417: Why Ann Baum Built a Recipe-Sharing App to Drive Traffic to Food Blogs

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A photograph of someone writing in pen and the title of Ann Baum's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Building a Recipe-Sharing App.'

This episode is sponsored by Once Coupled.

Welcome to episode 417 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Ann Baum from Spillt.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Sarah and Kailtin Leung from The Woks of Life. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Building a Recipe-Sharing App to Drive Traffic to Food Blogs

Food creators are no strangers to recipe-sharing sites and social media apps; many of us have love-hate relationships with some of them! Sisters Ann and Maddie Baum knew that there was a better way to save and share online recipes — so they built it!

Over the past several years, Ann and Maddie created Spillt, an app and WordPress plugin that allows users to save online recipes and share them with friends on the app, all while driving traffic and star ratings back to the food bloggers themselves!

Bjork and Ann talk about Ann’s career journey from working at Facebook to building the app, and take a peek behind-the-scenes at the creation of Spillt. Ann shares more about working with food bloggers to create the app, and why they wanted to prioritize food bloggers in the functionality of the app. It’s a really informative episode and one you won’t want to miss!

A photograph of two people cooking together with a quote from Ann Baum's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, "In order to develop a product, we knew that we really had to understand the problems we were solving, both for the consumer and for the food blogger."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What Spillt is, and how food creators can use it to drive traffic and star ratings to their recipes.
  • More about Ann’s career path from working at Facebook to developing the Spillt app.
  • Why Ann and her sister, Maddie, decided to build Spillt, and what market gap they hope to fill.
  • What product development for Spillt looked like.
  • Why they built Spillt in a way that prioritizes the needs of food bloggers.
  • The difference between a content algorithm and a social algorithm, and why that difference mattered in the creation of Spillt.
  • The plans for monetization on Spillt in the future.
  • What user growth has looked like on Spillt so far.


About this week’s sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by Once Coupled and their plugin company, Small Plugins!

Small Plugins is focused on creating thoughtful, small-yet-mighty plugin solutions for bloggers, creators, and website owners. Listeners can use this link to get a 70% discount on ALL current and future Small Plugins plugins!

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Once Coupled, the development agency behind the brand Small Plugins. Small Plugins is focused on creating thoughtful, small, yet mighty plugin solutions for bloggers, creators, website owners. And their first plugin, the dynamic connector block can help you customize promotional content, so think affiliate links, email opt-ins, purchase links, based on the content someone is reading. So on this podcast, we talk a lot about being intentional with opt-ins. We might not want to show an ebook for our best cookie recipes on a salad recipe post, as an example, right? With the dynamic connector block plugin, you can create targeted opt-ins that match the content your reader is already choosing to consume. Here’s how it works. It’s great because it’s really just two steps. So step one is choose a specific location in each post where you want the connector block to appear. For example, you might want it placed below the recipe card, and step two is create the connector blocks.

This happens in another area of WordPress. For instance, you might make a connector block that includes a targeted email signup option for any recipe in the healthy category for your site. And once you’ve done that, the magic happens. All the posts in the healthy recipe category will automatically display the targeted email signup form you designed. Again, it’s just two steps. You one, decide where you want in the post, the connector block to go, and two, create the block you want to appear in that spot. If you ever want to change that block in the future, you only need to modify it in one place, and all your healthy recipes in this example will instantly reflect the new block. Now, as you add more and more targeted opt-ins, the block in your posts from step two will automatically update based on that post category. No manual updates.

That’s the thing that’s important here. No manual updates to hundreds of posts needed. It’s a super slick plugin. And the small plugins team has two other plugins in the works, one that can help you highlight categories in each post and another that allows you to feature a comment within your blog post. They’re really great, and like we said in the beginning, small but mighty plugins that allow you to do some really cool things. And this is where it gets great. You can learn more at smallplugins.com. And if you’re interested in the dynamic connector block plugin, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/small. Again, that’s foodbloggerpro.com/small to get a 70% discount, 70% discount on all current and future small plugins. Thanks again to Once Coupled and Small Plugins for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: Hey there. This is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. This week on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Ann Baum from Spillt. Spillt is an app and WordPress plugin that allows users to save online recipes and share them with friends on the app, all while driving traffic and star ratings and reviews back to the food bloggers themselves. Ann built the Spillt app with her sister Maddy, and they knew that there was a better way to save and share online recipes, and they felt like they were well suited to build this app themselves. So they did it. In this interview, Bjork and Ann chat more about Anne’s career journey from working at Facebook to building the app, and take a really cool peek behind the scenes at the creation of Spillt and what it looks like to build your own app. Ann shares more about working with food bloggers to create the app.

They really wanted to prioritize food bloggers in the Spillt app, and make sure that it was desirable for food bloggers to use the WordPress plugin, and that the app would benefit food bloggers and really drive traffic back to their site. It’s a super informative episode and just a really unique perspective on something in the food creation space. So I’m just going to let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Ann, welcome to the podcast.

