Riskgaming

The stove hasn’t changed in decades. It’s time to upgrade.

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Transcript

This is a human-generated transcript, however, it has not been verified for accuracy.

Danny Crichton:
Sam D'Amico, Impulse Labs. You've been building out an induction stove. Last year we had a beautiful workshop, well probably still a workshop in SoMa down in San Francisco, but you just had your big launch publicly at CS. How's it going? First of all, you've been in hardware for a decade. Maybe we'll just talk about this for a little bit. And out of all the things you worked on, you worked on virtual reality, all these cool technologies, you ended up with effing stoves and why?

Sam D'Amico:
I think that there's a circuitous path, but it all comes back to... I've been interested in the clean energy space for a while. I was on the solar car team in college. Honestly, you should recruit all your interns from the solar car team. It's a good place to recruit from. There's many of these.

Danny Crichton:
I love the solar car team. Well, I know so many people. Yeah, it's great.

Sam D'Amico:
Yeah, it's great as you know. So, saw the event, did that. That's the beginning of being sold on distributed batteries and all sort of stuff, but then clearly this AR VR thing started taking off. Well, for the first time. Now it's going to take off for the eighth time now that Digital Pro is coming out. But started taking off, I joined that, worked in the Google Glass team, early Oculus, went back to Google for a little bit, then went back to Facebook and incubated and launched the Quest Pro controller. And then I was at that point where we were getting close to ship date of that and I was like, "Hey, actually this thing has been burning in the back of my head, annoying every one of my friends." I've been talking about this over and over again, which was I wanted to cook pizza really fast and I was thinking about basically there was this Japanese pizza place that we went to for an IEEE Haptics Conference in Tokyo. So if you're ever there, go to Savoy Pizza, it's great.
They cooked my pizza in 30 seconds. I'm like, "Why can't I do that at home?" Realized this was just fundamentally power limited and that's when the light bulb hit where it was like if you could go and embed batteries in tabletop appliances, you could actually differentiate them from a performance and power standpoint versus having to go down this smart appliance rabbit hole, which at that point the GenAI stuff was not here. It was much more handcrafted, artisanal, if you want to say that, much more tailored to meal kits than throw any arbitrary food at it and it'll figure it out. It's not a Star Trek replicator basically. And so I realized that, "Oh, this actually does give an opportunity to make something really cool," and that was the gadget realization of like, "Oh, you could make a whole family of gadgets with increased power and performance capability for common kitchen appliances." Thinking like toaster oven that could cook a pizza, kettles that boil water in 30 seconds. You could think of a bunch of things like this that would be pretty awesome.
But then the second thing that hit was like, "Hey, well what if you do this for bigger appliances? Is that battery now useful for the house?" And that's when I started realizing is like, "Oh, people are going to be electrifying their appliances over the next 10 to 20 years. If every single one of those gets a battery, you're now going to be able to deploy way more batteries in the grid than Tesla can with Powerwall, than with even these vehicle-to-grid type solutions where people don't want their cars to be discharged when they get home." There's things like that where there's going to be a big opportunity to basically deploy a lot of batteries. And the order of magnitude here is insane. It's like there is 140 million homes in America, one in 10 of them are replacing an appliance in any given year or one in 10 of them are also remodeling their kitchens in a given year. It's that big.
And so if you can put, let's call it 10 kilowatt-hours of storage between a couple of appliances in every single one, and you can imagine there's three or four major ones like stove, oven, water heater, dryer, et cetera, you're actually deploying more batteries than are on the grid period and not just on the grid period, but it's something like 20 or 30 X on the grid in terms of what the total opportunity is. And you can do this without having to ask anyone's permission. It's just like, "Hey, do you want to swap your stove out?" It's more of a general contractor thing and maybe a light bit of electrician type stuff than it is a, "Hey, we're going to go replace your electrical panel, rip up all this stuff, install 12 different pieces of additional equipment. You're getting this only when you're going to get solar because you might as well not bother otherwise." That's the current state of the world with storage and this is more like-

Danny Crichton:
Which is why I never understood the Powerwall. It's like we buy all this and build this work and what feature do you get on the other side of it?

