First, it gave us a remixable cookbook. Then it gave us custom bottled wine. Now Buzzfeed Labs–the arm of the company trying to sell Buzzfeed’s audience real products–is thinking a lot bigger. This November, it will ship the $150 Tasty One Top, an electric cooktop designed to work in tandem with the company’s Tasty recipe collection.
BuzzFeed, a digital media company, is making appliances. Maybe it’s not as crazy as it sounds. After all, as Buzzfeed’s video-based food publication, Tasty has an almost unfathomable scale, with 107 million active users who see its videos across sites and social media channels each month. The One Top is designed to tap into that ready-made market.
The Bluetooth-connected induction cooktop–whose electric burner uses magnetism to warm the pan instead of heat coils or flame–connects straight into a database of hyper-viral Tasty recipes, helping home cooks follow the site’s instructions more precisely. With a temperature sensitive plate and a connected thermometer probe, the One Top should be able to tell users when it’s time to flip the chicken in the skillet, or pull the pasta from the water. Meanwhile, an accompanying app breaks Tasty’s videos into step-by-step GIFs, which demonstrate the methodology of cooking and offer push notifications when it’s time to take the next step.
If the One Top succeeds, over 100 million monthly active Tasty users could cook dinner almost as easily as they watch it be made inside their Facebook feed. If not? It will, at least, be a spectacular failure.
“The easy thing to do would have been to make a bunch of pots and pans and slap the logo on things,” says Ben Kaufman, the head of Buzzfeed Product Labs. “Not to say we won’t do that at some point, but the thing that was most interesting was, how can we bring the brand to life in the real world and make it easier to cook with your friends?”
Kaufman is the former founder of Quirky, a company that brought the strange and innovative ideas of inventors to life starting in 2009. (He stepped down from the company shortly before it filed for bankruptcy in 2015, after which it was bought by new financiers). Kaufman himself agrees that the One Top, in many ways, resembles a product straight out of the Quirky of yore. That’s no coincidence. Some of his Quirky design team came along to Buzzfeed Labs. And in fact, at Buzzfeed, Kaufman has rekindled Quirky’s relationship with GE to produce the One Top hardware.
But while Quirky products often fell short of their promises–the smarthome service Wink that just didn’t work so well, the Aros air conditioner was notoriously buggy at launch, and other various releases were summed up by one commenter succinctly as “cheap crap“–Kaufman is sure that he’s writing old wrongs at Buzzfeed. For one, he’ll have spent a whole year developing the One Top by the time it ships in November–still a breakneck speed for product design, but far longer than Quirky’s business model ever allowed. Furthermore, the One Top has both a built in audience and recipe content. While “smart” cooking products like the June oven promise to learn to cook for you over time, sometimes failing horribly along the way, Tasty’s database of recipes are already tested by not just a quality assurance team within Tasty for flavor, but by social shares and video views for appeal.
Crucially, fans actually cook Tasty recipes, too. Internal studies found that over 50% of Tasty’s audience has actually prepared something they’ve seen on the service.
“That’s the real beauty of this [Buzzfeed] Product Labs thing. What we built at Quirky, we had our faults, but we thought we built a great product team. Yet when we launched a new product on a regular basis, it was a constant battle to get that story told,” says Kaufman. “Here we’re playing a much more curatorial role. We could probably sell anything to a 90 million person audience. But let’s be really thoughtful about what stories we’re bringing them.”
So far, so good. Buzzfeed Product Labs’ other products have all delivered on their promises–balancing quality, novelty, and price point with an irresistible, dare I say Buzzfeedy appeal. Its wacky-labeled wine and customizable cookbook were both great. And the Tasty app I previewed, which will connect to the One Top, was a superb translation of Tasty‘s videos into usable, step-by-step recipes thanks to the Lab’s laborious, hand-coding of Tasty‘s videos into trackable code.
Now, the One Top faces the same question as every new product with an intriguing design: Can the team actually ship the concept in full working order? “My number one test of this thing is handing a raw steak to someone who can’t cook, and setting them up with the Perfect Sunday Steak recipe,” says Kaufman. “We’re not gonna ship this thing until a person who doesn’t cook steak on a regular basis can cook a perfectly seared, medium rare steak.”