Ann Baum: Thanks for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Usually connections like this, where internet friends, internet connections happen where somebody for a really long time via Zoom and email, and then you get to meet them in person. It was kind of the other way for us, where we met in person at a conference, and now we are on a Zoom call. So tell us a little bit about what you’re up to. You gave me the debrief. I was at a Tastemaker Conference a couple years ago. You gave me kind of the overview of what it is that you’re up to. But let’s start by talking a little bit about what it is that you’re doing, and then we’ll rewind the tape a little bit, talk about your history and how you got to where you are. So we can start with what you’re up to now, and then we’ll rewind a little bit.

Ann Baum: Sounds great. And I will say it was kind of a one-sided digital relationship because we had learned a lot about Pinch of Yum…

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ann Baum: But it was, from your end, the first time in person. But yeah, we’re excited to chat.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Awesome. So tell us a little bit about what you’re up to right now. When we talked two years ago, you were working on it, still building this thing and have got some traction with this. So tell us about what it is and what you’re up to.

Ann Baum: Yeah, definitely. So my sister and I co-founded a company called Spillt. And what we’ve built at Spillt is a mobile app for home cooks, people like ourselves, I’m not a blogger by training, I’m just someone who really likes using recipes, to organize and discover new recipes and manage sort of the links to other recipes that they’ve been cooking with on their phone. And it’s kind of like Goodreads, if you’re familiar with that, for how people would sort of organize books and leave reviews of them. We do that for recipes, online recipes. And the other really important part of Spillt that we’ve built is a WordPress plugin. So a couple just quick notes on that. We are really, really careful to make sure that anytime that someone wants to use a recipe, that we are driving traffic back to the original bloggers post, page. And the important other thing that we do is we’ve built an integration so that bloggers can automatically sync their content over, get more traffic, get more reviews, and lots of other stuff that we can dive into.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, awesome. We’ll talk a little bit about that, especially differentiating yourself, knowing that there’s other apps that do the recipe saving, but really being creator focused, knowing that if you want the app to be successful, a great way to do that is to help creators get more exposure, get more traffic, like you said. And so finding kind of that happy medium between making something that’s consumer forward, but also keeping creators in mind as well. But before we do that, I’d be interested to hear a little bit about your story, because apps are one of those things that I feel like… I’m trying to think. It’s maybe like a landscaping project where people are like, “I can do landscaping.” And then you get into it and you’re like, “Actually landscaping is kind of hard.” Especially if it’s stuff like you’re putting in a brick patio or something, you really have to be specialized and know what you’re doing, even more so something like an app.

But it also feels like one of those categories where people are like, “There’s an app idea. I’m going to create an app.” But it’s actually super complex. But you knew that getting into it because this was kind of the world that you lived in because you worked for a company that was one of the most popular apps. So tell us a little bit about where you were at before this, and even how you got into the world of engineering and understanding development and how that became kind of your path.

Ann Baum: Yeah. It was a winding journey and the first thing I tell people who say, “Oh, I should build an app.” I say, “No, you know, think twice.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. It’s one of those things.

Ann Baum: “Let me tell you. There’s some things to think about.” Yeah. So after college, I started my career at Facebook. I was on the intellectual property team, and I thought I was going to go to law school, so very different path. I was on operations, so I kind of joked it was glorified customer service at times. And so I got into really not coding originally, but into data. And so that was kind of the gateway drug for me. I thought I was going to go to law school, like I said, but it turned out they had a bunch of lawyers working on the intellectual property team, but they didn’t have anyone who was really talking to the engineers and speaking their language. So I learned a lot while at Facebook, and as part of that was able to go to bootcamp, which was our internal engineering kind of training for new engineering hires. And at the end of it, because… This was back in 2012 and mobile was all the rage.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.

Ann Baum: Facebook had recently acquired Instagram very recently, so I was working with their team. And in order to graduate bootcamp, you had to do a mobile task. So one of my last tasks of bootcamp I did just for fun was a copyright flow on Instagram. And because I knew the team, I showed it to them. I was so proud. It was very rudimentary. I can say that now. And the head of the iOS engineering team basically said, “This is nice. We’re not going to ship this.” He didn’t…

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Sure.

Ann Baum: “But if you have enough of the skills and you’re sort of showing enough potential here, come work with the team and we can see about getting you through the engineering loops, the interview loops.” And so that was my transition over. It was very, like I said, nontraditional. Got to work with the Instagram team at just one of the most exciting times, I can imagine. It was a time of massive growth for the company, and it was right at that time that we were launching Instagram direct messages. So that was my first project. There was a lot of turnover, just people coming and going as naturally happens, as startups grow. And so I ended up, I think with a lot more responsibility than frankly I should have had at that stage, but it was just a phenomenal opportunity to learn.

