Editor's Note: Double Insight is a winner of Inc.'s 2017 Design Awards, our annual recognition of entrepreneurs using design to build great companies, in the "Product Design" category.
In 2008, Robert J. Wang was forced out of the mobile messaging software company he had co-founded. In need of a new venture, he looked homeward for inspiration. "We had two young kids," says Wang. "Fixing a dinner--an actually healthy dinner--was challenging. We'd do a lot of takeout." He began imagining an appliance smart enough to prepare almost any meal he wanted to cook.
Two years later, Wang debuted the Instant Pot pressure cooker, putting a high-tech spin on the retro "set it and forget it" utility of the 1970s Crock-Pot. Wang's tricked-out device, which uses a microprocessor along with thermal- and pressure-sensor technology, autonomously functions as, among other things, a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a yogurt maker, a sauté pan, a steamer, and a food warmer. "It was obvious we could control cooking in a much more intelligent way," says Wang, an ex-Nortel engineer.
Obvious, but not easy. Wang recruited a couple of telecom engineers and invested more than $300,000 of his savings to solve the highly technical challenge. His team spent 18 months toiling over the first-generation model, eventually landing on a burn-protection mechanism that could maintain the cooking sweet spot at the bottom of the pot, between 266 and 284 degrees Fahrenheit.
Double Insight, Wang's Ottawa, Ontario-based company, became profitable in 2012 and has increased revenue twofold every year since. Last year, its device earned a cult following after Amazon ran a promotion, resulting in 215,000-plus sales in one day, along with rabid word-of-mouth buzz. Today, enthusiasts trade recipe hacks and videos in a 450,000-member Instant Pot Facebook group.
Even with the appliance ranking among Amazon's top-selling kitchen products in the U.S., Wang claims to still read every Amazon review. He says they provide clues for designing new features, like the fourth-generation model's Bluetooth connectivity, which adjusts cooking time according to a user's altitude. And like any good engineer, he has several go-to stress tests for product tweaks. "Unsoaked beans," Wang says. "They're much harder to cook than meat."