Exclusive: Kitchensurfing raises $15 million for private chef marketplace
FORTUNE — Kitchensurfing has raised $15 million in a Series B round of funding led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from prior investors Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital. The round brings Kitchensurfing’s total funding to $19.5 million. The company would not comment on valuation, but a source familiar with the round said it was at least $40 million.
Kitchensurfing launched quietly in New York one year ago as a marketplace for private chefs. Both professional and amateur cooks can join the platform and offer their services for in-home meals. Since then, thousands of chefs have joined, and more than 100,000 people have experienced a Kitchensurfing meal, according to CEO and founder Chris Muscarella. The company has expanded its offerings from New York to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Berlin, and expanded its team to 25 employees.
Kitchensurfing’s momentum attracted new capital from Tiger Global Management. The New York-based investment firm is extremely private, and as a startup investor, it is known for writing large checks for late-stage companies. The firm has invested in early-stage companies a few other times, including Warby Parker, Freshdesk and Flipkart.
Kitchensurfing owes its momentum a few big trends: For one, food-related tech startups are extremely hot with investors. In 2013, VC’s poured more than $2.8 billion into food-tech startups, according to Rosenheim Advisors, a firm which tracks this sector (and publishes an elaborate, comprehensive logo landscape of all the startups). Venture-backed companies like Blue Apron, Plated and HelloFresh offer cook-at-home meal kits, while others, like Relay Foods, Boxed, Abe’s Market and Instacart offer online grocery ordering. Alongside Kitchensurfing, Kitchit, Feastly and CookApp in Argentina also connect private chefs with dinner party hosts. Meanwhile, Grubhub Seamless has filed to raised $100 million in an IPO after processing more than $1.3 billion in gross food sales last year.
Food is trending with venture investors because it has barely been touched by technology until now. “We’re just starting to see a multi-trillion-dollar global industry get the first people (from the technology world) to take a good crack at it,” Muscarella says. For his part, Muscarella straddles the line between tech and food, having built multiple digital companies, including a text message payment company for non-profits called Mobile Commons, while also working as a partner at the Brooklyn restaurant Rucola.
Beyond interest from investors, food is having a cultural moment. Consumers are more willing than ever to try out new kinds of dining experiences. Likewise, the “celebritization” of chefs, owing credit to the popularity of food-related reality shows, has made people excited to know and interact with a chef, Muscarella says.
There’s also the Airbnb effect. The rise of the so-called sharing economy has made people more comfortable conducting real-world transactions with Internet strangers. Renting out ones home, sharing ones car, or hiring a TaskRabbit to build Ikea furniture all require a different level of trust. Startups like Airbnb, RelayRides, and TaskRabbit have convinced millions of people that it’s safe.
Lastly, there’s the mobile piece of the puzzle. Professional chefs aren’t at computers all day to respond to potential clients. But now that they carry smartphones, they can easily book Kitchensurfing events. “We couldn’t have done this in 2006,” Muscarella says.
Indeed, Kitchensurfing offers an enticing proposition to chefs, plenty of which have quit their day jobs to do Kitchensurfing gigs full time. (Successful marketplace startups like Airbnb, Etsy and eBay experienced this phenomenon, too.) The top chefs on Kitchensurfing gross $200,000 a year, Muscarella says, a sun they earn by working around half of the amount of time they would in a restaurant.
Update: This post previously noted that early stage deals are uncharacteristic for Tiger Global Management. That word was removed after a representative noted that the firm has invested in a number of early stage companies.