Lisa Fetterman, Founder, Nomiku
HEADING: INGREDIENTS OF SUCCESS: LISA Q. FETTERMAN’S JOURNEY FROM THE KITCHEN TO A CROWDFUNDED TRIUMPH
There’s a simple rule that all entrepreneurs live by: Aim for disruptive change. Everything you need to know about being an entrepreneur lies in that beautifully simple rule. As many entrepreneurs will tell you, it’s easier said than done.
But that’s exactly what Lisa Q. Fetterman did as the cofounder and CEO of Nomiku.
Nomiku takes it name from nomikuii, a Japanese word that means to eat and drink, and a perfect name for the revolutionary kitchen appliance that’s finding homes in professional and personal kitchens worldwide. Nomiku is creating disruptive change as it simplifies the science of gastronomy for food-lovers everywhere.
It started with a device few home chefs had ever heard of, but was a secret weapon behind restaurant-quality food—the sous vide machine. Lamenting the fact that she couldn’t have one of these expensive, clunky machines at home, the avid foodie sought to change that.
Ever since that simple idea in 2010, Nomiku has drawn more than $1 million in funding between its two Kickstarter campaigns. Gaining the distinction of having raised the highest amount of money for any product within its category with just the first campaign alone, Nomiku raised nearly $600,000 within 30 days. Then the company went on to break its own record by raising $750,000 with its next project. Today the Nomiku is in kitchens from the White House to Michelin-starred restaurants around the world.
Nomiku is an entrepreneurial success story that can only exist within the 21st century. Fetterman has tapped into the power of hackerspaces, accelerator programs, and crowdfunding to land several accolades—including being invited to the White House as an “Honored Maker,” listed on Zagat’s 30 under 30 list in 2014, and the following year in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list.
“I think ultimately,” she says, “what brought me to what I’m doing today is definitely because I cannot do anything else. This is the only thing I want to do and if I try anything else I would be really, really super miserable.”
Bringing Sous Vide Home
Fetterman is a self-professed foodie. She loves good food, good cooking, and appreciates the fine art of gastronomy. It was while cooking for her cofounder, and now-husband, that she mused over the difference between home cooking and restaurant-quality food.
“One day while I was cooking I lamented about how there’s this one thing that separates restaurant quality food from home-cooked food, and that’s the sous vide machine.”
To the uninitiated, the sous vide method of cooking is placing your food into vacuum-sealed plastic bags and placing it into a precise, temperature-controlled water bath. This is done in order to cook your ingredients with pinpoint accuracy and achieve the best possible flavor.
“There’s a reason why you’ve never heard of it—it’s every top chef’s secret weapon!” she says proudly.
At the time, sous vide machines cost thousands of dollars, were big and bulky, incredibly hard to use, and in no way designed for the home kitchen. Knowing she wasn’t the only foodie out there wanting a better cooking experience, the first portable immersion circulator was created.
“When we first created this, it was so exciting, you could feel the momentum behind you, that you created something really cool, you know? Sometimes you get that feeling, like a wind behind your back,” she says.
The Foodie Market
The foodie phenomenon has been going strong for years. Statistics by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) now show that 53 percent of US adults enjoy watching cooking shows, 76 percent enjoy talking about new or interesting foods, and 68 percent purchase specialty foods for everyday cooking.
It’s clear that more and more people are getting more interested in cooking and becoming more experimental with cooking at home.
After a number of her friends asked her for their own machines, Fetterman realized that there was a large untapped market out there. So she set out to discover just how big that market was.
“How do we get this out to more people who are like-minded? We just went on Twitter, put it out there: ‘Hey who wants a sous vide machine?’ We’d go to random people’s houses, like cheese makers, and make them a sous vide machine to help them make cheese,” she says. “I went to food blogs and I wanted them to try it out; I called up chefs around San Francisco to try our prototype.”
By utilizing social media, bloggers, and word-of-mouth she was able to generate buzz and excitement for her product well before it was even officially released.
If this were to happen in a different era, this invention could have easily been just a useful home gadget unknown to anyone. But Fetterman took advantage of hackerspaces, makerspaces, and classes to find her first customers.
“We put together a kit, and we sold hundreds of these kits to makers,” she says.
Initially there was a DIY component and people would purchase the kit and have to build it themselves. Despite that, people were definitely interested, and Fetterman ensured that she followed through with each and every customer.