Sam D'Amico:
That's actually a really good point is the feature you get out of this in the historical sense, is you get backup, you get security, and the security you get is like, "Hey, in this tail risk event of the grid going down...," and it might even go down for four hours, not even going down when you're cooking dinner in a sense. And there's definitely the Austin blackout situation, which I totally understand and that sold a lot of Powerwalls for instance, but the grid in the United States is not very unreliable, if that makes any sense. It's pretty good and in some sense you're catering to a tail risk, not to the always on situation, which is like, "Well, it would be great if your home only drew energy when it was cheap or when the wires coming to your house were underutilized." We could get way more utilization out of the system, half the political debates about transmission lines and us needing to invest in more transmission lines and the permitting reform needed to get those to happen. Well, what if we could just use our transmission lines more completely because there's batteries in both sides of them? And so you start to actually sidestep a lot of these intractable debates because you've just put storage where it's needed basically.

Danny Crichton:
And this gets us this tension with nuclear power and base load versus the surge you get from solar and wind during the day. It's great, but we cook at night, we use a lot of electricity at night. We still cool our homes in that transition period from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM in hot areas, and so air conditioners are burning, but there's not as much sun. That's what's gone wrong in California where you are a number of times. And so when you start to actually add these batteries decentralized across the grid, suddenly you can do that all throughout the day. They're fully charged. They discharge at night. They don't even have to go onto the grid. Your neighbors who may not have these, you could potentially power those neighbors throughout that period of time. And the best part is you can also discharge them quickly when you need to heat things up such as pasta, which is, in my world, the most important thing. Air conditioning is fine, but take the rigatoni out of my hands and everything falls apart.

Sam D'Amico:
Yeah, yeah. We could go talk about the duck curve and all this other stuff next, but it's I think the selling piece that's really easy to sell people on is like, "Hey, your pasta water heats up in 10 minutes for..." Let's use box mac and cheese as an example. Because we integrate the battery directly into the appliance, we put a... And I'll give some technical terms on this, is we put about one quarter of a power wall inside a stove is what we're doing for our first product and that's about three kilowatt-hours. We made some changes versus what a Powerwall is. This is like LFP battery designed for indoor use. It's super safe but also it's really high discharge rate, so we can pull up to 10 kilowatts per burner out of that thing at a moment's notice. And what that means for you, the amateur chef cooking your Annie's box mac and cheese, your Kraft box mac and cheese. I don't know.

Danny Crichton:
It's organic. Okay, it's organic.

Sam D'Amico:
Okay, I'm going to accuse you of various things, it's fine. Your Annie's box mac and cheese, your Kraft box mac and cheese need six cups of water to boil. That's going to take 10 minutes on your fancy-pants Viking gas stove. It takes one minute on ours. And it's like, QED that is better. And then we've solved a bunch of other stuff around... Once you get satisfied with that, there's a couple other things we've got as well, but that's the anchor point that we get get people with initially.

Danny Crichton:
We're going from British thermal units to Impulse thermal units. That's my line. Or Domico.

Sam D'Amico:
I had to do some crazy conversions and all this stuff because the units are terrible in this whole universe. I have an engineering background, so I think in watts and kilowatts and all other stuff and I'm like, "What is BTUs? And you can't map induction to gas." All of this stuff is a huge mess and is communicated to consumers super poorly. So part of this is also we have to break through with videos being like, "Here's a side-by-side, this is how much better it is versus people looking below the fold on their induction stove specs and trying to guess, 'Is that the same as the gas one?'" The current state of the market is totally nuts and it's not accessible to even moderately technical people, I think is the way to describe it.

