On Lisa Fetterman and the Origins of Anova

Stephen Svajian
Jun 24 · 8 min read

A few months ago, Shannon McClenaghan, one of my colleagues at Anova, alerted me to a podcast done by Lisa Fetterman, the co-founder of Nomiku. In the podcast, Lisa embellishes a story that attributes the success of Anova to what is now being described as “investor theft.” Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention to that story.

Last week, Lisa did a podcast on TechCrunch where the interviewer starts the interview by imploring Lisa to, “Tell me a story that will shock me.” Accordingly, Lisa grew the embellishments in her initial story.

Lisa is now getting some traction with the false and misleading statements she’s making about me and Anova. In her most recent podcast, she states, “Everyday I wake up and think mmmm smell the fresh revenge.” The way she’s exacting whatever revenge to which she thinks she’s entitled is through defaming me and Anova and undermining the accomplishments of the team.

I believe there are injustices in Silicon Valley and that female founders are at a disadvantage. This is something I care deeply about, particularly as a father to the two amazing girls we are raising to be strong, independent women. I also believe people should objectively look at evidence before they rush to conclusions. To that end, I hope the following helps to clarify what happened.

I was an early sous vide enthusiast. All the attempts at bringing sous vide to the mass market were failing — devices were too expensive, not marketed correctly, and brands were doing a terrible job educating consumers. I believed in the technique, so I was really excited when I met Lisa in 2012. I really wanted to be involved with the company and I did make a small investment. It’s important to note that I was a very small investor, even at that time. Lisa raised far more money than Anova and I did not represent a large percentage of her investment pool and she did not treat me as significant.

Over the course of a year, I got to know Lisa a little bit. She was incredibly charismatic and ambitious, but she really struggled with Nomiku and was unable to produce a product for quite some time. I wanted to help and be more involved in the company. I knew I could help her get to market and win, but when I explicitly asked she said that she did not want my help.

In 2013, I was contacted by Jeff Wu and Natalie Vaughn. They were running a B2B company called Anova that sold immersion circulators (essentially sous vide devices). Most people don’t know that the technology for sous vide devices originated from lab equipment. Polyscience was one of the first to repurpose a lab-grade device as a consumer sous vide machine.

Anova had developed a lab-grade immersion circulator that could be repurposed for consumer use. They wanted help in bringing this device to the consumer market. I disclosed my involvement with Nomiku to them but they sent me a product anyway.

I invited Lisa to a dinner at my house, so that we could unbox and evaluate Anova’s lab-grade device together. This was the only time we met at my house. My wife, Courtney, was present the entire time and so were my two year old son and infant daughter.

Lisa claims that we had Whole Foods boxed dinner. It was six years ago, but we didn’t have a Whole Foods nearby and if we did have boxed foods, it was likely due to being super busy and having two babies to care for.

Lisa claims that I told her at that dinner that I’d be working with Anova. That’s not true. The dates don’t line up. I didn’t agree to help Anova until around a month after that meeting. At the time of that dinner, I was still interested in helping Nomiku become successful.

Lisa also claims that after I told her I’d be working with Anova, she got upset and that I attributed her behavior to pregnancy hormones. I NEVER said that. I would NEVER say something like that.

The truth is that we were friendly the entire dinner. Lisa left that dinner with intel on Anova and we were still on very friendly terms.

Over the next few months, I got to know Jeff and Natalie. I liked them and they listened to me. They wanted my help.

During the summer of 2013, things kind of came to a head. Without help, I believed Nomiku was going to fail. My wife Courtney asked me what I wanted and I told her that I really just wanted to be more involved with Nomiku. I wanted to work with them full-time. So I set up a call to chat with Lisa about this. I’ll never forget it. I told her I wanted to be more involved with Nomiku, that I wanted to be full-time and that if she didn’t want that I wanted to help Anova. I said, “If I’m not going to be more involved with Nomiku, then I’d like to help Anova.” I also told her that, if she didn’t want me to help Anova, I would NOT help them. I will NEVER forget what she said when I asked her for permission to work with Anova. She said, “Go make a killing with Anova.” After that, I started casually helping Anova.

