373: How to Leverage Your Expertise and Passion to Teach Online Cooking Classes with Cynthia Samanian

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Cooking ingredients on a counter and the title of Cynthia Samanian's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Tech Online Cooking Classes'

This episode is sponsored by Simple Pin Media.

Welcome to episode 373 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Cynthia Samanian from Culinary Creator Business School about teaching online cooking classes.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Elena Davis from Cucina by Elena about how she grew her traffic and got accepted into Mediavine. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Teaching Online Cooking Classes

Have you ever wanted to teach online cooking classes but you’re not sure how to get started? Well, Cynthia is here to help you out!

She’s the creator of Culinary Creator Business School, a program that teaches culinary business owners how to teach their first online cooking class in 90 days or less, and she’s here on the podcast today to share her best advice with our listeners.

In this episode, you’ll hear what her business journey has looked like, why she decided to launch her program, her best tip for those wanting to teach online classes, and more. Enjoy!

A quote from Cynthia Samanian's appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'The goal is to get my students to teach their first online cooking class in 90 days or less.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What Cynthia’s entrepreneurial journey has looked like
  • What she learned working as a product manager
  • Why she decided to launch Culinary Creator Business School
  • What she teaches her students in her program
  • Her best tip for those wanting to teach online cooking classes
  • Why it’s so important to know your purpose as a business owner


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Simple Pin Media!

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and as you know, it’s a busy time for shopping and cooking. Advertising this time of year requires a few different steps, and the Simple Pin Media ads team is here to help.

They’ve put together a fantastic Pinterest ads campaign checklist, designed specifically for advertising around the holiday season! Whether you want to promote your products or get more people to check out your recipes, this free holiday campaign checklist and training video will help get you prepped and ready for holiday campaigns on Pinterest.

Grab your own copy of their Pinterest Ads campaign checklist for free here.

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

Food Blogger Pro logo with the words 'Join the Community' on a blue background

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by our friends at Simple Pin Media. The holiday season is quickly approaching, and as I’m sure you know, the holiday season is a busy time for shopping and cooking. Advertising this time of year requires a few different steps and the Simple Pin Media ads team is here to help. They’ve put together a fantastic Pinterest ads campaign checklist designed specifically for advertising around the holiday season. So whether you want to promote your products or get more people to check out your recipes, this free holiday campaign checklist and training video will help you get prepped and ready for holiday campaigns on Pinterest. Here’s how to check it out, go to simplepinmedia.com/pinads, that’s P-I-N-A-D-S, simplepinmedia.com/pinads, to grab your free copy of their Pinterest ads campaign checklist today. Again, you can go and grab your own copy of their Pinterest ads campaign checklist for free by going to simplepinmedia.com/pinads. Thanks to Simple Pin Media for sponsoring this episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Hey folks, it’s Bjork. You’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. And the purpose of this podcast is it’s really about you and putting content in front of this audience that is helpful, insightful, useful. And the way that we do that, almost always, is by interviews with other creative, motivated, smart entrepreneurs. And the hope in these interviews is that we’re able to pull out information that will help you in your journey, whether you want to earn more income, whether you want a mission behind a vision that you have, or a product that you think should be in the world and help the world. Maybe you just want to do creative work, more creative work in the world, and you want to get better at that. Whatever it is, our hope is that these interviews are part of your process of getting a tiny bit better every day forever.

Bjork Ostrom: And one of the things that I have found is, if you can fold in a consistent building block of learning, then you’re going to get better at your craft. And that’s the hope for these conversations is that we learn from other people and you can get better at your craft because of them. So today we are having one of those conversations with Cynthia Samanian and she has a business that has gone through some evolutions, and that’s part of what her story is going to be as we talk to her. She’s going to talk about the high highs and the low lows, as she’s built a business and had multiple different businesses that she’s had to iterate on. Partly, mostly, because of this thing, that was a global pandemic, and the things that she learned along the way and how she came to settle on culinary creator business school, which is at culinarycreatorbschool.com.

Bjork Ostrom: And she’s going to be talking about the things that she’s learned along the way, working at a startup, a social network that I was familiar with, and you might be familiar with as well. She’s going to be talking about getting started and her mindset around business building and how working within a startup helped to shape that. And she’s going to be talking about the things that she’s learned now for culinary professionals and how they can have success doing online-based teaching and programs and cooking classes. And that’s an option for you as a creator and she’s going to be talking about how you can take advantage of that, and some of the frameworks that she uses to think about that. It’s a great interview. I learned a lot from it, I think that you will as well.

Bjork Ostrom: If you want to continue the conversation, one of the best ways to do that is within the Food Blogger Pro Podcast Facebook group, which you can get to by going to foodbloggerpro.com/facebook. And the purpose for that group is for anybody who would be a podcast listener to be able to join in and have a conversation. And the podcast is usually listeners listening, but the Facebook group, the purpose of that, is for listeners to be able to have a conversation to join in on the back and forth a little bit. Sometimes we prompt questions if we think that it might be a good interview to get questions from listeners, but it’s just a place to go a little bit deeper post-podcast for anybody who wants to dive in on that. And I think we’re almost to 1000 folks that are a part of that group. So again, you can get that by going to foodbloggerpro.com/facebook. Let’s go ahead and jump into this interview, Cynthia, welcome to the podcast.

Cynthia Samanian: Thank you so much for having me be, Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This is going to be a great interview because not only interested in your business story, but also interested in the story of your business, so your story, but then also to hear about the business that you’re running, because it’s really applicable to the people that listen to this podcast. So first let’s start with your story. So we’ll go pre-business, what were you doing? And what did day-to-day life look like for you?

