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keeps temperatures more stable (the electrical resistance of “positive thermal coefficient” materials increases as they’re heated, meaning the device acts as its own thermostat).
The impeller that keeps water circulating in the bath is nearly silent. (While Fetterman and I were talking, we poached an egg, and I couldn’t hear the device at all.) And the power brick for the Nomiku device is outside the body of the circulator—it sits on the counter next to your water bath. Fetterman describes that as a safety feature: “Why would you want your power unit above the steam?”
The controls for the device are extremely simple—basically, there’s a small touch screen that you use to turn the device on, and a big knob you spin to set the temperature. “If you know how to use a faucet you should be able to use it,” Fetterman says.
Finally, the Nomiku device just looks cool, with its Kermit-green knob and a nice ergonomic curve at the top. “I know everybody says their product is the most beautiful,” Fetterman says. “But come on, we definitely are the most beautiful.”
There’s also a heartwarming story behind Nomiku. In the late 2000s, Lisa Fetterman, who was then Lisa Qiu, worked for the Hearst news aggregation website LMK.com, but was laid off when it was sold. Her interest in the food business led her to management positions at several top restaurants, including San Francisco’s Saison. Her fiancé Abe Fetterman was a theoretical plasma physicist working at Lightsail Energy, a Khosla Ventures-funded Berkeley startup working on a compressed-air system for grid-scale energy storage. Their dates included hackerspace sessions where they learned how to program Arduino microcontrollers.
Together, Qiu and Fetterman formed a company called Lower East Kitchen to sell Ember, an $80 DIY electronics kit that transforms kitchen appliances like deep fryers or coffee makers into sous-vide cookers. HAXLR8R admitted Qiu and Fetterman to its first class of startups on the strength of their idea for turning the Ember into a more complete, self-contained appliance. But joining the program would have meant moving to China, and Fetterman decided he didn’t want to leave Lightsail.
So they turned down the opportunity and went back to their day jobs. Well, not exactly “day,” in Lisa’s case. “I worked 5:00 pm to 3:00 am, and one day, Abe had a talk with me, and he said, ‘We never see each other these days.’ And I said, ‘You know how we could see each other? If we go to China together.’ He didn’t even read the contract [with HAXLR8R], he just signed it, and we begged them to let us back in, one week before the program started.” (Lightsail continues without Fetterman.)
Near the end of the four-month accelerator program, Qiu and Fetterman took a break to travel to Thailand, where they discovered that an old friend, Wipop Bam Suppipat, had some relevant skills: an industrial design degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and a cooking degree from the French Culinary Institute. They persuaded Bam to join them as a design co-founder, and he accompanied them back to Shenzhen, where the trio worked together to finish the prototype circulator.
A week before the HAXLR8R demo day in San Francisco (where I met them), Qiu and Fetterman flew to New York to get married. But there was an important business angle to the trip: they were able to persuade their wedding photographer to help them shoot the launch video for the Nomiku Kickstarter campaign.
Now that manufacturing is underway, the Fettermans are focused on marketing the Nomiku, getting ready for their first child (due this fall), designing a second-generation device, and raising the capital needed to scale up the whole operation. So far they’ve raised $875,000, in addition to the Kickstarter funding, mostly from 500 Startups and SOS Ventures, the same fund that supports the HAXLR8R program.
The conclusion that Fetterman draws from the whole experience: building a hardware company from scratch still isn’t easy, but until recently, it would have been impossible for a team as small as Nomiku’s. “Prototyping is easier than it’s ever been in the history of man,” she says. “Normally it would take years and $25 million to do the work that we did for $15,000.”
Which is also turning out to be a great thing for lovers of kitchen gadgets and other types of consumer hardware—and for anyone who likes a tender steak.
Here’s Nomiku’s original Kickstarter video.
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