Bjork Ostrom: And part of it… Yeah, part of it, I would imagine, has to do with… When you talk about that increased workload, it’s like if you want to find something, if you want to get something done, have somebody who’s busy take it on. There’s probably a better way to say that, but it’s just this idea of people who get stuff done are usually going to be busy because they get stuff done. And my guess is that was true for you. What do you feel like were the other things that were beneficial for you as somebody who is growing in your career at a really competitive company in a new area? Right? So you had just recently learned how to become an engineer, but suddenly a year later, two years later, three years later, whatever it is, you find yourself with all these additional responsibilities because you’re performing at a certain level, my guess is, and executing and delivering.

What were the things that you learned in that period of time? And the reason I’m asking is because I think it’s important for all of us to think about these things, whether it’s entrepreneur or career development. But what were those things that you learned, or mindsets that you had that were helpful in that phase?

Ann Baum: Yeah. I think one of the biggest things with engineering, but I think with a lot of different disciplines as well, is there are so many resources available to teach yourself enough to kind of just get something working, get something that shows that you’ve tried. And what I found at least is I was really, really fortunate to work with just in incredible teammates, when they saw that I was trying… Even before I was officially an engineer, I think people just respect hustle, when you show… I was kind of coming in as this ops person and saying like, “Hey, I built this thing.” I think that even if it’s not a super impressive thing that you’ve built, just when you show that initiative, I think it really… Again, I was just super grateful for the people who were then willing to kind of say, “Okay, that’s not quite right for these reasons. Here, let me help you.”

And what I often tell people who are trying to learn coding or anything technical, you learn so much by doing and just taking that first step. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be… I think we kind of build ourselves up and need to study everything so that you build the perfect site on the first try, but just doing an easy quick thing to get it out the door and learn from that just both shows progress and teaches you more than.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. It’s one of the things we try and talk a lot about on the podcast, which is it’s better to get the first version of whatever it is that you’re working on out the door and learn while you’re doing that versus learn a bunch in anticipation of this eventual grand launch that you’re going to have two years down the line. And what we found is by shipping, whether it’s a marketing campaign or a new idea, or even testing out a concept, you’re thinking about something, getting it out into the world, telling it to somebody, it’s going to compress the amount of time that it takes for that to flourish. Because naturally, when… I was trying to think of analogies. I don’t remember if it was on a podcast episode I was talking about it or if somebody else. But if you’re putting something like a plant…

You have a plant and the plant is the idea, and you’re trying to get it to flourish, it’s different if you have it in the basement where it has no exposure to the sun versus if you bring it outside and the light shines on it and the wind blows on it and it gets all this exposure. Similar to our ideas or our skills that we’re trying to develop, you need to put those into the world in order to refine them and to allow them to flourish. And it sounds like that’s kind of what you’re saying, is you really need to figure out, how do you get this stuff into the world?

Ann Baum: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think there’s a lot of different strategies, and I think that there’s value in taking education seriously and going to courses and classes and whatnot. And so it’s not a one size fits all. But I think for some of these more technical, like you’re saying, building something, doing something, there’s just so much in inherent value in that really beneficial for me.

Bjork Ostrom: And it’s probably, to your point, categorical. You don’t want your doctor to learn through experimentation, or physical therapy. But the category of art, painting, writing, engineering, which I think is art and science, is that exposure helps to develop the skill in the craft. So how about just in general, working at Facebook or Instagram, my guess is in doing that, let’s say Instagram, just to make it app specific, in your experience there, my guess is there was something, a sparkle that existed in creating a thing that people used and some type of draw that you had that led you to say, “I want to do this with my idea in a category that I’m interested in.” What was it that you experienced there that led you to want to do your own thing?

Ann Baum: I think it taught me so much just about how to think about products and how to think about usability as the most important thing. Because when you’re building for consumer and seeing everyone from your mom, your neighbor, your grandmother potentially using this thing, you really just think about humanity, I think, in a different way. And how can you make this experience easy and positive? And I think that that’s one of the great lessons that I took away from Instagram and just from working on a consumer product broadly. I walked out of there and I said, “Ph my God, consumer is so hard.” You can have…

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, because people are so complex and…

Ann Baum: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah.

Ann Baum: They’re terrible sometimes, and they’re great sometimes. But I started on operations, which again, was the things that you see when the internet goes wrong. And so I got, at the time, just a lot of exposure to I think both sides of the spectrum, the sort of these beautiful designs, these really impressive and thoughtful experiences, and then also just the reality of human nature. And when they need help, when they need support, when they need customer service, there’s a lot of messiness there.

Bjork Ostrom: Messiness meaning anger or just people being unkind, or it’s like the worst of humanity and the best of humanity?