Cynthia Samanian: Sure. Yeah. So I come from a non-traditional traditional path, so I didn’t go to culinary school, always had a passion for food. I grew up in a Persian family, so food was always on the table, it was celebrated. It was basically… I grew up hosting with my mom and setting the table and learned from an early age that food is really about connection. So it’s not something I really connected the dots on until later, but growing up, always surrounded by food, always in the kitchen.

Cynthia Samanian: Fast forward, I went to college, studied business, like I said, had some traditional jobs, worked in finance, worked in tech, which brought me to the Bay Area. And I had a moment in tech where I could either continue down the path of being a product manager at a startup, or I could pursue what I really wanted to do, which was work in food. I’m the type of person, and I’m sure your listeners can nod their heads as I say this, I always wanted to work in an area that I was passionate about. Have this big gray blob that marries my passion and my profession, and so the idea of working in 9:00 to 5:00 never appealed to me. And I was in a position, I was single, on my own, where I could make that decision to say, “I’m going to walk away from what feels comfortable and safe and I’m just going to explore the world of food.”

Cynthia Samanian: And at that time I had already gone to business school. I got my MBA at Harvard, so loans up the Wazoo. And so for me, going to culinary school was not an option, I applied but I didn’t do it. Instead, I realized that I could still work in food in a different way and so I started things off by creating a food blog, wanted to build that to be a larger food media site, spent a lot of money, worked with other recipe developers and photographers, really scrappy, just trying to make that work. And the short story is that it didn’t work. But through that, I learned that there was an opportunity to actually make money through events. And I was hosting events, working with food brands like Bob’s Red Mill and Bear Snacks and bringing content creators together with brands in real life. Loved that business and that was growing, and in fact, 2020 was going to be our biggest year yet.

Bjork Ostrom: When you say, “Our,” who is that? Did you have a team you were working with?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah, I did. So technically what I was doing is called experiential marketing. So working with food brands on creating experiences that help connect their products to their ideal consumers, whether they’re influencers or people off the street. And I say, we, because I did have a team, I had another event producer who was working with me alongside, shout out to Laura, she was amazing. And we had some contractors as well support us. The events business is one where you do need many hands and I could not do it alone, nor did I want to do it alone.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. It’s like not a business that you can do as a solopreneur. It’s services-based. If you’re trying to think of it in a comparable, but it’s almost like you couldn’t pull a wedding off just by yourself. You need so many people in order to do it, that’s an event. Similar to any other event, you need a lot of people doing it back. I want to go back just to pull a couple pieces from your story, just out of curiosity. When you were working in technology, you said it was at a startup. What startup was it? Just out of curiosity.

Cynthia Samanian: Oh yeah. It was called Path, P-A-T-H and-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah.

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but it was-

Bjork Ostrom: Well, is it like the… Was Path the micro-social network, like families and friends? And remind me the founder’s name.

Cynthia Samanian: Dave Morin.

Bjork Ostrom: Dave Morin. And then Brit Morin has Brit + Co, so startup people in that world. So Lindsay did some work with Brit + Co really early on, photography stuff. And so was Path eventually acquired by another…?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. So I worked through the acquisition. So I joined Path when they were under 20 people, was really interested by this idea of what the product was, was essentially a private social network. So thinking the founder had worked at Facebook and as Facebook was becoming bigger and bigger and encouraging you to friend anyone and everyone, Path was taking this other approach where it actually limited your friend count, so you were only able to have a certain number of friends. And the idea was that it would make you more likely to share the things that matter to you like baby photos or special events.

Bjork Ostrom: Which just so great. It just feels so refreshing when you think about social media is now.

Cynthia Samanian: Exactly. And it’s really interesting looking back because this was… I joined full-time when Facebook bought Instagram and I remember thinking, “Facebook paid what for Instagram?” Because Instagram at the time was clearly not what it is today. And so that whole space had just changed so much. But I was there for, gosh, five years or so and started on the business side of things and then moved into product management. So I actually got to help create the product with the design team and the engineering team and be that interface. And I learned a lot around how to build great experiences for users on technology platforms. And I think that’s even helped me with website design and things that I’ve done on my own site.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. And one of the things that is great about your story that I love to point out whenever we have these conversations is the value that comes from the things that you are no longer currently doing, and I think sometimes it can seem like… I did this thing, for you, you talked about working on your blog. And you did this thing for a period of time and that thing didn’t work out, but that still was compounding knowledge that builds for you and eventually serves you in a way. As long as you keep iterating and figuring out what aligns, what works. So at each junction along your journey, what do you feel like that decision-making process looked like? So what was it like for you with Path to say, “Hey, you know what? There’s something else out there that’s a better fit”? How did you go about making that decision?

Cynthia Samanian: Right. Well, yeah. And you mentioned the acquisition, that was a big forcing function in making the decision, because yes we were acquired by a company that was based in South Korea, and so we were there for the transition, but that was done. And so I had looked around and I’m like, “Okay, there are a lot of startups in San Francisco that I could go to, or at least try to get a job at.” But I think for me, at that point I was young enough, didn’t have a lot of other responsibilities, that I knew that if I didn’t try to build the business I wanted to build or just give entrepreneurship a shot, I would always wonder, “What if?”

Cynthia Samanian: So that’s really what it was, so it was the opportunity cost of not doing the thing versus thinking about the risk. “What if it fails? What if it doesn’t work?” My risk appetite was really high at the time, so that was the driver in making the decision to just explore building a business, which at the time I had a business plan, I say food blog, and as your listeners know, food blogging is a real business. And I had laid out what my goals were and everything, but I quickly learned that wasn’t my strong suit. Actually, the idea of consistent content was really challenging for me and still is. And so I learned that I was more of a project person and that’s what drove me to the event business. And also that’s where the money was in a more immediate way for me.