A common issue was that you needed to know how to solder in order to build the initial sous vide machine. She made sure to address every complaint to help her customers build their own machines, even going so far as to personally visit their homes.
Time To Sell Your Kidney
Soon after quitting her job to focus completely on Nomiku, Fetterman traveled to China to join an accelerator program called HAXLR8R, spending most of her time negotiating with factories to find a manufacturer. She recalls struggling to find investors and constantly getting rebuffed.
“The accelerator program puts in money for you to go,” she says. “They gave us $15,000 for the whole program and we went deep into personal debt. There was a time when we were sitting on a subway station, and I said seriously to my husband, ‘Hey I can go back to America, sell a kidney, and come back with the money.’”
Desperate for capital, they turned to crowdfunding. The couple created their first Kickstarter campaign, asking their wedding videographers to help film the promotional video. They set an early goal of $200,000, and ended up raising nearly $600,000 within 30 days.
Despite the success of their initial Kickstarter campaign, she talks about the financial troubles she still went through.
“Kickstarter funding is to build your product,” she says. “It’s not to build your startup. It’s not so you can hire people. It’s not so you can have a place to live. It’s for product only. If you have a well-funded Kickstarter, that does not necessarily mean you’re going to be able to pay yourself.”
The Nomiku was the first of its kind. While imitation products have appeared on the market, nothing has matched the portability or design of the Nomiku. “Our product was so revolutionary, it had never been made in the history of the Earth, so we had to make it,” Fetterman says. “That meant we had to live next to our factory.”
Fetterman lived in China for the next two years to oversee the manufacturing of her vision.
She adheres to the lean startup mentality—a constantly iterative product development strategy that produces small batches at a time and stress tests each iteration for errors or faults. This way, you’re assured a complete final product without wasting unnecessary resources. She recalls the difficulty of trying to adhere to such a mentality in China.
“The biggest struggle was trying to be lean in a manufacturing world that was completely ‘waterfall’ method. Manufacturing in China is a game for very big companies; they’re not very conducive for lean manufacturing, and that was the struggle.”
Of course, this led to setbacks and delays in production, causing them to miss their proposed deadline. While understanding that it wasn’t an ideal situation to be in, she asserts that they received minimal complaints from dissatisfied backers. This is in contrast to some high-profile horror stories of crowdfunded products crumbling in the face of manufacturing challenges.
“Our story is very different because we are very, very transparent about our manufacturing process. We updated at least once a month to our Kickstarter backers.”
This transparency allowed backers to understand the difficult process of manufacturing, as well as giving her the leeway to ship out a final product that she was happy with.
“We got to ship out the product that we wanted to, great quality, that people loved. We kept to our promise that we’d make the best machine that we could. And I think that was most important promise to fulfil.”
Today, Fetterman is in the process of developing a Wi-Fi-compatible version of the Nomiku, allowing users to safely start cooking even if they’re nowhere near their kitchens. Nomiku has also developed an active community around their product, with members, including top chefs, actively swapping recipes and sharing posts and photos of their food.
Despite the struggles and setbacks she’s faced, Fetterman happily explains that she wouldn’t trade her business for the world, because, again, she isn’t very good at anything else. She offers this final piece of related advice for any aspiring entrepreneurs out there: “Don’t become an entrepreneur unless it’s the only thing in the world you can do. If you suck at everything else, become an entrepreneur. … This life is so uniquely painful that you have to want it with all of your heart, you have to be emotionally behind it—don’t be an entrepreneur as a business exercise.”
Take Advantage Of The 21st Century
Nomiku will be likely become a case study for business schools about entrepreneurship in the 21st century. Lisa Fetterman identifies the three key factors that brought her such great success with crowdfunding and marketing:
Launch no later than a Tuesday
“There’s two big things that are completely immutable in strategy in launching a crowdfunding campaign. One of those is, launch no later than Tuesday during the week. So don’t launch Saturday, Sunday. Either launch Monday or Tuesday, at the beginning of the news cycle of the week. The best time to launch is on a Tuesday, 9 a.m. EST. You should move with the news cycle; if you want to get picked up by news you’re going to want the whole week.”
Find 100 True Fans
“Have 100 true fans, people who will put down money the moment you launch. Work your email list, knock on people’s doors, call people that have been to your classes, who’ve bought your initial product and tell them what you plan to do. Make 100 of those people promise you that they’re going to put down money, that they’re going to click on your campaign, they’re going to share your campaign the moment you put it up. I love crowdfunding—the thing is that it’s really hard to browse crowdfunding projects. You need to be on the front page and the way to get there is through this strategy.”