Ann Baum: Exactly. Exactly. And the intellectual property wasn’t nearly as gruesome as I think a lot of other things that you can see go poorly. But still, copyright violations, sometimes those got personal. Sometimes those got all over the spectrum. And so I think for me at least, I thought, okay, I learned all these great lessons about building really thoughtful, usable software. Let’s go apply that to businesses and build things for companies. That was kind of my thesis on leaving.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And companies still building for consumers. But when you say building for companies, are you thinking of the publisher side of Spillt when you say that?

Ann Baum: Well, that’s where we landed. And so actually, I guess to sort of complete the journey, I left Facebook back in 2016 and went to business school. So I went to Stanford, so not too far. And then after graduating Stanford, that was when I had the opportunity. And I looking… I actually looked very closely at what Slack was doing in terms of software for businesses to use that felt very consumer friendly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right.

Ann Baum: And so my whole…

Bjork Ostrom: And the general shift of top down to bottom up in the world of software and the idea of companies building first for an individual versus a complex piece of software that’s sort of selling to a CTO who then says, “Everybody use this.” But Slack being this as a great example, hey, this super user friendly tool that’s fun. It kind of has personality. It doesn’t feel very corporate, but yet has such a high adoption rate within corporate environments.

Ann Baum: Exactly. And so that was exactly it. And so when I left business school, I went to a startup that was actually doing texting software. And so it was a B2B SaaS company, so business selling to businesses, doing software as a service that integrated with Salesforce, just learned all that kind of side of the ecosystem. We sold to a wide variety of companies, but kind of learned more about sales cycles and stuff like that.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. So this was a company that was doing… You have leads in Salesforce. One of the ways that you can communicate with them is through text. And so they were managing kind of the middle part of that infrastructure by hooking up and allowing you to send texts from whatever tool it would be, LinkedIn or Salesforce?

Ann Baum: Yeah. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Cool. So at what point did you say, “You know what? I want to go start my own thing.” It’s a huge undertaking, as you know. And one of the things that we’re learning as we spend more time in the world of software is it’s extremely complex. And also with something like Spillt, it’s complex in that you aren’t necessarily turning around and creating revenue right away. We’re going to talk about some of that and some of the ways that you’re thinking about revenue within the application and the product, but it’s a hard journey to go on, kind of the Mount Everest analogy. There’s some people who are like, “I’m going to climb Mount Everest,” or my father-in-law says, “I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro,” which is an Everest, but still very difficult. What was it for you that said, “You know what? I want to make this climb. I want to do this hard thing and go after this?”

Ann Baum: Yeah, I give a lot of that credit, honestly, to my sister. And so co-founded this company with her. We were both actually… I pulled her in, and she was also working at the texting company. She was doing sales. And during COVID, we moved home to DC. And honestly, that was kind of the genesis of this. Everyone was cooking. I’m sure a lot of your food bloggers who listened to this can probably speak to that even better from the data side. But we just experienced it, again as consumers, that all of our friends were cooking. And we kept getting emailed these dumb email chains like, forward your favorite recipes to the next 10 people. We were texting our friends. We were watching… Just everything kind of felt centered around that. And the gap between the different technologies we were using and the actual experience of cooking and using a recipe just felt very big to us. But I think the two of us really had this chance to test our working relationship together.

We knew we liked working together. And she was the one who kept pushing me and saying, “It’s ridiculous. There’s not a consumer app for this. It’s ridiculous.” And I kept saying, “Absolutely not. We’re not quitting our jobs to go build a consumer app. That’s a terrible idea.” And I’ve seen this play before, and I know how it ends.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally.

Ann Baum: But yeah, because we were at home and we had this time on our hands, we started reaching out to bloggers. And just frankly, that was the biggest thing for us, was these bloggers were willing to both respond to our DMs on Instagram from someone who was just a plain old Joe, which was me, and take the time to talk to us and walk us through their businesses, how they think about their revenue, how they think, what concerns them, what them excited, just frankly how they structure their business as a whole. And as we kept having these conversations over and over, I started thinking, this feels like talking to an SMB, a smaller medium business. And they have consistent tech stacks. They have really interesting. And some of them are different in interesting ways, but a lot of really the same story over and over. We heard people worried about over-reliance on ads or looking to diversify their revenue streams. Also being set up on WordPress, what that meant for them, the different ad networks.

We just kind of heard the same story a little bit more repeatedly, and that’s what got us really interested in this as both a consumer app, but also a real opportunity to partner with bloggers and their businesses.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I just listened to this interview with this author. His name is Ben Smith. And he was talking about this book that he just published called Traffic, and it’s about the story of Gawker and kind of Buzzfeed maybe, but the tagline is, genius rivalry and the Delusion in the billion dollar race to go viral. And one of the things that they talked about specifically with some of these companies like Buzzfeed and Gawker was just their over-reliance on is probably… You probably overlapped with your time at Facebook with their peak in terms of their viralness on social platforms. And it just had me thinking, oh, in our world, it’s search. That’s what everybody thinks about. That’s what everybody talks about. It’s search, search, search. How do I get more search traffic? How do I get more search traffic? And as an industry, we are generally in a vulnerable position for something like a big pivot, for instance, artificial intelligence, which we can talk about.

