ChefSteps, the Seattle startup which began life as an online culinary community and recipe site before expanding into hardware with the Joule sous vide appliance, has laid off a significant percentage of the staff according to reports.
The news of the layoffs was first leaked via food delivery review site Food Oasis, which was told by an anonymous source that the company would be shutting down. Not true says ChefSteps CEO Chris Young, who told Geekwire the company would live on and continue to sell and support the Joule.
There are still not many details beyond what’s been reported, so it’s hard to tell exactly what happened and why ChefSteps was forced to downsize. I can only speculate that sales of the Joule (or their related Joule Ready sauce business) wasn’t substantial enough to fund the ongoing business and that they had exhausted funding provided by early backer Gabe Newell.
Newell, a billionaire who made his money in the video game business as the founder of Valve, had given the company a low-interest loan early on. While Young had described Newell’s support as giving the company the financial flexibility to push in new directions (such as with the Joule), it looks like Newell’s generosity has its limits. It’s unclear if ChefSteps had sought funding from other outside sources (or is still seeking funding).
It’s also unclear how many of ChefSteps roughly 50 employees will stay on, but a quick look at Linkedin shows some of them have already hung “looking for my next gig” signs on their profiles.
I also have to wonder if the company’s early sales of the Joule had tailed off as pricing pressure on the commoditizing sous vide circulator market has become more pronounced. The Joule, which is priced at a premium ($199) compared to other circulators, has sold well on Amazon and through ChefSteps own website, but lower-priced circulators (Anova launched the sub-$100 Nano last year) may have started to eat into their sales.
It also looks like the company had not been able to ramp their Joule Ready sauce business to capitalize on a Joule circulator installed base that I suspect numbers in the hundreds of thousands. At this point, it’s unclear if the company is even still in the sauce business: a quick perusal of the company’s site today shows every sauce as being out of stock.
We’ve reached out to Young for a comment and will update this story as we get more details.