It was almost hard to keep up with Necco Ceresani as he marched toward a table at a Starbucks in the Prudential Center. He’s mastered the speed walk, and others strapped for time would do well to mirror his technique.
Ceresani is the CEO of the recently-launched Tender, an app that helps users discover new food recipes—and it has the potential to be a hit.
Six weeks since its official launch in late July, the app has reached 150,000 users, with new users engaging the app from locations as far-flung as New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.
Having not yet adjusted to wearing his sudden success like it fits, Ceresani discusses Tender with humble and bewildered excitement. “We’re wildly international,” he said.
Ceresani, along with co-founders Jordan Homan and David Blumenfeld, went from working standard 9-5 days to working around the clock. They leave their day jobs and gather in Blumenfeld’s South End living room, praying that their servers won’t crash and networking with the people they hope can convert Tender into a fully-funded business.
Wearing a plaid button-down shirt and his hair pulled back in a taut man-bun, Ceresani far from fits the stereotype of a CEO—and he knows it. He joked about introducing himself to other executives in the tech community and adjusting to being viewed as a peer. But the success of his idea speaks for itself.
Media outlets—which have covered Tender’s launch in droves—are calling the new app “the Tinder for food,” but this characterization may be a little too neat, despite the app’s flirtation with Tinder’s name.
The app does borrow Tinder’s swipe-right-swipe-left interface, but the two apps satisfy quite different human urges—one offers an opportunity for a romantic or sexual encounter, while the other helps users figure out what the hell to do with the chicken sitting in their freezers.
Bloggers create Tender profiles and populate the app with their recipes, which users can filter using a list of preferences in the search engine. From there, users can swipe right on recipe for Chicken Normandy and save it to a personal “Cookbook” for later.
It’s exactly the type of app Ceresani might have enjoyed when he was a student at the College of Charleston, where he developed a love of cooking while working in restaurants and rooming with Homan and Blumenfeld.
The three men are a dream team of sorts, with Homan serving as the tech-savvy coder of the operation and Blumenfeld offering an analytical business perspective to match Ceresani’s ambitious ideas. Indeed, Blumenfeld tried to temper Ceresani’s lofty vision for Tender as they prepared to launch the app.
“You’re not just going to get 1,000 users,” Blumenfeld told him. “This is going to be a lot of work.”
As it turned out, Blumenfeld underestimated the public’s response to the app, and Ceresani argues that Tender has managed to stand out in a saturated tech environment partly because of work by Homan’s girlfriend, a graphic designer who provided Tender with a sleek design.
But the app’s draw is also linked to its convenience in regard to the fast-paced lifestyle of a modern 20-something, for whom time in the kitchen has been decentralized.
“It’s become so easy and natural for us to grab something on the way,” he said. “Millennials have forgotten how to cook almost.”
Ceresani imagines Tender as a force that can increase the number of people who find time to cook, providing an easy way for people to discover new recipes on a commute home from work.
With Tender demanding so much of their time, though, Ceresani, Homan, and Blumenfeld themselves have less time to cook than ever.
In a video Ceresani took on his iPhone the first week the app launched, the three founders are sitting on couches in wrinkled T-shirts with computers on their laps.
Ceresani’s impulse to document their stressful early days now seems prescient. Should Tender continue to grow, the video could eventually serve as a record of a success story’s beginnings.
“We had a cooking app, but we weren’t eating,” Ceresani said while watching the video.
But when the three friends need to take a break from the around-the-clock work that defines their waking hours—a chance to keep the joy that fuels their endeavor alive—they gather on weekends to cook a decent meal together.
It’s what they’ve always done.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic