Back in 2008, Techcrunch founder Michael Arrington wrote a manifesto in which he announced plans to build a low-cost tablet computing device.
While the idea of a technology blog beating computing giants like Apple and Microsoft to market with a tablet seemed preposterous at the time, Arrington continued to pursue his crazy dream. Before long a team had been assembled, prototypes built, and eventually the Crunchpad got pretty darn close to becoming a reality before everything fell apart and instead we got something called the JooJoo.
The story of the Crunchpad seemed so improbable in part because of the difficulty of Arrington’s day job. When I went to work for one of Techcrunch’s biggest competitors (Gigaom) during this time, it made me even more fascinated with the story since I saw first hand just how hard it is to run a company tracking the fast-moving world of technology. The idea of actually building the technology in addition to writing about it seemed insane.
I also think part of what made the idea of the team behind a tech blog creating a piece of computing equipment so hard for me and others to wrap our minds around is most of us still view people – and companies – through a Richard Scarry lens on the world. In other words, content companies make content, hardware makers make hardware; food companies make food and so on. Sure, there are weird conglomerate mashups like when GE owned NBC, but often these types of weird combos were the result of merger and acquisition sprees in the 80s.
But if there’s anything we’ve learned from watching companies like Amazon or Google, the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore. These companies have taught us that once you build a competency in one thing – whether e-commerce or transportation – that strength can often be leveraged to build a competency in an adjacent (or often non-adjacent) space.
Amazon started with books, eventually moved into web services, then to hardware, and now they’re on to grocery stores. Google started with search, moved onto mobile, then IoT and now all sorts of crazy ideas whether its VR, healthcare or balloon-based broadband.
And so while I was surprised when I learned last week Buzzfeed had launched its hardware device called the Tasty One Top, I also instantly knew this made sense at some level. We are, after all, living in the “throw the rules out” era of Amazon. And yes, the story of Crunchpad showed us that that occasionally a content company can break the Richard Scarry mold.
But I also realized what I was witnessing with the Tasty One Top made sense because it was indicative of a trend I’ve been thinking about for some time, an idea that in the future cooking companies need to become content and community companies. I’d witnessed it with the acquisition of Yummly by Whirlpool, and before that, I saw that ChefSteps had been building a large community around its content which it then leveraged into willing customer base for its cooking device called the Joule.
As I wrote when Whirlpool acquired Yummly, the deal “gives Whirlpool a massive infusion of cooking content and community. As newer companies in the connected kitchen like ChefSteps have shown, having strong recipe content and an associated community can create fertile soil upon which to launch new hardware products. With Yummly, Whirlpool now has a built-in community to tap into as it expands is smart kitchen product lineup in the coming years.”
I realized this is the same principle Buzzfeed was capitalizing on, the idea that they could tap into a large community built around compelling content to find a friendly and willing audience into which to tap.
But I also knew it was more than that. What the Tasty One Top further validated for me was the idea of content-powered cooking, where cooking content becomes more than just a dry recipe on a page or a simple YouTube video which we watch to learn a new skill. The idea of content powered cooking is central to guided cooking, something I first started writing about after I first saw the Hestan Cue. In short, guided cooking is where the cooking content not only acts as a helpful set of instructions for the cook but works with an app and sensor-powered appliance to become the guidance system for the entire cooking experience.
When I talked to Buzzfeed Labs’ Ben Kaufman last week about the One Top, he told me that they wanted to turn their Tasty cooking videos into a utility. To do so, they went back and did the arduous work of breaking down each video into single steps, time-stamping and logging each, and then building an app that would work with the One Top itself.
The result is a content-powered cooking experience, where what began as quick viral cooking videos ultimately become part of the cooking system and experience itself.
Together, the idea of a large community built around content coupled with a cooking product and associated experience powered by the product makes lots of sense. In many ways it’s indicative of what companies like ChefSteps and Hestan Smart Cooking were already building, only coupled with the world’s largest cooking video site in Tasty.
Kaufman told me last week that this is the only cooking appliance Buzzfeed plans on making, in large part because they built the Tasty One Top as a Swiss army knife type of sorts that can work with nearly any type of recipe. But he also said they had more products ideas in mind in which they can build around the “utility” they’ve created in the Tasty cooking videos and app.
I can hardly wait to see what type of Richard Scarry busting concept they dream up next.
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