Charley Wang


“I was born in the Bronx. Grew up in New Jersey. My parents are both immigrants. I was an economics major so every summer I felt an expectation to do an internship at a bank or consulting. I would start and end up quitting and then traveling around. I lived in Norway for a summer, New Zealand for a summer, China for a summer. When I came back after all the traveling I wanted to push my comfort zone so I got a job with General Assembly. I sort of red lined there and was asked to start their LA presence at 22 years old. I had no idea what I was doing. I had sort of faked my way into this huge amount of responsibility. What it did do for me was give me a clean slate. Leaving everything I knew and moving more into intentional decisions about my life. Then I had to start from scratch to figure out what made me happy.”

“That’s when I met Josephine. When I moved from New York to LA it was with 3 days notice and I didn’t really know annoys my friend Josh said I could crash in Santa Monica at his mom’s place. Tal, my co founder and CTO of Josephine, followed the same path. We met because we both stayed at her house while she fed and mothered us. During that time is was so cathartic to have a mother figure. Josephine is very, very humble and modest so it’s funny for her to be the figurehead for what we’re doing.”CharleyWang-2

“A lot of start ups are going the aspirational route…like Instagram, which is projecting what you want to be to the world. There’s something very powerful about that but Josephine is almost the complete opposite. It’s the go home after dinner, take off your shoes, sit around the dinner table, who are you when you’re that person. That’s the brand we’re going for.”

CharleyWang-3“Coming from the east coast I didn’t know anything about social justice and I learned about all that here in Oakland. One of our first cooks, Wanda, who’s a pillar of black farmers urban ag community would teach me and walk me through the oral tradition of black farmers: how she thinks about her work, how she raises her kids, how she raises her plants. That’s all been imprinted and been passed on in the way we craft our partnerships with people.”

“We got started by knocking on our neighbors doors and asking them if they wanted to come over for dinner. It was free. We asked them questions and got to know each other. We tried dine in dinner parties, we tried supper clubs, we tried meal subscriptions. The thing we realized that what makes home cooked food home cooking isn’t where it’s cooked, it’s not what goes in it, it’s not how it’s cooked, all those things are different depending on where you are. What makes home cooked food home cooking is the fact that it’s an extension of a human relationship. In other words, it’s not food made by a corporation. It’s not a product.”

“When food is treated as a product or commodity the way you grow your business is making more food and spending less money. What that means is you’re spending less on ingredients or labor. Meaning you’re paying the people who are making the food less. That creates the context of the food industry. When people think of minimum wage they think of food kitchens. People who have this passion for feeding and nourishing us go in a get treated like cogs in a process. We created Josephine with the intention of creating a place or a system for these givers, these cooks to succeed. And to have the agency they want to be able to do it sustainably.”CharleyWang-4

“Startups get linked all together but there are two general types. Ones that serve the end user, like Lyft and Uber. They serve the people who are getting rides. And there are companies that serve the creator, like Kickstarter or Etsy. Their actual customer is the person who’s creating something or selling their products. In the first case the goal is to be as cheap as possible and as consistent as possible. In the second case they succeed through the variety and diversity of their offering. What they’re selling essentially is a human craft or experience. In our case we put a lot of agency in our cooks so that they can create their own communities to support them. At the end of the day the cooks pay us a percentage of what they made so they more successful they are, the more successful we are.”

“People ask us why don’t we deliver and we tested that out. We had people come in a sit at the dinner table with the cook, we had people come pick the food up and leave, we had food delivered to people by someone the cook knew, and finally we had the food delivered by someone unrelated. In those 4 scenarios the ratings of the food went down the further they were removed from the human being who made it. When you’re just getting stuff delivered you’re comparing it to everything else you get delivered. Which are products made by corporations to make your taste buds feel good. They’re designed to make your tastebuds feel good. Your home cook are never going to win the battle for your tastebuds, that’s a scientific battle that’s incredibly competitive. What home cooks have won over is our hearts and emotions. If you ask someone the best meal they’ve ever had I guarantee you it’s going to be a home cooked meal.”

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July 27, 2016