Make The People Who Care Happy
“I search on social media, find who’s posting good photos [of food] that I want to eat, who’s tweeting about the latest restaurant. I get out a lot, I want to eat that new hot dish, and I want to go into the kitchen and talk to the chef. I zero in on people who care and basically ignore everybody else. … If you care about my product, I’ll bend over backwards to make you happy.”
- Why it’s important to love what you do.
- How to utilize social media, blogger and word-of-mouth to generate buzz and excitement for your product
- The important strategies in launching a crowdfunding campaign.
- The resources that you need when investors aren’t listening.
- How to have a product development strategy to overcome the struggles of manufacturing.
Full Transcript of Podcast with Lisa Fetterman
Nathan: Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the “Foundr” podcast. My name is Nathan Chan, and I’m your host, coming to you live from Melbourne, Australia. Once again, we’ve got another epic episode coming away. This one is with Lisa Fetterman, and this is one actually I did quite a while ago. You know, I interviewed Lisa probably this time last year and I just had to share it with you. It’s just, kind of, one of these ones that I don’t know what happened to it.
Like, I’ve done so many interviews. I’ve done over, like, at least, I think, probably closer to 200 now, and, you know, we’ve got a lot for the magazine. We’ve got a lot for the podcast. We do also the things with the blog, so… You know, this was one that was kinda hidden away in the treasure troves that I was just looking at, you know, what do we got coming for you guys and I was like, “Yeah, that one with Lisa was really, really good. I think we should definitely share this.”
So who is Lisa? She’s the founder of Nomiku, and that is a device that allows you to cook food that is sous vide. Now, I’m not gonna go too much into the details. I’m gonna get Lisa to share this with you, which she does very, very well in this episode. But long story short, she’s created this amazing company, you know. They’ve done crowdfunding really, really well. They’ve generated over half a million for one of their crowd funding campaigns, and their second one, they generated over three quarters of a million dollars, and, you know, they’re just doing some really, really cool things.
She’s got an amazing story. She’s got some really tough times and some really interesting things she shares. Her and her partner even considered selling their kidneys at one point. Things were going like that tough, but, yeah, look, lot of gold to be shared, especially when it comes to validating a concept, especially when it comes to, I guess, wanting to raise capital for your idea for crowdfunding, because these guys do it very, very well. So they’re super resourceful. A lot to learn. That’s it for me guys.
If you are enjoying these episodes, please do take the time to leave us a review. If you go to foundrmag.com/reviewpodcast, I’ve actually created a really, really cool, you know, step-by-step guide or step-by-step landing page that shows you exactly how to do that, and, you know, this helps more than you can imagine. Tell your friends about the show. Tell your friends about what we’re doing. We’re here to help serve and equip entrepreneurs however we can. All right, let’s jump into the show.
I usually start this interview with a simple question and that is how did you get your job?
Lisa: I think ultimately what brought me to what I’m doing today is definitely because I cannot do anything else. Like, this is the only thing I want to do and if I tried anything else I would be really, really super miserable.
Nathan: And how did this end up happening that you’re the CEO and Founder of Nomiku? Can you tell us a little bit about your business?
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. You know, when I had just graduated from school, from university, I saw a really tall dude at the gym and he thought I was making eyes at him, but I was just staring, and he said, “You know…” Well, we went on our first date and he had a PhD in plasma physics, and I was like, “Wow, you really don’t have money to be wining and dining me and vice versa. So let’s just watch ‘Top Chef’ at home and I’ll cook for you.”
And so we we’ll just alternate cooking for each other, and then one day, while I was cooking I lamented about how, you know, there’s just one thing that separates restaurant-quality food from a home-cooked food and that’s the sous vide machine. You know, that huge hulking immersion circulator. I was like, “I wish I could have it but it’s like thousands of dollars. It’s huge and it’s completely hard to use.” And he was like, “You know what? I’ll just make you one.” So from there, we made our first ever prototype.
Nathan: And can you give our audience a little bit of an insight on what sous vide is and more about Nomiku and how it works? Because, to be honest, I’d never heard of this style of cooking, and tonight I’m going out for me and my girlfriend’s three year anniversary. We’re going to this, you know, really fancy restaurant. It’s Spanish tapas food. It’s called MoVida. And, yeah, I’m a little bit of a foodie, too, so can you give us a little bit of an insight around the concept of cooking and, you know, how Nomiku works?