Danny Crichton:
Well, and I think what's interesting is, is not just, well... I'm a statistician and I still get confused by watts and everything else 'cause I don't understand flow versus... And then you're like, "Kilowatt-hours," and it's like, "Okay, you're now multiplying time against flow and now the flow is gone. Now it's a stock, but..." It's super complicated and then you have heat and I can't keep track of all this stuff. What's interesting to me is it's not just the technical specs. It is how appliances in the home have become a key way of selling real estate. So you go to a listing, suddenly it's a Viking stove, a Sub-Zero refrigerator. There's all these luxury brands, usually Italian, that are desirable features of the home to actually increase value. And I'm curious when you think about how you're entering the market. There's a technical side which is, it's just a significantly better product, but is there also that other side of, are you competing with the luxury brands and saying like, "Yes, we will compete with Viking, Sub-Zero and a bunch of others?"

Sam D'Amico:
Yeah. This is definitely a careful thing to navigate because I think impulse is a multi-headed beast in a sense because of what we're doing. It's like you have to create a brand to give people permission to buy it, and then you're deploying this platform of batteries around the grid, which doesn't really necessarily depend on the brand. Well, once you're actually deployed. So it's this interesting one, two, step. But I would say that I think that we've been successful so far in selling that we have the highest performance stove on the market. Based on our feedback from CES, it seems like people, they understand it. This has gotten to the level of executives and leadership teams from various appliance manufacturers coming to us being like, "This is the first interesting thing we've seen in a while," and then that actually is starting to drive some excitement and validation, I would say as well.
But it's also worth saying, is you have to break through and I think the way we've realized that we can do it is we're offering, essentially, a stove plus a battery in one product. We're selling it approximately at the same price as what the high end stoves are, but because you get a battery tax credit, actually it is less. It honestly, and I hate to make this analogy over and over again, but it's like when the Model S launched or the Roadster launched, where essentially you could comp it against similarly priced products and it was above, and then that made up for the lack of brand awareness and brand premium that we're going to hopefully build over the next several years and require trust and cooperation with early adopters and customers and stuff like that.

Danny Crichton:
You just mentioned you were at CES. A little bit of a different setup for you. Obviously you were at Google, you were at Facebook. And when they're launching Oculus products, they usually do it at their own trade shows or bringing in their whole crew. You went to the big, big consumer expo, thousands and thousands of people just descending on, trawling and reporters everywhere. What was the experience like? How did it go? Were you able to demo the product?

Sam D'Amico:
Yeah, first thing we did was our marketing lead, Deanna actually she ran Google's booth multiple years at CES.

Danny Crichton:
Oh, wow.

Sam D'Amico:
So we knew what we were getting into in a certain extent, and the first thing we were doing was we thankfully had really good folks at Amazon we've been collaborating with on some other stuff and they led us into their booths. We were with the stove in Amazon space and that was absolutely fantastic in terms of being able to get tons of exposure. I think we've heard foot traffic on their space versus say the rest of the show is a notable fraction of the total show. So it ended up being in this situation, where as many people as possible could see it. Now, there's some interesting complications with when you do stuff at CES and in The Venetian and all these other things. Initially we were like, "Hey, let's try to see if we can do private demos in a suite." And then we realized we were going to get in trouble immediately and approach it for-

Danny Crichton:
Who's cooking pizzas on floor 17?

Sam D'Amico:
It's that sort of thing. This is a tip for hardware companies, period. You can go to CES, you can hand out business cards. If your widget is small, you can bring it around and totally fine. I know some folks who do that and it works great. But the big trick is just get people to come the week after, two weeks after, because a lot of people stay in region, whether it's your manufacturing partners, investors, all these sorts of folks, they'll stay in region the week after. So we're basically saying like, "Hey, if you want to come try a demo, just book with us next couple of weeks and we'll be able to do it." What we got on the floor though is we got the knobs, the UI, the whole experience. We couldn't actually go and let people cook on the show floor, but we were like, "You can go touch it and turn the knobs and all this other stuff."
I saw a bunch of tiktoks where people were super enthused about all of this stuff. So I think it actually, given what we were allowed to do and what we could show, it worked out perfectly. It also meant that us, as the team, didn't have a safety issue so we could go wander around with... We only sent three people to CES. We could go do all the meetings we needed to do without having to attend to making a thousand grilled cheeses for someone or something like that.

