For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we caught up with Zalmi Duchman, the CEO of Mellow Duo. After finding success in the food tech industry for over 15 years, specifically in that of fresh meal delivery services, learn how and why Duchman invested in Mellow and guided its development into what it is today. Also, learn why he decided to use Kickstarter to help bring Mellow’s second-generation product to life.
Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways
- How Duchman evolved the brand and the product after learning about it via ProductHunt, eventually investing in the business
- Why he chose Kickstarter to grow the business while maintaining Mellow’s original community
- What led to the campaign’s initial success within the first 24 hours of launch
- How Duchman discovered Enventys Partners and why he chose them as their industry-specific crowdfunding marketing agency
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Roy Morejon: Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, President of Inventus Partners, the top full service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over a hundred billion dollars for our clients since 2010. Each week I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding. Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit and The Gadget Flow. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping you print and ship faster. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now let’s get on with the show.
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am joined with Zalmi Duchman, CEO of Mellow. Zalmi how did I do with your last name? Did I butcher it?
Zalmi Duchman: No, you did great.
Roy Morejon: All right, well listen, I’m really excited about today’s episode. Today we’re going to talk about an active campaign, Mellow Duo, which is the perfect sous vide product. Really excited to talk to you about this. So give our audience a little bit of background and tell us where this idea started from and what inspired you to create Mellow.
Zalmi Duchman: You got it. Well, I did not create Mellow, so my background is I am in the food tech business for about 15 years, probably before the words food tech existed. I was in the meal delivery business. I launched my first business, which was called the Fresh Diet back in 2005 which was a fresh meal delivery service. And after I grew it and sold it in 2014, I came about Mellow and it was actually the first generation of the machine. It was not produced. I actually read about it on product hunt and discovered it and ended up investing in it because I thought it was such an amazing machine. So I can’t take credit for inventing it. But as we’ll get into, I ended up taking the company over and launching the Kickstarter for the second generation product.
Roy Morejon: So when they were creating the first version, I guess if you can talk a little bit about what that process was like and then how you’ve decided to bring in new features into version two. The duo.
Zalmi Duchman: Sure. So let’s start by talking a little bit about sous vide cooking, which some people are probably not familiar with. Back in the day I had some partners at the Fresh Diet who were chefs. I’m not a food guy, I’m more of the marketing, sales, tech side of things and I had some partners who, one of them was a trained chef, one of them was a self trained chef and they were cooking sous vide before it was popular. Although sous vide been around in restaurants for a long time, it hasn’t really been in homes for quite that long.
And what sous vide is to back up is it’s precision cooking in a water bath. So the only way to really get the perfect temperature is to use a water bath. Meaning if you’re cooking in the oven, if you’re cooking on the grill, there’s going to be different temperatures all around. But when you cook in a water bath, it actually is precise cooking. So I am not a cook. I had no idea what this was. But I saw my friends and my partners use these machines at home and eventually they became a lot more popular, like I said, but it was still extremely difficult to use if you didn’t know what you were doing.
And since I was familiar with sous vide, I never used it myself. And when I read about Mellow, I got excited because I thought Mellow would be basically sous vide for dummies. And why I say that is because it’s really the only sous vide machine that’s a contained unit as opposed to a handheld version. Most sous vides in the market, at home, are handheld versions where you have to basically find a pot and put it into a pot. And there’s a lot of steps involved.
The Mellow is a self contained sous vide and I thought that was really cool. And at the same time it was the first sous vide to offer cooling as well. So all sous vide is cooking and the Mellow actually acts as a refrigerator at the same exact time. And why that’s special and what that means is, let’s take an example of you want to make poached eggs for breakfast. Now I can tell you that in my 39 years until I was 38 years old, I never made poached eggs. I could scramble an egg, I could do a sunny side up. That is basically my skill set. But once I started using the Mellow, it was as easy as dropping in the Mellow and making a poached egg. And it’s perfect. It’s like a five star chef. However, with any sous vide machine, you would have to set that up an hour or an hour and a half before you want it ready.
So let’s say it takes an hour and a half to poach the eggs. You want it ready at eight in the morning. If you’re going to do that with any other sous vide besides the Mellow, you’d have to get up at 6:30 in the morning and you’d have to set it up. With the Mellow, you can put the eggs in or anything else you’re cooking, at any time, it will keep that ingredient cold until it’s ready to cook.
