Before her product could hit the shelves, Akshita Iyer pitched it to investors on Shark Tank, impressing them and earning an investment offer. But she did not take the deal. "Even today, I would say that I'm glad I didn't take the deal because I did not know enough about business to use that capital efficiently," Akshita tells us on the podcast today.
After Shark Tank, Akshita started connecting with experienced Silicon Valley Founders to learn more about growing a start-up. Today, she has leveraged those lessons to build the Ome Smart Knob - the same product that attracted the offer - into a profitable and popular brand. It is this experience and more that Akshita shares with us on the show today. Join now to learn from her exciting and inspiring journey.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
Why young founders should be obsessed with continuous education and finding willing mentors over other metrics.
Why products that facilitate existing consumer behavior, rather than altering it, are easier to sell and monetize.
Why consumer segmentation and targeting are crucial to marketing, sales, and business growth.
How start-ups and small businesses can leverage big data to scale and increase market share.
And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, watch the full video interview here!
Visit Ome Kitchen to learn more about their smart kitchen appliances and use the code “harvestgrowth” at checkout for a 20% discount off any purchase.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon LaClare: You need money in order to successfully launch a product, but money alone isn't enough. Today's guest turned down an investment from Shark Tank because she realized she wasn't ready. Since then, she has learned and grown and raised money to launch in the right way. That extra time and experienced helped her to grow her business more quickly and more profitably. Hear that story and much more in today's interview.
Announcement: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of the Harvest Growth podcast, Jon LaClare.
Jon LaClare: Today I'm excited to be speaking with Akshita Iyer. She is the founder and CEO of Ome, O-M-E. You can find their website and see their products at omekitchen.com. Again, as always, it's in the show notes. If you're driving, go check it out afterwards. We'll have a discount code we'll share at the end of this interview as well for anybody who might be interested in the product. It's a super cool product. I'm really excited to talk about the product and the story behind it as well with Akshita. I'll let Akshita do the talking and really explain what Ome is, what this product is. First of all, Akshita, welcome to the show.
Akshita Iyer: Thanks so much, Jon, for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
Jon LaClare: Tell us, for the benefit of the audience that may not have heard about your product, what is Ome, what does it do?
Akshita Iyer: As a company, what we're doing at Ome is really redefining and reinventing the kitchen as we know it. As our first step, our first product is the only retrofit system on the market today that can turn an existing gas or electric stove into a smart appliance without the need for a kitchen remodel and without the need for a new appliance. Our smart knob essentially upgrades your stove in minutes. We've got a built-in motor, it's Wi-Fi connected, so we can actually automatically and proactively control your appliance really based on anything that's happening in your kitchen. First, starting with making sure that you get the same peace of mind in your kitchen that you do elsewhere. There's a story behind that in terms of how I came up with the product, but that's our first device that we've come out with.
Jon LaClare: I'd love to, we'll get to that story, for sure, because we definitely want to share that with our audience. It's a cool story. First of all, though, let's talk a little bit more about the product itself. I have to tell you, every single night we go to bed in our home, it's always check the back door, check the stove, is it on, and every now and then, of course we forget and like, "I'm lying in bed. I've got to go downstairs and check on it." That's one of the benefits I love about this, is the safety aspect.
Talk about, what are other reasons that people buy or are interested in your product?
Akshita Iyer: I think one of the biggest benefits of a product like ours in the kitchen space is that it is a retrofit. When you look at the rest of the smart home, I'm sure you have a bunch of retrofit devices already, whether it's your doorbell, your door lock, your thermostat. Making it as easy as possible for consumers to be able to use technology in a way that's understandable, and that's the benefit of retrofit. I think that's one of the biggest benefits of our product, is that we're not asking you to use your stove or to cook in a different way, we’re just giving you extra smarts.
Then I think the second thing is, because safety and peace of mind are so top of mind in the rest of the home, when you look at all the home security systems that we have, that's one thing that's missing in the kitchen. We're approaching the kitchen from that piece of mind safety angle, especially to your point, this is top of mind for people who cook often if you have kids, if you have aging family members, making sure that you can cook at home safely. The number one cause of house fires is actually unattended cooking. This happens all the time, and even if you don't have a house fire, it's just that moment of panic. Did I leave the stove on? Or even burning food. Something as simple as that.
With our most basic functionality, with the auto shutoff, with remote monitoring, we solve for a lot of these seemingly very small pain points, but ones that we have every day, which really makes a huge difference for our customer base.
