FRANCISCO — Tourists snap photos of a scrumptious
foreign dish, families gather around the dinner table to
catch up and novice cooks may turn to a video to learn
how to whip up butternut squash soup or a rainbow
Nom CEO and co-founder Vijay Karunamurthy, cooking is a
social activity that brings people together. Teaming up
with YouTube co-founder and fellow foodie Steve Chen,
the duo launched a social media site this year called
Nom where people can post photos, videos and live
broadcasts about the foods they love.
wanted to bring that energy, connection or social vibe
you get from thinking about a restaurant or what you
want to cook for dinner to a mobile app,"
recently sat down with The Mercury News to talk about
the art of storytelling through food. This interview has
been edited for clarity and length.
How did the idea for Nom come about?
Steve and I were working with Google Ventures, and the
Google campus has a bunch of cafes. There’s one called
Kitchen Sync, and they actually bring in a new chef
every month who uses all this amazing fresh produce. We’re
sitting at this cafe and hearing the story of the chef
and thought, ‘Oh, this is a great idea for a startup.’
Sharing stories around food, sharing the experience of
going out to a great restaurant and also thinking about
the food that you eat, where it comes from and what the
deeper story is behind it. That was kind of the start of
There are a lot of options out there for people who want
to share their love for food, from Facebook to Instagram
to Pinterest. What makes Nom different?
We tried to tie together photos, video clips and live
video together into stories. So you can actually start
off telling a story from a farmer’s market. Here’s
some spaghetti summer squash I might want to make in the
future. That’s actually the beginning of connecting
and getting questions from the audience. Two hours
later, you can share a video clip of you pouring out the
summer squash spaghetti. You want to bring people into
what you’re sharing, and you want to do it in a way
where people keep coming back throughout an afternoon or
morning. It’s that back-and-forth interaction that
pulls people in. We haven’t seen that in other apps
Do you view food as a form of communication?
Yeah, it kind of connects to all these different parts
of people’s lives. We see people talk about sports and
fitness. They talk about travel and other countries they
can go to. You might start off talking about an
Argentinian restaurant in San Francisco, and it might
lead you to learning about a home in Buenos Aires where
you can have a home-cooked meal from a chef that no one
had heard of before. All these different connections are
built around food and cooking, and that’s kind of why
we thought it was a magical place to start.
You recently teamed up with ABC’s "The Chew"
and Vice’s "Munchies." What do you hope to
achieve through that partnership?
Disney, ABC and Scripps Digital, which owns the Food
Network, really get how storytelling ties with food. We’ve
learned a lot, and we’re excited to share their
content. "The Chew" has an amazing live
audience experience in New York. Being able to share
that at home on a mobile app and a behind-the-scenes
view of how those shows are being built is kind of a
special way to connect with an audience. It’s more
than just recipes. It’s about the energy of what it
takes to be in the kitchen. There’s pressure involved.
The humiliation of something going totally wrong. Being
able to share all of those human emotions is a core part
of what we want to do.
There’s just so much going on in a kitchen. Do chefs
stop to answer some of the audience’s questions while
The huge thing we’ve learned is that when you’re in
the kitchen live on camera and trying to cook a dish (at
the same time) is really hard. You can actually ask
questions even when they’re not live. We try to do a
great job of curating the best questions from audience
members that are in that story. They can also just share
photos and video clips. They don’t have to be live on
camera. You get a lot of back-and-forth interaction just
in the process of telling a story.
How much funding have you raised so far, and how many
employees do you have?
We raised $4.7 million and we have eight employees right
now, so we’re still a small team. A lot of our
employees are engineer friends we know from Google,
PayPal or Facebook. So it’s a tight-knit group of
people. One of the amazing things we’ve been able to
do is connect with the wider food community and get
advisers like three-Michelin star chef Cory Lee. The
discipline and level of quality he brings with his food
and cooking is something we wanted to capture in the
also been lucky to have advisers like Jared Leto from
"My So-Called Life." Folks like PSY from the
"Gangnam Style" video really know how to
entertain an audience on camera. His grandmother owns a
chain of noodle restaurants in South Korea, so he
understands how a restaurant brings in people.
Do you plan to generate most of your revenue from ads?
And when you partner with a chef, is there some sort of
revenue split involved? Are you paying people to do live
The answer is no. Right now, we’re superfocused on the
user experience and integrating ways to connect people
together. We want to create a new class of creators who
couldn’t express themselves in the ways they could on
YouTube or Instagram in the past. It’s tough to do
that when you bring in advertising or think about making
money too early. Down the road, instead of doing
something that puts a wall between us and these great
creators and users, we want to find ways to connect
people to the things they want to do in real life. So
being able to book a table at a restaurant. Being able
to order a special ingredient in a meal. All of these
fit more into how people think about food and cooking,
and that’s more exciting than just doing advertising.
What does the future hold for Nom? Where do you see this
company headed in the next five or 10 years?
Our first hope for our iOS and Android app is that it
shows up on people’s home screens. It becomes one of
those apps that is so addictive. You’re getting people
commenting on that cocktail that you shared last night
and you want to reply back to them. If you’re sitting
around at lunch and you’re deciding where you want to
eat for dinner, hopefully you can bring up the app, see
the content around the city and that inspires you to
think about where you want to go.
Co-founder and CEO, Nom
jobs: Engineering manager, Google-owned YouTube;
Bachelor’s in biochemistry, University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign; master’s in computer science,
Stanford University; MBA, UC Berkeley.
Wife, Julia Stiglitz
facts about Vijay Karunamurthy
I just got married. My wife and I got married on a small
family vineyard on a hill in Sonoma, Calif. On our
wedding day, we almost got rained out and we didn’t
have a back-up plan. Fortunately, the skies held, and we
got a lovely, misty view of the Sonoma hills as a
My favorite food is sushi — especially kaiseki — but
my comfort food is South Indian food.
I grew up in Chicago, and so did half our startup. We
were on pins and needles during the entire magical
playoff season. I almost still can’t believe the
Cubbies finally won.
I love to travel but often do a poor job planning. I
once got stranded on a mountain top in Japan with no
place to sleep. Fortunately, a driver picked me up and a
local Buddhist monastery took me in for the night.
My best friends are from high school, including my
co-founder and teammates. It’s a small public school
in the Chicago suburb made famous by Wayne’s World,
which takes place in Aurora, Ill. We’ve stayed
together for more than 24 years.