In the 1980s, Silicon Valley’s hardware elite began outsourcing much of the semiconductor and hardware manufacturing work that gave the region its name to Asia.
But now that the economics of hardware startups have fundamentally changed with new ways to test consumer interest and get feedback through platforms like Kickstarter, some startups are finding that it’s easier to build products locally because the design-and-testing cycles are much tighter.
One example is Nomiku, an immersion circulator that lets amateur chefs use the high-brow technique of sous vide in their home kitchens. When Nomiku built its original prototypes, the trio of founders behind the company had to decamp for Shenzhen for several months to learn how to maneuver through suppliers there with hardware accelerator HXLR8R.
Now with the second version, they’re bent on manufacturing Nomikus locally with current partner Studio Fathom out of Oakland. Correction: Nomiku wanted to add that they’re in-shoring just the prototyping process Studio Fathom in Oakland out of China. Then they’re sourcing tools from other factories in the U.S. and then doing final assembly hopefully in a place in San Francisco’s Mission District with help from SFMade.
“We can iterate much faster here,” said co-founder Lisa Fetterman. “China is great if you have your design down pat. But if you’re creating something new that nobody’s ever seen before, you need to rapidly prototype.”
She added, “It’s surprising that it’s cheaper to do prototyping in San Francisco rather than China, and the turnaround is faster.” The manufacturing cost gap between China and the U.S. has narrowed as wages in the local industry have nearly doubled since 2008. The shrinking cost differential has compelled other hardware companies like former Wired editor Chris Anderson’s drone startup 3D Robotics to “near-shore” production to Mexico. That, in turn, has fueled a thriving cross-border startup scene in San Diego and Tijuana where low-cost engineering talent can quickly turnaround prototypes.
Fetterman explains that While the Chinese market is great for mass producing thousands or hundreds of thousands of units of a product, it’s less great for customization and small runs.
The newest version of the Nomiku is smaller, clips to the front of a bin instead of the back, and is Wifi-connected. It also comes with a paired app for planning and sharing recipes.
Sous vide is a cooking technique where you vacuum seal food in a pack and then immerse it in a water bath at a very precise temperature. The benefit is that you’ll get food that is completely evenly cooked, instead of, say, a steak that gets overcooked just to brown the outside. It has particularly cool effects on eggs, which get done perfectly with solid whites and a runny yolk.
“When I first tasted sous vide, how could I ever go back? It’s like someone who has died, gone to heaven and come back,” Fetterman said.
The technique was re-popularized by chefs like French Laundry’s Thomas Keller a decade ago, and since then, a number of competing manufacturers like Polyscience and Anova have tried to mass-market sous vide appliances to the home cook.
Nomiku is the little guy. It was created by a husband-and-wife team named Lisa and Abe Fetterman along with an industrial designer named Wipop Suppipat. Both foodies, Lisa had worked in hospitality at high-end restaurants under chefs like Jean-Georges and Mario Batali, while Abe was a plasma physicist earning his doctorate at Princeton University.
Their love of cooking spawned this business, which they’ve backed with a bit of seed funding and nearly $600,000 from an initial Kickstarter campaign that was the most successful one in food at that time. The newest campaign here has raised north of $400,000 in about a week.
The new Nomiku will end up retailing in outlets for $249. But a pre-ordered version is available on Kickstarter for $129 over the next three weeks.