The Spoon's Catherine Lamb cooks on a Hestan Cue.

Hestan Smart Cooking, the company behind the Hestan Cue guided cooking system, has laid off approximately 40% of its staff the Spoon has learned. The layoffs come amid a shift to what Stanley Cheng, the founder and CEO of parent company Meyer, describes as a new phase focused on “selling”.

Hestan Smart has “just entered a different phase in the way we do business,” Cheng told me. “More focused on selling rather than product development because our products are developed.”

The bulk of the cuts will come in engineering and culinary/recipe development where Cheng sees a product that is already in good shape. In addition to the layoffs, some of the company’s founders have left (like head of culinary Philip Tessier) or are transitioning from full-time to consulting capacities (such as Managing Director Christoph Milz). In a related move, the company has tasked former VP of Hardware for Anova Culinary, John VanDenNieuwenhuizen, to lead the charge on the newly formed Hestan Cue.

Why all the changes and shift in strategy? According to Cheng and Milz (both of whom I spoke to on the phone), the company had spent the past year primarily focused on strategic integration opportunities. While those efforts resulted in partnerships such as the with GE to enable smart surface cooking in the home appliance manufacturer’s Café line,  it also meant the company had not focused as much time drumming up sales Hestan Cue countertop products according to Cheng.

In short, because the company had been primarily focused on the longer-term process of creating a platform vs. a more near-term push for sales of its branded countertop bundles, revenue has not met expectations. That’s about to change.

Still, both Cheng and Milz both emphasized this new focus on sales will not come at the expense of their strategic partners (including some that are yet to be announced). “We can continue to focus more and get more partners, or we can make the ones we have more successful,” said Milz.  “The decision was made to focus on the ones right now.”

Sounds good, but I still have to wonder if shifting resources to put a greater emphasis on pushing the countertop Hestan Cue is the right move long term. Granted, integrations with with appliance partners like GE are a much more resource-intensive strategic bet, but the reality is that convincing consumers to buy a countertop induction cooking system (most US households surface cook with gas or electric cooktops) like the branded Hestan Cue (particularly at a prices like $399) is not an easy sell no matter how much marketing dollars you throw at it.

Even more importantly, it still seems like Hestan Cue is the only platform play in town when it comes to smart surface cooking (most other smart cooking appliances fall into other categories like smart oven, multicookers and immersion circulators). It’s this -the ability to enable precision surface heating (whether induction or gas) – that has always seemed to me to be the company’s biggest ace in the hole.

But then I’m not Cheng, who in the 70s built a cookware empire through pioneering innovation in non-stick cooking. Clearly this is someone who knows how to sell products. He’s also extremely competitive – you have to be to build one of the biggest cookware companies in the world – so it made me wonder if Cheng and Hestan would he’d be willing to license its technology to other cookware makers. He told me while they’ve been approached about it and may be open to it in the future, they’ve yet to do it.

“Software and hardware are skill sets that don’t exist in other cookware industries,” he said.

No they don’t, which is why there might be gold (albeit long-term gold) in them there hills. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Hestan, with a newly lean company focused on selling smart cooking systems directly to consumers, doesn’t lose site of what may be a much bigger prize down the road.

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  1. It would be interesting to get a follow up on their gas cooktop efforts, I haven’t read any news about that for quiet some time.

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