Bjork Ostrom: And what I love about that is a huge piece of it is self-awareness. Not only are you learning skills in the area, but you’re also learning about yourself. And I think along the way as much as we can think about, “Where is it that we want to go?” I’ve been thinking about, when I think about decision making, what is the framework for it? And part of it is this North Star, “Where are you going? Where do you want to go?” And it sounds like for you, it was entrepreneurship, “I want to build a thing. I want to build a business.” And you talk about the risk appetite. One of the risks in pursuing or not pursuing is the question of, “20 years from now, what if I did pursue that, if you didn’t?” That also is a risk. So it’s interesting to think about that as part of the risk equation.

Bjork Ostrom: So you had this idea of entrepreneurship and it’s almost like you’re trying on different things. And I think of my friend, who’s a child psychologist and he talks about kids in their teens and he’s like, “They’re trying on different personalities.” And that’s one of the reasons why those years are so challenging for parents, is because it’s like, “Wait, what is this thing?” It’s a kid trying on a personality. I think sometimes for us, if we’re pursuing entrepreneurship, we need to allow ourselves to try on different things and see how they fit. And it might even be, “Entrepreneurship as a solopreneur isn’t the way that I want to go.” Or, “I want to be entrepreneurial, but within a team in a salaried position,” all of those are options that we can try on. So when you tried on the blogging, it sounds like, hey, you could do it, you could probably grind through it, have success with it, but it felt like it wasn’t the best fit. At what point did you know that? And when did you know to try on the next thing?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. So it was interesting because the blog that I started, it was called Confetti Kitchen and it was about gathering. So it was inspired by, as I shared earlier, my childhood growing up and always having a gathering and realizing that millennials, at that time in particular, were eating in isolation, and really weren’t confident enough to invite their friends over for whatever, a cheeseboard or brunch, anything like that. So we focused on that, that was the content that we created. But part of the business model was also to have events because it made sense, “If we are a content site around gathering let’s host gatherings.”

Cynthia Samanian: And so we hosted popup dinners from the very first month of the launch. Every month I would work with, when I say my team, we had an amazing chef who helped me with recipe development and even food styling. And we would come up with a theme, create a menu, find a space, sell tickets. And I just loved seeing people actually gathering in a space, showing up as strangers, leaving as friends. And so that event side of the business was one that I always thought had potential, but I think what, and to be perfectly honest, what happened was that I was running out of money and the content business was getting expensive, because I wasn’t trying to build a blog with just me creating content, I was trying to-

Bjork Ostrom: It was blog as a business, media company. Yeah.

Cynthia Samanian: Exactly. You know mentioned Brit + Co as an example, that was a model that I was aspiring to work towards. Well, she had raised money through a venture capital.

Bjork Ostrom: Lots of money. Yeah.

Cynthia Samanian: A lot of money and a lot of media businesses had. And so I think I kind of went into that a little bit naive thinking that if I worked hard enough, I could bypass that, but the truth is you do need money. And so I reached a point where the writing was on the wall. And it was one of my rock bottom moments in business where I looked at my financials and I said, “This is not going to work.” And I essentially created a list of all the ways I could make money in the next 30 days. And there was teaching cooking classes, there was a variety of things, selling products. But one of the things that was just so obvious in front of me was taking the event model and, as I mentioned earlier, turning it into a model where I was getting people to pay on the brand side.

Cynthia Samanian: Because you can only charge consumers so much, but if I could get a brand to pay 5,000, 10,000, even more, for me to do everything A to Z and get the right people in the room, that’s interesting. And so that was the shift. It was really driven by a financial desperation, a stubbornness on my end, I didn’t want to give up. And also leading into my strengths, because those events, I think, were far better than my role in the content creation. And I enjoyed it, I loved it, so it seemed like the perfect combination of passion and expertise and a market need.

Bjork Ostrom: I think the conversation that we had was with Liz from The Lemon Bowl and she talked about this idea of experiential marketing. I don’t remember if that’s what we called it, we might have on the podcast. But the idea being that you as a creator, a connected creator, skilled in bringing people together and hosting an event, connect with a brand like Cheeseboard, as an example, and I think this was actually something maybe we did for Pinch of Yum, it wasn’t an actual event, but we had a party to showcase a cheeseboard and then took pictures of it and post it on the blog.

Bjork Ostrom: But what you’re describing is you actually bring people together and maybe you document it in some way, but the brand gets value from the experience. Not only being able to connect with other creators who are maybe posting pictures, but also potentially getting media that they would use for social. A good friend of mine actually does a lot of video for experiential marketing. So Bumble will have a big event and he’ll go out and document it because they want to use this event that Will Smith shows up for or LeBron James. He has all these celebrities that show up at these events that then you capture it and then it’s value creating for the brand. So if that sounds appealing to people, how do you that? How do you facilitate it? Is it kind of like sponsor content, but for an event?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. Exactly. So I was approaching it from an agency perspective. So at that time I had pivoted to an agency, it was renamed Hidden Rhythm, and we focused specifically on natural food brands. So that was a niche that I really wanted to work with and so we would go to conferences like Expo West and network with a variety of brands and the organic space. And this is talking about pre-pandemic times, there definitely was an appetite for this type of event. And I think we charged more than say an individual would because we had some overhead and we were really trying to run a business just off of this model. But I definitely think there’s an opportunity for listeners who have a following, but also are well networked in the niche that that brand would care about. And if you enjoy planning events, if you enjoy hosting, you could do it in your home, you don’t even have to get a venue.

Cynthia Samanian: And it was something where it was around authenticity. And that was a piece that I think is really important. At least for me, I didn’t want to create the type of event where everyone pulled their phones out. And that was the challenge, actually, this is a minor distinction. I studied experiential marketing a lot and tried to understand what makes people care about a brand or what makes people remember a brand, remember the experience? And it’s all about the senses. It’s about smell, taste, touch, of course sight. But it’s interesting because smell is one of the strongest senses, and so the fact that we work with food and that’s something that we can, of course, that captures our sense so immediately, events like this have a ton of power.

