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Joule immersion circulator attaches via magnet to pots and pans, heating the water for sous vide cooking. (Image via ChefSteps.)
The Joule immersion circulator attaches via magnet to pots and pans, heating the water for sous vide cooking. (Image via ChefSteps.)

Seattle startup ChefSteps says it is boosting production volumes for its Joule sous vide device based on higher-than-expected demand, and reducing the price thanks to the resulting economies of scale — planning to refund close to $1 million to people who pre-ordered at the higher price.

The device will still ship in September as expected, the company says. The unusual move is made possible by the financial support of Gabe Newell, head of the Valve video-game company, who has backed ChefSteps with a low-interest loan, without taking an ownership stake in the company.

ChefSteps CEO Chris Young
ChefSteps CEO Chris Young

Demand for the Joule circulator has been “overwhelming,” said Chris Young, the ChefSteps CEO, in an interview with GeekWire this morning. The company is already in the process of building a second manufacturing line, before the first is fully operational, he said. The unit cost of each device has been reduced as a result of the significant increase in planned production volume.

“A lot of companies would take advantage of that and say, ‘Hey, our margin is better,’ but that’s really not what we’re trying to achieve right now,” Young said. “What we’re trying to achieve right now is continuing to grow our community, continuing to get Joule in more people’s homes, because what we’ve seen in our beta testing group is, it’s transformational.”

The Joule device was originally available for pre-order at a price of $199, which had risen to $249 as of last week. The pre-order price will be reset to $149 retroactively, and those who have already paid for the device will receive the difference as a refund. (A limited number of preorders will be available at $149 starting tomorrow.) The ultimate retail price, originally expected to be $299, will be $199 instead.

“We’re giving our earliest supporters a ton of money back, because that’s the right thing to do,” Young said. “We weren’t on Kickstarter. We did this all with our community, and we really wanted to differentiate ourselves from a lot of other types of hardware companies that often leave their backers burned or disappointed. We really want to delight our backers because they’re the people who make this all possible.”

Through his work at Valve and its Steam video-game platform, Newell knows first-hand the power of building a large and loyal community. Young explained, “Gabe has essentially allowed us to stay religiously focused on that,” through his financial support.

ChefSteps isn’t disclosing the number of pre-orders, but it notes that the Joule device itself isn’t changing. Named after the measure of heat energy, the device heats water to precise temperatures to cook meat and other food evenly over extended periods of time — using the increasingly popular sous vide cooking technique. The device is controlled by a companion smartphone recipe app for iPhone and Android.

People who originally pre-ordered the device were slated to receive it in May, but that timeline was pushed back due to engineering issues and FCC certification challenges.

ChefSteps’ co-founders, Young and Grant Crilly, are known in part for their past roles collaborating with Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft chief technology officer, on the epic Modernist Cuisine cookbook. The company, based at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, has more than 50 employees, including chefs, designers, data scientists, mathematicians, fluid dynamicists and propulsion engineers.

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