November 13, 2018

Social-dining app serves up startup lessons

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
(L-r): Homecooked founders Eric Duong, Hojung Kim, Kevin Zheng and Gabe Oviawe.
Photo | Contributed
Scene at a dinner arranged with the Homecooked social dining app.

Eager to meet new people over dinner — at your home? A team of young entrepreneurs have designed an app, called Homecooked, to help make that happen. And in the process of cooking up the app, its designers have learned vital startup lessons.

Using Homecooked, a host can organize a dinner based on shared interests, inviting groups of six or eight people to share the meal and chat. In its initial incarnation, the app helped make 26 dinners happen with 15 different cooks and more than 130 guests.

Using feedback from the app's initial launch in July, the Homecooked team re-launched last month and hopes to refine functionality and expand their impact across the East Coast and Midwest, said CEO Hojung Kim. Kim designed the app with friends Gabe Oviawe, Kevin Zheng and Eric Duong. Operations are based in Missouri, with Zheng and Duong, both Yale students, working on the app in New Haven.

The team focused on the Homecooked app after learning important lessons on entrepreneurship from a student project developing a wind-turbine kit to be used for cheap renewable electricity in rural Indian villages. Kim spent six months in India conducting market research but the project encountered significant obstacles in terms of efficiency and portability.

"We learned the importance of talking to users/customers, communicating our vision, and the basics of business development," Kim said.

The social-dining app took about ten months to develop and took off after CTO Eric Duong joined the team. Subsequent improvements have been made as customer feedback trickles in.

Development funding for Homecooked has come from Yale, the University of Chicago, the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, and 1ST50K, a Missouri-based startup competition. Students in the Midwest, Kim and Oviawe manage operations from Missouri, while Zheng and Duong work on the project from their New Haven base.

"It's an ongoing process. We're in different stages of taking time off from school, but trying to balance with academic life has been a challenge and learning process," Kim said.

The main lesson the men have learned so far in the development process is the importance of collaboration, Kim said.

"Probably the most important thing is to realize how we work together as a team. We often have vastly varying opinions and approaches to different ideas about how to run Homecooked, from small pivots to major strategic decisions. We treasure the diversity in our life experiences and skill sets to innovate together," Kim said.

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