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Design Case Study: Joule Ready

The first thing I’m going to cover is Joule Ready which was the project that I worked on at ChefSteps for the last two years I was there. I’ll go through how we defined the business problem and the user problem and how we arrived at the solution of Joule Ready. In between there, I’ll show a little bit about alignment around the product and how design helped keep everyone on the same page in the development and building process.

Feel free to stop me with any questions you may have as we go along.

What is Joule Ready?

First, a little background on ChefSteps: We started out as a cooking content company, and did a lot of work in the first 2 years around building free content for users to eventually monetize classes. At the two-year mark we also decided to embark on a path that included hardware. The piece of hardware we started developing at the time was a sous vide circulator. I helped with that all around from hardware to software design to branding and the website, sales, and marketing pages. At a certain point along that journey we realized that we had more gaps that existed for cooks, so we wanted to create a consumable product that would connect with the hardware, software, and content that ChefSteps had already created. It was our idea of a “full-stack” cooking company.

The way Joule Ready worked was that you would get a protein—meat, chicken, fish, or meat-alternatives, and drop it in a sous vide bag that had sauce in it. You’d scan the bag and that would give you the directions to make the food, along with the proper time and temperature (along with something called Visual Donenes™) for the cook. We actually have a couple of patents on this! It’s pretty cool. You choose the doneness and push a button, it sets the cooking temperature and alerts you when it’s done. Easy-peasy.

Defining the Problem

One of the early projects that I did was trying to map out all of the touch points for our users and map out where we could help them. What it came down to was always the caps of skills time equipment and ingredients. Time is always the hardest part, because trying to convince people to value their time cooking had the most competition. This was largely where content came through—Inspiration was the most helpful way to get people to cook. But we wanted to be “full-stack.” We moved from purely educations, to educational plus inspirational. Our equipment was a circulator, and the final leg of the stool was ingredients to cook with.

Forces of Progress

This also solved the recurring revenue model. While content was plentiful, it became a behemoth; hard to create and expensive (of course, this dwarfed hardware, something we learned the hard way). But ingredients were a way to get recurring revenue—We just had to figure out how to make the margins work.

Exploring Solutions


Pirate metrics were pretty good. Email was a great channel for us, much more lucrative than any other channel, including social (YouTube and Instagram conversions were very scarce). One thing we were keenly aware of was the idea that people were buying out of novelty at first, and if we didn’t get them to use the sauces, then we were going to get stuck in the pantry and repurchases would not happen. That’s when we started really hammering away at content that would hopefully increase sauce consumption. One of the greatest things that I feel like we did was this naan video.

What would I do differently?

I would have started with content much sooner and had a steadier cadence of it. And not just videos. A concerted effort with attribution would likely have helped when it came to acquisition.

© Tim SalazarRSS