Some startups start with the aim of being acquired. It represents a big pay day for the founders and also provides resources for further expansion. I wanted to take a look at the Orange Chef, the maker of a connected kitchen scale and several non-connected products sold at Williams Sonoma stores has been purchased by Yummly. The deal helps salvage the assets of The Orange Chef, which was backed by Google and brings Orange Chef CEO Santiago Merea to the position of chief revenue officer at Yummly. Yummly is an app that offers recipes.
When Santiago Merea founded the startup in 2011, he intended it to be kitchen accessories outfit — more Martha Stewart Living than internet of things. He was watching his wife cook from a recipe on her iPad, and to protect the tablet from spattering grease and flying garlic bits she covered it in a Ziplock bag. That’s where Merea got the idea for the Chef’s Sleeve, a form-fitting envelope that protects your iPad even as you pinch and scroll your way through recipes with batter-covered fingers.
The Orange Chef followed up with other iPad cooking accessories, including a tablet stand and cutting board with a built-in iPad dock. “The iPad is a very useful tool in the kitchen,” Merea said. The Orange Chef’s goal is to build accessories and kitchen gear that made the iPad even more useful for cooking, but ultimately the company “wants to be a kitchen brand, not a technology brand,” Merea said.
It’s safe to say, however, that mission is evolving with the introduction of its newest kitchen accessory. Instead of creating a kitchen scale that merely complimented the iPad’s design, The Orange Chef designed the Prep Pad to connect to the iPad through Bluetooth, as well as an iOS app called Countertop that parses the nutritional content of your food. By tapping into USDA databases, the app can tell you how many calories are in a bowl of strawberries or how much fat is in half a Snickers bar by merely setting them on a scale.
Since then, the Orange Chef had struggled to launch an announced series of products in its Countertop line that would link established kitchen brands such as a Vitamix blender and Crock-Pots to the Internet and products like Jawbone fitness trackers. However, it also stopped developing a previous product, a connected scale called the Prep Pad, that tracked what ingredients you put into it and then measured the nutritional information of the food you were cooking.
Reviewers on sites like Amazon and WilliamsSonoma.com complained that after they purchased the Prep Pad scale, updates to their iPhone’s operating system essentially caused the device’s accompanying app to stop functioning. After paying for a $150 connected kitchen scale that helped track their nutritional goals, these users were left with a kitchen scale that didn’t perform as advertised. Merea says that the app is updated and will continue to be supported, but new features won’t be added.
When asked about the Countertop products and if they will come to market, Merea said it wouldn’t be in the form of hardware, but much of the promise around using data to offer personalized food recommendations would make its way into Yummly’s products. This is why Yummly and The Orange Chef signed this deal, which brings 60% of The Orange Chef’s staff over to Yummly. Merea did not give a number for the staff or the total value of the deal.
However, Yummly’s 11.5 million users will be a much larger draw than the 30,000 current users of the Prep Pad connected scale, adding this will help attract big food and appliance brands that Yummly needs to establish partnerships in the industry.
Yummly didn’t buy the intellectual property associated with the Prep Pad scale—Merea retains control of that. So if there is someone interested in and buying up the assets and supporting a community of smart scale owners, Merea might love to offload the burden of supporting a $150 connected product. Unfortunately for connected devices, the Silicon Valley ethos of failing fast isn’t an option.