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Founder, Teach Me Sushi and Teach Me Chocolate
Jake Davidow, an avid supporter of the principles of The Lean Startup, launched his first app, Teach Me Sushi, over a six-week timeframe. He believes that in order to get an idea to product, you must keep a strong focus on the end goal and not be tempted by other fancy options available along the way. On launching “Teach Me Sushi,” an app developed to teach avid sushi lovers how to make their own homemade sushi, Davidow was tempted to “smarten” up the app by adding professional photographs, videos and even the allure of a professional chef, but he opted instead for photographs taken with an aged camera to get the still shots he needed to illustrate the process of making sushi. By doing this, he was able to get his app to market cheaper and quicker.
Davidow began making sushi in London circa 2007. His passion for making sushi progressed into catering and teaching at sushi parties and corporate events. Assisting the demand and interest in his niche skills was the craze and demand for sushi that occurred around 2009. To scale his sushi-making lessons, he was interested in putting together a DVD, but then a friend introduced him to apps as an alternative channel to launch his sushi-making lessons.
After completing some research, he found that there was no sushi-making tutorial app, and he realized that there was a strong chance someone else was thinking of it and possibly in the process of producing an app. Following the release and initial procurement of the app by close friends, colleagues and relatives, he observed sales dipping heavily. He leaned on his longtime mentor, a specialist in PR and marketing, for advice on how to market an app, and she promised to get back to him later in the week; she didn’t need to. Within a few days, the Apple App Store got wind of his release and ranked his app as number one in the New and Noteworthy category, and the following week they made it App of the Week. This was the domino Davidow needed to fall, and it provided him with a payback on his initial investment within two weeks and has returned a steady profit over the last two years. A second app is also coming out called “Teach Me Chocolate,” which provides step-by-step tutorials on the art of chocolate making.
Read on to learn more about Davidow, who is a digital marketer, app producer, sushi chef, struggling artist (martial) and wannabe magician.
Dave Kitley: How did you come up with the concept for 'Teach me Sushi'?
Jake Davidow: I started “Teach Me Sushi” in London around 2007. When I came to the U.S. in 2009, I was thinking of creating a DVD set of sushi lessons. A friend told me that I should do an app and fortunately, I listened to him. I took a look at the cooking apps and realized there were no sushi apps, so I decided to go for it and see what happened.
As a non-techie, how did you go about conceptualizing and subsequently building the app? How long did it take?
While I don't develop apps myself, I have been in digital for a while and have been a part of some pretty big site launches, so I knew a bit about managing a project like this. I put a team together made up of a cameraman, who up until this time had only done wedding shoots; a web designer; and an app developer that was recommended to me by a friend in the industry. The cameraman and the designer had no food or app experience, but everyone had open minds and learned on the job, producing an app that was spoken about for its design and film.
I scoped the first version of the app around what an average sushi lesson was like, featuring basic rolls along with information that answered most questions people might have. One of the hardest parts was keeping the team in scope and shelving big ideas that threatened to distract us from the original design and functionality of the app. Once we started putting the pieces together, everyone had ideas on how to improve the app and build the experience. I did not deviate from the original scope as I knew we had the advantage of being first to market, and that was more important than having an app with every bell and whistle you could think of.
The first app took six weeks to develop from start to finish. We have just completed another app, [“Teach Me Chocolate”], and it took roughly the same amount of time.
The app has received both good and bad reviews. How do you deal with reviews?
I knew that reviews were really important. As soon as the app launched, I asked some friends to download and review it, and I think this helped somewhat. The app marketplace is a weird one. You have people who have spent $300 on a phone, but an app going for $4.99 is seen as outlandishly expensive. I learned very quickly that I wasn't going to be able to please everyone, and the fact that I always had more positive than negative reviews helped. Most negative reviews are either about the size of the app or the price—both of which aren't going to change—so it is what it is.
What have been your best accolades to date?
Being named App of the Week was insane and something that every app developer dreams of. However, even though this sounds really cheesy, the biggest accolade was seeing how many people could make really good sushi after using the app. Our Facebook page is full of pictures of sushi dishes people made after watching a video or two on our app. That told me I had made a good product that others were benefitting from, which really made me feel like I wanted to do more apps like this.
For every update and in the iPad edition, we cracked the New and Noteworthy and What's Hot lists. We got some good press from The New York Times as well. We were rated as the top app for cooking by Channel 4 in the U.K., and The Daily Telegraph ranked us second out of the 250 most important cooking apps.
Reflecting back on the experience, what piece of advice would you have to anyone developing an app?
You have to strike a balance between sweating every detail and making sure you launch as quickly as possible. Being able to fully scope everything out in the beginning is critical to this, especially if you are not technical. You need some understanding of all the working parts. Otherwise, it is going to be a very expensive and time-consuming experience.
How do you juggle a day job and your entrepreneurial drive?
It's not easy. In the last three years, I moved countries, switched jobs twice, got promoted three times, got married, had two kids and bought a house. Along the way, I launched an app, and I've done a bit of consultancy, too. Some people speak of balance, but I have never been able to find that. I am always heavily invested in one area more than another. I think over time, it got easier knowing when it was time to go flat out on a project versus when it was time to back away and let the momentum carry it for a few weeks. I have busy periods and not-so-busy periods, and I have learned to navigate between them.
Also, being able to function on three hours of sleep also helps.
What will be the tipping point to you running your app business full time?
The tipping point will be when I either have a really big idea and need to look for funding or when one of the small projects I am working on catches fire. Having a family has shrunk my appetite for personal risk. At the moment, my view is that my activities are more about small, incremental victories than swinging for the fences and risking it all.
Casting an eye back to your origins, what’s your view of the tech environment in South Africa?
South Africa has some great talent in tech. The challenge that it faces is infrastructure. Broadband has not evolved quickly enough, and data is so expensive for mobile that it really is not truly accessible to the mass market. Hopefully this will change over time as we see large cables installed.
About Jake Davidow
Jake Davidow specializes in digital marketing, having consulted many firms and industries over his 10-year career. He currently heads search marketing for J.P. Morgan Chase. He has been based on the East Coast of America for about four years, and prior to this he was based in London, U.K. He learned how to make sushi at The Cod Father in Rivonia, Johannesburg.
Davidow initially studied law and criminology before steering his career toward his interest in marketing and sushi.
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