How I Made It: Samantha Barnes of Raddish wants to get your kids cooking
Samantha Barnes, 38, is co-founder and chief executive of Raddish, a subscription kit and cooking club designed for children ages 4 to 14 that delivers a new culinary project every month. The Redondo Beach business, which started shipping monthly boxes from Barnes’ garage in 2014, has been growing rapidly and is on pace to send out its 1 millionth box sometime this year. Unlike other services that send a package of ready-to-cook ingredients, Raddish expects parents and their children to shop as part of the experience. Each kit has a theme with a history lesson, illustrated recipe booklets, a kitchen tool, a culinary skills lesson and more. July’s theme, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. moon landing, included recipes for galactic pancakes, meteor meatballs and planetary pasta salad. Raddish has 18 employees.
Barnes’ mother, Wendy Cryan, “owned a cookware store many, many years ago. She actually sold it when I was 3 years old, so she could raise me,” Barnes said. “She was a single mom, and I think she had a real passion for food and cooking and that was part of my upbringing. We had dinner, the two of us, every night and so food and cooking was part of my experience.”
For many years, those dinners were just a pleasant family memory. Barnes, a native of Bridgehampton, N.Y., decided she wanted to become a teacher while studying at Bowdoin College. She taught in Massachusetts for two years before coming to Los Angeles and working as an instructor at Viewpoint School in Calabasas until 2007.
“I found that a lot of my students were eating junk food in my class,” she said. “I had my first child, and I realized that parents themselves, especially my generation, didn’t have the culinary skills that they wished they had and that they wanted to cook for their families and eat well themselves.”
Barnes’ first idea for a business was Kitchen Kid, a kind of mobile culinary school. “We were probably in as many as 30 to 40 schools when I realized it was not sustainable. We were working in schools from the Westside to South Bay to Silver Lake, so we were kind of all over,” Barnes said. “We had a really high demand, so I knew there was something there, but I really struggled with those logistics. I had turned into an HR logistics coordinator, which isn’t what I wanted to be.”
The better idea
Barnes tinkered with her original venture to create something that didn’t involve negotiating traffic or mailing food ingredients, which many meal kits do. “I knew I really wanted to scale the business and that I couldn’t scale it in its current state. That was when Raddish was born, as a way to take our content and our curriculum and everything that we knew how to do well, teaching kids to cook, and package it up into a subscription service that families across the country would be able to access.”
Barnes acknowledges with a laugh that she knew nothing about running a business. “Not only did I not study business,” Barnes said, “I didn’t have somebody saying, ‘This is the path,’ or ‘Try this.’ I thought back to my own education and background, the inspiration my teachers gave me to become a learner and a questioner and a communicator. I also take a lot of inspiration from my own employees.”
Barnes said she funneled the profits from her first business and a successful 2013 Kickstarter campaign, which raised $3,515 above the $15,000 goal, to start Raddish. “We’re proud that we haven’t had to seek outside capital,” Barnes said. “The last three years, we’ve been at about 100% year-over-year growth, and expect to be in the low eight figures in revenue by the end of 2019.” A month-to-month subscription costs $24 a kit, with discounts if you sign up for six-month or annual subscriptions.
“We were pretty small, lean. We didn’t have the background in subscription commerce, and so that was a lot to learn. It’s very different from e-commerce. Creating a product, figuring out value, understanding recurring subscription billing is a very complicated process. So, we kind of figured it out as we went.”
Barnes secured some dependable help and some badly needed expertise when her co-founder and husband, Seth, joined the business full time as its chief marketing officer. “He’s really responsible for changing our digital marketing and the trajectory of the growth of the company because he had seen how it works in many other companies,” she said.
“Seth went from working as head of marketing at a public company to spending a week each month putting recipes inside boxes. That was a big transition, I think, for him,” Barnes said. “At that time, we were still working out of our backyard, so there was zero separation of work and life and kids. There was definitely a year where it was challenging, but now I never think that. I think we’re really well suited to work together.”
In a way, Barnes’ lack of a business background has helped her understand the need to build a trusted and knowledgeable team. “I think asking for help and delegating has been one of the hardest things that I’ve had to learn as a leader,” Barnes said. “But I think there’s value in the way I did it too because it allowed me to really understand and carefully decide who we bring on. After bringing on that first person, it became easier and soon I saw that, ‘Oh, this is how it works. You can’t do it all alone.’ Not only is it OK, but it’s critical” to build the right team.
Barnes sees a potentially huge market in young adults. “We’re exploring what Raddish might look like for a 27-year-old person who never learned how to cook and wants to learn,” Barnes said. “And we’re also exploring different partnerships and opportunities, ways that we can integrate and partner with other brands to cast a wider net and get more families excited about Raddish. We’re looking at all sorts of alternatives from podcasts to influencers.”
Barnes and her husband, Seth, have been married for 11 years. They have two children — daughter Cecily, 9, and son Beckett, 7. Perhaps it’s not surprising, given her line of work, but Barnes said she isn’t as flashy in the home kitchen these days. “I’m a lot more utilitarian now than when I was younger and I would go to the grocery store and think, ‘What looks good and what’s exciting?’ ” Barnes said. “I don’t have that creative time anymore, so that has definitely changed a little bit, but I still love to cook.”
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