Lisa: Yeah. I mean, there’s a big reason why you’ve never heard of it. It’s because it is every top chef’s secret weapon. So it’s really simple to do. So this machine gives you control over very, very exact temperatures. All you have to do is put your food inside of a zip bag, remove the air, and then put it inside the water. So what my machine does is that it clips onto any pot that you already own, it circulates the water to a precise temperature, and then you drop in your bag of food. That’s it.
Nathan: Yeah, look, it looks really cool. I can never get my steak cooked at the correct, I guess, heat, and what do you call it?
Lisa: Yeah, at the exact heat, you know. The secret ingredient, the most important ingredient in every kitchen is heat. And, you know, all artists control their medium with special tools. If you’re a painter you have special paint brushes. If you’re a chef every single piece of equipment you buy, the majority of it, besides knives, is basically to control your medium of heat. You are a heat artist when you’re a chef.
And now I’m making it super, super easy for everybody who wants to cook well and eat well to control their heat, and it produces amazing results. Like, at 57 degrees Celsius, steak becomes perfectly medium rare, edge to center pink perfection. The fat and the collagen melt into the muscle, effectively marbling it. It’s so juicy and good.
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, no. I saw the Kickstarter video and it just looked awesome. I was going to say, so can you tell us about, you know, your boyfriend or husband, I’m not sure sorry?
Lisa: Husband now. Yeah.
Nathan: Husband now.
Lisa: We have a baby, too.
Nathan: Oh, wow, congratulations.
Lisa: Thank you.
Nathan: So your husband, boyfriend at the time, made this prototype for you, and what brought you guys to run this big startup now out of San Fran?
Lisa: You know, it is a super natural progression. My background is that I went to journalism school because I wanted to live a different life every week, you know. I wanted to be where you are, talking to different people, feeling inspired. I don’t wanna sit behind a desk all the time. So that is, like, already my personality. Same thing with Abe. I mean, he…out of all the things you could do, you become a plasma physicist. Like, you know, you know how to do nuclear fusion, so you’re thinking definitely outside the box, right. So when we first created this it was just so exciting.
You could feel, like, the momentum behind you that you created something really cool. You know, sometimes you get that feeling like a wind behind your back. So that’s what happened. And then we made dishes for all our friends and they immediately want a machine, so we have to get their machines for them. And then we’re like, “Hey, you know, how do we get this out to more people who are like-minded?” We, you know, just went on Twitter and, like, put it out there. “Hey, who wants a sous vide machine?” And then we would go to random people’s houses, like cheese-makers and stuff, and make them a sous vide machine to help them make cheese.
And so the next step was that, you know, at the time, there was a new computer that came out, a new little brain that you could play with, and it was called Arduino. So we took a class in a makerspace on how to make Arduino work for us with our sous vide machine. We learned how to do logic board. We put together a kit and we sold hundreds of these kits to makers, but the caveat was that you needed to know how to solder in order to make a sous vide machine, and I would have so many people email me or come up to me and be like, “Hey, so I bought your sous vide machine and I don’t know how to solder.” And I would just like, you know, drive to their house and help them make their machine. And one day, we just decided to just quit our jobs and really, really dive in.
Nathan: I see. And can you tell me about how you got your first 100 customers with that first initial version?
Lisa: The first 100 customers that we got with our DIY open-source kit was basically all through meeting them in person. We went to makerspaces and hackerspaces and taught classes. This was a big one. The classes covered the cost of the kit and basically that was it. And then we went to “Maker Faire,” and we had hundreds of people come to our booth. An NPR journalist was there and gave us our first break.
Nathan: Oh, okay. And at what point in time did you guys know that you had to quit your jobs and pursue this?
Lisa: We moved to San Francisco from New York, and Abe had a job during the day and I had a job at night. I worked in a restaurant, and Abe worked as a chief physicist of a startup. So we never saw each other and we were engaged to get married, and we were. kind of, not happy that we didn’t get any face time anymore. So one day, we were just, you know, tired of not seeing each other, so we decided to spend every moment together and just quit our jobs. It wasn’t more like the product was ready. It was more like we were ready to just be together.
Nathan: And when you first started Nomiku, when was that?
Nathan. Twenty-twelve. Okay.
Lisa: Yeah, we started in 2010.
