From Ottawa to world domination: the story of the 'Instant Pot'
The CEO and one of the founders of Instant Pot, Robert Wang, poses beside the three pressure cookers he personally owns.
Published Friday, March 10, 2017 1:24PM EST
Last fall, Sheryl Jesin was bombarded with daily text messages from a friend telling her all about a new pressure cooker she bought called the Instant Pot. Jesin’s friend continued to inform her about the delicious meals she made using the appliance for months until the discount shopping day “Black Friday” rolled around in November.
The Instant Pot was marked down from $130 to $69 and Jesin’s friend was growing impatient. “She said to me, ‘If you don’t buy this today, I’m going to buy it for you,’” Jesin recalled to CTVNews.ca on Thursday. “So I said, ‘Fine, I’ll buy it.’”
What originated as a peer-pressured purchase of a pressure cooker, turned into a “life-changing” choice for Jesin. More than three months later, the Toronto mother of three loves her new kitchen appliance so much that she uses it at least five times a week, has travelled with it on two family vacations and even created a Facebook group dedicated to sharing healthy recipes to make with the Instant Pot.
And she’s not the only one.
A quick search on Facebook revealed a seemingly endless list of groups (it just kept loading) with titles such as “Instant Pot-heads,” “Instant Pot Addicts” and “Instant Pot 101” with many of them drawing thousands of members. Additionally, there are countless YouTube videos with Instant Pot-specific tutorials and food bloggers devoted to sharing recipes for the appliance.
So, what exactly is the Instant Pot and why has it attracted legions of loyal fans and an almost cult-like following?
How it all began
Whether it’s producing slow-cooked beef and broccoli, pressure-cooked risotto or even homemade yogurt, the Instant Pot is marketed as a steaming, sautéing, slow-cooking, yogurt-making, food-warming, pressure-cooking all-in-one appliance.
It could even be described as something of an overachieving know-it-all in the kitchen, a label Robert Wang would most likely embrace. That’s because the CEO and one of the founders of Double Insight Inc., Instant Pot’s parent company, intended for the multi-use machine to be smart, like really smart, as in smartphone kind of smart.
Inspired by the sensors used in smartphones to recognize finger prints or orientate the screen when a device is rotated for example, Wang and his team realized they could use the same technology in everyday household appliances, such as the shunned stovetop pressure cooker, which works by building pressure with trapped steam in an airtight seal to cook food faster.
The Ottawa-based, laid-off telecom engineer and “pot-seller” as his kids jokingly call him teamed up with his fellow tech industry veterans to revolutionize the stigmatized pressure cooker, much feared for its instability and potential to explode.
To allay these deep-seated fears, Wang told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview from Ottawa the company added more sensors inside the cooker and installed a microprocessor for programming so the appliance knows to automatically shut off the heating when the right pressure is reached. He said they also included 10 extra safety mechanisms to ensure the appliance was safe for consumers.
In addition to their concern for safety, Wang explained the company wanted the Instant Pot to be unlike anything already out there on the market, which is why they decided to make it multi-functional.
According to its website, the Instant Pot is capable of replacing a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker or porridge maker, sauté or browning pan, steamer, yogurt maker and stockpot warmer. If that wasn’t enough, the company claims the appliance will cook meals in less time and using less energy than those other machines.
“We really focused on getting the product right,” Wang said. “Every time we design some new function we make sure that we’re better than anything on the market.”
Drawing on his experience in the wireless telecom industry where constant innovation is vital to survival, Wang said the company is always trying to update and improve the Instant Pot based on consumer feedback.
In fact, they’ve already released four models since the Instant Pot was first available in 2010 and have two more generations already in the works. The new generations offer additional features such as the yogurt maker (introduced in the third one) or Bluetooth connectivity (offered in the fourth model).
The power of word-of-mouth
Wang admitted the group of engineers had no real marketing strategy when the Instant Pot was first released.
“Our belief was that if we built the best product, the product would speak for itself,” he said.
They were savvy enough to realize, however, that cooking is traditionally a social event and that many cooks love to share their favourite recipes and methods with their family and friends. With that in mind, the Ottawa-based company sent a couple hundred cookers to prominent food and lifestyle bloggers to let them try it for themselves.
Toni Hamilton-Edwards, the director of marketing at the Toronto food-marketing agency The Hot Plate, called the tactic “key influencer marketing.” She said Instant Pot was able to generate buzz on social media because bloggers tend to be so active in sharing personal stories, recipes, photos and videos with their followers.
Hamilton-Edwards also said the deep discounts Instant Pot offered on Amazon during the online retailer’s annual “Amazon Prime Day” helped generate a lot of attention for the product.
“Because their discount was so low, they generated over 200,000 sales in that one day, which is unbelievable,” she said. “It became one of the higher-selling products across all Amazon in that one day.”
Wang also pointed to the Instant Pot’s success on Amazon as a turning point for the business. He said they reached their goal of outselling every other pressure cooker available on the U.S. website in January 2013.
“That was the time we realized we have got something that people actually like,” he said.
On top of Amazon’s ranking, the customer reviews have also been instrumental in the cooker’s success story. There are thousands of reviews with an average ranking of 4.5 to 5 stars on Amazon.com for all four generations of the Instant Pot.
“It just increases the credibility of the products’ performance,” Hamilton-Edwards said.
The Instant Pot chatter isn’t just online either. Now that Jesin’s a fan, she said she can’t help but tell all of her friends about it as well. Another Toronto mother, Mithila Hogade Dayal, was also introduced to the Instant Pot from a friend in the U.S. and said she now uses it every day.
“I love it. I recommend it to everyone,” she said. “I want to share it with all the moms I know who could use it.”
That’s music to the ears of Wang, who said he enjoys reading online customer reviews peppered with words such as “love” and “life-changing.”
“It’s very rewarding to us,” he said. “We have created something which is valuable to people and enhances people’s lives.”