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‘Talk to your customers all the time’: Q&A with FoodSocial cofounder Bill Staley

In this RustBuilt Pittsburgh interview, the repeat startup exec — he and his wife, Haley Staley, previously founded Primal Palate — discusses the origin story and early growth of the social marketplace for recipe creators.

Bill Staley. (Courtesy RustBuilt)
A version of this Q&A was originally published on RustBuilt's website and is republished here with permission.
Bill Staley is in the business of food.

Staley is the cofounder and CEO of the Pittsburgh-headquartered FoodSocial, which he calls “a social marketplace that is reshaping the way recipe creators share their content and collaborate with brands.” RustBuilt Pittsburgh caught up with the entrepreneur this summer, and since then, FoodSocial has launched a podcast called “That’s Delicious” and begun to raise capital for its first funding round.

Read Staley’s full Q&A below. The transcript of the interview has been edited for length and clarity.

1. How did you come to do this work and why is it so important to you personally?

My wife [Hayley Staley] and I met in 2010, started dating, and three months later launched our business together [Primal Palate]. We started out creating recipes and went on to write several bestselling cookbooks based on the Paleo diet. In 2015, we expanded our business model into CPG [consumer packaged goods] with a line of organic spice blends. Our goal has always been to make healthy cooking easier.

All this time, we’ve also been working on developing recipe technology, and launched FoodSocial in early 2021 as a result of that work. FoodSocial fills a few market needs that no one is addressing. First: recipe creators are marginalized by every social platform out there. Those platforms force you to create endlessly, with limited access to your own following, and no easy paths for monetization. Second: you have brands who are extorted for marketing dollars. And everyone is prone to platforms flushing your content almost instantly. None of it works for the creator or brand, and yet they are the big market drivers in food CPG.

Our experience as both creators and a brand allowed us to see the problem with great clarity, so it became a passion project to develop something that would help our friends and colleagues.

2. What was your lightbulb moment for FoodSocial?

Very early on, we were able to see that the interaction between creators and brands was where the magic happened. Creators want to work with brands, brands want to work with creators, and everyone wants a better platform to do that on. That collaborative spirit is a real driving force, and we try to infuse everything we do with that spirit.

3. What is the elevator pitch for FoodSocial?

We are building the world’s best social food platform. 1.6 billion people use social media to search for recipes every day. Recipes are the #1 driver in new food product trials. The recipe creator drives this $242 billion market, yet they are marginalized by every social media platform, with no centralized home to share recipes.

FoodSocial is a social marketplace that is reshaping the way recipe creators share their content and collaborate with brands. Our operating model includes revenue streams from product sales, one-click shopping carts purchases, brand platform subscriptions and seamless contextual advertising within thousands of recipes.

Our community is growing 214% in 2023 and we are just scratching the surface.

4. Talk us through your strategy in building a team around you.

Our approach is totally unique! We are actually building a decentralized organization with ample opportunities for FoodSocial creators to engage, contribute and truly have a seat at the table. Who better to help guide our strategy than the people we’re trying to solve problems for? Already on the team we have several creators who started out on the platform. They have expertise in various areas, and their contributions match up with their skill set. It’s been a lot of fun to think differently about growing a team organically through our own creator network.

5. What has surprised you most about starting FoodSocial?

I personally had to do a LOT of sales type calls with creators and brands early on, to the tune of hundreds. I was shocked that I started enjoying doing sales for FoodSocial. It was something I really didn’t like early on, but in the end it’s just talking to people and building relationships, and THAT is fun. I saw it through a different lens, and it changed my perception completely.

6. Talk us through one of your daily rituals.

For the last few months my morning ritual has been to get outside before anyone else in the house wakes up. Hayley and I now have a 3.5 year old (Isla), and a 1.5 year old (Luke), so things can be pretty hectic during the day. I need some solo time, to be grounded, and to be doing something with my hands. So I’d get outside by 6:30 every morning for gardening. Didn’t matter if it was for 10 minutes or an hour, it was something that set the tone for my entire day.

7. What is a recent challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it? What lesson(s) did you take away from it?

Coming into 2023, we hadn’t properly assessed the value we are providing to brands, and therefore our pricing wasn’t reflective of that. Increasing pricing to customers can feel confronting, but in the end, it was more about us not communicating our value fully. So we made the change to our pricing structure, were transparent about it, and we didn’t lose a single brand as a result. The key takeaways were that it’s good to be adaptable, and being transparent helps manage the bumps along the way.

8. What does the next year look like for FoodSocial?

We’re fundraising right now, which is going to unlock massive market potential for us. Once we close the round we’ll be focusing on community growth and development. There are some key features we’d like to implement that will get us to product market fit. We’re also putting processes in place right now to accommodate the rapid scaling that will come with the implementation of those features. With those things in place, we will put big effort into growing the creators, brands and platform users.

9. What is a key piece of advice you’ve received that you’d want to want to share with other founders?

The thing I’ve heard many times, and experienced firsthand, is that you have to talk to your customers all the time to truly understand the problems you’re trying to solve for them.

10. How can our regional startup community help your efforts?

If there’s one thing I know about Pittsburghers, it’s that we LOVE food. So next time you’re thinking “What am I going to make for dinner tonight?” head over to foodsocial.io and explore our 3,000+ recipes. And if you like what you see, tell your friends!

Companies: RustBuilt
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