Nathan: Oh, okay, wow. So this has been in the pipeline for a while. And can you tell me, when you guys quit your jobs, was the Kickstarter campaign the first thing you conceptualized to fund the production? Or what was your step? Because a lot of our listeners, not all of them, they would be in a similar position where they wanna start something. They don’t know where to start. They’re just about to start something and they’re, you know, just lacking direction, so can you give us an insight around, you know, what the game plan was? Were you really strategic about it? You know, what were the next steps were after you quit your job or what? I’m curious.
Lisa: Well, here’s exactly what happened. We quit our jobs and we joined an accelerator program in China called “HAXLR8R.” We were the first…like, we were basically the guinea pigs. We lived in China for three months just running around like chickens with their heads cut off to factories asking them, “Can you make this?” Yeah. And then, we had to go back to New York early because we had planned our wedding then, and, you know, one generally does cut out of an accelerator program early for their wedding. So we went back home and we begged our wedding videographers, “Can you please help us make a Kickstarter video?” And after our honeymoon, we threw it up on Kickstarter.
Nathan. Yeah, no. Now, this is a super successful campaign.
Lisa: It was the number one most…the highest that’s ever been raised in our category, in food.
Nathan: Wow, and what was your goal? Your goal was $200k and you guys raised…?
Lisa: We raised almost $600k in 30 days.
Lisa: And last year, we had our second Kickstarter project where we raised $750k in 30 days.
Nathan: Wow. So you guys probably had your validation because you’ve been working on the product. You went through the accelerator. You’d sold a 100 prototypes of the first initial version, and, you know, you’ve given to your friends. They all want one. But you really, really got some massive wins on the board with your Kickstarter campaign. Would that be safe to say?
Lisa: Oh, absolutely. I mean, investors were like, “What the hell is sous vide?” before.
Nathan: Oh, okay, so you were looking to raise capital before you went to Kickstarter?
Lisa: Oh, we absolutely tried. I mean, that’s, like, the way, right? So we definitely tried and nobody would give us the time of day.
Nathan: And when you did the accelerator program, did any of the mentors or…they would’ve access to investors. They weren’t interested or was it because you finished up early that you didn’t get to that stage or…?
Lisa: Well, you know, the accelerator program puts in money for you to go. It gave us $15k. Now they give people a $100k, but we were the first ever batch and they gave us $15k for the whole accelerator program. We went deep into personal debt.
Nathan: And how did it feel when you went into this debt?
Lisa: Oh, basically, the worst. You know, there was a time when we were sitting in a subway station and I said seriously to my husband, “Hey, I can go back to America, sell a kidney, and then come back with the money.”
Nathan: You’re joking or you’re serious?
Lisa: I’m serious. He convinced me not to…
Lisa: Which is great, but we were so close to finishing. I was like, “Hey, we just need a little extra money and I could just sell a kidney.” And I know that I can get $15k for a kidney. That’s what it says on the internet.
Nathan: Wow, and what kept you going doing this really hard point?
Lisa: Oh, we took a vacation. We took a vacation to Thailand with our last, like, bit of credit on our credit card. Thailand, I mean, I have always wanted to go. The food in Thailand is amazing, and, you know, one of our students from one of our hackerspaces, he was a Thai native, and we knew him as a chef, so I told him all about Nomiku.
And then when we landed and he picked us up for breakfast, he was like, “Hey, you guys know that I have a design degree from RISD, an industrial design degree, from the best design school for industrial design in the world. And I also happen to be, you know, a classically trained chef.” I was like, “Woah, wanna come back with us to China and be our co-founder?”
Nathan: And he said yes, obviously?
Lisa: Yeah, he said yes.
Nathan: And so he joined the ride as well?
Lisa: Mm-hmm, and that’s what kept us going.
Nathan: I see, and your third co-founder, is he with you guys now in San Fran?
Lisa: Yeah, his name Bam.
Nathan: Bam. Okay, so I’d really like to unpack the Kickstarter piece, because you guys, like you said, number one in the food category. You know, what did you do that, like, besides having an epic product, something, you know, that really solved a need and…is there anything currently out there like the Nomiku? Did you ever look or you just…?
Lisa: Yeah, of course. I’m hyper-aware of what’s out there. This is my baby. I mean, yeah, sure, there are people who copy our form factor, but nothing is as small, as safe, as well-designed. But we definitely kicked off a movement, a home immersion circulator movement, and there’s thousands and millions of people who wanna join.
Nathan: Wow. So you guys were first to market in this space?
Lisa: That’s right.