Cynthia Samanian: And I really wanted to remove the distraction of devices so that people could remember the conversations they were having with their dinner mates, because that would actually lead to more retention about the experience and loyalty to the brand than taking a photo. And so that was a bit of a challenge that we had to navigate, but I think there’s still opportunity now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, events are happening again. It’s certainly something that I think people listening who have a knack for bringing people together could definitely explore, especially if they already have contacts at brands through sponsored content and other things that they’re doing.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. One of the things that was interesting as you were talking through these different iterations is this idea of in the startup space pivot, pivot would almost be this eye roll thing where it’s said kind of like minimum viable product too. It’s like, okay, these terms that get used so much that they get worn out. But I think helpful in that you’ve had a couple significant pivots as you’ve pursued your entrepreneurship. Did being embedded in the valley, play into that for you? Of being agile and light on your feet to say… Some people would just be heads down, “This is what I’m going to do, this is exactly what it is.” But the more that I interact with people who have a startup mindset, the more I see the openness to saying, “Hey, I’m going to actually change this. I might be working a little bit, I might have some traction, but I’m actually going to change this and go to the next thing.” And that maybe is a lead in to the question around the significant pivot from your experiential marketing to where you are now.

Cynthia Samanian: Well, it’s funny because I tend to believe that when I’m working on something that this is the thing. And people around me will say, “Even if this isn’t the thing, you’ll be one step closer,” and I almost get offended, “No, this is the thing.” But it is funny, because working in tech you do understand the value of looking at the market, putting something out there and knowing that it’s up to the market to decide if they like it or not, you can only do your best. And I’ve listened to some of your other interviews and this seems to be recurring theme, you need to build something that people want. And the idea is that it also aligns with your passions and your expertise. But it’s funny, going back to Path, one of the co-founders, his name’s Dustin Mierau, super creative, design-minded guide. And we were working on something and I remember he said, We just need to get the first version out there quickly because that’s the one that will suck.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. “Let’s do that first.”

Cynthia Samanian: Exactly. He was like, “The first thing, whatever we do is not going to be good, let’s just accept that, but let’s get there quickly so then we can get to the good thing.” And that just stuck with me because I think that’s so true. And I will say though, my pivots have generally been pushed by other forces. So the first one was financial. Okay, fine. But as we think about moving from Hidden Rhythm to what I’m doing now, which is floating a creative business school, that was definitely-

Bjork Ostrom: Global pandemic.

Cynthia Samanian: That was pandemic. Events were gone, we had to go online. And what’s interesting is that I actually didn’t make that big of a leap initially, this goes back to the market telling me what they wanted. So when my event pipeline completely shut down, it was March 2020. I looked at my belly, I was six months pregnant with our first child. I looked at my bank account and I was like, “Shoot, here we are again.”

Bjork Ostrom: Can you describe what that moment was like? I think you can… Because I think-

Cynthia Samanian: I just want to brush past that, it was crazy.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And I think it’s important to point out because in the interviews like this, a lot of times we touch on these moments, but what’s not actually unearthed is how difficult those moments potentially actually are and how much it takes to move through those. And maybe that’s not what it was like, but could you talk just briefly on what that was like?

Cynthia Samanian: For sure. Yeah. And thank you because it is something that I feel like I’ve processed so quickly that I just glazed right past it, but it was an intense time, and it was an intense time for everyone. And I think that’s something we can all think about March 2020, where were we? And I had just come back from Alt Summit and we did an activation with Native, the deodorant company, deodorant, body wash, et cetera, and it was our biggest event ever. And I was on a high, we just got back from Palm Springs-

Bjork Ostrom: You had this momentum. You just had your best event. Things were working well.

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. Best event, financially, design-wise, all around. And my mom came actually and we were in Palm Springs and we saw on the news all this stuff happening with this COVID whatever.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So this was February?

Cynthia Samanian: The first week of March. So also may have been the last conference. We literally were there and I went to Target to find a bunch of hand sanitizer, because that was the thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Isn’t that so weird to look back on? I remember being in Florida in February and my parents were like, “We have a cruise in six months.” And everything was unfolding in China, and I was like, “I don’t know. It should be okay.” I just look back at that moment just like, “Oh.” But then also a week or two later, I remember there was a conference and a friend had invited me to it, we were super excited, and I felt super sheepish, but I was like, “I don’t know, this COVID thing has me weirded out, I’m not going to go.” And at the time I felt like, “Maybe I’m just being weird about this,” And then three weeks later, it all unravels. But exactly for anybody in that industry, conferences, events, so crazy. And so for you, you were saying you were with your mom, you were watching the news unfold.

Cynthia Samanian: Exactly. And I was actually planning to just, I think I was going to try and go to Expo West as well in Anaheim and connect with some food brands and they canceled it. And that’s when I realized, “Hmm, interesting.” And I basically had clients of mine who had put down $20,000 deposits for these massive events, call me up and say-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. “We need it back.”

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. “We’re not confident.” And I also had a feeling. A lot of people were saying, “Q3, Q4.” Coachella was going to happen in Q3. And I don’t think I was being pessimistic, but I also think I knew my baby was going to be born in July and I couldn’t scramble in the summer and fall, so to me, I had this deadline of 4th of July basically. So it was a challenging time. Now I will say, I have the benefit, my husband worked a, he’ll call it a boring job, but he’s in the corporate world. And so it wasn’t just on me and we had that flexibility, and so that took some pressure off of me. That being said, I still put an immense amount of pressure on myself because I’m a career-minded person, I want to do big things, I want to make an impact. And so I had to think about how I could do that and enter online courses. And enter online courses.

