Episode 18: The Recipe for Creating a Culinary Connected Device

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With David Rabie

Founder & CEO at Tovala

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It’s hard enough to marry the worlds of hardware and software when creating a connected device.

Imagine throwing another specialized discipline with its own language and rigid ways of working into the development process too.

That’s exactly what David Rabie, Founder & CEO at Tovala, dealt with in creating a company that pairs a smart oven with a meal delivery service.

In this episode, he describes how they established a culture of collaboration that brought all three disciplines together under a unified mission.

We'll cover:

  • Bridging the worlds of culinary and tech
  • The strategy behind using Kickstarter
  • How a marketing pivot drove new growth
  • How finding product-market fit led to operational challenges

Read on to learn more about David’s unique product and his fascinating journey. 

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The Intersection of Food and Technology

Among the plethora of meal delivery services, one stands above the rest. Tovala pairs chef-created meals with a unique smart oven to deliver restaurant-quality cuisine at a fraction of the cost. 

Smart oven? Yep, this clever cooker uses cloud tech to expertly prepare each delectable dish.

With an MBA from the University of Chicago and a lifelong love of all things epicurean, David was practically destined to revolutionize this growing industry. 

Tovala is pursuing a different kind of buyer than your average meal delivery kits. Their product is solving problems that the other services can’t, and offers all the benefits of a home-cooked meal without all the hassle, due to their ingenious smart oven.

With this marriage of high quality and high convenience, David has created a disruptive triad of hardware, software, and gourmet meals with ultra-fresh ingredients. 

His company offers a complete system, much like Peloton, Nespresso, or Keurig — a one-stop-shop offering a luxury experience at an affordable price. 

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Tovala also offers a strong company culture, with a high learning mentality and an unshakable growth mindset. David’s team of multilingual go-getters with amazing cross-functionality drives their rising success. 

Getting a Kick

Getting the hardware perfected was a definite challenge. David didn’t want to reinvent the wheel as there were already several countertop ovens on the market. 

But none of them had the smart home tech and cloud capability, as well as a distinctive blend of steam cooking and dry heat. 

Their Kickstarter campaign brought a solid base of early adopters that served as an important element to their product testing. They were learning their way to finding product-market fit. 

Current customers adored it. But David couldn’t figure out how to acquire new customers. 

He realized they needed to elevate their marketing and undergo a significant shift in their approach.

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Rebuilding, Redoing, and Leveraging Customer Data

David had a loyal clutch of subscribed customers he could interview, but he also wanted to pick the brains of people who scoped out his website but didn’t buy.

The team used three major levers to drive the conversion rate forward:

  • Valuable feedback from existing customers
  • The pain points of those who looked but didn’t buy
  • Rebranding, repricing, and revamping the website

Making the website more appealing was the key to educating and building trust with consumers. Reducing the price led to overwhelming demand.

Overcoming Challenges

The pandemic brought a huge demand for their product, as well as uncertainty and stress for their staff. Blending hardware, software, fresh ingredients, and culinary genius is no small task. 

Inflation, supply chain issues, shortages, and other problems consistently caused headaches.

Finding a winning market strategy was also a challenge, and once they did, it created a hot potato that was tossed from marketing to operations. They had the customers, now how were they going to deliver on their promise?

This imbalance of supply and demand triggered some painful months for David and his team, but after a few foibles, they were back on track.

One dud early on was trying to do in-person demonstrations. To transport fresh food and ovens, as well as to hire staff to operate the pop-up, did not yield an impressive ROI. David says they were also missing a coherent brand message at that point. 

Key takeaways?

  • Product market fit is crucial.  
  • Have really effective cross-disciplinary communications.
  • Differentiate yourself from the crowd.

 

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