Jon LaClare: I love how it's a problem that's been around for a long time, and most of us are aware, not everybody is, how often fires do happen in the kitchen, but I think most of us are aware of that. There hasn't been an easy, simple solution. It reminds me of a product. We actually did a TV infomercial for many years ago called the Stove Ranger. It was a, I'll quickly describe it, it was a big device you hang above your stove that would sense a fire. Once an actual fire started and got to a two-foot flame thing, it would open up and drop-down flame retardant and create a huge mess. It was a great product at the time, and frankly, probably the only solution back then, it was possible. What I love about what you've done is, now, okay, technology has changed. Now we can have smart home appliances that, as you mentioned, several others that are in a lot of our homes, from video doorbells to locks, et cetera, but you've taken that to now this particular solution as well. Now technology is there. Your solution is much better. Of course, I don't want to disparage our old product that you worked on-
Akshita Iyer: Sure.
Jon LaClare: -because it was all you could do back then. This is 10 years ago, right?
Akshita Iyer: Yes.
Jon LaClare: Now, what a simple solution, I think that you've done, and you can do so much more, it has a safety aspect, but there's other things you can do with the product as well. I love it.
Akshita Iyer: Exactly. I think that's really where technology plays a role in the sense of, when you've got these hardware and software systems, the hardware is just your entry point. Then you can build all experiences on top of it. I think what we are able to do is we can solve for peace of mind and safety today, but then we've built this infrastructure so that over time, as our user base expands, as the needs of our users expand, as we learn more about how people cook at home, we can add more and more functionality on top of it. Whether it's you want convenience, you want to integrate with your meal kit companies, you want to cook with family and friends from across the country. There's so much opportunity once you have a solid foundation that we can build on.
I think that's the other reason a lot of consumers like our system, is that we solve for a variety of scenarios. It's not just the house fire. It's also, let me set a timer for my rice for 18 minutes so I don't burn my rice. I only have 60 minutes a day to get food on the table, and I don't have time to screw it up. That's another use case that we solve for and that we can expand on too.
Jon LaClare: Love it. With technology comes added simplicity and added benefits. You've explained it very well. Let's talk about your background a little bit. How did you come up with this idea originally? Are you trained in smart home technology previous to this, or how'd you come up the idea?
Akshita Iyer: Yes, I am trained as of now, but when I started, I was not trained. No, on paper, it doesn't make sense why I'm doing this. My degree's actually in Neuroscience. I went to Duke, thought I was going to go to med school. Worked at the hospital for a few years just because I wasn't convinced that medicine was really what I wanted to do. I didn't have the same passion as my classmates did. In that time, actually just was watching a lot of Shark Tank, got very inspired by all of these entrepreneurs who didn't have the traditional engineering or product development or business backgrounds that you would expect who were just solving for their own problems. I was already in that mindset when my own mom actually left the stove on one too many times and started a kitchen fire.
I grew up around food. I grew up in a household where every meal was cooked at home. My grandparents lived with us, my grandmother was in the kitchen all the time. There's a lot of meaning for me in the kitchen, as I'm sure many people probably listening to this podcast can relate to. When this happened, on one side my parents basically stopped cooking, but then on the other side, because they stopped cooking, their diet just completely went down the drain. The things that we do every day in our homes can be very powerful indicators of our health and wellness, especially in the kitchen. For this reason, food as medicine and healthcare is coming to the forefront because data shows that when you cook healthy meals at home, you have better health outcomes.
It was a reality check one from the safety side for me, but then also from a health side for my parents, especially when my mom was actually diagnosed with Parkinson's a few years before this happened. Already the activities of day living were becoming more difficult for her. If I had had technology that was actually monitoring her, what she was doing at home, it could have given me some indication that something was wrong. She was taking twice as long to cook because she was moving slower and she was cooking less. I think what I saw an opportunity to do was, approach the kitchen in a way that no one had yet, especially because appliances last for 10 to 20 years.
When we had this incident, the last thing I was going to do was go and buy a new appliance because of everything. The appliance was actually fine. [chuckles] I just saw an opportunity and decided that it affected me enough to try to do something about it. I honestly did not expect this to be a company. I just wanted to build something for my parents to use, and best-case scenario, maybe we had some IP that we could build license, but then we actually ended up getting on Shark Tank. That opened my eyes to the magnitude of the problem, and also the variety of use cases and markets that we could actually tackle with a technology like this.
