Founded by UC Berkeley’s very own, Provecho is a new start-up bridging the gap between food-content users and creators. Equipped with a user-friendly platform for food, influencers post their recipes so that their followers can easily follow along while also monetizing their content. Provecho currently works with a variety of influencers, each with hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok, and is also affiliated with Berkeley Skydeck and the Sutardja Dai Center for Entrepreneurship.

To learn more about what Provecho does and how it got started, I received the wonderful opportunity to interview Conrad DeMasi, Provecho’s founder.

Can you tell us a little about what Provecho is and what it does?

Our goal is to make cooking from your phone as simple as possible, while also helping food creators monetize and turn their passion into a career in the simplest way possible. To do that, we give them this really intuitive recipe format that they then can plug into Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, or someone’s LinkedIn bio. This is a really digestible way for their fans to follow along, make the recipes, and earn money. We do that by turning each ingredient and tool they use into a form of product placement. We just did some videos of baked brie, and the brie was sponsored by a brie company. Not only are you getting the product placement, but you’re also able to shop through InstaCart, where eventually creators will be able to earn an affiliated commission too.

How did you come up with the idea for Provecho? What inspired you?

Honestly, we just fell forward into it. It actually started out in quarantine–COVID had just hit, and I started with an Instagram group that grew pretty big quickly. Then, we made a Facebook group that grew to around 1500 people. Everyone was posting recipes and sharing pictures and ideas. The original idea was to have a social media for food. Eventually, we realized that as we’re coming out of quarantine, people are more excited to get dinner and cooking is becoming more challenging. There’s a lot of easy alternatives.

It’s also just really difficult anytime to start a whole new social media. We realized we had done all these user interviews and talked with people about having this ultimate recipe viewing experience. Instead of trying to persuade people to join our app, download a new thing, sign up, tell their friends, and have to take pictures, we could just give it to the top 0.5% of these ‘foodies’ that have food accounts and an established audience, and help them make recipes more accessible for their fans, leading into a more fruitful career for them.

Why the name “Provecho”?

I’m from Boston originally, but I grew up in Costa Rica. In Spanish, you say, ‘Buen provecho,’ which directly translates to ‘benefit.’ How it’s used colloquially is ‘enjoy your meal,’ similar to ‘bon appétit,’ but less gentrified. I moved into a new culture and saw this happening all around me. It’s not used the same way as ‘bon appétit or ‘enjoy your meal’ because you would say it to someone you know or at the dinner table. If you ever go to Latin America, you would see people saying ‘Buen provecho,’ to anyone, on the streets, to their neighbors—it’s a word that brings people together through food and that’s what we really want to hone into.

What has your biggest challenge been?

For a while, since I'm not tech-savvy, it was finding someone else that could actually build [Provecho]–that was a big thing. Then I got co-founders and found people that were really excited—just as I am. I think the biggest [challenge] that we're facing is this constant battle called the 'cold start.' Basically, we can have this network effect, but in order to have that, we need to have people on first. This pivot, or the new way that we're looking at Provecho, avoids that, but there's still a constant sense of 'faking it until you make it.' We need to get these creators on board that have hundreds and thousands and millions of followers, but they're really hard to reach out to. The way we're able to get them on board is to say that we have all these brands, but in order to get the brands on, you need to have the creators too—so you're building in parallel. Just getting your foot in the door is inherently really inaccessible because creators are getting thousands of DMs and there's all kinds of brands working with them. Even as a brand, it's hard to reach out to them. While that's been very hard for us, that's the part of the picture that we want to make a lot simpler down the line. There's not just the part where we want to make it easier to cook alongside your favorite creators' recipes. We also want to make the whole process of partaking in influencer marketing a lot more streamlined because it's still a very new space and I think there are a lot of inefficiencies.

What has been your favorite part creating and working with Provecho?

On a personal level, this is something that I've always wanted to do in terms of starting a business and trying to actually go for it. I always thought that [other company] founders put something in the water and just had something [spontaneously happen]. I later realized that no, these are just people, too, and this growth mindset of 'Okay, I don't have all the tools I need right now, but I think I can go out and figure it out' has fired me up every day. There's also the fact that I'm able to work with these big food creators and eat a bunch of good food. If I'm ever tired of sitting at the computer all day, I can justify making this good meal, inviting people over, or going to someone else's house and trying new food. You know, eventually, it'll pay off.

What plans do you have for Provecho in the future?

What we're working on right now is getting more creators and brands on, and we're beginning to pursue integrations. There’s Linked Tree or Beacons—those are where people will post all their links in their bio. We want to have a recipe part of that with little squares where the recipes are literally within that platform. Eventually we can hopefully work with TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, to have a recipe feature. We want to keep people within the apps that they’re already in, but still provide this value and hopefully monetization for the creators too.

What advice do you have for aspiring food-content creators?

First off, I would just say it’s not all that easy from what I could tell. I have so much respect for these creators because a lot of them work a full-time job and are also a one-man show. They're writing scripts, shooting, editing, and working with brands themselves. It's a lot, but there has probably never been a better time to start. I see people like @salt_hank, who just popped up like three months ago, and he has about a million followers on TikTok and is just killing it. I think people like really fast-paced and authentic content, and people who have their own little spin or hook. For example, one of our creator's name is Shihan, but his handle is @chilipeppercooks and at the end of every video, he pulls out a Thai chili pepper from behind his hat and says, 'I bet you thought I forgot about the Thai chili pepper' and adds it into the dish, whether it’s wings or even a lassi. Yes, have a schtick to always fall back on.

What advice do you have for people aspiring to create their own start-ups, especially in regards to digital platforms like Provecho?

For whatever reason, people might not think that they can do it. I think that, especially now with the internet, you can learn any skill that you put your mind to. It's very much an attitude. Go into it knowing that the process is going to have some very trying parts, to say the least, so you need to be energized by the whole process too. At the end of the day, it's such a slim margin that this will actually work out. I'm dedicating a very substantial chunk of my life towards doing this, so I want the day-to-day to be overall more meaningful—maybe not easier, but more meaningful—and, I’d say, it’s more exciting than getting a typical job.

Get ready to fail at everything. Everyone says this, and you're like, 'Yeah sure.' I look back at the designs from a year ago, how I would take notes or interact with people or send emails—all of these little things that you start off kind of sucking. It's honestly good to be ignorant, in a way, of how hard it's going to be, because if you had an idea of all the things that you need to improve on it might be pretty daunting to ever begin.

What does food mean to you?

My mom always jokes, because in kindergarten, I was named ‘best eater.’ I just really like food and my passion for cooking comes from liking food and not having money. If I can see this in a restaurant, why can't I make that myself? When I was in Costa Rica and it was very international, I had friends from Peru, Venezuela, Italy. I saw the way that people eat and the interactions throughout dinner really reflect culture. It’s like a window into another side of people’s personality. It’s a place to decompress after a long day or something to take your mind off everything.

What is your favorite dish or meal to make?

I really enjoy making ceviche, which is a fish dish. You use white fish and lime juice, so the acidity cooks it. The secret that people don't always realize is that you should eat it with sweet plantain. I like to slice them into little saucers and basically make chips out of them—my Peruvian friend taught me this. The combination of acidity and fish with sweet plantain or sweet potato is so delicious, so I highly recommend it.

I hope this interview has helped you learn more about Provecho and the processes behind developing a new start-up. If you are interested in Provecho's services or getting involved, creators or brands can apply on Provecho's website here. Also, check out their Instagram for mouthwatering recipes from their many food influencers,