Cynthia Samanian: So I had been in Amy Porterfield’s orbit for a really long time. She’s someone who I looked to as a mentor, had spent years consuming her content around how to build an email list and how to create a digital course. And I had taken her program, Digital Course Academy, the year before. And my plan was always to create a digital course in experiential marketing and launch it in September because I thought maternity leave would be the great time to work on a brand new project. Now two kids later, I know that that’s a total joke.

Cynthia Samanian: So I was there in March and I looked at my husband, I’m like, “I think I have to do it now.” And at that time I was in Amy Porterfield membership and she was showing up daily in a Facebook group helping everyone figure it out, just telling us, “Move forward. Action creates clarity. Go, go, go. Don’t be scared. This is your time.” And I give her so much credit for that because that was the voice that I needed at that time. And I realized that was the time.

Cynthia Samanian: So I created a course, or I pre-sold it, I have to say. And it was going to be, I think, an eight week program called Online Experiences for Food Brands. And the idea was that all of these food brands who could no longer host events, they couldn’t sample at events, they couldn’t demo in grocery stores. How could we use experiential marketing principles to help them take advantage of Instagram, TikTok, et cetera? And I was still figuring it out, but I was like, “You know what? I’m a few steps ahead. That’s enough for me to be able to help these businesses. Put it out there, ran Facebook ads, did webinars, I had zero food brands sign up. Who signed up? Chefs.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, interesting. So you had signups, but not the people who you thought it would be.

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. And when I say chefs, I mean, also food bloggers, people in the culinary industry.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Food people. What’s interesting with that is this idea that you mentioned before, “Action creates clarity.” And it’s ties back to that, get the first product out, that MVP, minimum viable product. That’s one of the reasons is because if you would’ve been in the lab for a year and then you put out the grand version of what you’re doing, it’s like, Oh actually I’m targeting the wrong audience.” Did you really quickly know that? And then what did that change or pivot look like?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah, I did. So fortunately I saw that in webinar registrations. So I ran maybe four or five live webinars to teach a little bit of an intro to what the program would be, but also sell the program at the end. And my webinar’s really interactive, so I’m polling and asking questions. And the people in the room were not marketers at Bob’s Red Mill, for example. They were chefs, they were in person cooking instructors who now had their venues shut down. We did have food bloggers who were like, Huh, I already know this online space. I’m seeing these Zoom cooking classes pop up, maybe I could get into that too.”

Cynthia Samanian: It was a bakery business owners, caterers, all over the place. But consistently they were solopreneurs in the food space. And I just found myself, as I continued to serve them through the program that we kind of built as we went, I fell in love with that community. And that’s why I’m serving them now because I just felt so much… I felt like I could really make an impact in multiple businesses by working with this group, versus say, helping one brand reach a set of influencers. That was great, but this feels much more aligned with how I want to make an impact.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And you referenced earlier, but you kind of talked about this gray nebulous space of all of your interests. And it sounds like business, you have experience in MBA, online, you have experience in tech and some element of social as well within that, and food for sure as well. So it seems like through all of that, where you are right now feels pretty aligned. So can talk about it. Buried the lead a little bit as we talked about your story, but what is the business and what does that look like for you?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. So the program has been rebranded and evolved over the last two years and rerecorded. It is called Culinary Creator Business School. And that’s actually my company named now. I have a podcast, also called Culinary Creator Business School. But our signature program is in fact this six month coaching program. And it’s funny because thinking about that idea of MVP or creating something quickly, the promise of the program, the goal is to get my students to teach their first online cooking class in 90 days or less.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.

Cynthia Samanian: And it’s six months because after that first class, I’m there to support them. They may decide to then focus on growing their audience, they may decide to teach corporate classes or a recorded course. And I’ve done all of those things, so I can coach them along the way and we have many courses for that, but the goals for them to just get out there. And the program wasn’t always like that, but I’m really proud of this most recent iteration because it is focused on taking action. In fact, what I talk about in my program, one of our values, is take imperfect action. We have a lot of perfectionists in our industry, but I want them to just take a step forward and not overthink it, it almost always pays off in the long run.

Bjork Ostrom: Like any skill, I think we come to the table with these preexisting skills, somebody’s really good at baking. And I think that they want their thing that they’re presenting through, or marketing, to be equal to their skill that they’re bringing to the table. But I think it’s a good reminder that you actually are starting at the beginning. So you can think back to the first thing that you were baking, the outcome probably wasn’t great, but you’ve been doing it for 10 years and now you’re excellent. Similar to building, following online or doing an online presentation or a webinar, your first one isn’t going to be awesome, which is okay. And the way that you get better is by doing it and delivering and showing up. So what does that look? For somebody who’s interested, maybe somebody who runs a restaurant or maybe somebody has a food blog in a niche and they want to start to do live courses or teach online, are there avenues that you recommend people doing that? Are there platforms that you’d recommend? I know that previously we had done an interview with…

Cynthia Samanian: Tomas.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Airsubs. Is that no longer around?

Cynthia Samanian: So they were rolled into a company called Ribbon and then Ribbon rebranded to Moments. So Moments is a platform where you can list your classes, handle payment and registration and all of that. What I will say is the most challenging part is actually not that piece. And it’s funny because that’s what people come to me with and they think that it’s the cameras and the lights and the registration that is going to slow them down. And there’s this concept of, give people what they want, teach them what they need. And so we cover that in the program, I have a four step framework, it’s called ZEST. And at the end, it’s sell and teach, so that’s the end of it. But we have Z and E, which is zero in and engage. And zero in is essentially the most important step for anyone trying to build an online business. And that’s zeroing in on your purpose. Why do you want to build an online culinary business? Zeroing in on who you serve and how you serve them. And so there’s a series of questions and things that we walk through in the program.

