Editor's Note: Inc.'s 12th annual 30 Under 30 list features the young founders taking on some of the world's biggest challenges. Here, meet Nomiku.
Lisa Q. Fetterman built the prototype for her sous-vide cooker on a first date. The recent NYU grad had fallen in love with the machines--which heat vacuum-sealed food, slowly, in a low-temperature water bath--while working in restaurants during college. Over drinks at the Manhattan bar Mary O's in 2010, she told a guy she'd met at the gym that she'd just asked her landlord for an extension on the rent so she could spend $2,000 on her new obsession. Her date replied, "You don't have to spend all that money. We can make one," recalls Fetterman. "I was like, 'Are you serious? Can we go right now?'"
That night's date (later her husband and co-founder) was Abe Fetterman, a Princeton-trained plasma- and astrophysicist. Given his pedigree, cobbling together a sous-vide machine from $100 worth of parts from a nearby hardware store was only a moderate challenge. What followed sounds like an episode of The Big Bang Theory. "We went up to his apartment and made what basically looked like a giant bomb," says Fetterman. "It was a good excuse to spend time together without being too awkward."
Fetterman was 22 back then, working her first post-college job as a writer for Hearst's digital media group. A Chinese immigrant who, as a teenager, liked to call Michelin-three-star restaurants just to hear how they answered the phone, Fetterman had long felt torn between the worlds of food and journalism. To make money while at NYU, she had worked in the kitchens of places like Babbo, landing that job by speaking Italian to the general manager. "They had these huge hulking pieces of lab equipment that anyone from the salad maker to the executive chef was able to use," says Fetterman, of the industrial sous- vide machines she first encountered. "I was like, I really, really, really, really need one."
Fetterman began cooking with the sous-vide maker that she and Abe had built. Soon her chef and foodie friends wanted their own home versions. "I said, 'You get the parts and we'll make it for you for free,'" says Fetterman. She considered the opportunity to talk sous vide with fellow enthusiasts ample compensation for the four hours it took to build each machine at a friend's home.
Through word of mouth, demand grew. The couple created a DIY open-source sous-vide kit and began peddling it, under the name Ember, at maker spaces around the country. They offered classes, sold kits, and charged for both. Fetterman, who had quit Hearst to devote more time to sous vide, funded the startup by working as a barista and at other odd jobs.
By 2011 sous vide was becoming mainstream, and the couple had decided to get serious. A week before they got married, they persuaded their wedding videographer to shoot a Kickstarter video for them. That initial crowdfunding campaign raised close to $600,000 in 30 days. A later campaign for a Wi-Fi version raised another $750,000.
The business launched formally in 2012 and the couple moved to China so they could learn manufacturing. After two years living next door to the factory making the cookers, they felt they had it down. "We thought, holy crap, this is all we have to do? We can do this in America," says Fetterman. They relocated to San Francisco and set up a factory there in 2013.
Since then, top restaurants including Noma in Copenhagen, Osteria Francescana in Italy, and the Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa have bought Nomiku machines, burnishing the brand. The Fettermans priced the product at $199 (the new Wi-Fi model is $250), so home cooks could afford one and professionals could afford several. Saison, a Michelin three-star restaurant in San Francisco, owns five, including one dedicated to cocktails. "I use it quite a bit for making syrups or keeping things at precise temperatures, such as whipped cream canisters to extrude foams onto my drinks," says bar manager Anthony Keels. "It works really well, and it has a lovely interface, so it looks nice and sleek on the back bar."
In 2016 Nomiku's profile rose with the publication of Fetterman's cookbook, Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals, which is in its fifth printing. That same year, the product launched in Williams Sonoma, and the Fettermans landed a $250,000 investment from Chris Sacca on an episode of Shark Tank.
Nomiku also offers a sous-vide recipe and community app, developed with the help of Y Combinator. And it is testing a frozen food line in San Francisco. "I had the idea when my girlfriends started having babies" says Fetterman, whose child is 3. To help out, Fetterman prepared entrees, like bourbon steak, that her friends could stick in their freezers and then pop in a sous-vide machine. "I realized I could probably sell these," says Fetterman.
In conjunction with the meals, on May 15 Nomiku will launch an RFID model, called the Sous Chef. Tap the tag on a bag of the company's prepared food against the machine; it pulls information on that product from the cloud and sets itself to perfectly cook everything from cheesy grits to miso-glazed chicken breast.
Stewart Alsop, co-founder of the venture capital firm Alsop Louie, says he was so impressed by Fetterman that he did no due diligence before making an angel investment in Nomiku. "I talked to Lisa about the business and said, 'What the hell. I am going to make a bet on this lady,'" says Alsop. "So far I am feeling pretty good about that bet. Her book and her presence in social media and television go to create a much larger vision of what the company can be.
"I met Lisa and I went, well, first of all she's crazy," says Alsop. "Secondly, she is really dedicated and passionate about what she is doing. She has a real vision of how this company should work."