Nathan: I see. And I’m curious, just kind of off topic, how do you handle knowing that people are ripping off your product? Is that…
Lisa: Oh, you know, I think, they really mean well. These people honestly should be my best friends because they care about the same thing as me. They care about good food and they want people to eat better, and they make the same…if they make, like, similar thing to me, I mean, they should really actually be my best friends. That’s what I think.
Nathan: And did you ever think of patenting your technology?
Lisa: Yeah, we have a patent in the works.
Nathan: Okay, I see. So how are these other people coming up with, like, imitations and stuff like that?
Lisa: You know, honestly what I think is that, first of all, it is extremely flattering. It’s awesome, and also the majority of people…I mean, you’re a pretty smart guy, aren’t you, Nathan? You haven’t heard of sous vide before.
Lisa: That’s the case for a lot of smart, awesome people who love food, and we’re all just growing the pie together. It’s not like I’m Apple and somebody’s Microsoft, you know what I’m saying?
Nathan: Yeah, yeah.
Lisa: It’s just like we’re all trying to grow the pie, trying to make people aware what sous vide is. Sous vide is awesome.
Nathan: Okay. So let’s talk about the crowdfunding piece, because, yeah, I really wanna touch on that. Like, you guys absolutely rocked it and you rocked your second one. You know, what’s the secret sauce? What can our audience learn from you that really, really helped just light a fire under both of your campaigns besides having an epic product?
Lisa: Well, there’s two big things that are completely immutable in strategy of launching a crowdfunding campaign. One of those is launch no later a Tuesday in a week. So don’t launch on Saturday, Sunday, either launch on Monday or Tuesday, at the beginning of the new cycle of the week. The best time to launch is Tuesday 9:00 a.m. EST, eastern standard time. I mean, that is uncommon advice that people should know. You should move with the new cycle. If you get picked up for news, you’re going to want to have the whole week.
Nathan: Okay, and what was the other law?
Lisa: The other one is have 100 true fans.
Nathan: One hundred true fans?
Lisa: People who will put down money the moment you launch. Work your email list, knock on people’s doors, call people that have been to your classes, have bought your initial product and tell them about what you plan to do. Make 100 of those people promise you that they’re gonna put down money, they’re gonna click on your campaign, they’re gonna share your campaign the moment you put it up, and then the algorithm of the crowdfunding site, it’s gonna put you on the front page. Now, I love crowdfunding, but the thing is it’s really hard to browse crowdfunding projects. You need to be on the front page, and the way to get there is through this strategy.
Nathan: I see. And did you guys use any other, like, marketing tactics as well that would be of value to our audience?
Lisa: In regards of, like, marketing, it really, really depends on what kind of product you have. What I say that I did will not make sense for you. You know, like, I also went to food blogs and I wanted them to try it out. I’ll say that, you know, I called up chefs from around San Francisco to try out our prototype. I don’t know what will work for you, but these are the two rules that I know that we definitely tapped into hard and we saw that it was very successful.
Nathan: Wow. So once you got your funding, I’m curious, what did you need the money for?
Lisa: Oh, the money for R&D to…well, the funding, okay? So Kickstarter funding is to build your product. It’s not to grow your startup. It’s not so you can hire people. It’s not so you can have a place to live. It’s not so you can pay yourself. It’s for product only. And if you have a well-funded Kickstarter, that does not necessarily mean that you’re gonna be able to pay yourself. You might not even make any money on a one million dollar campaign, especially if it’s hardware.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. And I’m curious what happened next. Can you tell us through the whole phase of bringing this product to life? You said you went to China. You [crosstalk 00:21:28]
Lisa: Yes, we lived in China for two years next to our factory, learning how to manufacture, you know, putting up our lines ourselves, sitting on our line, iteration after iteration, because having a new product is near next to impossible not to leave your factory. Our product was so revolutionary and never have been made in the history of this Earth, so we had to make it, and that meant that we lived next to our factory.
Nathan: Wow, and so yeah, directly after you got funded you went back to China to live next to your factory?
Nathan: I see. And what were the biggest struggles that you’ve had on this journey besides considering to sell your kidney because you guys were low on credit?
Lisa: Oh, so many, too many. I think an entrepreneur’s life has so many ups and downs and you just need to learn how to control yourself through the highs and lows, which I have gotten better at. So now it’s like I’m wearing different glasses now talking about, you know, what happened before. But I guess the biggest struggle definitely trying to be lean in a manufacturing world that was completely, you know, waterfall method. That was not lean. That wasn’t conducive to starting up, you know. Manufacturing in China is a game for very, very big companies. It’s not very conducive to lean manufacturing, and so that was the struggle.