Danny Crichton:
Which, given the quality of the stove is probably a hundred times better than the convention food available on the floor, which itself would've caused a whole drama with I'm sure a monopoly.

Sam D'Amico:
Soylent is better, I'll tell you that.

Danny Crichton:
Yeah, exactly. Well, you mentioned the smart features. So we've talked about the Powerwall and how it's much better to decentralize these batteries into the actual appliances itself, and that's the ultimate agenda of all these different units. But there's also just a smart consumer feature here, which is, how do you transform the experience of cooking, which today is basically a single knob and you have added quite a bit more to the knob itself to do something. Maybe we should talk about that a little bit.

Sam D'Amico:
I will reassure everyone that it is still turn the knob and the thing gets hot. That is the primary user interaction modality and we are being very clear that there's not a million menus to jump through to figure out what the press plate experience is. And I think this is really important. We've got a combo microwave, toaster, oven, air fryer thing at the office and it's got a seven segment display with very limited readability and it's like, "What mode do I use for what?" And I think what we showed at CES is a lot of what we're going to try to push people towards, is instead of the low, medium and high or the zero through 15, which you have no idea what that is, it's we start to push people towards temperature but still describe stuff as low, medium and high. So your existing recipe is still remap and what that means is your eggs will be the same every time you do them.
A lot of things will start being much more consistent because what you're implicitly doing when you're cooking is actually regulating temperature. Why people love their cast iron pans is because they hold the same temperature reliably when you set your gas stove at the right. If you set your gas stove at medium and you have a cast iron, that effectively is a temperature control proxy. As we can move cooking more towards baking, that's going to enable a lot more people to feel that doing complex recipes is accessible and exciting for them.

Danny Crichton:
Well, it's molecular gastronomy for the rest of us who are still using our Circulon.

Sam D'Amico:
Yeah. And that's the point, is it should require minimal accessories, like just the pans. The pan just has to have a little bit of [inaudible 00:16:14] materials like iron or whatever, which most pans do. So apart from the pans you and me may have left over from college or whatever, everything else will work.

Danny Crichton:
Well, you're talking about induction, so obviously people have this image of the eighties, nineties, some crappy spiral red colored induction stove they probably used, probably in college or in their first department or whatever the case may be. We saw last year this massive blowback over legislation. I think it was in San Francisco and New York City that's getting rid of gas.

Sam D'Amico:
It was Berkeley first.

Danny Crichton:
Of course it was Berkeley. It was always Berkeley. It's always Berkeley. It always starts at Berkeley. But obviously induction has become almost like a political hot potato. It's probably cooked in a non convection oven. So I'm curious, when you think about this, how do you get people over the hump? Is it just using it? Is it showrooms? Is it the videos that you're displaying that show people that you can do it in 30 seconds versus 10 minutes? What clicks for folks that people go, "Whoa, I wasn't thinking about this but this is kind of cool"?

Sam D'Amico:
I want to reset the record too. What you're describing with the glowing red coils, that's an electric stove, so that's not an induction stove. Those are literally, you could imagine that as a light bulb that's just been exposed to the bottom of the pan. Basically, electric stoves have existed for, I think it's like over a hundred years. What it really is, is they're plugged into 240 volts and they get hot. That's it. It's a combo of infrared light and conduction that heats the pan. The newer generation of those are also under the flat generic piece of glass that you'll see. You may see those and you may see an induction stove and not know what's the difference until you see a little bit of words on the glass that says, "This one is induction," or something like that.