I just dove headfirst and haven't looked back. [chuckles]
Jon LaClare: Love it. I love how you started your story really with watching Shark Tanks, like a lot of inventors do. It inspires us to realize the potential of, when you come up with a great idea, there is a path to making a success out of it. You can learn a lot from watching the show. You started that journey by seeing Shark Tank watching it a few times, right? Then you continued your journey by being on the show. Can you share with our audience, how did it help you? What did you learn through your experience of appearing on Shark Tank?
Akshita Iyer: Yes. I think, one, the visibility I think is unmatched. Unfortunately, we had a barely functioning prototype when we went on Shark Tank. We couldn't really take advantage of the revenue potential that you could if you had a product that was in market. However, I think the visibility gave me that one last piece of courage, I guess, to actually go and figure out how to build this.
Because until then, I was working still and I was piece milling this together as a side project, and then all of a sudden, you hear from thousands of people about how impactful this technology can be. It was inspiring and motivating to be like, okay, you know what? There's enough people that want this. I can go and do this.
Also on the show, I think it's a test of how you respond under pressure, because you've got five investors from completely different backgrounds, from completely different perspectives, just throwing questions out at you, and being able to manage that is quite a task in and of itself.
I think for a first-time entrepreneur and starting out my journey as a founder, that was a great way to test myself, and like, can I answer these questions, and what kinds of questions are we getting. Then on top of it, you get that visibility. I think there was a lot of benefit to being on the show so early, and we did get an offer, but we didn't take it. I get asked all the time, "Why didn't you take it? Do you regret it?" To be honest, at that point, even today, I would say I'm glad I didn't take it because I didn't know enough about how to build a business to be able to effectively and efficiently use that capital. I think it would've gone down the drain, because what happened after that was, okay, if I'm serious about this, I need to go and figure out how to build this thing, and where do you go?
I went out to Silicon Valley, met as many people as I could, as many founders as I could, to understand how do you pitch for an investor, what do you look for in an investor, how do you build a pitch deck, and how do you think about your go-to market. I didn't know any of that. If I had taken that money then, I think I would've just blown it because I really didn't have the knowledge, and I hadn't gotten over that learning curve. Not taking that money and being on the show pushed me to go and figure it out and get practical experience to then get to where I am today.
Jon LaClare: That's a great way of describing. I think you definitely need money to turn a product or an idea into a success. Sometimes it can be raised by yourself through a job, savings, whatever, or through outside means, but you can't do without any money. You need money, but money's not enough. You've got to have the expertise behind it, or learnings, or potentially a team of people you work with and that basic understanding.
I think that's very smart of you back then, and obviously to realize it today, too, to get money or use money at the right time for your business. Even if you have it, it's not about throwing a bunch of money, because you can throw it in the wrong direction, right?
Akshita Iyer: Absolutely.
Jon LaClare: Making sure you use your resources very wisely throughout the process. You learned a lot along the way. What, since then, has really worked from a marketing perspective for your business? Post Shark Tank, now you're in market, got a live website you can purchase under the omekitchen.com. Go check it out.
What's worked for you and turned your business successful since then?
Akshita Iyer: I think from a consumer side, Shark Tank and their repeated visibility, because we rerun almost every month, and every other month is we built a pretty big consumer wait list. We shipped about half of those in the last like 18 months. I think the word of mouth has worked really well for us, especially to what we talked about a few minutes ago. This is a problem that everyone faces in one sense or another, whether it's your kid who's cooking, who leaves the stove on, it's your grandparent, it's you if you get distracted, you're working from home. I think word of mouth has been powerful. Where we have shifted our focus, because direct-to-consumer as an early stage startup is very tough. It's challenging, it's expensive. You need team, customer service. What I noticed actually coming out of Shark Tank, coming out of our wait list, was that we have an opportunity around aging in place to leverage our technology to actually serve older adults. This goes back to why I started this. My parents were getting older, and so through learnings of our early customers, we realized that there's an opportunity to give that same peace of mind to senior living communities.
That has actually been a beneficial shift in our strategy. What it also does from a business perspective is just get us to scale faster, because we can get larger purchase orders, we can get larger amount of product into homes, just going B2B, but it's a longer sales cycle. We're still learning a lot. The good thing is, is that we have product that works, we have product that people love and that people use every day. The big thing as well is we get a lot of data and insights around people's cooking habits now in the home, and that's information that nobody has yet.
What we've seen, from the senior living side, is that we can actually use the number of auto shutoffs, or the frequency of cooking as early indicators of potential cognitive decline. As you get more and more product out, you start to see other ways that you can actually leverage the data and the insights, especially when you have connected devices. You're getting all this information, but the hard part is, how do you synthesize that in a way that's actionable and valuable to your partners and even to you as a company.
