Lisa Q. Fetterman is the co-founder and CEO (chief eating officer) of the hardware startup Nomiku, which makes “immersion circulators” that allow amateur chefs to affordably experiment with sophisticated sous vide cooking techniques. Fetterman and her two co-founders originally funded their device by raising nearly $600,000 on Kickstarter in 2012. Two years later, they went back to Kickstarter and raised more than $750,000 to fund a new, improved model with wi-fi connectivity and a companion mobile app. Her favorite sous vide dish is miso bass.
Is there something magical about the combination of food and technology that allows you to tap into two very connected communities at the same time?
Yes, that is exactly what is happening. People in the tech community recognize that not a lot of tech is going on in the kitchen. So we are not thinking about incremental innovation — we’re not making a phone screen that’s just slightly wider. The changes that we’re starting to see are super dramatic. Both sides — the food side and the tech side — recognize that and they feel it dearly. When something new comes around in food and tech it definitely makes a splash.
You made the first Nomiku in China. But you’ve decided to make the next version in the USA. What do you think you’ll miss most about China?
In China, the infrastructure is already there. In the U.S., we’re going to have to build our own infrastructure.
Prototyping isn’t as easy in the US.
No it’s not. In Shenzhen, China, where we were, it was like a supermarket for electronics. We lived right next to it, and we’d go in and get whatever we needed. And prototyping, I mean, wow, it was so rapid that it was like I had the thought 10 minutes ago and now I am testing it out on a real prototype.
How did that change when you started prototyping in the U.S.? Are you saving money?
Yes, primarily because of the quality of 3D printers. I can now 3D print a part for around $300, and put everything together into a prototype for like $600 to $800. That’s for a fully functional prototype, versus the $6,000 that it cost prototyping with our contract manufacturer in China.
Has working on the Nomiku project caused you to have new respect for everyday cooking gadgets?
Actually, I have always been amazed by things like a $6 toaster. How can it be so cheap, and still work as advertised? Just achieving that is so hard. I am constantly amazed by the Vitamix blender, which is made in the United States. I think they are a bastion of hope for everybody who wants to make a high-tech kitchen appliance. It is so durable and does exactly what it says it will do — nothing more, nothing less. That’s what makes people happy. But getting there is so hard.
Your new model allows users to connect to it over wi-fi via a mobile device. Is that just an Internet of Things gimmick?
Not at all. What I like about the Internet of Things is that it connects everyone. Community is what makes food awesome. We always wanted to bring that with our appliance and now we literally can. We’re making it easier to share recipes with top chefs, great scientists, and your next-door neighbor.
Cooking and the internet are so natural together, and the Internet of Things is a way to make that happen — it’s actually connecting you to other cooks. I think everybody will benefit if every single piece of technology has this kind of community approach.