Nathan: I know, kind of, what you’re talking about but at the same time I don’t. Can you give our audience a little bit, like, unpack what lean manufacturing is? And are you referring to this way of building from “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries?
Lisa: I am. He bases the “The Lean Startup” on the Toyota manufacturing method, which is fast iteration. Like, if you find one problem you are able to stop your line and redo. That’s what happens with lean manufacturing. Like, you don’t manufacture 10,000 units at once, you manufacture one batch, you test it. You test it for engineering verification. You test it for production verification. Like, if your line is correct, human error, like all those things. You really can’t small batch in China, or it’s very, very hard to and it requires extra effort. It requires your boots on the ground.
Nathan: I see. And that’s how you guys rolled? You did always small batches and iterates, more batches and iterate, but it was very difficult, I understand.
Lisa: Yes, yes. You have to get the full support of your contract manufacturer, and that requires a lot of wrangling.
Nathan: Oh, I see. But you wouldn’t have done any other way, right?
Lisa: Well, we had to learn what it was all about. You know, if we didn’t have this experience we wouldn’t have this breadth of knowledge, and I’m so happy. And I mean, I’m wearing the glasses of where I am now, but I remember, you know, there are nights when all you could do is, like, just cry yourself to sleep.
Nathan: And after the two years went through, you’ve got this product, did you fulfill your order date, your promise that you made on Kickstarter for your timeline?
Lisa: Oh, we had a few delays, which is definitely, you know, not good, but the great thing is that we got to ship out the product that we wanted to. You know, great quality that people loved. Now, you know, the White House uses us and so does Noma, the best restaurant in the world. You know, it’s like we submitted to our promise that we would make the best machine that we could, and I think that one was the most important promise to fulfill.
Nathan: And I’m curious, how did you handle that? Because I’d imagine there would be people that would be getting frustrated, that you’d get a lot emails saying, “What’s happening? What’s happening?”
Lisa: You know, we didn’t actually get a lot of emails. Our story is very different because we are very, very transparent about our manufacturing process. We updated at least once a month to our Kickstarter backers. I mean, if you scroll through our campaign, it’s pretty transparent, and we just keep accountable.
Nathan: Yeah, that is good. I think anybody that I’ve spoken to though that has run a crowdfunding campaign, they never make…there’s always been delays, I think. I personally haven’t spoken to anyone that has, you know, shipped on time, which is something that people do not…I don’t know. Like, I’m curious, did you guys account for, like, you know, “We think it will take this amount of time. Let’s double it.” Or can you give us a little bit of an insight to the timing?
Lisa: Sure. The insight to the timing was what we estimated everything would take. We asked our factories, “Give us an estimate. How long would this take?” And then we took it at face value. This machine had never been made on planet Earth, so there was no way to truly get the best estimate for the machine. We based it off of what we could, which is the advice from experts.
Nathan: And during that period in China, because you said that Kickstarter doesn’t pay your bills or allows you to pay yourself a wage, two years in China is a long time. What did you guys do to fund yourself? Is this during the period where you guys were struggling?
Lisa: I think, no matter what, even if you raise $20 million dollars or you have 0 money in the bank, a startup is always a struggle. But I’m sure you know great entrepreneurship, it’s not about how much money you have, it’s about your team, and our team was pretty tight. You know, we could handle a lot of things together.
Nathan: So let’s fast forward to now. How is it all going? How many units have you sold? And what’s happened since your second crowdfunding campaign? Why did you do your second one? I’m curious around that, too.
Lisa: Well, we debated it, but it was like, you know, “Let’s see from our core base of people whether or not they want this.” Pretty straightforward and simple of why we chose to do our second crowdfunding campaign.
Nathan: I see. So it was exactly the same product. It was already engineered, but you just used the crowd funding…
Lisa: It’s a completely different product. I mean, it does the same thing but it’s a completely different…we don’t use the same tools. We need new tooling. It clips onto the front of the pot. It has a bigger screen. It is Wi-Fi-connected.
Nathan: Oh, wow. I see.
Lisa: So you can cook with the cloud now. And, I think, we basically in the kitchen with you via proxy through Wi-Fi.
Nathan: Wow, that’s so cool. So if you’re at work you could turn on your slow cooker?