I think we're still playing around with what will work long term, but I think the best thing about an early stage startup is that you are nimble and agile, and you can make decisions quickly, and you can iterate quickly based on the learnings that you get day in and day out.
Jon LaClare: Yes, absolutely. Well, Akshita, this has been really helpful. There's been some great information I think that would be beneficial to our audience. Are there any resources that you have found along your journey? You talked about not knowing a lot in the beginning, like all entrepreneurs. You learn so much along the way. Are there any resources that have really helped your journey that you think could be helpful for our audience as well?
Akshita Iyer: Yes. I think the biggest resource resources have been other founders. I think people who have walked in the shoes that you are about to walk in has been a saving grace for me because more importantly than why people succeed is where they failed and how they were able to get back up, and how you're able to use those failings as a way to not make those same mistakes.
I think the best thing that I did, and I would encourage any other aspiring entrepreneur to do, is just go in LinkedIn, message, email, go and meet in person other founders, because everyone's pretty open to giving their time because they know how tough it was. I think that's one thing.
Then I think the other book that was really, really helpful for me was, That will Never Work by Marc Randolph, so the founder of Netflix. The reason it was so impactful is that I think there's so much self-awareness that has to come with being a founder and knowing your strengths, your weaknesses. This is a lot of what Marc talks about in that book, and how it was really tough, because you think that you can do anything, you think that you can take this company to IPO or whatever it is, but sometimes people-- not sometimes, people don't evolve as fast as startups do. Your team is going to change. Our team has completely changed in the last 18 months. You change as a person, the company changes. Being able to look inside and be retrospective about what's working, what's not working, I think was really helpful from that book. I think those are a couple of the most helpful resources that I've come across.
Jon LaClare: I'm glad you brought that up. I've heard about that book. I haven't read it yet, so now I'll add it to my cue and read it soon. It sounds like a good story. Is there anything I didn't ask that you think would be helpful for audience?
Akshita Iyer: I think there's one other resource that I used a lot, especially in the early days, was Guy Raz's How I Built This Podcast, just because, again, you hear about these quote overnight successes that really took a really long time, and all of the struggles that they went through. One thing that Guy asks at the end of every episode is, do you feel like your success was luck or hard work?
I've thought about this a lot, and I think there is obviously luck in a lot of things that we do, but one thing that I have learned to do over time is to be prepared for luck, is to be prepared for opportunity to hit you. I think that's something that is probably helpful for any entrepreneur because you never know where opportunities are going to come from, and it's really about how many stones can I turn myself, because doors are not going to open for you. Just being ready for any door to appear and to be able to take that step through, even if you don't know what's on the other side, and even if you fail, you just get back up.
Yes, so I think that that's a question that I always liked, that Guy asked. I think every entrepreneur has given some similar answer, is that, I did work really hard and I was ready for opportunity to come by. Then sometimes there's also timing and people who are around you, and finding the right people to bring around the table, all makes a difference.
Jon LaClare: Yes. I think a commonality is, no one is ever lucky by waiting for luck to appear, right?
Akshita Iyer: No. Exactly.
Jon LaClare: You work. When you work, you have to watch the opportunities, they're not always there. When you work, they do manifest themselves eventually, so it does come through. Well said.
I do want to encourage our audience, please go check out omekitchen.com. Akshita has been nice enough to offer a 20% promo code to listeners of this podcast if you use HarvestGrowth, all one word, no spaces, HarvestGrowth as a promo code. You get a 20% discount.
Also, for our listeners, please check out harvestgrowth.com and see other episodes we've recorded. If you like this episode and you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your own consumer product business, please subscribe to our show, leave us a review, and you can always set up an appointment and speak with one of our new product launch specialists at our company as well. Again, harvestgrowth.com. Akshita, I really want to thank you again for your time. This is a great interview.
Akshita Iyer: Yes. Thanks so much, Jon. If there are any aspiring entrepreneurs out there, I'm happy to be a resource. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can find me on LinkedIn. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share our story.
Jon LaClare: Fantastic. I will add that email address to the show notes as well. Again, check it out if you're driving and listening to this podcast and reach out to Akshita, and, for sure, check out the website. At least, if nothing else, this is a cool product. You've got to see it, see the great work that Akshita and her team have done. Thanks again.
Akshita Iyer: Thanks, Jon.
[00:21:42] [END OF AUDIO]