, you are unstoppable.
I met my co-founder Kevin Yu, who was already working with a few engineers out of his apartment on a step-by-step cooking app. He comes from the video game industry, and I loved the approach of taking the learnings from video games. Specifically, about how to welcome and engage people in a digital experience and apply those lessons to cooking. How do we make cooking a shiny, fun experience instead of a chore you are “supposed” to do? And tech allows you to reach so many people worldwide, often for free (vs., say, a cooking class). I loved that. Our platform, SideChef, has touched many millions of people around the world using existing tech infrastructure. I saw what Kevin was doing and believed in it, so I joined him.
What has been your favorite failure, and what did you learn?
We first tried to launch recipe-based grocery shopping about five years ago. You would find a recipe you like, and then click a button and order all of the ingredients you need! But back then, we couldn’t find a fulfillment partner that was ready on the tech side. We couldn’t do a real platform integration and instead came up with some novel, low-tech solutions. We believed that we could get around that obstacle with brute manual work and enthusiasm. But, as we went into beta testing with real customers, we had to pull the plug on the program entirely. We learned that sometimes you could have a great vision and a great idea, but it’s just too early. Timing the market is critical, you don’t want to be too early, but you also don’t want to be too late. After a few years of hanging back and allowing things to develop, we have launched that one-click ordering experience with Amazon Fresh and Walmart.
What was your most memorable day of your career, and why?
Probably launch day of our Kickstarter campaign for CHiP, a connected cookie oven. We wanted to create a beautiful integration of software and hardware in a kitchen appliance, so we developed one ourselves. It was a small countertop oven specifically designed to bake the perfect cookie in under ten minutes. We loved the product, but you never quite know how successful it will be until you put it out in the world. We had studied and learned many strategies when it came to Kickstarter, and the first 24 hours were the most important. So, we put people on 24-hour shifts so they could answer any questions and thank backers immediately. We were so excited about our feature on the homepage. We got tons of press and attention. Good Morning America even called us asking for the exclusive demo of the product when it was ready! The team worked so hard and so well together, and it was fantastic to see the concept resonate with all those people.
How do you continue to learn so you stay ahead in your industry?
I try to keep a learning and growth mindset to seize any opportunities that pop up, whether they are small or big ones. I’m often tackling new projects or new business areas to test out, which is excellent for learning the latest approaches and trends. I start reading articles online and save anything I can find. And then find connections within my network who are willing to get on a 15-30 minutes call to share insights and answer questions- these are invaluable. Suppose we find someone powerful at another company. In that case, we might ask them to talk to our employees about their career development. This is an excellent way to both glean more insights and strengthen relationships.
How do you manage stress from running a successful business?
Number one is having a great team and support network. I am lucky to work with people that I can depend on. We can share the burden (and excitement!) of responsibility. I also keep a long-term perspective and consider how much I’ve grown and will continue to grow. I know I look back at things that stressed me out five years ago, and they wouldn’t phase me now. I try to remember it’ll be the same in another five years and focus on solving today’s challenges without adding in a lot of stress or fear.
What is some bad advice you hear in your industry or entrepreneurship that people should avoid?
Somehow there is still this magic notion that you come up with an idea, work with test consumers to iterate a few times, achieve product-market fit, and scale. People think it will be this nice, linear, well-thought out path. And anything less than that means your product or team won’t succeed. It all sounds nice in theory, but life, and people, are so much more complicated than that. And if you look at Airbnb and Netflix, it took a long time to make the business successful, through pivots and changes. So, if you are diving into something, be prepared for a long, hard road. Think through how you will finance this project, team, and your life. What about when it doesn’t take off after three months? Think about those scenarios because things will take longer and be more challenging than you imagine.
Where can readers find you on social media?
Find @SideChef on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. You can find me on LinkedIn or my Instagram @plusatesix.