Panna, a video cooking magazine iOS application which connects users to celebrity chefs, has raised $1.35 million in a round of funding led by Anthem Ventures. Others participating include Lerer Ventures, Crosslink Ventures, Maveron, Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital, RSL Venture Partners, Launchpad LA, David Tisch’s BoxGroup, and angels Rick J. Caruso, Ken Siskind, Jay Livingston, Dan Rose, Aaron Schiff and David Levy.
Unlike many cooking apps out there on the App Store today, Panna’s creator, David Ellner, is not your typical tech entrepreneur, but rather comes from the entertainment industry, where he spent 25 years, including time spent serving as President of Digital and Business Development for 19 Entertainment, the producer of TV series like American Idol. With this background, he comes at the (yes, very crowded) cooking and recipe space thinking more about things like how to use high-def videos and quality production values to connect celeb chefs and at-home cooks similar to the way that television does today, rather than trying to break new ground through technological leaps.
If anything, Panna’s mere existence is demonstrative of the fact that there’s interest in bringing TV-like content to our mobile devices, and if the Hollywood studios won’t do it for us, then someone else will. And on a related note, Panna is a Kickstarter success story – it got its start on the crowdfunding site where hundreds of home cooks donated to get it off the ground.
The entertainment industry is experimenting more and more with this method of launching their projects these days, most recently with the funding of Zach Braff’s indie film “Wish I Was Here,” and “Veronica Mars” creator’s Rob Thomas’ desire to turn the show into a feature film.
The app itself is more than a recipe finder, and is styled as a “magazine,” released bi-monthly, each digital copy containing 13 seasonal video recipes from master chefs who demonstrate their cooking techniques, similar to the way they would on television. Recipe demos can be paused, fast-forwarded through, rewound, or downloaded for offline access. Written versions are also available to help users prepare for their shopping trips.
To date, Panna has worked with celebrity chefs like Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto); Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill and Top Chef Masters Winner); Sean Brock (Husk, McCrady’s); Melissa Clark (NY Times food writer and recipe developer); Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirscheimer (Canal House Cooking); Anita Lo (Annisa and Top Chef Masters); Seamus Mullen (Boqueria, Tertulia); Chad Sarno (Health Starts Here Senior Culinary Educator, R&D Chef); Nancy Silverton (Osteria Mozza); and Michael Tusk (Cotogna, Quince). It has also partnered with brands like Sur La Table and Whole Foods to offers segments on cooking equipment and vegan meals, the company notes.
With the additional funding, the plan to is to scale up content, sales, marketing and advertising efforts, upgrade the iPad version, and release a version for Android.
In addition, Ellner tells us that a new “Ask the Chef” feature will be released a few weeks, which will serve to even better connect users to chefs. The home cooks will be able submit questions to the chefs about the recipes they’re cooking, and then receive a response. “For example, users can ask Rick Bayless, ‘what’s the best kind of store bought tortilla chips?” or they can ask Seamus Mullen, ‘what’s a good substitute for morel mushrooms in you Asparagus Salad recipe?’,” explains Ellner.
The questions will be sorted by recipe, so users can see each other’s questions and the answers these chefs provide, he says, and users will be alerted when their question is answered. “I really think it has the potential to be game changing for home cooks,” Ellner adds. “All too often I’m not sure about something and I wish I could ask the author.”
Panna has released four “magazine” issues so far, which cost $4.99 each or $14.99 for an annual subscription. Sales, downloads, and revenue details were not available. Ellner says the issue with sales data is that it hasn’t even been shared with the chefs yet, and they won’t be receiving royalty accountings for a few more months.
Meanwhile, in terms of traction, he offers that the app has “hundreds of thousands of downloads” and “many thousands of customers.” It’s good enough, he notes, to close the seed round.