Let me dumb it down. You want to make a rib steak for dinner. You need to cook that rib steak for an hour and a half. Any other sous vide, any oven, any grill, you need to rush home at 5:30 and you need to make that steak. With the Mellow, you can put that steak in two days before. Open the app, you say you want that steak ready at 7:00 PM, the Mellow will start chilling automatically. It will keep that steak cold until it’s ready to cook and it will start cooking.
So when I read about this, I was like, wow, this is the ultimate appliance because it basically solves all problems. It makes any chef a five star chef and it makes any busy person able to continue being busy and not worry about having to rush home to put up dinner. So that’s kind of what got me excited about it.
Roy Morejon: Interesting. So you said you saw it first on Product Hunt.
Zalmi Duchman: I did. I learned about it on Product Hunt and I ended up investing in the company two years before it actually shipped.
Roy Morejon: Interesting. So how did they go about doing valuations back then for it?
Zalmi Duchman: It was a very Silicon Valley type company. It was actually founded out of Portugal, but the founder moved to San Francisco, went through a lot of these, the word is escaping me, but these incubator type businesses and eventually fell into evaluation. So it was definitely a good valuation for them and a lot has happened obviously since that time. But it was an exciting product and they had a lot of money behind it to get it launched.
Roy Morejon: Yeah, which is always helpful. So let’s jump into the active Kickstarter campaign. Talk a little bit about the preparation that you guys did leading up to the active campaign.
Zalmi Duchman: Sure. So I came in, I took over the company about a year plus ago and for me right away I knew that I needed to start working on a second generation. So we started by getting a lot of feedback from our customers. And the two biggest complaints that we found was one, the tank is too small and two, we had a lot of people buying two Mellows so they could cook two different things at the same time in order to make a complete meal. Because as you know, most people have a main dish and a side dish and if you want to cook a steak and broccoli, you’d have to cook those separately. So that’s how the idea for Mellow Duo came about.
I decided that Kickstarter would be a great way to go. I always thought that it was a mistake not going with Kickstarter the first time around, made by the previous founder. So for me, I never have run a Kickstarter until now, but I’ve always been a big fan of crowdfunding, have always kept tabs on it. And I thought that it can be a great way to get the word out and to start building a second community because Mellow still really has a great community. So going to that community and then adding to that community through Kickstarter by launching the Mellow Duo, which solves the problem of the first Mellow because as you know, if you’ve seen the Kickstarter, what the Mellow Duo allows is it allows you to cook in a bigger tank or switch that tank out for two smaller tanks and cook two different things at the same time at different temperatures.
Roy Morejon: Yeah, truly impressive engineering on that. You had mentioned the community that you guys had built, and looking at the active Kickstarter campaign, it looks like a strong U.S. contingency in terms of backers and where they’re coming from. How did you guys go about deciding where your target market was and what that audience looked like?
Zalmi Duchman: Sure. So actually the first version of Mellow only works in the U.S. and Canada because of the electrical way it was built and it was always a very, very big problem because we had a lot of interest from other countries, especially Europe, especially Australia. So right away we said we’re going to build this one and we’re going to make sure that it works everywhere.
So obviously we have a nice big community in the U.S. because we’ve been around for years and that was our target market. But we also had people that have been watching from afar and have been saying when you guys have a machine ready for us, we’re going to be all in. So that’s why we made the Mellow Duo available to ship anywhere in the world. And that is why we see a lot of interest from other countries. I just saw today somebody reached out from Thailand. So we’re very excited about that.
Roy Morejon: Excellent. So let’s talk a little bit about the prep leading up to the campaign because we all know how important it is, the month or two leading up to a launch is. What did you guys do prior to launching the campaign to have your campaign fully funded in the first day, basically and over $50,000 raised within the first three days?
Zalmi Duchman: Yeah. Obviously it’s a lot of hard work. I think for us it was really about making sure that we had an amazing video that really showed the functionality, especially with a product like this. I think that’s the most important part. Making sure all the content is really, really good. Really, really solid, clear, shows what is special about it, especially the difference between one and two because we knew that we had a nice base of people. We had people that already own the Mellow that would be interested. We have people that never purchased a Mellow because maybe they thought it was too small or maybe they had some reserves about it or again, maybe they didn’t live in the U.S. so we wanted to make sure that all of that was very, very clear. So focusing on that page was extremely important to us.