Cynthia Samanian: But it’s interesting, this is actually in my program, people have to have a one on one conversation before they can move into the next part of it, because it is a challenging place for people to stop and pause and answer these tough questions. But it is where they will really find the biggest impact because people will come to me and say, “I want to teach women how to eat healthy. No, you do not pass. You do not pass go. We got to dig deeper. Why does it matter?” And through that, same with blogging, your story, the motivations that you have to help people eat better, what is it? And that really does matter. And the online space is crowded, whether it’s blogging or even cooking classes, why should someone learn from you? And that’s what makes this business so amazing is that it’s personal. And it isn’t just finding the recipe. Recipes are commodities at some point, it’s about the story and what you bring to the table that’s unique.

Cynthia Samanian: And so I would encourage anyone who’s listening, who’s interested in teaching online, to spend a lot of time on that, more time than you think, because then the rest will fall into place when you know who you serve and why you’re best suited to serve them. I talk about niche in three ways. It’s a combination of your passion, your expertise, and your ideal students needs, bringing those three things together, that combination, that’s your niche, that’s the sweet spot. And there are other models out there, I know lots of other people talk about niche. No matter which one you follow, follow something because niche does matter online, for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting. I think a lot of people come to the table and the first thing, to your point, that they want to talk about or think about it’s, What tools should I use?”

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. “Which camera should I buy?”

Bjork Ostrom: “Which camera should I buy? What’s the best mic?” And part of it is because those answers are so neat. They’re really tidy conversations, it’s not messy. It’s also not super hard. And it is a version of progress, but it’s not the type of progress that’s going to be substantial. And I think your point around zeroing in, not only for your audience, but also for yourself is something that people don’t think a lot about. Can you talk about, specifically why it’s important. I think people understand the idea of a niche and why that’s important. It differentiates yourself, it allows you to stand out. Why do you think it’s important for ourselves to understand our purpose and passion within that?

Cynthia Samanian: I’m so glad you asked this because this has become one of my newer things that I enjoy talking about and it’s something that I didn’t have in my older version of the program. But I think, for me as an entrepreneur, going through the ups and downs myself, I realized that I’d be doing my students a disservice if we didn’t talk about this. This is part of building a business. And it’s this idea that you need to understand your purpose, at least in the realm of what you’re doing. So I ask my students, “What is your purpose in building an online culinary business? I want to build an online culinary business because,” fill in the blank.

Cynthia Samanian: It’s important because as you go through the downs more than the ups, you need something that reminds you of why you did it. And because things are tough, things will be tough. And so it has to be personal and it’s something that only you can answer. But when someone tells me that they want to do this because they want to, again, help someone eat healthier, that’s the top layer, “Tell me more, tell me more, why does it matter? Oh, is it because when you were a child, you weren’t taught how to cook and that impacted your,” whatever it may, be health condition?

Cynthia Samanian: There’s always something behind it. And I think getting to that is important because when you wake up and you have those days that you want to quit, you want to throw in the towel or you’re questioning everything, that’s your North Star, going back to what you said earlier. And I know that because that’s how I’ve experienced it. And I know and follow a lot of other entrepreneurs who kind of follow this thought process that you need to have something more than say money or more than just liking to do something, there has to be a deeper purpose there. And it only has to be good enough for you. You don’t have to prove it to anyone or you don’t have to put it on your website. It has to be strong enough for you to believe in and get up every day and do the hard work.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And I see that too. I think when money does work as a motivator, it’s for somebody who has that as the chip on their shoulder or their reason, they grew up in a situation where they felt insecure or their parents argued about money when they’re growing up and they don’t want to have that for their family. And so I think sometimes it can seem like, “Well, maybe money or financial success is the motivator.” But I think in those situations that it is there usually is a heart and soul reason behind it as the motivator. And I heard, this was on a podcast, it was an entrepreneur. I forget which one it was. Oh, it was in a podcast called All-in, do the All-in podcast? It’s for VC guys.

Cynthia Samanian: Oh, okay.

Bjork Ostrom: But one of them, his name’s David Friedberg, in the food space a little bit, he has this really cool device coming out that does, I don’t remember the name of it, but basically it can create any beverage. It’s like Keurig, but it’s for anything, orange juice, alcoholic drinks, beer, milk. Anyways, he was talking about his experience as an entrepreneur. And he said, “It’s essentially taking one step back nine days in a row and then on the 10th day taking 10 steps forward.” That’s what it felt like entrepreneurship is.

Bjork Ostrom: And for those nine days where you’re taking a step back, where it feels like you’re taking a step back, if the only motivator is financial progress or even just metrics, whatever metric it is, for many people, that’s not going to be enough to show up tomorrow and be, “I’m going to do this again, because it feels like I’m showing up every day and it’s like, I’m not making progress.” And every once in a while you have a really huge unlock and you’ll make that progress. But I think to your point, it’s so important for us to remember, what is the reason behind it? And do you feel in those one on one conversations that you have, does it take a while for people to peel back the layers on it? Is that pretty common?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah, it is. Despite how much in the content I really make it clear, “Okay. No, I really mean it. Yeah. You may think this is what it is, but keep going, keep going.” Yeah. It can be the thing where you type out an answer and you move on, but it’s not because people don’t want to think about it, but because they want to get to the part where they teach the class.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. They’re anxious to get to that part.

Cynthia Samanian: And I will say financial motivations. There’s nothing wrong with that. And to me that, like you said, you’ve got to go deeper and understand, well, what is it? And so for me, that means freedom and thinking about the freedom to work wherever I want or to take time off and not be worried about bills. So to me, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having money be the motivator, but that’s usually, like you said, not the thing, it’s money allows you to do certain things that motivate you, like spend time with your family or take great trips and create memories.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. And in situations, and there’s multiple instances where I’ve had conversations with people where it’s, “That purely was the motivation for me, to get out of a job that I don’t like,” or, “To provide for my family.” And I think in those situations very clearly it’s, yeah, totally. It’s 100% what it is. I think where it gets potentially sticky or where your point about the additional motivation behind it is helpful, is either when you get to that point where you then have achieved a certain level of financial success, what keeps you going, maybe nothing, maybe you’ve hit that.