In Q3 2013, I was casually helping Anova part-time. My primary job was running an agency that helped early-stage startups get customers. After a few months of work in 2013, this casual involvement turned into passion and I started working full-time with my co-founders, Jeff and Natalie. I interviewed customers, started running operations, and defined the product roadmap and strategy. In particular, I developed the connected device strategy. This strategy led to Anova becoming a leader in the smart home and ultimately led to our acquisition. To my knowledge, Lisa had no intention of competing in the smart home.

Over a period of several years we went through all the ups and downs associated with building a startup. It was hard and looking back on all the work we did, it’s difficult to have someone diminish that work, especially because so many people put their heart and soul into Anova.

In 2015, we reorganized Anova. As part of the deal, the other shareholders required that I sell my shares in Nomiku. I reached out to Lisa to discuss. She offered to buy back my shares.

In Lisa’s interview she claims that we did not speak after 2013, however she actually reached out to me in 2016 because she wanted to work with me and Anova. [Medium has asked me to take down screen shots of her text messages to me.]

After her initial pitch via text and phone, I agreed to meet Lisa for lunch. I took Michael Tankenoff with me and we met her and her husband Abe (Abe is Nomiku’s CTO). She said she wanted to work with me. They wanted us to acquire them and felt like if we teamed up, we’d be better for it. Lisa had really nice things to say about me at that time. If what Lisa claims happened in 2013 happened, why would she then want to work with me?

Ultimately, we declined the offer to work with Nomiku in 2016. The next time I heard from Lisa was through an angry podcast directed at me a few months ago, and then again a few days ago in the most current podcast.

In evaluating Lisa’s claims, please consider the following:

  • Lisa claims I stole her product ideas, but the product category was already established. Polyscience and others were already selling immersion circulators. The market for sous vide startups was heating up. For example, around the time I started working with Anova, another competitor entered the market — Sansaire. They were running a Kickstarter for a less expensive device. Sansaire launched well-ahead of Nomiku and was a legitimate contender.
  • Lisa claims I stole and copied her design with Anova’s first product. I had no involvement in the design or development of Anova’s first device, which Lisa claims. The first version of Anova’s product was a repurposed lab-grade circulator, which definitely didn’t copy anything Lisa was doing. I had no input into the design of that device. It was already baked by the time I started working with Anova. Like I said, it was a lab-grade device repurposed to consumers. I treated it like an MVP, so we could figure out what to build next.
  • Lisa claims that theft of her ideas led to our success. In late 2013, I had the idea to make Anova a connected device. This was my idea. Making Anova a connected device really opened the market for sous vide and became a key differentiator for Anova. To my knowledge, Lisa did not want to create a connected device. I’d also point out that it was the execution of this idea that led to our success.
  • Our product looks nothing like Nomiku’s. As stated, I had no input into the design of our first unit. Nevertheless, there are obvious and signifcant differences—They had an adjustable dial around the head of their unit to adjust time and temp. We had an LCD screen. They have a clip on clamp. We had a screw clamp. The differences go on and you can see for yourself:

The lack of diversification in Silicon Valley is a real issue. We absolutely need more women and minorities represented in our workforce and in companies that receive funding. I’m a big proponent of this, which is why Lisa’s lies and the subsequent baseless attacks are so hurtful (see below).

I’m sorry Lisa’s hurting, but I’m not sorry for my actions. I was open and honest and she dismissed me as insignificant. I did not act in bad faith and I’m blown away that she is attempting to rewrite history to such a degree.

We worked incredibly hard to get where we are and we’re still working hard. Getting Anova to this point was a lot of hard work and it’s incredibly upsetting to have someone diminish that work, especially because so many people put their heart and soul into Anova.

Stephen Svajian

Written by

CEO at Anova

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