Food Startup Founder Q&A: Nomiku

Frustrated by how out of reach and incompatible immersion circulators were for the home, husband and wife team Lisa and Abe Fetterman launched Nomiku in 2012, the first-ever immersion circulator designed for home sous-vide cooking that is affordable and easy-to-use. After attending a rigorous hardware startup accelerator in China and launching a Kickstarter campaign that reached its goal within a whopping 12 hours of launching, Nomiku has become a coveted product by top chefs and restaurants across the country. Lisa was also recently named one of  Forbes' 30 under 30 in Food and Drink Entrepreneurship.

Local Food Lab chatted with Lisa about the challenges of building a hardware-centric food tech business and how Nomiku grew from an idea to an award-winning, high-growth startup.

Why did you decide to launch Nomiku?

After talking to so many people that openly admitted they couldn't cook, it left me and my cofounder and husband, Abe, heartbroken. Life is too short to not cook! We wanted to launch Nomiku because we were desperate to create something that would help make the world a more delicious place. Our goal is to make you feel like a rockstar when you enter your kitchen!

When Abe and I first started out, we overheard Mitch Altman (well-known San Francisco inventor and hacker) being interviewed by MAKE Magazine about what it means to be a "maker." Abe walked up to Mitch after the interview and said, "I think we might be makers." Mitch immediately invited us to a soldering class the next night, taught at his non-profit hackerspace lab, called NoisebridgeThat following day, I learned how to solder and realized that I can learn to build anything! From there, Nomiku began to really start taking shape.

How did you determine that an at home sous-vide was something you could build, or that people wanted? 

We started in small steps. After being so inspired by the maker community at Noisebridge, we started teaching there and began making DIY open-source kits called "The Ember" (an arduino-based box that lets you hack any kitchen appliance with a heating element into a sous vide machine) to contribute back to the maker community. We loved our Ember Kit, but it had a very limited reach and we wanted to make something suited for our friends who are just into cooking food. After doing some research online, we found the first-ever accelerator for hardware startups in Shenzhen, China and decided to apply. During the accelerator, we spent a lot of time touring factories, sourcing parts and doing market research to ensure there was a growing demand in the industry. When we launched our Kickstarter, it became the most well-funded in it's category. It was a pretty clear signal that we were developing a product that people would be interested in.

What was it like taking your startup through an accelerator? Any key takeaways you learned during the accelerator or about the experience in general?

Taking our startup through the hardware startup accelerator, Haxlr8r, was both fun and a lot of work. We went into the experience without any expectations and with the goal of talking to and learning from as many people as we could. During that time, we ended up meeting our third co-founder and Chief Design Officer, Bam, while also completing our prototype for Nomiku.

What business resources (or people) have been most helpful for Nomiku's growth? 

AngelList is magnificent. We're very grateful to our advisors too--Harold McGee is the ultimate kitchen science resource and having him on board really grounds us. The most important people have been our backers and customers who make beautiful food with Nomiku and inspire us with their creations. Our customers have made Nomiku more than just a cooking product, but a movement as well.

What have been some of your biggest business challenges? Have you been faced with any challenges unique to hardware food tech startups? 

Hardware is a very different beast than standard tech in Silicon Valley. Not to mention, only 1-6% of women-led teams receive venture capital. Hardware-savvy investors ended up being the best fit for us.

What advice do you have for other food and food tech entrepreneurs who are just getting started?

Don't wait for anyone to get started—start today! It can be something as simple as chatting to the chef at your favorite restaurant. Taking a classes at hackerspace was absolutely eye-opening for us. Empower yourself and surround yourself with others who inspire you.

What does the term sustainability mean to you as an entrepreneur and how does Nomiku tackle the issue?

As hardware designers, we design for the home and for the landfill. Part of our effort to do that is trimming down the amount of parts in our device. The first Nomiku had over 100 parts and our Chief Design Officer, Bam, condensed it into only 8 parts in our new design. We strive to use less materials at every stage. It's not only sustainable in terms of the environment but also sustainable in terms of manufacturing. Since it takes less effort to put together, it's easier to bring manufacturing back to America. We're happy to be manufacturing right here in the Bay Area.