Danny Crichton:
Oh, that's nuts. All right, let me ask you though, but is that intentional? Is that just bad marketing because it's appliances or is that intentional, people are saying, "I am going to sell you conduction versus induction because that's a way to get-"

Sam D'Amico:
I've heard from a lot of people, I've heard induction, convection and conduction from people because they don't actually know what induction is and it hasn't landed in their brain. So there's also a marketing challenge, there's people saying, "Do we need to rename the heat pump because people don't know what it is? And so there's actually a marketing challenge. I suspect some of this is driven by Legacy Appliance manufacturers still making gas appliances, not wanting to self-cannibalize. There's a lot of different reasons for this that I think they're mostly diffuse. There are also, you could imagine, car dealerships not wanting to sell people EVs because the maintenance cycles are different and maybe some of the later recurring revenues a little different. So you could imagine there's a host of issues. I would imagine most of them are due to just novelty in the market and the broad spectrum of premium consumers still wanting gas, at least until very recently, driving the fact that on the sales side, sales reps are just getting trained to sell gas stoves because that's what works. That's what I'm guessing is going on.

Danny Crichton:
No, I'm being educated on my own show and I just realized, thanks to your prompting that a heat pump, which in my head pumps heat is probably the... I have absolutely no idea how a heat pump works.

Sam D'Amico:
It's an air conditioner with a valve that lets it run it backwards.

Danny Crichton:
I understand the physics, I'm going to say that. I understand the physics. I understand like the refrigerator's not putting cold air in. It's taking hot air out, that's why it's hot around it. But you get at a real challenge of not only do manufacturers not do good marketing, journalists aren't covering it well, there's a lack of scientific literacy among the general public around most of these sorts of subjects. And so it's both confusing and people take advantage of that and I think just cleaning that up for everyone is a huge advantage. Let me spin the topic around though, because you worked on a lot of consumer products, that's your background. As you mentioned earlier, Google Glass, you've worked on the Oculus Player controller. What are the lessons that you learned from those experiences that you're applying into the appliance space? What carries over and what new lessons are you learning that didn't apply to those products from a consumer electronics?

Sam D'Amico:
If I was going to take some lessons here, it's making sure that the product is a hit with your team is a huge, huge, huge, huge, huge reinforcing function. Now that I've seen that successful, I'll give you an example with Oculus Quest. People were playing Beat Saber constantly on the Quest headset and that was the sign that this thing was actually going to finally rip. Whereas-

Danny Crichton:
The developers are working, they're playing with the product and therefore that's a good sign. But then actually getting it shipped.

Sam D'Amico:
That was the preface to Quest One actually selling really, really well. I would say the Google Glass, that did not happen. You could see that there was a brief period of novelty where you could go walk around and people had the headset on and it was like you had this fashion item, but it didn't end up landing in a-

Danny Crichton:
I believe they were called glass holes to remind a newer generation of that era.

Sam D'Amico:
My neighborhood bar is the bar, I'll say unironically, I go to the bar where Google Glass ended, which is when a tech influencer got it ripped off her face and stepped on by SF locals, by the way, half of which also worked in tech by the way. So this was not even like a locals versus tech thing. It was [inaudible 00:21:21].
And then I went back around on, this is on Haight Street, I go to another bar across the street and there's a No Google Glass sticker behind the bar. I'm like, "I want that one now." But yeah, we get people cooking on the product all the time at the office and that was a sign early on that it's kind of like... And doing it voluntarily, not being like, "I'm going to go test X, Y, Z feature for X, Y, Z reason." It's like, "No, I'm just making lunch."

Danny Crichton:
Of course my response is to you. I'm putting you on the spot. How many meals do you need to cook with actual stove, because obviously if you make a sandwich, whatever, you don't need it. When you cook a meal, do you use the stove?

