After the Juicero debacle, now doesn’t seem like a good time to be coming out with a smart gadget for the kitchen. But Ashok Jaiswal is undeterred.
The cheery entrepreneur – born in India, based in Hong Kong – is preparing to launch a yogurt maker that connects with a mobile app.
He has good reason to feel impervious to the backlash against the pricey juicing machine: homemade yogurt is hard. Really, properly hard. “It’s messy to make,” Jaiswal adds.
When the #startup founder was at a recent dinner party and mango lassi – a fantastic Indian drink – arrived at the table, he made an offhand comment about it being better to use your own yogurt in a lassi, and the other guests were stunned that it was even possible to make yogurt at home. “Nobody believed me,” he laughs.
I also didn’t know it could be made at home overnight. But after seeing a bunch of recipes online that demand things like coolers, thermometers, and cheesecloths – all things I don’t possess and don’t plan on buying until I’m about 70 years old – I’m not about to give it a go any time soon.
Even with a conventional yogurt making machine, which go for as little as US$20, there’s still quite a lot of manual input needed.
Growing up in India, which he left in 2002, Jaiswal knew a bit about making this staple – which is used in curries as well as lassi – after seeing his mother do it countless times. But as an adult, he found himself out of his home nation and unable to make his own yogurt.
When his daughter appeared on the scene a few years back, he noticed with horror how much sugar is in most store-bought yogurt.
“I’d never feed her spoonfuls of sugar,” he says – yet here are a bunch of companies expecting everyone to shovel their insanely sweetened desserts into our kids.
No-frills and chill
With Yomee Yogurt, Jaiswal’s third startup but his first foray into the food industry, he wants to take the mess and the tricky prep out of homemade yogurt. And avoid all that sugar. It won’t make the process much quicker – it’s still an overnighter – but it will genuinely be a labor-saving device.
Inspired by the likes of Keurig and Nespresso, his startup will also sell the pods that go into the Yomee smart appliance. The gadget will hit Kickstarter in August, then ships to backers around April.
The Yomee yogurt maker won’t be hugely complicated like the US$400 Juicero (down from its original US$700), with Jaiswal preferring to keep it simple – it mainly just spins and chills the concoction over the course of the six-hour process. The price is not yet fixed, but he’s eyeing a “very reachable range” – though admitedly it won’t be as low as some old-fashioned yogurt makers.
The soluble pods – which you’ll mix with the milk of your choice – will work out at around US$0.75 each, or a cheaper US$15 monthly subscription for 25 pods. Aside from the plain yogurt pods, there’ll also be vanilla, strawberry, and blueberry flavors.
No place like Kickstarter
Even though his newest startup has investor backing – US$200,000 so far with more due before launch – he wants to take Yomee onto Kickstarter.
“I don’t think there is a better way than Kickstarter. If you’re super funded like Juicero, you can go ahead and not do the Kickstarter. But if they’d done the Kickstarter, they’d have figured out those problems long before,” he says, referencing the much-publicized issue that the juice making gadget isn’t really even needed to press the pre-prepped fruit bags sold alongside it.
Kickstarter, then, “is a great user validation platform” for any startup, in Jaiswal’s view, giving a fast-moving startup time to make tweaks based on beta user feedback.
Jaiswal had quite a hit a few years ago with Ezeecube, a media storage gizmo aimed at families. After moving on from that business, he felt that he was ready for something totally different.
“Now hardware is not a challenge,” he smiles, he wanted to leap into a business that involves food. That’s because “food tech will change the world,” not least due to the supersized scale of the markets involved – the worldwide yogurt industry alone is worth US$85 billion.
Which brings the pair of us back to that fruit smooshing startup. “Juicero is a victim of Apple, I would say,” Jaiswal proffers. “What I mean is Apple has set standards very, very high. Now if you go to any maker of hardware or software, you’ll hear them say they want to make it like Apple. If you go to any factory in China, you go there with ten dollars in your pocket, and you’ll say I want to make a product like Apple’s.”
“So what they end up doing is making a product so expensive” due to their startup-y inexperience – as well as something that’s over-engineered and overly complex.