Nathan: Wow, that’s amazing. And I’m curious, do you still sell both versions of your product?
Lisa: You can pre-order the new Wi-Fi version on our website and you can buy our original version.
Nathan: I see. Wow, and, yeah, let’s talk about some, you know…how is the business going today? Like, how is the growth going? What are your plans for the future?
Lisa: The business, you know, now, we are eight people in the office. Our office is getting a little small. We’ve shipped over 7,000 units. They’re in the wild. People are using them. Chefs, top chefs are using them. You know, we made this machine for the most creative people in the world, and it is such a joy to see what they create on Instagram. You know, we own the hashtag #yolkporn on Instagram. You should check it out.
Nathan: I will.
Lisa: And, let’s see. What else is going on? You know, we’re just heads down. We have to ship our Wi-Fi machine in the spring, so that’s what we’re working on. And we’re working on this software layer that makes it easier to cook and connect with people around you who are awesome and love food, because people who love food are the best people.
Nathan: Yeah. It’s a massive movement this foodie movement, eh? Like…
Lisa: Absolutely. It’s a huge revolution, and it’s indicative of people wanting to eat really great food. It’s connected to sustainable agriculture.
Nathan: Because that’s the thing, right? Like, you could go out, like, you know, me and my girlfriend out tonight for a really expensive dinner, or you could alternatively, you know, just appreciate the joy of cooking, and that’s something I, personally, need to get better at myself.
Lisa: You know, believe it or not, you are already a great chef. It’s inside of you. You just don’t have the right tools yet.
Nathan: Okay. Well, look, we have to work towards wrapping up, Lisa. I think we’ve really delved deep and I’ve unpacked a lot. Is there anything that you would like to share? Like, any questions that you wanted me to ask you that I haven’t asked you? You know, what would your advice be to, you know, aspiring and early-stage novice entrepreneurs?
Lisa: Don’t become an entrepreneur unless it’s the only thing in the world you can do. If you suck at everything else, become an entrepreneur. I mean, yes, it’s a joke, but at the same time, I do mean it because this life is so uniquely painful that you have to want it with all of your heart. Like, you have to be emotionally behind it. Don’t be an entrepreneur as a business exercise, you know. If you’re the kind of person who thinks all of life is a chess game, you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. If you’re not passionate about what you’re about to sell, then you shouldn’t do it.
Nathan: That was awesome. I really feel you there, because, I think, the difference between the people that make it and the ones that don’t is this is one simple thing. You just described it then. It’s the people that want it bad enough, they just do whatever it takes, so…
Lisa: And at the same time, if you want it bad enough, that’s not a guarantee for success, but at least if you wanted it bad enough, you gave it a fucking shot, and that counts for a lot. If you don’t want it bad enough and you fail, you’re not gonna feel good. You might never feel good again.
Nathan: Well, that’s inspiring. Yeah. No. You’re really funny.
Lisa: Thank you.
Nathan: Okay, well, look, is there anything else that you’d like to touch on? Because, I think, we really covered a lot there. We unpacked a lot. You know, I really like to hear the marketing strategies but it sounds like you’re hitting up influencers, the product speaks for itself. You’re just hustling really hard. I don’t know if you’ve got any, I guess…is there anything that you know that no one else gets as well as you do in terms of marketing?
Lisa: I wish I knew traditional marketing better honestly. All I know is to zero in on people who care, I guess, if this is a thing. I zero in on people who care and then just basically ignore everybody else who don’t care. And if you care about my product, I will make sure to bend over backwards and make you happy. But if you don’t care about sous vide and you don’t want to learn, then I’m not gonna waste any time.
Nathan: And how do you find the people that care out of curiosity?
Lisa: I search on social media on like who’s posting good photos that I want to eat? Who, you know, who tweets about the new hot restaurants? Or, I get out a lot, you know, and I want to eat that new hot dish and I want to go in the kitchen and talk to the chef.
Nathan: You know, these are great examples, because you’re going out there and finding your starving crowd literally.
Lisa: Yes, and actually it’s like…there’s a lot of physical labor involved. You just have to drink a cup of coffee and get it.
Nathan: Okay, well look, this was an awesome conversation, Lisa. I really enjoyed speaking with you.
Lisa: This was really fun.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Lisa Fetterman
- Follow Lisa Fetterman on Twitter
- Checkout Nomiku
- Follow Nomiku in Twitter
- Connect with Lisa Fetterman on Linkedin