But that interview was really interesting to hear kind of five, six years after the collapse of these companies. And the Gawker story is such an interesting one. It’s just such a juicy, dramatic story of this publishing company, which people can deep dive on that if they want to. But it had me thinking, yeah, for sure, there’s this real vulnerability that we have, especially for anybody who’s too heavily weighted on search, which it’s not going to last forever, right? There will always be components of discovery, but it’s not always going to look the same as a traditional Google search. So can you talk more about some of those conversations that you’re having? Well, first, I would be interested to hear you talk about why those conversations are important from a product development standpoint. I think for anybody who’s thinking of creating product, whether software or information, the product development phase is really important. Can you talk about what that was like, and even what that means, that term, product development?

Ann Baum: Yeah. And it’s such an important, and I think good point to make in this, that for us, we had a bunch of insights that we sort of felt strongly about as consumers, nothing crazy groundbreaking, but things like you don’t want your phone to go to sleep while you’re cooking. Crazy. You want to be able to make a grocery list really easily. You want to be able to come back to the same recipe and leave notes for the next time, basic stuff like that that I don’t think is… It didn’t feel terribly controversial. And we obviously talked to a number of friends to kind understand what different types of people’s priorities were that and make sure we’re talking to people, not friends, outside of our circles and whatnot. But from the blogger side, I think there’s a frequent sort of… We’ve seen other apps come along and try to tackle this issue just purely from the consumer standpoint.

And the risk there is, I think, this kind of assumption that recipes are almost like commodities. Like, oh, I just want the recipe to be usable. But you forget, you also want the recipe to be delightful, and you want to trust the blogger that who wrote it, and you want to really feel confident that it’s going to turn out well. And in order to do this, to develop a product, we knew that we really had to understand the problems that we were solving, both for the consumer and for the food blogger. So to that end, the things that got us interested, like you mentioned, is this kind of really surprising reliance on search. And that was surprising to me just from my intuition as a consumer, because I don’t think about Google as where I go to discover recipes, but it is the middleman. It’s where I go to get the link or go and get the access to the blog.

And so to that sense, it really made sense that, oh, Google is an important part of this equation. And oh my gosh, this whole world of SEO is what’s driving so much of how these blogs themselves even get structured. So I think to that end, we knew we’re also… We’re lean. We’re not coming at this from some big company. We’re not coming at this with a massive splashy venture capital round. And so we knew we weren’t going to just totally upend the ecosystem overnight. And so to build a product, I think we just knew we had to play nicely and build something that helps today for both of those sides.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. You talk about some of the apps that would kind of view recipes as a commodity, and it’s almost like taking this stance that… It’s like, do you view a recipe as this creative commons you can use it, or do you view it as a song? And some of these apps are, it’s like, “Hey, here’s a recipe, save it down to your app.” Depending on the stance that you take, it could be kind of Napster where you’re like, “I like this song, I’m going to save it to my computer.” It’s like, well actually, there’s some copyright. I don’t know. Maybe you have thoughts on that. But there’s some protection that should exist for a creator around a piece that they created, that it can’t be removed and put into another place. But then at the same time, how much of it is just copy and paste?

You can copy and paste the recipe into a note app. So do you have thoughts on the legal perspective around saving down a recipe? I know Spillt has taken the stance of we’re not going to do that because we want to play nice. And we want to get creators on board, and so we’re going to look for ways to increase page views by allowing somebody to save a recipe but not have all the information there. But what about for those apps that are doing that, what’s your opinion on the legal side of that? And to what extent is that kind of a gray are?

Ann Baum: Despite my early career, I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll just caveat with that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ann Baum: But we do have thoughts on that. I think just for us, it’s really just been more of a strategic than a legal decision. We feel that it’s important to do right by the people who write them. I think there’s a lot of factors that might start to play more. Photos are really important. Photos are copyrightable. That, we can say sort of without question. And that’s what makes a lot of the experience fun when you’re discovering new ones, new recipes. And then I think, yeah, technically the just pure ingredients and instructions, it’s unclear that that’s, on its own, protected. And so I think some recipes kind of flirt with that, where they have such beautiful language in the instructions and in the head notes and in other places that you do start to sort of question, does this actually count as a recipe, or is this really creative writing? Again, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know if that is…

Bjork Ostrom: Nor am I.

Ann Baum: … the judgment that’s been made on that. But I wouldn’t want to be the one to test it. That’s for sure. And then I think finally, there’s…

Bjork Ostrom: Test it, meaning push that boundary. Yeah.