Sam D'Amico:
If I cook a meal at work, I use the stove. I'll say another thing, which is the big lessons I learned was working with the manufacturing partners and getting tier one manufacturing partners in place that work with you and respect, you has been utterly critical to making this happen. We've basically expanded our team by 30 to 40 people. This way we're able to leverage a much bigger team with our manufacturing partners. This also means that when we go and build stuff, it's already production scalable. It's being designed by the factory or co-designed by the factory, and we're able to go and replicate this. And I think that's a narrative violation versus what you might see on Twitter with, "Hey, we're going to do everything vertically integrated because SpaceX said this is the right way to do it." The reason they do that is the supply base for aerospace that can actually ramp and scale is not the same as the one for consumer electronics. The one for consumer electronics can make iPhones for you, fortunately. And so because of that, making sure we pick and choose the right piece of the supply chain that can do this in a mature way has been really, really, really big and impactful.

Danny Crichton:
So you announced at CES, you're starting to enter production, getting these units out. What does the next two, three years look like for you?

Sam D'Amico:
We've got this first product, it's the best stove ever, is way we're thinking about it. The highest performing stove ever, is probably the right way to frame it exactly. So it's three times more powerful than any other product in the market, in terms of when you turn the burner it goes to 30 versus 10, if that makes any sense. It has temperature control so you won't burn or warp pans, you won't ruin meals. Things are reliable and repeatable every single time. And then it's got a big screen. So we've seen this opportunity to add connected cooking experiences and stuff as well. So it's not just this stove and battery and whatever. There's also that as well. Then I flip to the energy side and it's like a typical stove. You want to get an induction stove today. You're like, "I really want to get rid of gas at my house," or, "I'm remodeling my kitchen. I just want to get this thing. It looks cool."
You need a 40 or 60 amp circuit. And so when I say 40 or 60 amp circuit that's on 240 volts. Your apartment in New York may not even have 240 volt surface for instance. And so you may be stuck in a situation where you have to do almost the gut rewiring of the building, inclusive of new electrical panel and new service to the street. In San Francisco, this gets even more nightmarish where it's like an 18-month lead time for PG&E connect you. To basically put a thicker wire from your house to the pole is like 18 months. So my neighbor, I walked by my neighbor's house, there were three wires, the neutral and the two lines coming out of their house, just dangling. And it's been that way for 18 months and they likely have a second electoral panel just chilling, waiting to be set up inside.

Danny Crichton:
San Francisco, it's going to be even more nightmarish in San Francisco. Why is it never the opposite of that? Why is it always consistently that is the [inaudible 00:24:53] that's being added.

Sam D'Amico:
If you want your dose of San Francisco hopium, that could be another podcast episode, but that's a later. Why San Francisco is not doomed is actually a good podcast topic. That's a different one we can talk about later.

Danny Crichton:
Exactly. I totally distracted you. So for homes that can't get upgraded, basically [inaudible 00:25:13]

Sam D'Amico:
This costs, by the way, like 15 grand in some cases. And then you look at, "Okay, how much does a stove cost, all this other stuff." When you discount that further from all the federal incentives, you get pretty close to $3,000, which puts it... And for the reason it has a lithium-ion phosphate battery in it. And so that battery gets you the 30% investment tax credit, which really knocks off even more. And so when you factor all this in, you're like, "Okay, I could just buy this one thing or I could do all this work to my house to get..." You could be like my other neighbor who was about to get an induction stove when he remodeled his place and just didn't do it because he got told by his electrician, "Don't do it man. The panel upgrade is just not going to land." And so you get rid of that veto point. And this actually gets to another point of things I learned from Meta and stuff like that is the standalone headsets did a lot better than the ones that required a PC because it's just cutting as many dependencies as possible between you getting the product and enjoying it.

Danny Crichton:
You know what I love about this space? We always talk about TAM, total addressable market, but it's great because anytime you're cooking with food, it's basically anyone with a mouth that needs to consume calories. We always have to figure out if anyone's going to buy this. And it's like the answer is anyone can use this, which is really exciting. Sam, thank you for so much for joining us. Impulse Labs, check them out online, pre-orders...

Sam D'Amico:
Impulselabs.com. You can pre-order there.

Danny Crichton:
Thank you so much.

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