Bjork Ostrom: Or, in the situation where sometimes people are in this between where it’s golden or silver or bronze, depending on where you are, handcuffs, where you have this job and it’s okay, it’s a good fit, but the financial motivation isn’t going to be enough to move you to take the action that you need to take. And so what is that thing that is driving you, that purpose and that passion? So as people move through this and they love that analogy or that acronym Zed, as people move through it, they start to understand, here’s why I’m doing it for myself. Here’s why I’m doing it for other people. Here’s kind of the specific niche that I have. What does it look like to then move on to the next step within that?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. So really the purpose of that 90 days, it’s kind of like the sprint and tech terms of creating that first class. So they define what class they’re going to teach, what’s the date? What’s the time? They put it on the calendar and they work towards that. So thinking about if you are working with busy parents, what’s the ideal day for your class? And they do interviews throughout that zero in piece. So they do, we call them ISA or ideal student avatar interviews, so they can start to collect information and not make assumptions around what their students want.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And that is another really important one to point, customer development in the tech world, but just having conversations and saying, “Here’s my idea, is this something that is actually going to be interesting to you?”

Cynthia Samanian: And solving real problems, which it doesn’t have to be the problems we think about, but it could be helping people connect with others who have the same sort of dietary preferences or lifestyle as them, not a lot of people who come from gluten free and celiac communities. And I’m like, “You are sitting on such a powerful opportunity to bring people together. Yes, you do that through your blog but imagine if you’re in a Zoom cooking class and everyone looks around and everyone there has this one powerful thing in common.” I think that’s why cooking classes in general for community building, it’s such a valuable piece.

Cynthia Samanian: But so they work through the program. We do with this audit of their different platforms, so having an Instagram and a website, and what are the things that you need to have? And again, this idea of MVP, I don’t want you to go build a brand new website, use what you have or create just a single landing page. For the bloggers listening, you all have websites, so you’re kind of ahead of the game here, but really it’s about not getting stuck, not getting tripped up and just moving quickly. And then they create their sales page and there are different tools for that. Email marketing is a piece that I teach as well, because that is very important in building the relationship with your audience.

Cynthia Samanian: And then they move into teach, so sell, teach. We talk about promotion as well, I should say, in the sales module, but teach is really where we get into the tech. We get into how to create a lesson plan, how to structure your class so that it feels like an experience, not a bootcamp where you’re behind and scrambling if you’re the student. And lots of tips and tricks around that.

Cynthia Samanian: And one of the things that we have, which I think we’ll just always continue to do is call demo week. And we just finished it last week. Every other month, we have a one week period where our students can actually teach a practice class and it gets a lot of them to rip off that band-aid of getting that camera out of the box and just doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable in a relatively safe, low-risk environment. So we’ve had students just go through that and you just see the progress skyrocket because people now feel confident and they can’t wait to list their class and actually get people to come and pay because they’re on this high, this adrenaline rush afterward.

Bjork Ostrom: “I did it and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was,” that positive feedback. So are the classes that people are doing primarily live or pre- recorded? Or is it, “Hey, up to you”? My guess is there’s a lot of different options in iterations within the course and the curriculum. Are you teaching one way or the other?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. So the 90 days, that ZEST framework, is for a live cooking class. I want my students to all teach at least one live cooking class because it’s how you learn the fastest, it’s how you get feedback, and it’s lightweight. Once we move into recorded courses, now we have a lot more work to do. And I encourage my students to test out their ideas, test out their recipes, test out everything in a live format. They could run a beta, a private beta for their top fans, their top readers, whatever it may be. It may not even be about making money off of that beta, but just to learn. And so after they finish that ZEST framework with the live class, they can then choose. They can choose to focus on growing their audience through different content strategies that I teach, like lead magnets and whatnot. They can move down the recorded course, mini course, which shows them how to outline their course, how to record their course.

Cynthia Samanian: Or they can go down the corporate event channel, which is one that most people don’t know about, but it’s actually very lucrative. And for certain niches, it’s a fantastic way for you to bring in $1,500 for a 90 minute class teaching Google, for example, how to, I don’t know, make dosas. So that’s an opportunity that a lot of my students are interested in, but again, it starts with the live classes, because you can’t go pitch a company if you’ve never taught a live class. You can’t create a course, in my opinion, that is the best it could be if you haven’t test run your content in a live format, it saves you time and headaches and money and all of that. So that’s how I have structured the program, which is new. And this has evolved after seeing where my students get stuck or where they want to go.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. Do you have any stories about students who have gone through it, maybe didn’t have anything that they were doing, did something, and now is part of their business or have had a certain level of success?

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. Oh my gosh. So one of my students, her name’s Katrina, she’s an alum. She grew up, I don’t know where she grew up, but she lived in Colorado and is a Francophile. And one day she was just like, “I’m moving to France. I’ve spent enough time here.” She studied food policy and the farm to table movement and just realized she’s like, “I want to go to France. I studied French, I’m fluent.” So she moved to France, started teaching at an in-person cooking school in France. But she fortunately had her email list, her online presence and actually started teaching corporate classes out of her kitchen in France.

Cynthia Samanian: So an example, she taught a well known tech company a virtual class, and their team was all over. They had employees in Africa, North America, in Europe, and they were looking for exactly what she offered, which was a 90 minute team building experience to bring them all together. And she was able to make real money. We’re talking 1500 bucks again for a 90 minute class, and so now she offers that. And what’s really cool is she recently got married to a honey farmer.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool.

