After a 13-year run, Elise Bauer, one of the most successful food bloggers in the world, has sold her blog and business Simply Recipes. Fexy Media, a digital media investment firm that also owns Serious Eats, bought the site for an undisclosed amount.
Fexy Media announced the news in a press release, and Bauer followed up with an announcement on her blog. Bauer will continue as president of the blog, and as an employee of Fexy Media. (If you’ve never heard of Fexy Media, the Seattle-area company is only two years old. Lisa Sharples, who co-founded it with her husband, ran Allrecipes for six years. Under her watch, Meredith Corp. acquired Allrecipes for $175 million.)
It’s a big shift for Bauer, who has presided over the blog alone since launching it in 2003. “There’s so much care that I’ve put into [Simply Recipes] over the years, said Bauer in an interview with the Sacramento Bee, her hometown newspaper. “I want to make sure it continues to grow and thrive, and I think the best way to do that in this market that is constantly changing is to do that in a bigger organization. They have the resources I would need to continue to grow the company.”
In my interview below, Bauer explains her decision to sell Simply Recipes, and how it will change as a result:
Q. How did Simply Recipes grow from a family recipe blog in Carmichael, California, to the “number one cooking blog for women 25-29,” as the press release says, with more than 6 million unique visitors per month?
A. Luck and 13 years of hard work! I was very lucky to fall into this years ago before the space got so crowded. In 2003, almost all of the attention was on tech and political blogs. “No one cares what you ate for lunch today” was a meme, rather ironic since oddly and actually, people do care what you eat for lunch. Cooks.com was the number one cooking website back then, and the only food magazines that had a web presence were Gourmet and Bon Appétit through Epicurious. So, I was able to create a brand, and start to build momentum when there wasn’t as much food and recipe activity online as there is now.
For many years blogs reaped search result benefits because we food bloggers like to link to each other, “sharing the love” so to speak, which I think gave us a distinct advantage over the larger branded sites. Google is fickle and these days seems to favor the big branded sites over blogs, but we did have an advantage for quite a long time.
The hard work has been consistently posting over all those years, and continually striving to improve my skills on all levels—recipe development, writing, photography, and now of course, video. I’ve also been rather OCD about the quality of the recipes on the site and every aspect of the usability of the site. I’m constantly retesting and updating the recipes.
Q. How do you keep up your enthusiasm for finding and creating new recipes, after 13 years?
A. It helps to be naturally curious! I’m always hunting for recipe ideas, asking my friends, family, and even strangers I meet randomly. Actually, “what do you like to eat? and do you have a favorite recipe?” are great conversation starters, because everyone has a favorite food, even if they don’t cook.
Once I start with idea, I don’t know know where it will take me, but I’ll keep working it until I have something that I really like and think others will too.
I also love cooking with friends and family and have collaborated for several years with people with some serious skills, like James Beard award-winning Hank Shaw, and former Zuni cafe and Chez Panisse chef Kathi Riley. Also my partner Guy is French, from Provence. He is a fabulous cook and a constant source of inspiration.
Q. Did you always think you would sell your food blog?
A. From practically the beginning I decided to not use my name in the name of the site. I wanted to create something that could live beyond me, that didn’t have to be tied to me personally. So, selling could be a possibility.
Q. Why was it time to sell Simply Recipes?
A. I think I reached a limit of how much I could do on my own to continue to grow the site. The market is changing at lightening speed. Every food blogger I know is struggling to keep up with all of the demands with effectively running a blog—in addition to brilliant recipes we need drop dead gorgeous photos in every format—horizontal for the site, vertical for Pinterest, square for Facebook and Instagram. We need viral-worthy videos, and compelling copy.
It used to be that people would come to our sites to find our content. Now we need to promote our work on social media—Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat.
It’s a full time job for several people to do this well.
I needed to add resources, and expand the team. I could either self-fund, or look outside for capital. When you self-fund, you may reap all of the rewards, but you also carry all of the risk. Selling the company is a financing decision that transfers much of the risk to the investors, while enabling me to focus on building the business and creating great content.
Q. When Fexy Media approached you, and what was your initial response?
A. I was intrigued! They bought Serious Eats a year ago. I’ve been cheering on Ed Levine since he started Serious Eats. When Ed reached out to me on behalf of Fexy, I was interested. My biggest concern about selling the company to anyone was that the buyer would wreck what I’ve built. That hasn’t happened with Serious Eats. Instead, that site continues to just get better. The management of Fexy really cares about preserving what makes their sites special.
Q. What attracted Fexy Media to your blog, besides the astonishing numbers of people who visit?
A. The quality of the recipes and content, as well as the staying power of the brand. Simply Recipes is also complementary to their other properties like Serious Eats and Roadfood. There are great opportunities for collaboration and synergy with the different brands.
Q. How many people will be affected, who work at Simply Recipes?
A. I and Jesse Gardner, our head of web development, are now employees of Fexy Media. There’s just the two of us.
Q. What is your new role? Do you have a contract to stay on for a limited period, such as two years?
A. The same! I’m still president of Simply Recipes. But now I have more resources so I can focus on the parts of running the website that I like to do. As for a contract, I have a regular employment contract with Fexy, and as with every employee of Fexy, stock incentives.
Q. Will you be hiring contributors?
A. Yes! I’m looking for contributors who can develop delicious, memorable, approachable, original recipes using classic scratch cooking methods, who have great photography and writing skills as well. If you’re interested, send me an email at elise AT simplyrecipes.com.
Q. How will Simply Recipes change as a result of this acquisition?
A. More and better recipes and cooking how-to’s, more video, and more social outreach. That’s all I know for now. As I mentioned, the landscape is constantly changing, so who knows what will be needed to stand out and provide value a year from now? Whatever it is, our intention is to be there.
Q. Is it hard to think about people changing Simply Recipes, when it has been just yours for so long?
A. Yes. Fexy first approached me last October and we closed in April. So I’ve had many months to think about the transition. I’ve moved from that pit in my stomach at the thought of giving up my baby for adoption, to the butterflies in my chest as I watch my baby grow up, and get married. I’m not giving away what I’ve built, but sharing it with others who are committed to its continued success.
The web, like all of life, is constantly changing. Growing is a process of letting go, isn’t it? Simply Recipes will change and thank goodness! As long as we focus on continuing to provide great value to readers, we’ll be in good shape.