Ann Baum: Yeah. Yeah. Even if we could do that, it’s like, to what end? To just rip off the person who wrote it? That’s not something that ever appealed to us. And then I think the other final thing that’s interesting and almost more meaningful in terms of a user experience from our perspective is we just put a lot of value in who wrote the recipe. And not to jump ahead to the conversations around AI, but if I see a recipe from a blogger who I trust and who I’ve made her cakes before, and I know they always turn out great, even if it’s the exact same recipe as one just spit out by AI, there’s this element of trust that I think you lose if you really divorce it from the person.

And then I think we’re going to start to see, this is my just pure speculation, is with some of these AI conversations, the right to use someone’s name, that’s very murky territory. I don’t know exactly what all the precedent or what that will look like, honestly, as we move forward, but I think we’re going to start to see things like that with music. Is this a song by Drake, or is this an AI generated song to sound like Drake? Can they use Drake’s name? And I’d have to hope that a lot of those same kind of principles will apply as we think about content that comes from a person, making sure that if you’re using that person’s name, you’re doing all the things right by them.

Bjork Ostrom: Point being, if you’re producing content that is in any way, whether it’s likeness and voice, or even if it’s just information, that you’re in some ways crediting that person?

Ann Baum: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Absolutely.

Ann Baum: And we’ll see how that all plays out.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. We’re in the middle of it, and still to be determined. And probably by the time this goes live, we’ll be in a very different place than we were today. Even if this goes live tomorrow.

Ann Baum: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: In the world of AI, it’s all moving so quick. So can you talk about, functionally speaking, Spillt right now, how does it work? What does it look like. If I come in as a consumer versus if I’m going to use it as a publisher, what does the application look like?

Ann Baum: Yeah. It’s a pretty simple feed. So you come in and you’ll see the recipes that other users or yourself have saved. And what we mean when we save a recipe is you find a link to a recipe that you like. You can import that in the app. We also have some other fun and easy ways to import it, but the idea is once you get it in the app, you’re saving it to a collection. Maybe it’s my weeknight dinner collection, maybe it’s baked goods, whatever. And when I come back and look in my collections, I can easily index those. I can find the recipes that I’ve already saved. And then I can also just really easily leave a review of a recipe. So this turned out great, five stars. That’s something that we really feel can be improved upon in terms of just making it super easy and lightweight for a consumer to leave a review, but also easy for you to see what your best friend, what people in your life are cooking and liking.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. The Goodreads example, I feel like, is such a great comparison, where there’s Amazon, you can go and you can buy books, but Goodreads really being a place where you can say, “Hey, I’m curious to see what my friend Joe’s reading lately. I really appreciate the things that Joe reads,” and being able to have some of that social element where, like we do… In some ways, it’s just mirroring what we already do in life, which is like, “I like you. You have similar taste to me. What are the things that you like?” and learning from that. And it feels like a similar comparison within our world that’s maybe getting a little bit closer is it’s almost, and you can let me know if this feels accurate, it’s almost segmenting and creating a vertical that is a specialized platform similar to Pinterest where you’re saying, “I’m going to go out, I really like this thing. I’m going to pin it. I’m going to bring it back,” the difference being it’s custom for recipes.

This is an experience where the only thing that people are talking about is food. There’s not all sorts of different content. It’s just specifically this is recipe content. Does that feel accurate?

Ann Baum: Super accurate. And what we’ve heard, some bloggers describe it as is old school Pinterest, kind of when it was first getting started. I think we’ve seen a lot of social platforms pivot towards much more of a heavy algorithmic feed. And so for us, one thing that was super important is just keeping that direct connection and that direct line to your friends and seeing exactly what they cook. Sometimes the algorithm can be helpful for discovery of new things that you wouldn’t expect. But so often, we just found ourselves really craving that kind of direct feedback and being able to connect over a recipe. “Oh, you made that soup. I made that soup and I loved it too.”

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about the difference between a social algorithm and a content algorithm and that shifts that that’s happened in the social world?

Ann Baum: Yeah. I think it’s been super interesting to follow. Obviously, this is all long after I’ve left Instagram, so I have no internal knowledge of that, but watching what TikTok has done to how different apps approach a feed and how you think about the content that you view. Previously, when we first started, it was just this direct one-to-one. The people who I follow, that’s what I see. And now…

Bjork Ostrom: In order, the historical order of what they’ve posted.

Ann Baum: Right. And I think that there’s definitely a balance here. I think that there’s opportunities to… Sometimes those orders get skewed for all sorts of reasons, like the noisiest people kind of end up being more prominent and things like that. So not to say that there’s no value in any algorithm, but I think what TikTok kind of revolutionized is showing you content just that is well outside of your social realm, and that just opens up a much broader array, a bigger library of content that they can show you. And so if you can do that well and you can build models that generate those recommendations intelligently, I think that can be very powerful. But we internally as humans, know that there is still this… I still like to see what my friends are doing, and the content generation piece is what’s just really tricky,

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And it probably works better… A content algorithm probably works better when the primary purpose is entertainment and not social. Whereas with an app like Spillt, I feel like that shifts a little bit where there’s probably an entertainment element to it, but the value of the social connection is higher than it would be on TikTok where it’s just very consumer focused in that it’s people going to consume content to be entertained, to turn their brain off. With something like Spillt, you can let me know if this feels accurate, it’s like the purpose is, I want to see what other people are making, I want to follow people. I know there’s maybe a little bit more of a genuine social fabric that exists in a similar way to what it would be if you are in your neighborhood and somebody’s like, “You have to try this recipe.” Does that feel accurate?

