A spat between the CEOs of two of the leading sous vide companies spilled into public view over the weekend as Nomiku’s Lisa Fetterman and Anova’s Steve Svajian gave differing interpretations of their early relationship and what followed as Svajian went on to become the CEO of Anova and eventually sold the company to Electrolux.
It all started last Friday when Techcrunch’s premium service Extra Crunch featured a story about an episode of the podcast This is Your Life in Silicon Valley which had Fetterman discussing her early days at Nomiku. During the podcast, hosts Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff ask Fetterman “to tell us a funding story that will really connect with our audience.” After Fetterman says that she and her husband invented the sous vide circulator category, she starts to talks about Svajian.
The following is transcribed from the podcast (Fetterman starts discussing Svajian at about 9:45 minute mark of the podcast):
“One of my earliest earliest investors when I got rejected from so many people, he was kinda of like a knight in shining armor. He saw me at a conference where I was pitching hard. He was like “You know what, Lisa? I’m going to put in some money. I’m going to put in $10k into your company.” At that time, $10k took us six months. I was like, “Thank you. I’m so happy.” He’s like “I believe in you. I believe in sous vide.”
His name is Stephen Svjajian. He became the CEO of Anova which was my largest rival. Then they sold to Electrolux for $250 million dollars. Before they did, he asked me “You know what? You can buy my stock back if you’d like.” But I didn’t know what was happening.
So I bought the stock back. I was so happy. I was like, You’re a conflict of interest and everything. You’re trying to make it right. I see it. You should’ve just given it back to me.” And then he just sold the company. The first Anova was an exact replica of Nomiku. All their wording was exactly like Nomiku. I was just like, “Wow.”
He’s a white dude. He’s a white dude who’s been in startups for a long time. He saw an opportunity to make a life-changing amount of money. He was like, “Bye, bish.”
As a result of Fetterman’s podcast interview and the subsequent Techcrunch article, there’s been something of a public backlash against Svajian on social media, not all that surprising given the seriousness of the accusations.
So today, Svajian responded to Fetterman’s accusations via a fairly detailed post published on Medium entitled On Lisa Fetterman and the Origins of Anova. In the post, Svajian goes into detail over the timeline and refutes each of Fetterman’s accusations, including arguing that he didn’t arrive at Anova until after the company had finished designing their first consumer product.
He also presents a screen shot of a text message between the two that purportedly shows Fetterman reaching out to Svajian in 2016 (ed note: the text exchange was presented as one image – I’ve split it into two images and presented side by side):
Near the end of the post, Svajian summarizes his counter-arguments against Fetterman’s accusations, including her contention that the first Anova consumer product was “an exact replica of Nomiku”.
Here are the summary points from Svajian’s Medium post:
Lisa claims I stole her product ideas, but the product category was already established. Polyscience and others were already selling immersion circulators. The market for sous vide startups was heating up. For example, around the time I started working with Anova, another competitor entered the market — Sansaire. They were running a Kickstarter for a less expensive device. Sansaire launched well-ahead of Nomiku and was a legitimate contender.
Lisa claims I stole and copied her design with Anova’s first product. I had no involvement in the design or development of Anova’s first device, which Lisa claims. The first version of Anova’s product was a repurposed lab-grade circulator, which definitely didn’t copy anything Lisa was doing. I had no input into the design of that device. It was already baked by the time I started working with Anova. Like I said, it was a lab-grade device repurposed to consumers. I treated it like an MVP, so we could figure out what to build next.
Lisa claims that theft of her ideas led to our success. In late 2013, I had the idea to make Anova a connected device. This was my idea. Making Anova a connected device really opened the market for sous vide and became a key differentiator for Anova. To my knowledge, Lisa did not want to create a connected device. I’d also point out that it was the execution of this idea that led to our success.
Our product looks nothing like Nomiku’s. As stated, I had no input into the design of our first unit. Nevertheless, there are obvious and signifcant differences—They had an adjustable dial around the head of their unit to adjust time and temp. We had an LCD screen.
Regarding the timeline around sous vide circulator intelletual property, it does appear Fetterman did actually have the first patent filing for a sous vide circulator, but others like Scott Heimendinger (the original founder of Sansaire) were writing about the idea in 2012 in 2010. Jeff Wu, the original founder of Anova, filed for (and was eventually issued) a patent for a consumer sous vide circulator in February of 2013, supporting Svajian’s contention that the company had worked on the idea before his arrival at the company.
Bottom line, I would suggest both listening to the podcast interview with Fetterman (you can read about it if you subscribe to Techcrunch’s premium service) and read Svajian’s post and making a judgement for yourself.