The magic behind the Instant Pot viral phenomenon (and the CEO’s favorite recipe)
Columnist Brian Patterson interviews the CEO of Instant Pot, Robert Wang, for his insights into how to successfully market a product and cultivate a following.
We all have at least one person in our circle of friends who gushes about the Instant Pot. If you don’t, it is just a matter of time (or you are that person). I have friends I didn’t even know could cook an egg but now have an Instant Pot and rave about how they make so many great meals in it.
So how did an electric pressure cooker become a breakout viral hit? How has it harnessed the success of being an Amazon best-seller into an active, thriving community? What does the team behind the Instant Pot have in store for us next?
All of these questions have swirled in my head since I bought my first Instant Pot a few years back. So I was thrilled to spend some time with the founder and CEO, Robert Wang, and talk about all of this and more.
How it took off and when they knew
A story line that always interests me is founders talking about the moment they knew their item was catching on. Amazon has the iconic story of having a bell ring each time they had a sale, but quickly had to disable it once it became a non-stop annoyance.
So what was Instant Pot’s? Wang explained that their goal, their Amazon KPI, was to overtake stovetop pressure cookers in Amazon when there was a search for “Pressure Cooker.” He said, “I still remember, in January 2013, when I looked and saw that our second-generation product overtook the best stovetop seller. That’s when I knew we were on the right track.”
Stacking the deck for word-of-mouth marketing
With such a small marketing team at Instant Pot, I was curious what their overall approach to marketing is. Wang answered, unequivocally, that it was “word of mouth.” I pressed on how to market around that, and he had a lot of interesting insight. There is the obvious, such as having the best product, a good user experience, great support and so on. But factors were less obvious.
For one, they found influencers and sent them free Instant Pots to try out. This helped get the ball rolling with people using them. He said they started with a handful of influencers that they curated themselves, but after that, bloggers started knocking, asking for review product of their own. “We give a lot of Instant Pots away,” Wang explained. “If a blogger asks and they have a legitimate site, we just send it to them.”
Another smart approach they took was to really load up their website with recipes. They wanted to make sure that anyone who received an Instant Pot could immediately start making some great meals, so they built a large recipe repository on their own website. Wang identified early that “dinners are social, we share pictures of them when they are great,” and part of the word-of-mouth approach included great recipes that others would want to share.
The birth of the Facebook group
In August of 2015, Instant Pot launched the Facebook group, “Instant Pot Community.” The group has taken off and now has over 400,000 members; I’ve noticed that it is the most active Facebook group I’m a part of, by far. Content shared ranges from requests for how to convert a recipe to the Instant Pot, to tips, recommended accessories and success stories (and lots of pictures).
I asked Wang if there was a secret to growing it, and he said it was nothing special other than “putting a link on InstantPot.com.”
The Instant Pot team has three or four moderators at any given time working on this community. Wang says that there are, “lots of spammers, lots of people not treating other members nicely, so they do policing so that people don’t get offended. They also try to run events and post educating articles, to keep the community alive.”
Customer reviews —-> product innovation
One of the most interesting things we spoke about was how customer feedback is cycled into the product development cycle. The Instant Pot team systematically looks at every online review and every piece of feedback for new ideas and common themes that can be incorporated into the next generation of IPs.
Wang talked about how a new mother had asked if there was a way to use the IP to disinfect baby bottles and toys, and how that is now a feature in R&D. And in another mother-related instance, how they made it possible to disable beeps after it woke a sleeping baby.
The CEO’s favorite recipes
So what does the guy who invented the Instant Pot like to cook? Two things, actually.
First up, simple: eggs. His daughter loves soft-boiled eggs. She is very specific on how she likes them, and the Instant Pot consistently does it right for her.
More complex: Ribs.
Wang has three Instant Pots in regular rotation in his home — one for rice, the others to make other dishes. When I asked if he was surprised by any of the creative meals people have churned out of their Instant Pot, he said, “I definitely didn’t expect cheesecakes, but I saw them doing it and it looked good!”
The Instant Pot just released a sous-vide product and hopes to catch lightning in a bottle for a second time. Whether they can or not remains to be seen, but they certainly have a great blueprint and a ton of data from the success of the Instant Pot that I’m sure they’ll put to good use.