Startups

Whirlpool acquires Yummly, the recipe search engine last valued at $100M

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Some consolidation in the world of subject-specific search and social networks, as a legacy player from the world of white goods makes a play for a wider audience. The Whirlpool Corporation — the world’s largest home appliance maker, founded back in 1911 — has acquired Yummly, a visual and semantic recipe search engine and aggregator with 20 million users, which also let you create shopping lists and (in some locations) order food for delivery and equipment to make a meal.

Terms of the deal, which was announced without much fanfare earlier this week — were not disclosed. Publicly traded Whirlpool is a $14 billion business with revenues last year of $20.7 billion, and it said the deal would have no material impact.

For some context, Yummly was last valued at $100 million when it last raised, $15 million in 2015. Since being founded in 2009 by David Feller and Vadim Geshel, Yummly had raised just under $23 million, according to CrunchBase, with investors including Bauer, First Round, Harrison Metal, Intel Capital, Physic Ventures and Unilever Ventures.

Yummly plans to stay in its offices in Redwood City, California, operating as a subsidiary of Whirlpool, after the deal closes later this month.

The deal is an interesting one for a couple of reasons. It shows how legacy, non-tech companies continue to snap up tech startups to help catapult themselves into the future. And it shows how smaller, but notable, startups focused on specific verticals may opt for these kinds of exits in the face of trying to grow their businesses as independents in a forest of larger trees (in Yummly’s case, the likes of Google and Pinterest).

For Whirlpool, the acquisition is one of many steps that the company has taken over the years to place itself into the current and next-generation of how consumers cook. If you have ever attended or read about the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you will have probably heard about some of the company’s many efforts in the connected kitchen.

Whirlpool threw its hat into the ring with Samsung, LG and others early on with slightly gimmicky things like fridges with digital photo frames and iPod docks.

But more recently, it’s been making appliances to fill out the kitchen of the future: including smart sensors that can detect what item you put on a counter to tell you what to do with it, cook it for you, and then clean up the dirty dishes you leave in the sink. It’s also been an early partner of companies like Amazon and IBM as they, too, have sought more endpoints for their own IoT and connected home technologies.

“We are committed to introducing new products to market that remove complexity from the day-to-day lives of consumers. Increasingly, these products will be defined by both physical and digital experiences. Yummly brings an outstanding platform on which to begin building our digital product offering,” said Brett Dibkey, vice president, Integrated Business Units for Whirlpool Corporation, in a statement.

Yummly basically can help extend the kinds of services that Whirlpool can offer in that context: it can more recipes and other suggestions for your food items; Yummly has created a lot of specific parameters for recipe searches which help make results more specific to what users need.

But it’s also a potential standalone sales channel. Whirlpool owns brands like KitchenAid, and given that Yummly has already made moves to sell cookware (via Amazon), it becomes an obvious place to market blenders and more.

“We look forward to the many possibilities to create value for our consumers with this acquisition,” said Joe Liotine, president of Whirlpool North America.

As for Yummly… it’s not completely clear why the startup chose to sell up right now to Whirlpool, but my guess is that Whirlpool’s interest, but also Yummly’s own business fortunes, might be connected to the Pinterest effect.

The image-based search and discovery network last reported 150 million monthly active users and counts food and cooking among some of its most popular categories for users. That points both to direct competition for Yummly, but also the market opportunity for Whirlpool. Yummly, again, has 20 million registered users. That represents growth over the last several years, when comparing registered users: a spokesperson said that the number of registered users was 1.7 million in 2014. (In 2014 it also had 14 million unique visitors but no longer breaks out that metric, which makes sense if it’s now focusing more on a base that visits more frequently.)

On top of Pinterest’s size, Pinterest is investing in innovation: the company, which was last valued at $11 billion (back in 2015), has raised about $1.3 billion in funding, and it has been working on various features to improve how people use its services. These include Lens, the company’s visual search engine, which now integrates with your phone’s camera as well to detect items and provide Pinterest-based results for them.

Tying up with Whirlpool gives Yummly an avenue and budget to also explore ways of evolving its service, too.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunities and innovations we can create with Whirlpool Corporation,” said Brian Witlin, CEO of Yummly, said in a statement. “Whirlpool’s purposeful and consumer-centric approach to innovation aligns perfectly with what we do, who we are, and what we seek to create for consumers as the kitchen becomes ever-more digitally connected.”

Updated to clarify user numbers. 

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