Ann Baum: Yeah. And I think the other piece that I’d layer on there is that we learned a lot from Instagram in terms of you start with the utility, and then build the social on top of that. And so I think just getting… I don’t often make a TikTok of myself just for fun. That takes kind of a lot of work. And so how do you generate content that’s still interesting? That was kind of the… How do you kickstart a social network that has that interesting content in it? And so for us, it was really… In the same way that Instagram started as just filters. You didn’t even really have friends on there, just a tool to make your photos look nicer. We really took that to heart in saying, even if I don’t have any friends on this app, I know that it’s kind of clunky to save my recipes in a bookmark folder, and then I forget them and it’s an Excel sheet, and da da da. “And so let’s make a really smooth, seamless tool for that.

And by the way, my friends think that’s interesting because they want to know what I’m cooking. And oh, if I said that that was five stars, my sister might see it and say like, “Oh, I kind of want to make that too.” And so that was kind of our bootstrapping mechanism, to get that initial content seeded in the platform.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. Building the utility of use with saving recipes while keeping in mind the publisher to say, “Hey…” So functionally speaking, what happens is you can save a recipe… Correct me if I’m wrong on this. You can save a recipe. It has a list of ingredients, it has information about the recipe. But you click on it, and then it will load the actual page, similar to what people would be used to with Pinterest, where you click on it and it’s like a referral from Pinterest, in this case, a referral from Spillt because somebody has saved that recipe. So essentially, it’s custom way for people to save recipes better than bookmark because you’ve built in this functionality around recipes, like you said, leaving notes, the ability for people to rate it, without removing the benefit for the publisher, which is getting that page view or the traffic back to their site.

Ann Baum: Yeah. It’s both the page view. And then with our WordPress plugin, it’s also the reviews. So we were really interested to learn in how important star ratings are for SEO conversion. And so any review that’s left on a recipe of yours in Spillt will sync back to your platform as a review. Still use the same content moderation tools, whatever. We don’t sort of bypass anything, but it does just give you a bigger funnel for those reviews.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So if somebody’s looking to increase the number of reviews that they have, or they feel good about it being a good recipe, they can… Is it an option you can enable, or is it on by default?

Ann Baum: It’s on by default if you install a plugin.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Got it. Yep, that makes sense. So increasing the amount of ratings, like you said, that being a variable. Doesn’t necessarily help you rank higher, but helps to increase the click through rate. If somebody sees, “Hey, this has a bunch of five star ratings. I feel good about this. I’m going to click on this and go over to it.”

Ann Baum: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Got it. So with the app specifically, one of the things that’s always so interesting with any consumer based app, whether it be Instagram or Facebook, is the assumption is kind of like you have this long period of time where you are operating without a lot of revenue. And the way that you do get revenue is you raise money, which I know you’re going through their process. If there’s any investors listening, you can reach out and have a conversation. But what does that look like eventually? How do you get to the point where it’s a revenue producing application? And my guess is a lot of the publishers will be thinking like, “Hey, is there going to be a change down the line where something changes, and suddenly all my content, all the ingredients and instructions are included?”

There’s a time in Pinterest where they said it was a bug, but suddenly all the instructions for recipes were included. So what does that look like? And what kind of assurance can you give publishers that publishers will continue to be prioritized, or protected, I guess their content will be protected as you pursue different avenues of revenue creation for the app?

Ann Baum: Yeah, it’s such a good question. And yeah, fundraising is kind of an ongoing journey for any startup that is pre-revenue in terms of navigating that. But I think for us, the biggest priority… And I think we can genuinely say it’s a game of trust. And I think that if a publisher trusts us, that’s kind of what we’re trying to earn. And we can sort of say that, like, oh, for us, what’s been really important is aligning our incentives with bloggers. And we know that bloggers have the audiences that we want. We know that they are the ones producing the content. We know how important they are to this ecosystem. And so to us, our initial plans for revenue streams are to build tools for food bloggers to make money on the platform. And so we have some ideas about what we’re experimenting with there. We’ve learned a lot from how ads work today, but then also just different ways that bloggers would be open to monetizing.

