fall founders series

Caraway Home CEO Jordan Nathan Wants Us All to Cook Clean

He's taking a niche trend to mass market.
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· 7 min read

I can’t remember the last time I made dinner in my apartment, partially because I don’t have the right materials and partially because pad thai is a few taps away on Seamless. This makes me a target customer for startup cookware brands that hope they can get young people off of delivery apps and into the kitchen.

Next to infiltrate the home chef market is Caraway Home, which debuted with a nontoxic, ceramic cookware line. Caraway Co-founder Jordan Nathan joined me to talk about product innovation in a category that’s been slow to change. Read our interview below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start from the beginning. Where did the idea for Caraway come from?

JN: Prior to Caraway, I was the brand manager for Vremi. I started as the brand manager for that brand but was actually promoted to CEO of Vremi shortly after a year there and had launched about 200 kitchen products.

I think my interest was really drawn initially the lack of color and design in the category and it was a very different brand than what we’re building at Caraway. It was kind of focused on your pre-wedding registry, post-college customer, but really used color as a method to differentiate ourselves. In two years we sold upwards of one million pan units and it was an amazing experience.

But in the two and a half years I spent at Vremi, I’d spend a lot of time going to factories and ended up actually testing a new cookware set that we were looking to launch that had Teflon on it. I ended up leaving it on my burner for about 40 or 45 minutes accidentally, and my small apartment actually filled up with fumes. I got really lightheaded and it really put me down this path to look at what is really in cookware and I found that Teflon wasn’t that safe to use. It’s made in about 80%+ of the overall category. That pushed me in a direction to want to do something myself and create something that was safe to use and also beautiful on a countertop.

How are you funding Caraway’s launch?

I started myself on this in July of last year. I spent quite some time fundraising and it was a super challenging process, but we ended up raising around from mostly angels. We’ve got a few institutions as well but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a venture-backed round. Just a lot of individuals who are aligned with the design and the health component to what we were doing.

The initial product assortment is a pretty tight edit. How did you land on what belongs in this kit? How much of that came from your prior expertise in the category?

The approach we took is a bit different than a lot of D2C brands in general. At Mohawk Group, a lot of the way that we were taught to think was to look at data and craft products around millions of data points versus going out and speaking with a small cohort of people to get their opinions which are typically friends and family—biased groups.

So when looking at Caraway, it started as this expedition to create safe cookware, but I think what we found through looking at data, we found a couple core things that shaped the set. Number one, storage has always been a big issue and we found that a lot of the sets that have come out in the past that have tried to solve it through stacking were making it less efficient for people. That pushed us in a direction to create something that was separate, that could live in your cabinet. From the product standpoint, a lot of people just don’t have the room for 15 pieces at this point, so we’re really trying to make it easier for customers to not have to think about what pieces they need. So we focused on the core four items that we think the kind of average cook needs, and you can certainly add on later on. But more than these four pans is really excess for most people.

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And then on the color front, I really loved colorful products and I think you can tell a lot of stories and create beautiful decor through it. We were really interested in color, but in the category you see a lot of bright reds and some really desaturated blues, and they just weren’t like traditional home decor colors in the kitchen. We pushed in that direction and wanted to create a palette that was equally sophisticated and also natural at the same time.

Part of the challenge with launching a new company is getting the word out about the company to begin with. How are you approaching your marketing strategy for Caraway?

There’s a lot of language in the category around taking professional tools and bringing them into the home. We kind of see that as daunting, especially for a millennial generation who’s not too skilled at cooking. So for us, we’re trying to focus on busier individuals, definitely post-college phase. Plus, young parents want something that’s safe to cook off of. We definitely take more of a design angle than our competition, and really are trying to root ourselves in the middle of wellness and design and obviously cooking as well. We’re trying to target that younger audience, who aren’t professional chefs and are really just trying for something that’s easy to cook off of.

From a marketing standpoint, we’re initially starting off with organic channels. We’ve actually got a waitlist of 150,000 people who joined our pre-launch list, so we’re obviously trying to leverage that as much as we can. We’ve got a pretty sizable affiliate and influencer communities that we’ve built, which hopefully we’ll have some really great exposure across social and different publication platforms.

You mentioned that Caraway is tacking an eco-friendly, nontoxic approach to cookware. How did you find the non-toxic materials you’re using? Why do you think other players have been so slow to adopt safer materials?

We’ve got a really amazing manufacturing partner who we’ve been working with for a year and a half now, and we’ve spent a lot of time with them to develop something that is safe to use. To be quite honest, ceramic, which is our material, has been on the market for about ten years now. But it’s a challenging medium for storytelling, and for that reason it hasn’t hit the mass market. It’s actually the fastest growing segment in cookware but I don’t think anyone’s really come out to tell a story about it. So for us, it was working really close with a manufacturing partner, improving on an existing material that is nontoxic and eco-friendly, and doing so through a medium for storytelling.

And then in terms of kind of competition, you see a lot of legacy brands—they’ve been selling other materials for years and successfully, they sell through retail channels that aren’t tremendously flexible, and don’t like changes when things are going successfully. A lot of actual product development in this category is product selection. So you’ll go to a manufacturer, you’ll say, I want to launch a cookware set, they’ll show you a catalog of a thousand handles, they’ll show you certain body shapes, you’ll pick a few, and then you’ll put colors and your logo on it and launch it. That’s kind of been the approach in the category—there hasn’t been much innovation in materials and design. For a lot of these bigger brands who have a lot of distribution, who have a lot of products, it’s hard for them to focus on one product at a time to make sure that it’s matching what consumers want and is also using safe material.

What can we expect to see from Caraway in the next year?

Right now, we’re focused on this one set. But as our name, Caraway Home, alludes to, we’d like to expand into the whole home and improve upon products that can be better designed, use better materials, and so cookware is certainly the start and our entry point. I can’t tell you what products are coming next but there are certainly extensions into the kitchen and home over the next few years.

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