Working with an outside company to make sure since we’ve never ran anything like this ourselves, made sure that we had their expertise behind the us. Making sure that we started building digital marketing ads 10 days before to start creating a list of people that we don’t have yet on our list. And then really hitting our Facebook, our Instagram, and at the same time reaching out to influencers that we’ve used in the past or even ones that we’ve never used. And actually about a week before we launched, I made sure to go to an event called the Food Media Event where there were a lot of different Instagram people out there and getting them to commit to doing a swipe up on their Instagram story when we launched. We had a lot of people doing that on the first and second and even third day. So for us that was extremely important and we think, I don’t think it was one thing that gave us that success of hitting the goal within 24 hours. I think it was a combination of everything.
Roy Morejon: Yeah. You’ve been working with our agency here at Inventus Partners for a while now. What were some of the considerations that you looked at when choosing an agency to partner with?
Zalmi Duchman: Yeah. For me it was really about making sure that they had the experience in our industry. So when I was doing the research, I found that Inventus worked with a company called Frommagio, which is a cheese making machine that did really well on Kickstarter. I saw that they worked with wine companies. So I felt that they had that food tech experience. And for me that was probably the most important thing because obviously anybody that is advertising as a crowd funding support, they know crowd funding. But for me I wanted to make sure that they took it one step further and that they were actually industry specific.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. So what’s the biggest thing that you guys have learned now through the first three days of the launching the Kickstarter campaign? Any big surprises so far?
Zalmi Duchman: I don’t think there’s been any big surprises. I think maybe the surprisingness if that’s a word, is the most surprising thing is the messages back and forth. I think we’re three days in and the last I looked there was about 70 messages. So there’s 250 backers, 70 messages. I mean that means like wow that’s almost a quarter of the people are actually corresponding. I feel like that’s very, very high. If you look at any other eCommerce site, if you have a thousand orders, you’ll probably have 10 people that are actually messaging. You know what I mean? Most people go on a website and they buy something. But I guess with Kickstarter as in crowdfunding, it seems like there’s a lot more interaction between the backers and potential backers. So that’s something that’s exciting and a little surprising to me.
But now that I talk about it, it makes a lot of sense with something like this. So I would say that. Besides that things have gone pretty smooth. So hasn’t been any surprises yet. But for me it’s really about looking at it as more of a marathon than a sprint, which is very difficult because I’m sure that in the first few days you get that nice big hit and then things potentially continue to could start slowing down. So for me it’s really about staying focused and figuring out how to make sure the momentum doesn’t die down through the 40 days.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely.
Well Zalmi, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid-fire a handful of questions at you. Are you good to go?
Zalmi Duchman: I’ll try my best.
Roy Morejon: So what inspired you to be an investor?
Zalmi Duchman: That’s a great question. I’m still asking myself that. I’ve done a lot of investments and not all of them have panned out. So I ask myself that every day and I don’t have an answer.
Roy Morejon: What inspires you to work with entrepreneurs?
Zalmi Duchman: I just love building things.
Roy Morejon: So if you could cook with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Zalmi Duchman: I just have to go Steve jobs.
Roy Morejon: Steve. All right. What would be your first question for him?
Zalmi Duchman: This is tough. Does he want to invest in Mellow?
Roy Morejon: There you go. What’s your favorite sous vide recipe?
Zalmi Duchman: Poached eggs. I mean, no joke. That is my favorite recipe.
Roy Morejon: Nice. Any book that you would recommend to our listeners?
Zalmi Duchman: My favorite book has always been Good to Great by Jim Collins I believe.
Roy Morejon: Yep. Great read there. Last question. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Zalmi Duchman: I think it’s all about transparency, that’s what it seems like to me. I think that as long as there’s transparency, it will continue to grow and be successful.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. Well Zalmi, this is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should check out Mellow Duo.
Zalmi Duchman: Awesome. Well check out our website, which is cook mellow.com and you’ll get to the Kickstarter through there. Check it out. If you’re a cook, this is amazing for you. If you’re not a cook, it’s even better for you. It’s a great gift for the holidays and we’re going to be launching a meal plan that goes along with that. So for us, that’s an exciting part where you literally just get the meals in the mail and you scan them on the app, you drop them in and it solves the rest of the issue. So check that out and look for great things to come from us.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit Art of the kickstart.com for the notes, the transcripts, links to the Kickstarter campaign and everything else we talked about today and of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors The Gadget Flow and BackerKit. Zalmi, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Zalmi Duchman: Thanks for having me.
Roy Morejon: Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit art of the kickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it. And of course, if you love this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/iTunes it helps more Inventus, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on Inventus Partners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next time.