The Spoon has learned that Mellow, a startup that has gained attention for development of a hybrid sous vide appliance with unique features such as a built-in refrigeration and a scale, has a new CEO. Long-time supply chain executive Gary Itenson, who served as the company’s COO for the past year, has stepped into the top spot and former CEO and company cofounder, Zé Pinto Ferreira, has left the company.
The change caught me by surprise because it’s a bit unusual for a CEO to leave on the eve of shipping its first product, but also because when I checked in with Ferreira at the end of last year, things seemed to be on track. The company has just secured a new relationship with contract manufacturer Flextronics and the Mellow appliance was expected to ship in the spring.
In an interview, Itenson has told me that the first shipments of Mellow are still expected to ship in May.
“We announced this past Monday to our pre-order customers that Mellow deliveries will start at the beginning of May,” said Itenson. “Based our production schedule and transit time all of our early backers will have a Mellow to cook with in their kitchen by mid-June.”
I also asked Itenson about the departure of Ferreira and the outlook for the company (I reached out to Ferreira for a comment but have not received a response). You can see Itenson’s answers to my questions below.
Wolf: Ze Ferreira is no longer with the company. It’s unusual for a founder to leave before shipping product, so can you tell us the reason for the departure?
Itenson: I joined Mellow March 2016 as COO and as you know the journey for any startup, especially Hardware, is never easy and in hardware sometimes the COO can play a more pivotal role than the CEO. Both co-founders, Ze and Catarina Violante felt late last year that, as we moved closer to shipping, transforming Mellow from a product development team to a more robust operational entity was vital. At that time, I agreed to take over as CEO, with our investors’ full support.
Catarina has continued on as our VP of Product and has always driven the software and hardware side; while Ze decided on his own to leave the company but did so at a time and in a way to ensure we could keep moving forward without any disruption.
Wolf: Was this a decision made by the board members/investors?
Itenson: It was a decision made by the founders and I, but ultimately it was done with the complete support of the board.
Wolf: What is your background and how is Nex-Solutions (Itenson’s previous company) related to Mellow if at all?
Itenson: I have three decades of manufacturing, operational and business development experience within the hardware industry and I have lead teams that have scaled fast and effectively. Prior to Mellow, Nex- Solutions was a company that I founded 10+ years ago, based on the premise of helping domestic companies source and manage Asian supply networks.
Over the years I have worked with a number of companies and founders in the Bay Area, which is how the co-founders and I got involved. I am a passionate home Chef and I was really enamored with the Mellow product. It has fantastic potential for busy people and to truly bring healthy and convenient eating options to the home.
Wolf: Can you clarify the relationship with Flextronics?
Itenson: After joining the Mellow team last year, we saw that Flex was a clear choice to help us take a product from prototype to mass production. The relationship is one of a customer and supplier partner, however the senior management at Flex in China have really embraced Mellow. They love the product concept and as such, they have been more than supportive in applying resources and assets to insure we ship a great product.
Wolf: Ferreira indicated the technology was “harder to scale than originally thought” when I interviewed him in the fall. Have you overcome the difficulties around trying to do a combo sous vide/refrigeration unit?
Itenson: Yes, very much. Again hardware is hard and taking this extra time has made all the difference. Over the past several months we have had Mellow units in the field with select individuals that range from Sous vide experts to busy families and the feedback has been tremendous.
People are so enthusiastic about the refrigeration aspect and how this brings a completely different experience and convenience to sous vide cooking, with nothing like it in the market. Everything we have thought Mellow could be is now becoming a reality and we are very excited.
Wolf: What is the intended ship date and price point for retail (or ball park)?
Itenson: As mentioned the ship date starts in May and by mid-to late June customers will be able to purchase a Mellow unit from stock via our website. Pre-order pricing will be ending soon and going forward we expect $499.00 to be our target retail price.
While our price is higher than other sous vide products in the market, we feel that the Mellow, being a stand-alone appliance -with the unique ability to refrigerate and cook at a time you choose- justifies the higher price. Of course our long-term goal will be to bring down the price but we don’t see that happening for some time.
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