Oliver at the Smart Kitchen Summit Startup Showcase, October 2016

While no one has quite figured out what the robot cook of the future looks like, it’s not for lack of trying.

While some labor to create a fully functional transformer-meets-home-chef like Moley, others see a path filled with single-function robots spitting out tortillas and mixing drinks.

And then there’s Else Labs, which sees a future for cooking automation that fuses timeworn cooking concepts like a slow cooker with modern advances such as a smart dispenser system and app control.

Else founder Khalid Aboujassoum first presented the concept for his automated cooker on Stars of Science, a Qatar TV show similar to Shark Tank. At the time, he only had a rough working prototype of the product that would eventually come to be known as Oliver, but he received enough encouragement to start working with a San Francisco design firm and keep on developing the product.

Illustration of a user preparing food for the Oliver cooking chambers. Source: Else Labs

After participating in last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit’s Startup Showcase, the team continued to work on Oliver’s development. They created another early prototype and started doing one-on-one cooking sessions with consumers in their homes to refine the experience. And now, with the company’s goal of bringing the product to market in spring of 2018, they have raised a seed round of $1.8 million.

I emailed Aboujassoum to ask him a few questions about the funding and the company’s product:

Wolf: Who were your investors?

Aboujassoum: Yellow Services, a wholly owned subsidiary by Qatar Development Bank, is the institutional investor. YS manages a $100M fund dedicated to innovation startups and SMEs that can contribute in diversifying Qatar’s economy.

Wolf: How much total has Else Labs raised?

Aboujassoum: $1.95 million. (ed note: The company raised an angel round of approximately $150 thousand)

Wolf: Where is Oliver in terms of development and expected ship date? 

Aboujassoum: We have an advanced working prototype that we are using to conduct 1-to-1 sessions with early adopters in their homes. Those sessions are helping us in refining the user experience and prepare for the pilot program that we are working on launching soon.

The pilot will inform our crowd-funding and overall launch strategy. Our target launch date is Q2 2018.

Wolf: Who are the key members of your team?

Aboujassoum: myself (ed note:Aboujassoum is founder & CEO), Tariq Maksoud (cofounder & lead mechanical engineer, and Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis (cofounder & lead electrical engineer).

Wolf: There hasn’t been a successful product in the robotic/automated cooking category yet. Why will Oliver be different?

Aboujassoum: We believe that the main reason it’s been difficult to crack the market is because the cost has been too high or the product has been simply too intimidating or different from what a user is accustomed to in a kitchen appliance.

We were determined to keep lasersharp focus on engineering Oliver to be cost effective and enhancing what is already familiar to the user in what to expect from a kitchen appliance. With Oliver, we were able to build the necessary functions of automated dispensing, mixing, and heating that meets its futuristic robotic function, but yet familiar in its form to the user.

Finding the balance between performance, form, and cost was a challenge that we were able to overcome with the technology we have developed. Overcoming this challenge was the key to opening the door to designing a user centred product in this space. This is what makes Oliver different.

We know that we still have a long way ahead of us, but we believe Oliver is the perfect balance that will be inviting to users in and will bridge that gap between traditional kitchen appliances and the future of cooking.

Else Labs was one of 15 startups selected for the 2016 Smart Kitchen Summit Startup Showcase. To find the next big thing in cooking, you won’t want to miss the Startup Showcase at this year’s Smart Kitchen Summit. Use the discount code SPOON to get 25% off of any ticket.