The Mellow, for those who may not remember, was a combination cooler/sous vide cooker. The hook with the Mellow was that you could put food in a water chamber in the morning and the machine would keep it cold until it was time to cook, so you could have dinner ready for you when you got home.
The product started as a self-hosted crowdfunding project back in 2014. But a series of delays, the departure of Mellow’s original CEO, and a brutal review in WIRED that called out the machine as “too risky” because it didn’t actually keep food at a food safe cold temperature seemed to spell the end of the device and the company.
But Mellow found a new owner, kept going and successfully crowdfunded a second iteration of its device last year called the Mellow Duo. The company raised more than $200,000 on Kickstarter for the Duo, which will feature two water reservoirs so people can cook multiple items to different temperatures at the same time.
In a Kickstarter update on April 6, Mellow said that the Duo was significantly delayed because of the coronavirus, a common issue for crowdfunded projects. So perhaps Mellow is turning to equity crowdfunding to help keep the lights on until it can ship. Mellow launched the equity crowdfunding campaign on SeedInvest, looking to raise a seed round of slightly more than $1 million.
The minimum investment is $1,000 and as part of its pitch, the company released some interesting information. According to Mellow, “Over 6,400 Mellow V1 units have been activated, with the average household using it to cook 1.7+ times per week.” That’s…. not a ton of devices in use or a sizeable market to build on.
Mellow is conducting this campaign at a time when more companies are turning to equity crowdfunding. GoSun, GOffee, Winc, Small Robot Company and Miso Robotics have all shunned traditional VCs in favor of potential everyday investors over the past year. Bypassing institutional investment does mean there is less pressure on companies to scale, but they also give up the institutional knowledge and connections VCs bring.
Of course, any investment carries risk, but it seems like Mellow is trying to raise money at a time when the home consumer sous vide hardware has been largely commodotized and the market itself seems fairly limited in size. ChefSteps laid off staff and dropped product lines before being acquired by Breville. Nomiku shut down completely. And Anova is looking to expand beyond sous vide into a forthcoming smart oven.
Of course, part of the problem with home sous vide cooking was the amount of time it takes to make your meal. First you have to bring a water bath up to temperature and then once you put your food in, you have to that up to the right temperature, which can take more than an hour. Then, if you’re cooking something like steak, you have to sear it.
The Mellow promises to do most of that (sans searing) automatically for you behind the scenes, so you can set it and forget it. Assuming they fixed the cold storage issue, we wonder how big that use case is as most people don’t typically know what they want to eat for dinner until a few hours before they actually eat.
Will Mellow’s saga continue? For now, that’s up to the crowd.