Cynthia Samanian: In the outskirts, not even the outskirts, but the countryside in France. And she’s now going to be doing in-person and virtual experiences utilizing honey from the farm. And it’s opened up her world. I feel like she now has so many ways to monetize her talents and teaching online has given her a platform to do it.

Bjork Ostrom: And the other thing that’s so great about it is a portable platform. You move to France and it goes with you. And can be molded, it’s a skill that you can use that can be molded into other areas. To your point, there’s a new evolution in your life and you now live with or marry a honey farmer and you live on a honey farm, which is a thing I guess, but you could do an event because you’ve learned how to do that and you have that skill and ability. So I’ve been thinking a lot about compounding and in ways that aren’t financially related and this is one of those, where if you learn the ability to teach and the ability to teach online, it serves you really well going forward because you can use it so many different ways.

Cynthia Samanian: I have another student who I just have to mention, her name is Kim, and she’s a food blogger and I believe her blog is From Market to Table. And she came into the program, having worked in tech. And as a woman in tech, she saw that there was an opportunity to empower women in STEM careers and basically help teams manage their dynamic better. Frankly, she was one woman in a team of 30 dudes and was looking around, “Ha, something feels a little different or off here.” So I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but what she created, I’m so excited about and she’s launching it right now.

Cynthia Samanian: But essentially she is creating corporate cocktail classes that, yes, the cocktail piece is fun and they can be mocktails whatnot, that’s not the point. But she’s creating these experiences that actually help foster storytelling and sharing around inclusivity and it’s focused on these tech companies who want to attract and retain women in their companies. And she came from that and she has this love of food and had the food blog that was a hobby, and she’s now bringing those two things together. And again, I’m so excited to see where she takes this because it’s so niche, but yet so needed. And I think it’s the perfect combination of bringing, again, her passion, her expertise and what the market needs. So that’s one that stands out because it’s so different.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Cool. And one of the things that’s great about what you’re teaching is it’s a specific niche, which is online courses, online learning, but it could be applied to anything. It could be cocktail classes around educating people in corporate environments around inclusivity, or it could be honey farming or whatever it might be, it all applies. So for people who are interested and want to learn a little bit more, you also have a podcast, which we’re doing a little podcast exchange.

Cynthia Samanian: I can’t wait to have you on.

Bjork Ostrom: So I’ll be on the other side. I’ll be in the exact same place, but virtually on the other side of the mic. But what does that look like for people, or what’s the best next step for people who’d be interested in either following along with the podcast or maybe going through the course?

Cynthia Samanian: For sure. So you can find everything at culinarycreatorbschool.com. That’s where you can find the podcast and we have the episodes organized by focus, so if you’re just getting started, we have some recommendations for you. You can learn more about our program, we have some free trainings. And then connect with me. I’m on Instagram all the time, @culinarycynthia, send me a DM, it is really me on the other side, and I’d love to get to know you.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Hey, Cynthia, super fun conversation. Thanks for coming on.

Cynthia Samanian: Yeah. Thanks for having me. This is great.

Leslie Jeon: Hello, hello, Leslie here from the Food Blogger Pro team, we really hope that you enjoyed this episode of the podcast. Before we sign off, I just wanted to give you a quick heads up about some exciting new content that we have coming to Food Blogger Pro in the month of September. So if you’re not familiar, we do have the Food Blogger Pro membership, where we have exclusive courses live Q and As, our forum, our study halls, lots of great content for you if you become a member of Food Blogger Pro. And we’re constantly adding new content and updating our old courses so that your membership is always improving in value.

Leslie Jeon: So just to give you a quick rundown about what’s coming new in month of September in case you want to check it out or you’d like to join. Up first, we have our study hall on Thursday, September 8th, and it’s going to be all about making the most of Q4 as a food creator. So in these study halls, we break out into small breakout rooms and have small group discussions, all centered around a certain theme. And this time around, we’re going to be talking all about Q4. So how are you going to optimize your ad revenue? Are you going to post certain types of content? Are you going to increase your posting frequency? Those are all questions that we’re going to chat about in this study hall. So if you’re a member and you want to add it to your calendar, so you don’t forget, you can head over to the live tab on Food Blogger Pro to do that.

Leslie Jeon: Speaking of live events, on September 15th, we’re going to have our monthly live Q and A, and it’s going to be all about earning money with a side hustle. And our special guest for this Q and A is going to be Nick Loper from Side Hustle Nation. So he’ll be joining Bjork to answer all of your questions about monetization. And if you’re looking for new and unique ways to earn money doing what you love, you won’t want to miss this Q and A. Similar to the study hall, you can head over to the live tab on Food Blogger Pro to learn more and add it to your calendar so you can tune in on September 15th.

Leslie Jeon: Up next, we’re going to be completely overhauling and updating one of our most popular courses on September 22nd and that’s our SEO for food blogs course. This is one of our most fundamental courses on Food Blogger Pro, and we like to routinely update these as much as possible, just so that the information is fresh and as relevant as possible for all of you. So stay tuned for a completely new course coming out on the 22nd.

Leslie Jeon: And the last thing new we have coming this month is on September 29th, and it’s going to be a quick win video that’s all about a helpful tip for testing your email opt-ins. This is a short and sweet video that’s going to walk you through how you can easily test your opt-ins to make sure that they’re working properly, and it’s a trick that you might not have heard yet, so stay tuned for that. Like I mentioned, if you are already a member of Food Blogger Pro, you’ll get instant access to all of this once it goes live. But if you’re not a member yet and you want to join, you can do so by heading over to foodbloggerpro.com/join to learn more and we would just love to see you there. We are so appreciative of our entire Food Blogger Pro community and our podcast listeners and we just want to say thank you so much for all your support as always. That’s all we’ve got for you today, though. Thanks again for tuning in. And until next time, make it a great week.

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