Shanghai Entrepreneurs: Kevin Yu

By Alyssa Wieting, August 9, 2016

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Shanghai is a city of entrepreneurship. In our new series, 'Shanghai Entrepreneurs,' we talk to entrepreneurs from different backgrounds and businesses about their motivations, experiences and what they have learned along the way. 


Originally from California, Kevin Yu is a serial entrepreneur who uses technology to empower people’s lives. After building a career in gaming and creating new social networks in the industry, Yu is now bringing the fun and appeal of video games to food. He is the founder and CEO of SideChef (when he’s not serving up his secret recipe for spinach artichoke dip), one of the ‘Best Apps of 2014’ according to USA Today, and most recently the ‘favorite cooking app’ of The New York Times. This three-time TEDx speaker gives us the lowdown on how he started his company and the difficulties he faced along the way.

Elevator pitch: tell us what you do in fewer than 50 words.
SideChef’s mission is to allow anyone to cook. Our award-winning app is essentially a GPS navigation system for the cooking process, guiding cooks at all levels from start to finish, step-by-step. Later this year, the app will also offer grocery delivery services and smart kitchen connectivity to further our mission. 

Why did you choose Shanghai?
Shanghai’s ability to draw in curious minds, skilled talent and restless hearts is unlike any other city I’ve seen. I was fortunate to meet several likeminded programmers also looking to build something that hadn’t been built before. We crammed into a three-bedroom apartment in Xujiahui, where we coded, cooked, worked out and played video games. We emerged six months later and had our MVP (minimum viable product), which was the first version of SideChef.

Kevin YuWhat was your motivation and inspiration for starting your business?
Everyone has maybe 80 years in this world. My grandfather, who just passed, had 102. He left me with the same message he had when I was growing up: Use the gifts you have to live up to your potential. I was lucky to have him in my life, because early on I knew my goal in business and life would be to allow everyone to live to his or her full potential. Business is my vehicle. Cooking is where we start.

What are the biggest challenges of setting up a business here?
Like any new environment, understanding the framework in which the business operates within is incredibly important. For us, our team is very diverse, made up of members from more than seven different countries. Understanding our team’s motivations, values and abilities has been both our greatest challenge and strength, as I believe diversity can either segregate people or produce extraordinary results.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned doing business in China?
Nothing is final. Really. In three years, I’ve seen investors changing their minds from ‘no’ to ‘yes,’ employees quit and then come back recharged, and company tragedies followed by new heights of company achievements.

What is the craziest thing you have done for your business?
Sometimes you go totally broke. Sometimes you get deported. Sometimes you fly around the world to be on TV for two minutes. Sometimes you also fly around the world multiple times for deals that fall through. Sometimes you get auctioned off for a date by your company for charity. And sometimes, with a little luck, things come through and it all works out. I’ve experienced all of the above.

Do you see China as a springboard for taking your business international?
Both Chinese companies and consumers are becoming more and more globally-minded. This, coupled with the influx of financial resources, human resources, and increasing intellectual capital, will no doubt allow globally-minded entrepreneurs to springboard their products and services internationally in the years to come.

Which Chinese or China-based company do you admire the most and why?
I absolutely love the Beijing-based company Niu. In my mind, they are the Tesla of scooters and are bringing a higher standard of product and services with incredible design, industry leading eco-friendly production and product standards and experiential marketing that really speaks to the new age Chinese consumer. 

Give us three words that you need to make it as an entrepreneur in Shanghai.
Grit. Versatility. Awareness. 

Download the SideChef app to learn more.


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