We know that passive income is really important, and just things like that that we’re factoring in as we test some of these new opportunities. But I think, by and large, we just feel that we need to prove that bloggers can trust us with their businesses. And that’s something that I can say here on this podcast. Of course, I’ll say it, but I think our actions are what we hope people will look to as we continue to make sure that we do write by bloggers. But fundamentally, we’ve seen how important creators are to all of the platforms that are out there. We’ve learned from that, and we’ve seen what happens when you don’t take that into account. And so that’s, I guess just a lesson that we take to heart.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. So can you give a recap? Because the app’s been out. People are using it. There’s like 10,000 users. Is that right at this point?

Ann Baum: Yeah. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is really incredible. How do you find those people? How do 10,000 people find an app and download it?

Ann Baum: Oh my gosh, great question. So for us, we were really grateful because we started with this user base of bloggers, a lot of them just chose to promote it, which we were, again, incredibly grateful for. And so that was how our first several thousand users came onto the platform. Since then, it’s been a mix of just organic referrals. We did a little referral competition that was kind of fun. We saw some bumps that way. And then we’ve also done a little bit of testing with different social ad spend. And a lot of that, honestly, was to land on messaging. And so the Goodreads for recipes, we use that now because that ad just outperformed some of the other ones.

Bjork Ostrom: People get it, and they’re like, “Oh, okay.”

Ann Baum: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Ann Baum: So that was helpful.

Bjork Ostrom: You don’t have to explain kind of what’s happening. It’s just like it’s this thing you already know and understand, except for recipes, which makes sense.

Ann Baum: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And then how about for publishers, if they’re interested in experimenting with it, looking into it? You mentioned the WordPress plugin, which would be kind of the more tight integration with their site, but is there a way for people to tiptoe into it and get a little bit of exposure to it to see how it works and to see if it’s something that they’d want to integrate?

Ann Baum: Totally. Anyone can just download the app and sign up. You just need to use your phone number. And as a user on the app, you can try saving one of your own recipes, you can try saving someone else’s recipes, see how it works. One of the other things that’s really nice that I would encourage people to test is we feel like a lot of traffic gets kind of trapped on social media, so Instagram and TikTok reels, for example. Or Instagram reels, TikToks don’t necessarily translate to traffic to a blog. And so one thing that we’ve done is make it super easy to save. If you put a URL in an Instagram caption, saving that to our platform actually pulls out the blog so that you can come to it later and reuse it. So I would just definitely recommend playing with that, test it out, see how it works.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. And Spillt with two Ls?

Ann Baum: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Ann Baum: We added an L. We took an L.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s amazing how much more affordable domain like that is. Same thing for us with Clariti. So Clariti with an I, a software tool that we have, there’s a broker I reached out to, and I was like, “We want to buy the domain Clarity.” He’s like, “That’s going to be a million dollars.” And I was like, “Oh, there’s an I at the end.” He’s like, “Oh, that be much more affordable.”

Ann Baum: You know what? For us, it wasn’t about the domain. It was much more about people kept reading it as Split, everyone.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ann Baum: Everyone.

Bjork Ostrom: Funny.

Ann Baum: We were like are we going crazy? But I mean, it totally makes sense. You just see that word and you think split, so adding an L really helped that differentiation.

Bjork Ostrom: Really lean into the L here. That’s what we’re trying to communicate. It’s two Ls.

Ann Baum: Exactly. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Ann, really great to talk to you. Know how much work anything like this is. So congratulations to you and Maddy, your sister for getting it this far along, and excited to check and check in along the journey. And I’m sure we’ll be talking again soon.

Ann Baum: Yeah, appreciate it. Thank you.

Emily Walker: Hello, Emily here from the Food Blogger Pro team. I wanted to pop in today and thank you for tuning into this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. We are so grateful for you for listening. Before we sign off, I wanted to talk a little bit about the Food Blogger Pro forum in case you didn’t know how it works. If you are a Food Blogger Pro member, you get access to our amazing forum. It’s one of my favorite places on Food Blogger Pro. I spend a lot of time there myself. And on the forum, we have tons of different topics for you to explore. We have a building traffic section, a photography section. We have an essential tools section. We chat about generating income and essential plugins, all sorts of areas for you to ask questions and chat with your fellow Food Blogger Pro members.

It’s a great place to connect with fellow members, troubleshoot any issues you’re having, and brainstorm together. Our industry experts are always popping into the forum to help members with their questions. Casey Markee and Andrew Wilder are always popping in, and so is Danielle Liss, our legal expert. It’s a really great place to get access to these experts and have them help you with your concerns. The Forum is also just a fantastic place to find a community in this food blogging space as you’re working to grow your site and your business. If you’re ready to join Food Blogger Pro and get access to our wonderful forum, head to foodbloggerpro.com/join to learn more about our membership. We really hope you enjoy this episode, and can’t wait to see you next week for another great episode. Have an amazing week.

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  1. I love that Ann Baum built a recipe-sharing app to drive traffic to food blogs! It’s a great way to get people interested in food and cooking, and it’s a great way to connect with other food lovers.